Into The Unknown - a trip to unexplored regions on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau

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This is what we came halfway around the World for. -Jos stands  on the edge  of vast ice fields -  over his shoulder behind him is our objective, the highest mountain in thousands of unexplored square kilometers point 5875 meters.

 Into The Unknown - a trip to unexplored regions on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau

14 months of planning saw me landing in Yushu airport in Qinghai China at 3800m to meet my companions Ben and Jos Hoetjes who had ridden by bike almost a 1000 km's from Xining over 10 days for acclimatization.  The mission was simple – a lightweight attempt on what we believe after much research to be the highest mountains on this part of the Qinghai Tibet plateau , the glaciated peaks surrounding point 5875m. The whole project was initiated after reading the final lines from the article  Qiajajima, first ascent – American Alpine Club Journal 2005  stating “Sedari (5,770m) and 5,700m–5,800m peaks ranging to the west, where glaciers are most developed. This massif remains unvisited. No photographs of the mountains have been taken.” - this was certainly an interesting challenge.

With only a few blurry images on Google Earth and some old Russian maps from the 1950's we put together a plan to explore and if possible climb some of these peaks using bicycles as transport – light weight and fast is part of our philosophy along with the wish to visit new places especially on the roof of the world.  

 We rode across to Zhidoi – almost 200kms over a 4800 meter pass in the first 2 days – I adapted fast although somewhat struggling for breath behind my better acclimated companions. In Zhidio we had a most fortunate meeting with some foreigners  who told us a new road had been built between Zhidoi and Zhadio some 300kms to the south. Until than we had in mind initially following the route of the Spanish who had climbed Guozongmucha near the source of the Mekong in 2013 before turning off and  heading south over a 5100m pass than trying to cross the headwaters of the An yang qong chu. The river crossing had worried me greatly and with the road plus bridge option and also the fact 1 day of trekking was eliminated our chance of doing some worthwhile work had increased significantly  - considering fuel , food and time limitations we would only have about 1 week in the wilderness. It took us 1 long days ride to the bridgehead where we got to see our peaks for the first time , than another day to camp 1 where we would leave our bikes and than climb our first peak 5806m (ranked 3 in the area in height – I have based all heights on www.arcgis.com/home/webmap which seems the most accurate resource). After this we progressed up into the main Glacier system and here camped at about 5300m for 3 nights in the process exploring some of the 2 main valley glaciers and climbing peak 5875m (rank 1) and peak 5794m (rank 6). We than returned down the river valley , over a 5000m road pass and to Yushu via Zhadoi , admiring the fantastic mountain scenery on the way. We also tried to build up a general picture of the area for the future and on returning to Yushu I also tried to obtain further information on the peaks to the South which form the Southern extension of this mountain system. 

 It was 3 long days ride and about 300 kms all up  from Yushu to the bridge head where we could access our chosen mountains.

It was 3 long days ride and about 300 kms all up  from Yushu to the bridge head where we could access our chosen mountains.

 All along route if we meet people at all we attracted much interest , all the locals wanting photos with us. Even Chinese are a rairty out here and often only Tibetean spoken.

All along route if we meet people at all we attracted much interest , all the locals wanting photos with us. Even Chinese are a rairty out here and often only Tibetean spoken.

 Ben and Jos getting their first views of the glacial system in the distance we have travelled half the World to explore. 

Ben and Jos getting their first views of the glacial system in the distance we have travelled half the World to explore. 

 A close up of the Southern end of the Glacial peaks. The white pyramid dead center is probably piont 5797m rank 5.

A close up of the Southern end of the Glacial peaks. The white pyramid dead center is probably piont 5797m rank 5.

 Choice campsite

Choice campsite

 Horse shoer in action !!

Horse shoer in action !!

 We can’t ride much further , behind is point 5806m (rank 3) , we called it Decieption peak as it looked easy but proved very tough. We marked out a pencil drawn map with all our own names as we have no idea what the Tibetain ones are – if any.

We can’t ride much further , behind is point 5806m (rank 3) , we called it Decieption peak as it looked easy but proved very tough. We marked out a pencil drawn map with all our own names as we have no idea what the Tibetain ones are – if any.

 As far as we got with our bikes, this campsite looks up river to the sources of the Mekong mountains and Glaciers.

As far as we got with our bikes, this campsite looks up river to the sources of the Mekong mountains and Glaciers.

 On a quick evening reece , Jos and Ben try and detrmine the topography of the country around us.

On a quick evening reece , Jos and Ben try and detrmine the topography of the country around us.

 Another view of our last bike campsite - this across the river to yurts and rock peaks.

Another view of our last bike campsite - this across the river to yurts and rock peaks.

 Jos on the lower portion of Deception peak. 

Jos on the lower portion of Deception peak. 

 After already climbing very loose steep rock the serious work began once we hit the Glacial cap!!!  

After already climbing very loose steep rock the serious work began once we hit the Glacial cap!!!  

 4 times 50m pitchs took us past the worst of the slipery snow covered ice. There was very little protection provided by the ice screws in the rather shabby ice. 

4 times 50m pitchs took us past the worst of the slipery snow covered ice. There was very little protection provided by the ice screws in the rather shabby ice. 

 Snow showers greeted us on top but the sun was our real enemy – the snow would deteriorate in minutes with the slightest hint of sun. 

Snow showers greeted us on top but the sun was our real enemy – the snow would deteriorate in minutes with the slightest hint of sun. 

 the entire Eastern ridge which was our choice as a descent route was heavily corniced.

the entire Eastern ridge which was our choice as a descent route was heavily corniced.

 We descended to the Glacier on the left of the picture which is due East of the peak. There were 4 main valley  glaciers running to the An yang gong chu river, all running from South to North. 

We descended to the Glacier on the left of the picture which is due East of the peak. There were 4 main valley  glaciers running to the An yang gong chu river, all running from South to North. 

 We called it Desolation Glacier. The descent route was fairly straight forward but very long. When we arrived on the valley floor exhaustion was creeping in and the relatively short (4kms or less) steep narrow glacier gave a feeling of deep unesiness. 

We called it Desolation Glacier. The descent route was fairly straight forward but very long. When we arrived on the valley floor exhaustion was creeping in and the relatively short (4kms or less) steep narrow glacier gave a feeling of deep unesiness. 

 The bikes were left behind as we trekked deeper into the river system. Above us is Sedari - the only mountain I have a local name for - listed as peak 5770m on the old Russian maps.

The bikes were left behind as we trekked deeper into the river system. Above us is Sedari - the only mountain I have a local name for - listed as peak 5770m on the old Russian maps.

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Sunshine Glacier - the heart of the mountain range.  We camped up here at approximately 5300 meters  in preparation to climb peak 5875m and explore the mountains and glaciers around. The exposed white ice of Sunshine glacier stretchess almost 10kms long and several wide at its head. 

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Crossing the second Glacier of the day which we called Fox Glacier after a fox who ran out in front of us. A heavy over night freeze followed by an absolutely clear day left perfect conditions for our ascent of point 5875m - in fact it was the best day of our whole trip  weather wise.

 All the glaciers were riddled with crevass's and we ened up rioped up most of the time. 

All the glaciers were riddled with crevass's and we ened up rioped up most of the time. 

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Jos and Ben , celebrating the summit. We named the peak Ben Jai Ma somewhat a cross between Tibetan and English , or just Big Ben. 

 High (approx 5700m) rock peaks tower out of the Valleys to the East. The extensive glaciers and high summer snowfalls gave our system something of a soft touch. Considering the state of the rock we encountered I can't imagine climbing these peaks in their bare form. 

High (approx 5700m) rock peaks tower out of the Valleys to the East. The extensive glaciers and high summer snowfalls gave our system something of a soft touch. Considering the state of the rock we encountered I can't imagine climbing these peaks in their bare form. 

 view to the South - Glaciers and mountain peaks stretched to the horizon. 

view to the South - Glaciers and mountain peaks stretched to the horizon. 

 Descending back down to  Fox Glacier 

Descending back down to  Fox Glacier 

 looking back at Ben Jai Ma from above our campsite on  Sunshine Glacier. I was very pleased  that  it was such a lovely peak that dominates the area and a fine but realivily easy climb.

looking back at Ben Jai Ma from above our campsite on  Sunshine Glacier. I was very pleased  that  it was such a lovely peak that dominates the area and a fine but realivily easy climb.

 Constellation peak 5794m (rank 6) is the cone centre left picture. We had bigger ambitions the day after the ascent of Ben Jaai Ma but I was too exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally and I settled for an easy walk up what I called Consolation peak., However the Hoetje brothers didn't want such a derogatory appellation applied and they thought Constellation peak was more appropriate - the peak being at the center of many others. 

Constellation peak 5794m (rank 6) is the cone centre left picture. We had bigger ambitions the day after the ascent of Ben Jaai Ma but I was too exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally and I settled for an easy walk up what I called Consolation peak., However the Hoetje brothers didn't want such a derogatory appellation applied and they thought Constellation peak was more appropriate - the peak being at the center of many others. 

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Looking down to the head of Sunshine Glacier - Our campsite is midpoint of picture. Constellation peak was surprisingly high and gave a great overview of most of the Northern end of the Mountain system. 

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Returning to camp , the whole Glacier was turning to liquid beneath us - Fortunately we had not attempted anything more difficult. There had only been a light freeze overnight followed by intense sun and conditions were not ideal. 

 leaving the Glacial terminus - it had snowed on the way in and also on the way out. 

leaving the Glacial terminus - it had snowed on the way in and also on the way out. 

 Flowers, flowers and more flowers. What a wonderful sight. I had just read Frank Smythes book 'Valley of Flowers'  so guess what we called this valley??

Flowers, flowers and more flowers. What a wonderful sight. I had just read Frank Smythes book 'Valley of Flowers'  so guess what we called this valley??

 Decption peak again

Decption peak again

 Passing the outlet of glacier No 2 , the only one we left without a name , the shortest and steepest of the 4 main South - north glaciers 

Passing the outlet of glacier No 2 , the only one we left without a name , the shortest and steepest of the 4 main South - north glaciers 

 Pushing the bikes down river

Pushing the bikes down river

 Finally sitting down again!!

Finally sitting down again!!

 Crossing pass 5002m the highest road pass on trip.

Crossing pass 5002m the highest road pass on trip.

 Riding down a lovely valley towards Zhadoi, looking back is almost the last view of the southern end of the range we climbed in. 

Riding down a lovely valley towards Zhadoi, looking back is almost the last view of the southern end of the range we climbed in. 

 Smooth Tarmac again!!

Smooth Tarmac again!!

 Buddism is strong in these parts

Buddism is strong in these parts

 Large Buddist temple outside Yushu

Large Buddist temple outside Yushu

 Jos and Ben left me in Yushu and I wanted to further explore the area south of Yushu  where we had spotted some high glaciated peaks (point 5672 m) and went for a long ride up an approx 4800 m pass. Above towered lofty rock peaks but the higher peaks were further West and not visible.

Jos and Ben left me in Yushu and I wanted to further explore the area south of Yushu  where we had spotted some high glaciated peaks (point 5672 m) and went for a long ride up an approx 4800 m pass. Above towered lofty rock peaks but the higher peaks were further West and not visible.

 peak 5379m - there's a range of high unexplored unclimbed Alpine peaks within a day of Yushu.

peak 5379m - there's a range of high unexplored unclimbed Alpine peaks within a day of Yushu.

 Jos

Jos

 Ben

Ben

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All three of us on top of  road pass 4760m