Triumph and Tragedy in Sichuan's mountains

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 07/12/2009
On the North Ridge of Ren Zhong Feng. Kristoffer Szilas

Martin Ploug and Kristoffer Szilas from Denmark have made the first ascent of Ren Zhong Feng, a little-known peak that was thought to be one of the few remaining unclimbed 6,000m summits in Sichuan Province, China.

No photographs existed of this peak until last year, when the intrepid Japanese explorer, Tamotsu 'Tom' Nakamura, travelled to the Daxue Shan to inspect an unnamed 6,079m peak to the south of Minya Konka

Nakamura took photographs from the south and north east, and suggested the name Ren Zhong Feng, as the summit lies in the valley north of Ren Zhong Lake.

Nakamura's photographs were widely published and this led to two groups applying for permission to climb Ren Zhong Feng this autumn.

Hungarians Peter Csizmadia (37), Veronika Mikolovits (35), Balazs Pechtol (31) and Katalin Tolnay (36) approached from the north east via the Gang Gou Valley, setting up a base camp at 3,100m and, on the 17th October, an advanced base at 3,900m.

Since then there has been no sign of all four climbers.

The Sichuan Mountaineering Association organized a rescue party (and later a helicopter search), which saw no signs of the climbers but noted that on the 22nd October a large ice avalanche from collapsing seracs had swept the whole upper valley.

A Danish expedition, arriving in the same valley during November, reported that the area in which the Hungarians were presumed to have disappeared was extremely exposed to serac fall. The Danes established a camp at 4,500m and from there, Ploug and Szilas made an alpine style ascent of the mountain.

They climbed the East Face to the North Ridge and then followed the crest for one and a half kilometres to the summit. As they had not climbed above 4,500m prior to the attempt, they made three bivouacs on the ascent, spending a whole day at the first improving their acclimatization.

The route was very long and tiring but free from objective dangers. The main technical difficulties occurred on the East Face, but on the ridge bulletproof ice and a storm made it hard work. It took a full 18 hours to make the round trip from their third bivouac to the top. The 1,300m route was graded TD with sections of M4 and WI 4.

Data from their altimeters, and the altitude model in their GPS on the summit, indicates the height of the mountain to be more like 5,800m than over 6,000m.

The Hungarian deaths bring the total this year in Sichuan to 11.
 



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