Eastern Rim of Central Tibet, South Tibet and East Tibet

Tamotsu (Tom) Nakamura

The Eastern Himalaya extends from the China-Bhutan border - the McMahon Line to Namcha Barwa, the easternmost of the Himalaya, encircled by the Tsangpo Great Bend. The Yarlung Tsangpo flows down south forming the world’s largest and most formidable gorge and reaches the Assam plains where the river changes its name to the Brahmaputra.

From the fascinating Qomolhari (7314 m), many untrodden peaks stand along the range till the eastern end of the China-Bhutan border. I have not detailed Qomolhari which was climbed by Spencer Chapman in 1937, as it is historically famous and has been repeatedly ascended. The scope of this study is the unclimbed Tongshangjabu (7207 m) and eastwards. Kangpu Kang (Shimokangri) (7202 m) was climbed by a Korean party in September 2002, but Dob Kang (6945 m) remains untouched. Qomolhari Kang (7034 m) was scaled from the northern side by a Chinese party (Li Shuang, Yang Bo and Zhou Peng) on 27 September 2012. The Table Mountains, close to 7000 m on the border, including the Gejak Kangri I (7015 m) massif slightly on the Tibetan side and Kuangnam Gam (6813 m), are yet to be attempted. Liangkang Kangri, (7534 m) on the Tibet side closely northwest of Gangkhar Puensum (7570 m) was first climbed by a team of the Japanese Alpine Club in 1999. Unclimbed 6000 m peaks range from Gangkhar Puesum further eastward to the McMahon Line.

Gangkhar Puensum and Kulha Kangri (7538 m) first appeared in a report on the 1885-86 explorations led by G. W. E. Atkinson of the Survey of India when Pundit Rinzin Nimgyal saw these mountains. In 1922, Frederick M. Bailey and Captain H. C. R. Meade, a surveyor of the Indian Army had a distant view of the two peaks from the Bhutan side. In 1933, plant-hunters, Rudlow and Sherriff saw the two peaks from Mondala on the Tibetan side. According to Frank Kingdon-Ward, Gangkhar Puensum was named by Gansser.

Gangkhar Puensum (7570 m) is the highest unclimbed peak in the world as in 2015. It means‘three spiritual brothers’. The altitude was first surveyed in 1922 but the map was inaccurate. In 1973, a joint team from India and Bhutan summited the south peak (6760 m). In 1985 a team from the Himalayan Association of Japan attempted the inspiring south ridge but had to retreat at 6800 m because one member took ill. In 1986 a British team conducted a survey. In 1998 the Japanese Alpine Club obtained a climbing permit from the China Mountaineering Association. However the expedition was cancelled as the Bhutanese Government took objection.

Mountaineering for over 6000 m peaks had been prohibited since 1994 because of religious reasons and since 2003, has been totally banned.

The following are the outstanding peaks and massifs of Shannan, south of Lhasa/Yarlung Tsangpo, between Lhasa and Kulha Kangri and eastwards.

-Noijing Kangsang (7191 m) : first climbed by a China-Tibet joint team in April, 1986.

-Kaluxung (6647 m) : This peak is south of Noijing Kangsang and was first climbed by Keio University team (Japan) in September, 2006.

-Monda Kangri (6425 m) : first climbed by two Japanese parties from Hida Alpine Club in September 2007

-Yalaxianbo (6635 m) : the main peak was first climbed by Yamagata team (Japan) in October 2007. The south peak towering slightly lower remains unclimbed.

-Tarlha Ri massif (6777 m) : The west face was reconnoitered and attempted by the Himalayan Association of Japan in 2000. They made the first ascent of a 6480 m peak. However the main peak 6777 m and other five 6000 m peaks remain untrodden.

-Xoijian Qeri massif (6106 m) : This untouched massif is north of Tarlha Ri massif.

In 1958, Sasuke Nakao, a botanist, professor of the Osaka Municipal University, entered Bhutan alone and first succeeded in taking photos of Kulha Kangri. His objective was to seek a climbing route on this mysterious mountain. After Nakao, in 1963, a Swiss geologist, Professor August Gansser accessed the mountain and presented enchanting pictures to the world.

Lying at 90.6°E and 28.2°N, Kulha Kangri towers northeast of Gangkhar Puensum and has six neighbouring peaks over 7000 m in Lhozhag county. The summit ridge of the main peak joining the 7538 m Kulha Kangri I, 7418 m Kulha Kangri II (Central Peak) and 7381 m Kulha Kangri III (east peak) range to the southeast-east over three km, while to the northeast, Karejiang I - 7221 m, II - 7216 m and III - 7018 m soar northeast of Kulha Kangri.

In April 1986, a party from Kobe University made the first ascent of Kulha Kangi I via the west ridge. In May 2001, Tokai University (Japan) made first ascents of both Kulha Kangri II and III. Main peak 7221 m of the three peaks of Karejiang was climbed by the Himalayan Association of Japan. Nowadays Kulha Kangri has become a popular objective for commercial expeditions.

The McMahon Line is a demarcation agreed to by Britain and Tibet as a part of the Simla Accord, a treaty signed in 1914. It is regarded by India as the legal national border, the effective boundary between China and India. However its legal status is disputed by the Chinese government. The border that China claims in Chinese maps is a line along the plain just north of the Brahmaputra river in India’s Arunachal Pradesh. The line is named after Sir Henry McMahon, foreign secretary of the British-run Government of India and the chief negotiator of the convention at Shimla. It extends for 890 km from Bhutan in the west to 260 km east of the Tsangpo Great Bend (the main stream of the Brahmaputra river) in the east, largely along the crest of the Himalaya.

More than 25 peaks exceeding 6000 m range along the McMahon Line. The mountain range used to be called the Assam Himalaya. The well-known Gorichen in the western part was explored by Bill Tilman in 1939 and first climbed by an Indian party. In 1939, a British party failed to tackle Kangto (Kanggardo Rize) (7060 m), the highest peak on the McMahon Line. In March 1988, Doshisha University (Japan) succeeded in the first ascent of Kangto via the northwest ridge from Tibetan side. All the other peaks over 6000 m other than Gorichen and Kangto remain unclimbed. Nyegi Kangsang (Chinese name : Tui Kangri) (6983 m) northeast of Kangto is a mountain that gave rise to a controversy. An Indian team claimed to have ascended Nyegi Kangsang 1. However, late Jagdish Nanavati, Honorary President of the Himalayan Club proved that they did not reach the summit. In 2000, a British climber, Julian Freeman-Attwood, reconnoitered Nyegi Kangsang, but this area has been closed to foreigners since 2001.

Between Kangto and Nyegi Kangsang, there are two fascinating unclimbed peaks, Chomo I (6878 m) and II (6710 m). There are large glaciers and many unclimbed peaks of 6100 - 6800 m northeast of Nyegi Kangsang.

At the easternmost rim of the Himalaya, the Yarlung Tsangpo transforms itself into the Brahmaputra and flows into the Bay of Bengal after surging between two striking peaks, the 7782 m giant, Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri massif (7294 m). But in the late 1800s, the Tsangpo gorges were rumoured to conceal a waterfall that rivalled the Victoria Falls. Cloaked in mystery and protected by fierce tribesmen and an impenetrable terrain, the Tsangpo was the centre of considerable geographical debate. Determined probes to unravel its secrets were made by the Pundit surveyor Kinthup (1880) and British explorers Frederick M. Bailey and Henry Morshead (1911 – 1913).

Being located on the easternmost rim of the great Himalaya in East Tibet, Namcha Barwa (7782 m) had long been inaccessible until the China’s Deng Xiao Ping implemented an open-door policy in the late 1970s. It is about 390 km away to the east from Lhasa and encircled by the Tsangpo Great Bend.

Lt. J. Field and Lt. G. F. T. Oakes of the Abor 1911-12 expedition first discovered and surveyed the location and altitude of Namcha Barwa. In 1912, H. T. Morshead of the Survey of India, had a glimpse of the summit from a hill in Assam and in 1913, Morshead and F. M Bailey found the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo. Namcha Barwa means ‘a red flash of lightening streaking across the sky’. In 1973, the Chinese Academy of Sciences began to send teams from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Institute for conducting scientific surveys and research of the Yarlung Tsangpo basin. But an attempt to climb the mountain had to wait until the Japanese Alpine Club and the China Mountaineering Association organized a powerful joint expedition in late 1980s.

After the first attempt in 1991, the Japan-China joint team headed by Jiro Yamada (Japan) and Losang Dawa (China) challenged it again in 1992. Base camp was established at 3520 m in the southwestern side on 14 September. Six advance camps C1 at 4300 m and C6 at 6700 m were set up. On 29 October the first party stood atop via NNE ridge after one bivouac at 7600 m. The ascent must be one of the hardest and most remarkable climbs in the Himalaya.

Unclimbed Sanglung 7095 m, east of Namcha Barwa, which was explored by Frank Kingdon-Ward, will attract climbers’ interest in near future.

There is an outstanding mountain massif with three prominent peaks north of Namcha Barwa and the Tsangpo Great Bend. They are Gyala Peri (7294 m), Tiba Kingri (6846 m) and Sentang Bu (6812 m). Gyala Peri is 24 km NNW of Namcha Barwa. In 1912, H. T. Morshead and F. M. Bailey first had a look at them. In 1913, F. M. Bailey viewed this peak from the ridge near Sangulung glacier. In 1936, ’38, ’46 and ’47, Frank Ludlow and George Sherriff entered the region for flower and plant-hunting. They brought back many pictures. Gyala is the name of a village on the right bank of Yarlung Tsangpo. Peri means a high mountain. The first ascent was made a Japanese party of the Himalayan Association of Japan headed by Yoshio Ogata via the south ridge on 31 October 1986. But the other two peaks, Tiba Kangri and Sentang Bu are yet to be attempted and remain unclimbed.

Goikarla Rigyu also called Guotalari, is a range of mountains to the north of the Yarlung Tsangpo, southeast of Lhasa. The range extends 270 km west to east along the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo from Gonggar to Mainling and south of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. In the north of the range, the lower reaches of the Lhasa river run westward and then turn south to join the Yarlung Tsangpo. Further east, the Niang Qu rises in the range to the west of Meila Shan, runs east and then south past Nyingchi to join the Yarlung Tsangpo just downstream from Mainling. The range includes the ‘Worde Konggye’(5998 m), a holy mountain. Russian maps show peaks 5725 m, 6053 m and 5964 m in this Worde Konggye massif. In the Goikarla Rigyu range, several peaks over 6000 m rise as high as 6086 m, 6288 m, 6123 m, 6450 m, 6060 m according to the Russian map. However no attention has been paid to the mountains of Goikarla Rigyu. They are yet unexplored and remain untrodden.

There are unknown 6000 m peaks immediately south of the Yarlung Tsangpo along Route 306. A massif of an inspiring rocky 6151 m peak soars directly from the river bed of a narrow gorge west of Gyaca. According to our Russian map, there are two outstanding mountain massifs having several 6000 m snowy peaks with glaciers east of Nang Xian. The western massif is Chipula-Bobonung with one 6152 m peak and three 6000 m peaks. The eastern massif has a stunning 6045 m snowy peak. I photographed these three massifs in the autumn of 2014. All of them remain unexplored and unclimbed.

The Nyainqentanglha is a huge mountain range about 750 km long, extending from west to east between latitude 30°N and 31°N. Nyainqentanglha West is a massif with four 7000 m peaks south of the Tibetan sacred lake, Nam Tso, while Nyainqentanglha East extends to Baxiola Ling between Baxoi and Rawu in the headwaters of the Parlung Tsangpo, east of the Tsangpo Great Bend.

The Nyainqentanglha West forms a part of the high altitude Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, in easternmost central Tibet. ‘Nyain’ means powerful spirit; ‘qen’ means great; ‘Tanglha’ means Gods of the plains. The development of glaciers is concentrated only in the vicinity of the mountain tops. Snow lines are as high as about 5700 m.

Some geographers define the mountain group of Nyainqentanglha West as part of the Transhimalaya from the Selala Pass on the southwest to the Shangshungla (Zangz-hung La) pass on the northwest. This division supports the idea proposed by Sven Hedin in his Transhimalaya . Hedin introduced the term Transhimalaya to the area ranging to the south and west of the lake Nam Tso and bordered on the south by a valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the main stream of the Brahmaputra river. Hedin perceived the difference between the Nyainqentanglha West and the mountains to the south from the Selala, which had various names : Runpo-gangri, Kamchung-gangri, Targo-gangri, the Gangri mountains, or Kailas. All these mountains situated to the south of Selala are presently known as the Gangdise Shan (Michael Ward, The Mountains of Central Tibet, The Alpine Journal 1996). The whole mountain area of the Nyainqentanglha Shan (mountain) is divided into the western and the northern part. The border demarcating these two sub-regions is marked by the Shangungla. In the same way, the demarcation of the west and east sub-regions, treating Samdain Kangsang (6590 m) is the last high summit on the first one, Nyainqentanglha West.

The first Europeans who passed the Nyainqentanglha Shan were French Jesuits Evariste Huc and Joseph Gabet – two missionary priests. They travelled from Beijing to Lhasa via Mongolia as described by Father Evariste Huc in Travels in Tartary, Tibet and China During The Years 1844-1846 (English edition 1898 Chicago). The missionaries crossed the Shangshungla Pass (4655 m) in 1845.

The second important pass in the Nyainqentanglha Shan is the Khalambala (5230 m) en route from Lake Nam Tso to Namling on the banks on the Shang Chu river. This pass was crossed by a Pundit of Captain Montgomerie in 1872. In 1973, one of the most famous Pundits – Nain Singh – crossed the Largaenla (5157 m) during his great journey from Leh to Assam via Lhasa.

The next important pass is the Guringla. It was first reached by St. George Littledale with his wife Theresa on the way through Tibet from north to south in 1895. They were only 49 miles from Lhasa when a Tibetan troop stopped them and ordered to return back. Littledale made maps of Chang Tang and Tsangpo. In 2008, Elizabeth and Nicholas Clinch published a full biography - Through a land of Extremes : The Littledales of Central Asia .

The next Europeans on the Gurinla Pass were Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter in 1946 (Seven Years in Tibet).

Climbing Chronicle of the First Ascents : Three mountain massifs form the Nyainqentanglha West range. All peaks exceeding 7000 m were already climbed.

Qungmo Kangri N29°55’, E90°05’

Nyainqentanglha N30°30’, E90°35’

Lagaen Between Nyainqentanglha and Samdain Kangsang

Samdain Kangsang N30°50’, E91°25’

1986 – Nyainqentanglha Feng (peak), the main peak 7162 m on 8 May via west ridge : Tohoku University Alpine Club led by Morio Kasai. Hiroshi Naganuma, Yusuke Maruyama and Michiharu Wada stood atop the peak.

1989 – Nyainqentanglha Feng, the central peak 7117 m on 28 July via SSW ridge : An Austrian party led by Fritz Wolfgang. Five members reached the summit from a col of 5900 m.

1992 – Samdain Kangsang 6590 m on 19 October from eastern side : A Japanese party led by Takashi Kawakami. Toshiro Matsunaga and Ichiro Kikuchi reached the summit.

1994 – Tanggula Peak attempted by a Japanese party.

1995 – Nyainqentanglha Feng, the southeast peak 7046 m on 22 August : A Japanese party from Nakatsugawa led by Yukio Miyashita. Keiji Matsushita, Kiyoshi Fujita and a Sherpa reached the summit.

1995 – Kyizi group, 27 km SSW of Nyainqentanglha Feng main peak, Kyizi II. 6150 m on 15 August. : A Japanese party from Osaka led by Tamio Higuchi. Four members reached the summit.

1996 – Qungmo Kangri (Qungmogangze) 7048 m on 7 October via south ridge : China-Korea joint party. Four Chinese and five Korean stood atop.

1997 – Jadu 6088 m on 11 May, from eastern side : a Japanese party from Nagano led by Hisanobu Nozawa. Five members stood atop.

1997 – 6079 m peak 3.5 km SWW of Kyizi on 7 August : A Japan-China joint party led by Takeshi Takeda.

1998 – Saka I 6380 m (Garbu 6248 m on Chinese map), Saka West II 6224 m and Saka East II 6170 m, 13 km north of Qungmo Kangri main peak on 5, 7 and 9 August via SSW ridge (for Saka I) : A Japanese party led by Tadakio Sakahara. Sakahara and Mima stood atop.

2000 – Golden Dragon 6614 m via south face on 23 September, White Pagoda (Chorten Garpo) 6415 m via northwest ridge on 22 September and Yarlung Ri 6256 m via southeast ridge on 19 September : an Austrian party of Erich Gatt (Golden Dragon and White Pagoda), Hansjoerg Pfaundier (all three peaks) and Christian Haas (Yarlung Ri, 2nd ascent of White Pagoda 23 September, 2nd ascent Golden Dragon 24 September).

2003 – Bartse Ri 6235 m (east peak, highest) from western side on 21 September : A British party (the Alpine Club) of Derek Buckle, Martin Scott, John Town and Alasdar. GPS indicated 6270 m, southwest peak is slightly lower.

2005 – Pajan Zhari 6221 m via northeast face and Gompa Garpa Ri (White Monastery Mountains) 6232 m via northeast face/north ridge in September – October : an Austrian party of Erich Gatt, Gerhard Gridl and Christian Haas reached the summits.

2005 – Zhana Rizi 6214 m: A Japanese party of Ryo Ito and Miyamoto reached the summit.

2006 – Sha Mo Karpo Ri (Mt. White Cap) 6261 m via north ridge in 5 October : an Austrian party of Christian Haas and Hansjoerg Pfaundier stood atop.

2006 – Peaks surrounding a valley situated eastwards from Lake Nam Tso in November–December : An American, Sean Burch climbed the peak.

2009 – Peaks 6204 m on 30 October, 6286 m on 7 November, 6382 m on 8 November of Lang Quvalley in the vicinity of Bada Qu : the summit was reached by Bruce Normand (Scotland), Yan Dongdong (China), Guy McKinnon (New Zealand).

Note: Japanese groups of Japan Unclimbed Peak Club ascended several 6000 m peaks in 1999 – 2010. But no specific reports are available.

The history of exploration and climbing in the Eastern Rim of Central Tibet, South Tibet and East Tibet.

Read about Tamotsu Nakamura on Page 80

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