Siguniang (6,250m), northwest face, Bloody Sunset.
By Andrey Muryshev, Russia
Our expedition began as nine Russians from Irkutsk, Moscow, and St Petersburg. However, at base camp Evgeny Korol caught a cold that quickly developed into pulmonary edema, and we had to evacuate him rapidly. The St Petersburg team, Alexey Gorbatenkov and Svetlana Gutsalo, made an alpine-style attempt on a direct route up Siguniang’s south face. They followed the buttress to the right of the line later climbed by Chinese, but were hit by a big snowstorm with thunder and lightning and retreated from ca 5,800m.
On October 5 the Irkutsk team of Evgeny Bashkirtsev and Denis Veretenin, with the team of Vladimir Molodozhen from St Petersburg and Valery Shamalo, Denis Sushko, and I from Moscow, started up the northwest buttress. The aim was to climb directly this steep rock pillar right of the 2002 Fowler-Ramsden route, the Inside Line (ca 1,100m, WI6). While our four-man team took the only obvious crack system that extends the height of the face, the guys from Irkutsk began 100m to the left. [Editor's note: They probably followed the line tried in 2005 by Chad Kellogg, Joe Puryear, and Stoney Richards, the only party to have previously attempted this 900m buttress. The buttress tops out a little below 6,000m, where it joins the right-slanting snow ramp of the Inside Line.]
Over two days both teams completed four pitches but were then hit by the storm that forced the pair on the south face to retreat. Avalanches pounded our portaledge, and we spent all night clearing snow to prevent damage to our shelter. In the morning we saw the Irkutsk pair retreating. They told us by radio that a heavy avalanche had scored a direct hit and broken their portaledge. Bashkirtsev was not belayed and did well to keep himself on the ledge. After that our team of four experienced snow every night, keeping us awake half the time.
This wall gets little sun, less with the frequent bad weather, and the temperature was always below 0°C. The temperature gradient itself was drastic; we felt every 100m of height gained. I’ve never experienced that before, and wonder if it is connected with Siguniang being 500m higher than neighboring summits. Near the top the cold was fierce (we had no thermometer but I suspect it could have been as low as -30°C). We all got frostbitten toes, though without serious consequence.
Free-climbing was impossible, and we typically made only one pitch a day. It was much slower than planned, but we were so keen to reach the summit that we sacrificed our return flight tickets to do so. Had the weather been good, the route has enough features for long sections to be free-climbed. But we either had to aid the cracks with pins or clear them of ice so we could use cams. Near half-height we were forced to use skyhooks and the drill on a 100m compact section.
After 14 pitches, with time running out, we moved left to join the Fowler-Ramsden couloir. Life immediately got better; on the first full day in the couloir we climbed four pitches, and on the day after pushed for the summit. However, we had underestimated the amount of climbing remaining. It was delicate, thin ice over rock, and Denis spent three hours on one pitch, taking two falls, one of 15m. We fixed a rope and returned to the portaledge.
Next day, October 21, Denis felt too tired to continue, so only Valery and Vladimir went for the summit, reaching it at 5 p.m. Denis and I followed on the 22nd, then we all descended our route. It is the logical way down, as the buttress is solid and steep, the Fowler-Ramsden couloir is exposed to stonefall in the lower section, and we already had at least one bolt on each belay.
We named our route Bloody Sunset (1,150m, VI A4 90°). It has 14 pitches on rock, and then four steep ice and mixed pitches in the upper couloir to reach the snow/ice ramp, which although steep, proved to be comparatively straightforward. This route was the hardest big-wall effort of my life, and I was pleased when we were awarded first prize in the Russian Championships.