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.
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.
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.
Jos and Ben , celebrating the summit. We named the peak Ben Jai Ma somewhat a cross between Tibetan and English , or just Big Ben.
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.
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.
All three of us on top of road pass 4760m