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Possible First Ascent of China’s Five Colors Mountain

The south face of Wuse Shan, Sichuan Province, Qonglai Mountains, China. Over three days of climbing in February, Li Lan and Yan Dongdong completed what may be the peak’s first ascent: (1) Another Day (V 5.9+, 18 pitches). They descended (2) on February 10-11. B1 marks their bivouac on the ascent; B2 marks their descent bivy. [Photo] Yan Dongdong

For Yan Dongdong, the minimal snowfall, stable weather and warm westerly winds in China’s mountainous Sichuan Province this past winter were irresistible. After establishing a new route on Siguniang’s south face in November (see the December 1, 2009 NewsWire for more information) and attempting the west face of Chibu (5450m) in late January, Yan and Li Lan summited Wuse Shan’s west peak on February 10. Though the 5430-meter peak in the Qonglai Mountains has seen several attempts, Yan and Li believe theirs is the first ascent. The climbers christened their route Another Day (V 5.9+, 18 pitches).

Wuse Shan, also called the Five Colors Mountain, is named for its striated walls of multicolored limestone, shale and granite. The metamorphosed layers, folded into a prominent U shape on the south face, are bisected by Li and Yan’s route. Though Wuse Shan’s “spectacular” geology is what attracted Yan to the peak originally, much of the rock quality is poor, making protection challenging and rockfall a constant threat.

Li and Yan began their journey on February 8, trekking to the base of Wuse Shan and setting up camp at 4800m. The following morning, the climbers discovered that the bottom limestone layer of the south face was “impossible to protect or to climb. Handholds broke into powder in our fingers,” Yan said.

The team tried to avoid the poor rock by angling to the right, but conditions remained hazardous through the first seven pitches of fourth- and fifth-class scrambling. Li and Yan broke through the limestone layer via a gap in the folded strata. After climbing four pitches through a shale layer and partway up a granite buttress, the climbers bivouacked.

Li Lan follows Pitch 16 of Another Day (V 5.9+, 18 pitches). [Photo] Yan Dongdong

On February 10, Li and Yan scaled the remaining seven pitches of granite, reaching the west summit in early afternoon. (Yan said the east summit, a ropelength away, appeared equivalent in height; the team did not tag the east summit.) On the way down, they bivouacked seven pitches from the base after stuck ropes and an eye injury Yan received from falling rock delayed their descent. The next day, their ropes snagged again–on the penultimate rappel, an overhanging pitch. They tied off the long end and descended the last 15 meters to the ground on a single strand, abandoning the rope.

Li and Yan had never climbed together until January, when they turned back on a new route on the west face of Chibu, just north of Wuse Shan. The two climbers plan to return in September to make another attempt on Chibu.

Sources: Yan Dongdong,

Li Lan on the west summit of Wuse Shan with Goromity, unclimbed, in the background. [Photo] Yan Dongdong