Monday, 29 November 2010

Crash of the Titans - Normand/Dempster hit it big with a huge FA on Mt. Edgar East Face

Chapeau for 2/3 of last year's Piolet d'Or-winning Xuelian West team! E9climbing is proud to report (FIRST and with exclusive photos) that Bruce Normand Kyle Dempster has been in action again in the mountains of western China, this tilme in Minya Konka range in Sichuan province.

This compact line of peaks includes, in addition to Minya Konka itself (at 7556m one of the most imposing and dangerous peaks on the planet), more than 10 peaks in the 6000m range which have seen one ascent or fewer.

Warming up.... With a First ascent of W Face of Mt. Grosvenor (6376m)

This much eyed peak has fended off some great names in the past. Knowing when to strike seams to one of the Normand Dempster teams talent's. Dempster and Normand completed the central couloir on the W Face of Mt. Grosvenor (6376m) explaining to me that because most snow falls in summer in the mountains of Sichuan, autumn is the season to find ice, and the dry corner which turned back previous parties (notably Mick Fowler in 2003) was WI4+ ice. The pair climbed the route from base camp (4300m) in a single 24-hour push in cloudy weather, strong wind and occasional snow. From BC at 3am they had climbed the crux (5700m) by noon and continued in the upper couloir (remininscent of the Supercouloir, with two additional steep sections) throughout the afternoon. Sunshine through the wind-torn clouds greeted the climbers onto the summit at 6pm.

Like the first-ascent party (Roger Payne and Julie-Ann Clyma, SW Ridge, Nov 2003), they made some progress down the increasingly corniced NE Ridge until dark. After that, 15 rappels down the precipitous N Face took them to an upper glacier basin at 2am, where they bivouacked before returning the BC the following day.

Picture: Kyle Dempster on the First Acent of teh W Face of Mt. Grosvenor

Huge First Acsent on Mt. Edgar

Edgar History

Sadly most of us get a chilling feeling up or spine when we hear Mt.Edgar. This mountain will always be remembered for the tragedy that took place in June 2009, when the US team of Johnny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson was killed in an avalanche while trying to approach the SE Face.

On the E side of the range, it is approached from verdant valley floors at only 1500m. With over 300 days a year of misty, rainy weather, and 2000m of preciptous slopes and blown-out river gorges between the fields and the mountains, this region shrouds its peaks in a special brand of mystery. Edgar had seen one ascent, by a Korean party in 2003 which found a route from the south, while its E Face was of course the subject of an iconic picture by Tamotsu Nakamura. In May 2009, the Russian/Kyrgyz team of Sasha Ruchkin and Misha Mikhailov tried to find the a way to climb this face, but failed because they could not see it.

The Rose of No-Man's Land (M6, WI5) Eastish Face of Mt.Edgar!

Relying again on drier November weather, Dempster and Normand approached the face somewhat blind, spending their first day in misty forests and canyons, and their second navigating up unstable, vertical-sided river cuts to the foot of a small glacier at 4100m. On their third day, clear sunshine revealed a long approach up a narrow glacier to the base of the face, which the climbers were surprised to find beginning at 5500m.

They found that the E Face is a scoop with a dry, SE-facing side below the true summit, a shaded, NE-facing side with several thin ice lines, and a central drainage gully catching everything which falls off the cornices rimming the face. On day 4 they climbed ice and steep snow to begin the serious climbing with an M6 dry-tooling pitch, a line they chose to avoid the drainage gully. Three pitches of steep, thin ice followed, to a snowfield yielding only a sitting (and spindrift-washed) bivouac.

The fifth day served up cloudier but still stable weather, and more thin then non-existent ice and mixed lines up and to the left of the face, leading finally to an exit col at 6200m. A very windy night ensued. Day 6 required a long ice traverse into the S Face and up to the rounded S Ridge, which the climbers followed to the summit at 2:30pm. By this time, the stormy wind had replaced reasonable morning weather with a white-out, resulting in a fast and blind descent into a high glacier basin.

On day 7 the team worked its way down this glacier, climbing and rappelling a first-descent line in low to zero visibility and finding the easiest going between rock and ice on the true left. On the eighth day, in thickly falling snow down to 3500m, the pair found their steep, morainal descent gully give suddenly onto a road, where they were able to hitch a ride out in a classic Chinese Dongfeng truck. Although not a very direct line, their route The Rose of No-Man's Land (M6, WI5) does seem to be the only safe one on the face.

Kyle under the East Face of Edgar

Kyle on thin ice.... on Edgar

Kyle covering some nice ground on Edgar

As good as it gets in climbing? Bruce high on Edgar

Steeeep and mixed on Edgar. Kyle leading some hard stuff

Its getting harder... Kyle leading and NOTE THE Ice Axe by his feet...

Kyle playing in a perfect runnel on Edgar

Kyle climbing stuff on Edgar that would either get him laid or divorced....

Rout on Edgar!

2nd ascent of Mt. Edgar, climb by Kyle Dempster (USA) and Bruce Normand (UK).

Day 1 (Nov 7): rainy day. Walk from upper Xinxing (2050m) to lower base camp (3200m). 1 local porter carrying equipment.
Day 2: cloudy day. Scrambling in unstable river drainages from 3200m to upper base camp at 4100m on glacier below E Face of Mt. Edgar.
Day 3: sunny day. Roped walking/climbing/glacier travel in glacial gully from 4100m to 5500m directly below E Face.
Day 4: sunny day. Ice and snow-climbing from 5500m to 5800m. 1 dry-tool pitch M6). 3 ice pitches (WI5) to 6000m. Sitting bivouac in E Face.
Day 5: sun and some clouds. Steep/vertical ice and mixed climbing for 5 pitchesfrom 6000m to exit col at 6200m.
Day 6: sunny morning, snowy afternoon. Ice and snow-climbing on S Ridge from 6200m to summit (6618m, 2:30pm). Descent by S Ridge and southerly glacier to 5700m, roped glacier walking/climbing. (summit 12th Nov)
Day 7: cloudy morning, snowy afternoon. Descent of glacier (roped glacier walking and rappelling) from 5700m to 4300m.
Day 8: snowing. Completion of descent (rappelling and hiking) from 4300m to road at 3400m and return to Xinxing. (return to Moxi 14th Nov).

The team was sponsored by:

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