Himalayan Journal vol.58
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.58

Publication year:
2002

Editor:
Harish Kapadia
Index
  1. TWO POEMS
    (REV. ROY GREENWOOD)
  2. HIMALAYA: MYTHICAL SHANGRI LA TO GLOBALISING COCKPIT1
    (A. D. MODDIE)
  3. QUEST FOR SOURCE OF THE MEKONG RIVER
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  4. FIRST ASCENT OF TIRSULI WEST
    (MAJOR KULWANT SINGH DHAMI, SM)
  5. NANDA GHUNTI FROM BOTH SIDES
    (MARTIN MORAN)
  6. MERU PEAK: THE GATE TO THE SKY
    (VALERI BABANOV)
  7. A CLIMB IN THE CLOUDS
    (ARNAB BANERJEE)
  8. PERMIT ME, SANCTUARY
    (STEVEN BERRY)
  9. NANDA DEVI JUGGERNAUT
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  10. THE TRIDENT OF SHIVA
    (COLIN KNOWLES)
  11. LAST MINUTE JOURNEY
    (ANTONELLA CICOGNA and MARIO MANICA)
  12. A DATE WITH THE TIMELESS MOUNTAINS
    (Lt. Col. A. ABBEY)
  13. IN THE LAND OF ARGANS
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  14. BARBAROSSA
    (MARK RICHEY)
  15. BRITISH SOLU EXPEDITION 2000
    (DAVE WILKINSON)
  16. TRAVELS WITH DONKEYS IN THE KUN LUN
    (COLONEL HENRY DAY)
  17. TO THE ALPS OF TIBET
    (TAMOTSU NAKAMURA)
  18. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  19. BOOK REVIEWS
  20. IN MEMORIAM
  21. CORRESPONDENCE
  22. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 2001
  23. CLUB PROCEEDINGS

TO THE ALPS OF TIBET

TAMOTSU NAKAMURA

‘TODAY THE MAP HAS NO MORE SECRETS.’ Idle minds repeat that phrase like a parrot. But who knows all Tibet, or its far-away frontiers with western China? 'Even its own prayer-muttering tribes know only their own bleak, wind swept valleys.' - an explorer, plant hunter, Joseph F. Rock said, while on an expedition to the Amnyi Machen range on the China-Tibet frontier ('Seeking the Mountains of Mystery,' The National Geographic Magazine Vol. LVII, No. 2, February 1930). A three- quarter century rewrote Chinese history. The current of reform transformed Tibet too. The open-door policy launched by Deng Shao-ping has enabled foreign climbers to visit the greater ranges in Tibet since 1980. Even today, however, there still exist veiled and less known mountains as aptly suggested by J. F. Rock seventy years ago. Nyainqentanglha, east of eastern Tibet is the last field remaining unexplored in China, which would surely invite climbers' attention. I travelled to the region twice in May - June and October - November 2001.

Right after coming back home from Tibet mid November, I e-mailed the photos to Christian Beckwith, AAJ editor. He commented 'Mr. Nakamura, I am incredibly impressed. I expect the worlds' exploratory climbers will be in your debt again.' The journey of three elderly members in the fall of 2001 was to their entire satisfaction thanking nice weather and good fortune.

Mountains and Glaciers

If you fly over from Chengdu to Lhasa on a fine morning, your eyes would be glued to magnificent snow peaks with large glaciers 'giant white dragons' appearing in succession. Nyaiqentanglha is a huge mountain range of 750 km overall length extending from west to east in between latitude 30°N and 31 °N. The western end is a massif of four 7000 m peaks south of Tibetan sacred lake, Nam Tso and the eastern end extends to Rawu that is in the east of Tsangpo Great Bend. The mountain range is divided into two parts, west and east near Lhari.

Photos 52-53-54

1. Nyaiqentanglha West:

The western part of the range forms a part of Qinghai-Tibetan plateau of high altitude. Tohoku University of Japan made the first ascent of the highest peak, Nyainqentanglha (7162 m) in 1986. All of the other 7000 m peaks were already climbed. Glacier development is concentrated only in the vicinity of the mountain tops. Snow lines are as high as 5700 m.
  1. Nyaiqentanglha East:
The eastern part of the range locates in the southeastern rim of Qinghai- Tibetan plateau. Upper tributaries of Yalung Tsangpo erode the plateau into deep valleys like seams. The topography becomes complicated. The climate is humid and brings much snowfall, which develops glaciers, makes enchanting snow peaks and grows beautiful conifer forests. The highest peak on the main range is Sepu Kangri (6956 m) that was challenged by British party of Chris Bonington and Charles Clarke three times in 1996, 97, 98. They reached very close to the summit. (Tibet's Secret Mountain, The Triumph of Sepu Kangri, 1999)

From a point of view of water drainage system, the main range of Nyainqentanglha East forms the watershed between Yalung Tsangpo and Salween river (Nu Jiang). There are the upper Salween in the north and two tributaries of Yalung Tsangpo, Yigong Tsangpo and Parlung Tsangpo in the south. Countless peaks exceeding 6000 m exist, yet untouched. Almost all except for Sepu Kangri massif are veiled and unvisited till today. Glaciers are well developed. One of them, Qiaqing glacier that is the largest one in the mountain range has 35 km length. The glaciers are summarised below and locations are shown in map.

The sub-range that separates from the main range near Lhari to east in the south of Yigong Tsangpo is to be included in Nyainqentanglha East. Here are many fascinating lofty snow peaks too. Mountains and valleys that surround a scenic and historical spot, Basong lake would have you imagine them to be European Alps. I call them 'The Alps of Tibet'. The highest peak, Nenang (6870 m) is guarded with a precipitous snow face and a treacherous ridge. Breathtaking pyramid, Jajacho (6447 m) soaring into the sky is most impressive and many other alluring peaks are waiting for climbers.

A Japanese party from Nagano came twice in 1994 and 2000, but no notable outcome is reported. In 1999, a New Zealand party led by John Nankervis challenged two peaks in the east of Basong lake (NZAL 2000)

According to An Introduction to the Glaciers in China (Langzhou Glaciers Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 1988), there are 2905 glaciers in Nyaigentanglha range, of which the total area is 5898 km2 to cover approx. 7% of the total area of the mountain range. If 1638 km2 of the adjacent Kangri Garpo is added, the total area of glaciers amounts to 7536 km2 that ranks fourth among 12 glaciated regions in China. The total area is as large as 1.7 times of that of European Alps. Glaciers in Nyainqentanglha East are of an oceanic type and exceed those of west in both of the number and area as well. They are concentrated to Yigong Tsangpo and Parlung Tsangpo that flow into Tsangpo Great Bend. The glaciers in 200 km between Lhari and Qingdo account for 30% of the total glacier area of the range.

Main Glaciers of Nyaiqentanglha Range
Name of Glacier Glacier End

E - N
Main Peak (m) Snow Line (m) Length (km) Area

(km2)
GL. End Height (m)
West:
Xibu 90°36'E - 30°23'N 7162 5717 12.7 18.3 5072
East:
Qiaqing 94°50'E - 30°23'N 6356 4510 35.0 151.5 2530
Jiangpu 94°33'E - 30°26'N 6382 4495 21.0 132.7 3160
Zepu 95°15'E - 30°17'N 6349 4683 19.2 65.8 3420
Nalong 94°57'E - 30°30'N 6132 4732 18.0 95.0 3580
Jiabiegong 94°58'E - 30°28'N 6349 4553 15.0 46.6 3076
Maguolong 95°06'E - 30°29'N 6252 5000 14.0 58.2 4060
Daoge 94°33'E - 30°25'N 6000 4816 14.0 63.3 3950
Aigagong 93037.E - 30°23'N 6620 4929 13.0 46.0 3800
Ruoguo 94°45'E - 30°32'N 6026 4715 14.0 47.2 3630
Gongpu 94°44'E - 30°21'N 5900 4221 12.0 30.1 2700
Journey October - November, 2001

With an objective of preliminary reconnaissance, we planned our trekking in two stages. The party of three elders (ages 67, 68, 69), T. Nakamura, T. Nagai and M. Kasugai entered the valley in the north of Basong lake, and then traced F. Kingdon-Ward's footsteps of 1994 from the lake crossing a high pass of 5200 m down to Lhari.

As soon as we arrived at a rest house on the south bank of Basong Lake on 21 October, 2001 we enquired 'Where is Namla Karpo?' On the following day, we asked the same question to villagers of Juba, the starting point for our caravan northwards. However, we had not heard the name of this mountain, in place of which they replied 'Jieqinnalagabu'. Kingdon- Ward mentioned, 'The Pasum lake occupies a long narrow ice-worn valley between steep mountains. Toward the head are several snow-peaks, the most conspicuous of which is Namla Karpo' (The Riddle of the Tasangpo Gorge 1926). NZ party reported in their journal of NZAC that they had attempted Namla Karpo. But we presume, to our best knowledge, that their Namla Karpo must be Jieqinnalagabu (6316 m), which is also named in Immortal Mountains in the Snow Region (China Mountaineering Association and Mountaineering Association of Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Tibet People's Printing House, 1995).

The mountains surrounding Basong lake are in the Gongpo region of Tibet. The Gongpo is known for its King Gesar, tales of poisoning strangers and large circular forts built as stone towers to use for protection against invaders. The towers are not so high as those of West Sichuan. Local people warned us to be careful of the poisoning while we were trekking.

On the 24th we departed from Juba in a caravan of eight horses with four muleteers. The first stage was to follow the main valley in the north of Basong lake and search to the head of the valley to west where several high peaks over 6500 m with glaciers concentrate. We passed by Zhonggo village in the northern end of the lake and entered into the valley to north. We were stationed in Tsongba village.

On the 25th we proceeded to Lamayalung, summer camp for pasturage to west via Tsala village. The autumn weather was fine. It was really amazing scenery. As we progressed, absolutely stunning 6000 m snow peaks were unveiled and came into sight one after another in all directions. The horse riding was quite comfortable. On the next day we continued up the valley toward the headwater, but we failed to reach the glacier end as trails were suddenly lost. We could have a view only of Jiongmudazhi (6582 m). On the 28th we returned to Juba and on the 29th moved to Jula to northwest for the second stage to trace an old trade path to Lhari.

In Jula, Kingdon-Ward's Drukla, now a centre of the sub-division of Gongpo-Gyamda County we gathered information on the highest peak, Nenang (6870 m) in the north and road to Lhari. On the 30th Kasugai left Jula for return journey whilst Nakamura and Nagai went up the valley to north for reconnoitering Nenang, but we were forced to abandon our jeep on the way as the car ran onto a rock and was suddenly not functioning. Nenang was seemingly the most challenging and formidable peak of all. A roadway has been newly opened some 40 km from Jula to Punkar up the Jula stream to northwest and then northward. This is a part of the old trade route.

On 31 October we departed from Jula to Punkar by a six-wheel strong truck being used for timber transport. Six hours were needed for 40 km. We were lucky to have chosen the powerful vehicle with an experienced driver. The last half of the road through forested valley was unbelievably bad and if we had employed a car such as Pajero or Land-Cruiser, we would have never reached Punkar. We lodged in a house of Tibetan farmers, who welcomed us warmly and arranged for organising our caravan. Punkar is the last village up this valley and people are friendly. In addition, medicines definitely worked in our favour. Each family has many children, four to five on an average. They flocked to meet us as strangers' visiting here rarely. Punkar village has a population of 230 persons and 34 families.

In the east of Punkar there are a couple of magnificent snow peaks of 6500 m with glaciers of considerable magnitude, one of which is Chauchepo (6552 m) resembling a beautiful peak in South Georgia Island near Antarctica. These mountain ranges are the highest after Nenang eastwards. In the southeast a massive ice and snow giant Birutaso (6691 m) rises close to the village.

On 2 November we left Punkar in a caravan of 8 horses and 5 muleteers. The weather was stable as we had sunshine almost everyday, although it could change in a day. We crossed over a small ridge behind the village to avoid a deep gorge of the main stream of the valley to Keng la (pass). We forded the stream twice. We marched up the valley northwestwards. The upper part of the valley was glaciated, and we passed numerous hanging valleys. A muleteer pointed out a branch valley leading over Lachen la to Yigong Tsangpo. We camped at the junction.

On the 3rd we continued up the valley to the headwater at the foot of Keng la (5200 m), and on the 4th we left camp in snowfall and ascended the pass. From the pass we could see a sharp-pointed tower of Unnamed peak (6203 m) to east that was just emerging from the mist. From a hill 70 m above the pass, we also had a view of several blunt-nosed glaciers flowing from Nepa (6131 m) towards the valley, which runs northwards. The landscape changes from forest country to arid high plateau. To the north of the pass, barren screes and moraines spread in all direction. Not a bush or a shrub remained as far as our eye could see. Now we entered into the colder and harsh land with Yak dung for fuel, and turf, and flowers, but scarcely a stick of wood. Kingdon-Ward wrote that a dwarf prickly blue poppy, bearing many blooms (meconopsis horridula) was abundant on the moraines.

Having crossed the pass, we descended hundreds of metres and joined the main old trade road near a small village at the junction. We went further down the main road and halted for the night. On the 5th we marched along the southern bank of a lake, Atsa Tso and safely arrived at the new Lhari, a centre of administration and economy of Lhari County. Construction of the new Lhari (or Chali) had commenced in former Asta village in 1988.

On the 6th we enjoyed an excursion to Banda la (5300 m), on the way of which we had a breathtaking view of Jajacho (6447 m) not so far, to east, a shape of pyramid soaring into the blue sky. The mountain was blessing the success of our journey. On the following day, we left the forbidden land driving to Lhasa with a feeling of satisfaction.

SUMMARY

Exploration of the mountains of Nyaiquentanglha East, Tibet, China, May - June and October - November 2001.

Team: Japanese team of T. Nakamura, T. Nagai and M. Kasugai.