Nyainqêntanglha may be a name that trips up the tongue rather than off it, but at 7046m the Tibetan peak is a worthy challenge. British climbers Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden overcame the first major barrier to achievements in the Tibetan mountains – obtaining entry visas – and applied themselves to the even greater challenge of mastering the peak’s South East Face.
Nick writes on his blog that locals were distinctly unimpressed by the duo’s plans to approach the mountain from the north. “No, that’s not the side to climb from,” they were told. Not only were Paul and Nick derided for approaching the steeper side of the mountain, locals warned them of “face-biting bears” on the approach. Paul and Nick were, to their knowledge, the first westerners to explore the northern valley of Nyainqêntanglha. Thankfully, they were not the first westerners to have their faces bitten off by bears.
Paul and Nick used Google Earth to scope the mountains in search of exactly the right challenge. The North Buttress of Nyainqêntanglha’s South East Face caught Paul’s eye but viewing mountains on a monitor is a poor substitute for being in amongst them and as the duo drew closer to Nyainqêntanglha they realised they had discovered something truly special:
“This face, this unclimbed face on an unclimbed mountain was almost impossible to describe without using superlatives, it was a dream, it had runnels, ice, fields of snow, arêtes…it was dramatic, triangular, overhanging, a wonder,” Nick enthused.
Without recourse to a weather forecast the Brits had to rely on their instincts to decide when to make a bid for the summit. Since most days contained almost every type of weather imaginable, they reasoned that they’d have to commit to the mountain and be prepared to sit out any poor weather in their tents.
It took the pair five days and a couple of bivouacs on extremely slender ledges to make the summit. The climbing was exhausting. Ascending a steep face somewhere in the region of 1,600 metres high in such a committed fashion took a toll on the pair’s energy, but at midday on the fifth day they stood on the virgin territory of the summit.
Getting up was only half the battle, getting down again was almost fatal. Deciding against abseiling back down the route of ascent, Paul and Nick decided to traverse down the East Ridge, where the unstable weather finally caught up with them.
“The cloud became even thicker, the snow whiter, the angle and territory more dangerous and after falling into three bergschrunds we stopped and set up the tent,” Nick recalled. It snowed all through the night and when it finally relented the amount of powder raised the very real possibility of falling victim to an avalanche.
Fortunately, the pair fought their way down without any serious incident and found their way back to Base Camp. Believe it or not, this was Paul and Nick’s first expedition together. Perhaps they should join forces again!