Route 4, WI5-, 500m

After our inspection of the valley the day before, we had decided to climb a route on the sunny east side of the valley. The route was relatively broad (until the crux pillar) and both parties could thus climb it simultaneously. From the road the crux pillar looked pretty nasty but at least we should be able to climb up to it without too much trouble.

Route 4 seen from the road. It is located east of the road and is exposed to the sun - in particular at the upper pillar crux which is severely sun bleached.

The access was extremely easy, as the frozen water flow began less than 10 min from the road. We thus took on our crampons and walked up the ice which became steeper after ~30 min of walking. We took out the ice axes and began soloing until that became to scary and then we roped up with one half rope and began to climb in parallel until we reached a WI4 pillar, which we climbed with a belay. Martin and I lead the pitch, which gave me a bit of a shock when both of my feet popped and I ended up hanging in the ice tools. How stupid of me - and I told myself to focus more!

Martin leading the first challenging rope length on route 4 (WI4).

Above the WI4 pillar we started to climb in parallel again, until we finally reached the base of the crux.

Carsten (on the left - hard to see) and Ricka leading some of the intersecting WI3 ice. The crux pillar is seen in the back.

It turned out that this form of climbing is pretty typical of the Shuangqiao Valley - steep ice sections intersected by hundreds of meters of WI2-3 ice. Carsten and I were thus very happy for our 70 m ropes and T-bloc's which allowed us to climb these intersections rapidly with few or no belays. Most of the time we actually only climbed with one rope (bringing the second in the backpack for rappels) unless we could see the need for two ropes in order to avoid rope drag.

Hans climbing one of the steeper steps.

This strategy worked really well on the trip except once when I stumbled over my feet while we were climbing in parallel without a T-bloc between us. I was second and thus pulled Carsten off-balance. Luckily we both made a quick self-arrest and there was several ice screws between us so nothing happened except from a small shock - not least for Carsten who didn't see it coming!

And Martin leading one of the steeper steps.

The crux could only be climbed by one party at the time, and given that Martin had been first to lead the WI4 pitch it was our turn to start out. The upper half (the pillar) was now in the sun and looked really nasty: melting, sunbleached, overhanging, thin - it would be very hard if not impossible to protect. The lower half also looked hard: sunbleached curtains some of which were free-standing. However, there was small ledges between the curtains, which would make it possible to rest between the hard parts, so I decided to give it a shot.

The crux of the route. A rope-length of sunbleached curtains (WI5-) followed by an even more sunbleached pillar with an overhanging mushroom (WI6?).

The climb turned out to be harder than I anticipated. In particular the route finding was quite tricky and I ended up traversing back and forth on the curtains in order to find reasonable good ice to climb - there was a lot of sunbleached worthless ice between the reasonable stuff! Some of the curtains were free-standing, which was both good and bad. Good because it was possible to find solid ice in the bottom behind the curtains for ice screws and to bind off some of the icicles for protection - bad because its scary to climb hollow ice less than a foot thick!

Hans at the belay above the curtain and below the overhanging mushroom.

About halfway up the curtain section I went into a cave behind a curtain and considered whether I should stop there or continue up. As Carsten had told me "Do not climb higher that you are sure you can build a solid anchor for belaying and rappelling. If you start climbing the pillar do not expect to find any protection before you reach a tree above the pillar - thus only climb it if you are sure that the rope is long enough!". It was already getting difficult to find protection and I was sure that it would only get increasingly difficult further up. Nevertheless, I decided to continue and got out of the cave and did another traverse on hollow ice.....

And a close up of me at the belay and the ugly-looking mushroom.

Maybe, it was a bad decision, as it certainly got more and more difficult to find protection. On the next ledge I thus wanted to stop - but it was not possible to build an anchor in the melting & sunbleached ice..... I thus continued upwards and hoped for better luck below the mushroom pillar.

Looking up at the sunbleached, melting and overhanging mushroom from the belay. Do you want to climb this? We didn't and thus turned around.

Click on the picture if you want to see a funny movie of Carsten and I discussing the belay (requires installation of Quicktime7, which you can download for free here)

Well, I was out of luck but at least I was now standing really well on a big ledge. The snow/ice on the crux pillar was in really bad shape and I ended op making an anchor with four equalized protection points: two icescrews in the best ice I could find, an ice axe smacked deep into the snow/ice and an bound-off icicle. I swore that we had decided to leave the rock gear at home as it would have been possible to make a really nice rock anchor with pins and/or friends. We thus brought a small set of pins on all subsequent climbs, which came in handy a couple of times.

Carsten digging into the melting and sunbleached snow/ice in search for a bit of solid ice for a rappel anchor.....

I yelled to Carsten that I had build a four-point equalized anchor, but still didn't trust it, and that he shouldn't fall! Luckily he didn't and the anchor was thus not tested. We quickly agreed that it would be suicidal to continue and Carsten thus began digging for a bit of solid ice which could be used for an abalakov anchor. After some digging around he found some reasonable ice, made the abalakov and backed it up with an ice screw. He went first and as I took out the backup screw and looked at the questionable ice holding the abalakov I kissed the anchor (for the first time in my life) and made a speed rappel. It was really nice to reach the bottom of the ice curtain and start the decent of our first real multi-pitch route in the valley. It was great to get started, but for the remaining part of the trip we climbed in the shade on the west side of the valley - it was too warm and sunny on the east side!

Ricka and Martin besides an alternative way up left of the curtain we climbed - a sunbleached, melting and thin pillar with a huge cauliflower base.

Not a great alternative - and we didn't attempt to climb it.


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Last update: 8-4-2006

© Hans Bräuner-Osborne