Near Miss in Nyainqentanglha

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Camp on the East Ridge of Nenang, with a wilderness of unclimbed peaks beyond.

Camp on the East Ridge of Nenang, with a wilderness of unclimbed peaks beyond.

Despite “the hardest effort any of us have given in the mountains,” the Anglo-American team of Jim Lowther, Mark Richey, and Mark Wilford came up just short in an attempt on unclimbed Nenang (22,539 feet) in far eastern Tibet. The trio had hoped to climb the East Ridge of Nenang, the high point of a cluster of magnificent summits north of Lake Basong in the Nyaingentanglha East Range.

The summit of Nenang was more than eight miles and 10,000 vertical feet above the three men when they left base camp with 80-pound packs. It took them six days just to reach the true base of the mountain, traversing two glaciers and two technical ice falls, with deep powder snow requiring snowshoes every day. Just 1,000 feet below the summit, a huge crevasse bisected the ridge and blocked their progress late in the day. “We discussed lowering into the crevasse and setting a Tyrolean, but it would have meant an open bivy for sure in near artic conditions, which seemed too risky given the remoteness of our position,” Richey said in an email. “We waited two more days at our high camp at 6,200 meters [20,341 feet], but bad weather kept us from attempting an alternate route, and finally lack of food forced a retreat. Our final day’s ration was three cough drops!”

The East Ridge of 22,539-foot Nenang follows the right skyline.Photo by Mark Richey.

Near Miss in Nyainqentanglha

Despite his disappointment at not reaching the summit, Richey said visiting the little-explored Nyaingentanglha East was extremely satisfying. Only three big peaks in the entire range have been climbed, and all three teams faced major challenges from the mountains’ bottomless snow and deep cold. “In terms of exploration and the wild beauty of the region, we all agreed this was unparalleled by any previous climbing trip,” Richey said. “Thousands of unclimbed peaks, like a dozen Cordillera Blancas packed together, above a spectacular approach through primordial forests and gorges carved by rushing turquoise rivers. It was like entering the ‘land before time.’”

Cold enough for you? Taking a break on Nenang. Photo courtesy of Mark Richey.

Near Miss in Nyainqentanglha

Sources: Mark Richey, 2003 American Alpine Journal.

Date of Ascent: November 2006.

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