The Alpine Club, driven by current president Mick Fowler, reinstated its annual symposia on the 26th November with an informative coverage of the mountains of China.
In this well-attended event, held at the Shap Wells Hotel in Cumbria during the day prior to the AGM and annual dinner, the guest speaker was Bruce Normand, who had flown in from his current base in Beijing.
Scottish-born Normand, a professor of theoretical (solid state) physics at Renmin University, has a knowledge of China's mountains, and particularly the often complex bureaucracy, that is arguably second to none.
Normand started the ball rolling with an overview of this vast collection of little known ranges; the mountains of China that lie outside the current Tibet Autonomous Region.
Here, climbing or gaining access to one's chosen peak, is often a case of playing the system. This applies equally to a growing number of talented Chinese alpinists, who are starting to open fine technical routes in alpine-style.
Paul Ramsden then took the stage to give an amusing account of the 2002 first ascent of Siguniang's North West Face in Sichuan, a superb ice-plastered basalt intrusion, climbed with a number of standing bivouacs and even fewer ice screws.
The climb, completed with Mick Fowler, was awarded the 2003 Piolet d'Or, and was instrumental of bringing the attractive alpine peaks of the Siguniang Massif to the attention of climbers world-wide.
Ed Douglas then gave an understated account of his ascent with Duncan Tunstall of the North Face of Xiashe in West Sichuan, a route later dubbed Don't Cook Yak in Anger.
The president himself then talked about a fine first ascent of Sulamar's 1,600m North Buttress in the Tien Shan's Xuelian Massif. This peak was first climbed by Normand in 2008 on the first western visit to the northern part of the range, a year prior to his Piolet d'Or awarded first ascent of Xuelian West.
Normand returned to give accounts of his splendid 2010 ascents of the Central Couloir on the West Face of Grosvenor, and the highly serious East Face of Edgar, the latter in an eight-day, alpine-style round trip from the road.
Both peaks lie in the Minya Konka Range, and Edgar, which featured considerable objective danger, total commitment and an unknown descent through wild weather, was an experience that neither climber would recommend.
Finally, it was the turn of Chris Bonington to take a receptive audience back to 1981 and the first ascent of Kongur in Xinjiang province.
Kongur sometimes gets overlooked in mountaineering history, but at 7,719m it is most likely the highest peak in the world to have received its first ascent in true alpine-style.
Bonington told an excellent story, bringing the characters, Peter Boardman, Al Rouse and Joe Tasker, to life. And if there was ever any doubt about the commitment needed to achieve this climb, there was the graphic description of how, after having traversed the high Junction Peak, the four were pinned down for four days by bad weather, sheltered only by shallow "snow coffins", before continuing up the difficult summit pyramid.
Their round-trip ascent from advanced base took 10 days.
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