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FIRST FRENCH ASCENT IN ALPINISM'S "NEW ELDORADO"
Posted on: November 27, 2006
A member of the French Young Alpinists team on an attempt on the prominent central couloir on the south face of Siguniang (6250m) in Chinese Sichuan. After fixing 500 meters of rope on the line, the team attempted the route in a day, reaching 5950 meters at the crest of the southwest ridge before poor conditions slowed them down and forced a retreat. All the team members but two went on to make the first ascent of Siguniang North (5700m). [Photo] Philippe Batoux
In October, the French Alpine Club organized an expedition to the Siguniang National Park in Chinese Sichuan for "young alpinists." The participants (aged from 18 to 25 years) were guided by the very experienced alpinist Philippe Batoux. The main goal was a new route on the now world-famous Siguniang (6250m), where Batoux, with Jerome Berton, Guillaume Blair, Guillaume Bodin, Clemont Jacquemond, Aurelie Leveque, David Rolinet and Theo Valla, hoped to climb the prominent central couloir on the south face. Unconfirmed rumours suggest the couloir may have been attempted some years ago by Russians, but last autumn this gully, more than 1000 meters high, was quite dry and the top section completely rocky. Instead, the team chose a steep ice line leading out left, up the right side of the rock pillar taken by an eight-member Japanese team, which in 1992 sieged the south buttress and upper southwest ridge to make the second ascent of the mountain.
From a camp at 5000 meters the French fixed 500 meters of rope on the initial difficulties, then tried to make a one-day ascent of the route on October 24. Leaving camp at 1 a.m., they jugged the ropes and continued on the upper snow slopes, crossing through the Japanese Route to reach the crest of the southwest ridge. Here, they were slowed by very poor conditions and at 5950 meters a horizontal rocky ridge, covered in soft snow and impossible to protect, barred the way. An accident at this point would have been very serious. Some of the team were already quite tired, and as it was now 3 p.m. and to continue would involve a bivouac with no gear, Batoux decided to pull the plug. The difficulties of their (incomplete) line, which joined the existing Japanese route on the ridge, were rated at V 4 M5+.
Four days later the team made an attempt on the original 1981 Japanese Route on the southeast ridge but more bad snow and very cold temperatures forced them down from ca. 5600 meters.
All except Berton and Leveque then turned to the north side of the mountain, where they made the first ascent of Siguniang North (5700m). The only previous attempt on this pyramid had been made in May 2004, when British climbers Dave Hollinger and Andy Sharpe were forced down from a point 200 meters up the right flank of the northeast ridge by heavy spindrift avalanches. The French climbed the open snow and ice slopes left of the northwest face of Siguniang—a similar line to that taken in descent by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden after their successful 2002 ascent of the stunning north-facing couloir on the face. Leaving at 2 a.m. on November 1 from a camp at 4500 meters, the French climbed this southwest face, finding sections of compact granite covered with five centimeters of ice—climbable, but impossible to protect. The overall grade for their outing was V 4+ M4. Batoux was particularly impressed with the whole region, referring to it as a "new Eldorado:" he feels a strong part of alpinism's future development will take place on these walls.
Siguniang North (5700m, left) and Siguniang (6250m) from the west-northwest. Marked in red on the left is the approximate line of an attempt in May 2004 by Dave Hollinger and Andy Sharpe, who retreated in heavy spindrift after 200 meters on the right flank of the northeast ridge. In the center (red) is the route of the French first ascent via the southwest face (V 4+ M4, Batoux-Blair-Bodin-Jacquemond-Rolinet-Valla, 2004), while in yellow to the right is the north couloir: the Inside Line (WI 6, Fowler-Ramsden, 2002). After their ascent Fowler and Ramsden descended the left skyline (north ridge) of Siguniang and then down the slopes below the col in a similar line to the French ascent. [Photo] Philippe Batoux
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