Two new routes on Siguniang

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 22/01/2012
South face of Siguniang with new Chinese route Liberation. Sun Bin

Two previously tried projects on China's famous Siguniang (6,250m) received first ascents, both in fine alpine-style.

On the south face Chinese alpinists Sun Bin and Li Zhongli completed Liberation (1,100m: AI3+ and M4), a line that slants through the 1992 Japanese south buttress to finish up the south-west ridge.

Li and Sun are two of China's new breed of alpinists, attempting technical new routes on their home ground in alpine-style. For Sun climbing this new route was a matter of perseverance.

He first tried the line in October 2006 but didn't get onto the face as rockfall proved too dangerous.

Two years later he was back, this time in the colder month of November. Unfortunately, having reached 5,700m, an incoming storm forced him down.

With Li and two others he returned in 2009 for a third time and on this occasion was able to force the line through to the south-west ridge. Continuing up the crest, strong winds and incipient frostbite drove the pair down from 6,100m.

However, unknown to these two was an attempt on a similar line in 2006 by the guide Philippe Batoux and a group of young alpinists organized by the French Alpine Club. This group fixed 500m of rope on the first section, then took a different line to the right of the eventual Chinese route, reaching the south-west ridge but turning back at a precarious, horizontal, rocky section above 6,000m.

Sun's fourth attempt (and Li's second) late last year was successful. The pair bivouacked immediately below the bergschrund at 5,150m and next day climbed to the crest of the south-west ridge at 5,900m.

A strong wind pinned them down in this comfortable camp all next day, but at 4:00am the morning after, they left camping equipment and travelled light to the summit, reaching it after sections of ice to 60°, three mixed pitches, and a tricky traverse of a sharp ridge. They were able to return to their top bivouac the same day.

On the summit they discovered a commodious snowhole, dug by two young French climbers, who had made a fine new route on the north-west face a little earlier.

Although first climbed by Japanese in 1981, Siguniang really came into the public eye after Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden's ascent of the north couloir in 2002. To the right of this and the large rock buttress subsequently climbed by Russians, a spur rises towards mixed ground below the upper southwest ridge.

This spur was the scene of the first attempt on the northern side of the mountain. In 1981 a strong American team, comprising Jim Donini, Kim Schmitz, Jim Kanzler and Jack Tackle attempted the route in semi-alpine-style but turned back below 5,500m.

It was attempted again in 2004 by Dave Hollinger and Andy Sharpe, who found bad conditions and retreated after a few pitches of Scottish 3/4.

Maël Baguet and Dimitri Messina completed the line to the upper south-west ridge, reached the summit and descended the north ridge, the same route of descent used by Fowler and Ramsden.

The two French completed the route in a five day round trip from base camp (three bivouacs on the mountain), naming it Ni Hen Piao Liang (1,300m: 5 and M6), which means "you are very beautiful" in Chinese.



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