11. December, 2012 ,

“Sigun’exchange”: Christophe Dumarest’s account

The first ever expedition of its kind, with French and Chinese mountaineers, organised by the GORE-TEX Experience Tour.

18 days of top level mountaineering in the Siguniang Shan mountains (China), in the company of Chinese and French mountaineers, including Christophe Dumarest of Team GORE-TEX – this was the opportunity offered to Maris Rozenblats, from Latvia, the lucky winner of the selection process organised by GORE-TEX through the www.experience-tour.com website. The expedition in the mountainous regions of China’s interior has just come to an end.
Christophe Dumarest gives his first impressions: “The Sigun’Exchange expedition, organised by the Groupe Haute Montagne (GHM – High Mountain Group) and supported by GORE-TEX (GORE-TEX Experience Tour) has concluded. The whole team has returned fit and well, without injuries or frost bite in spite of the harsh conditions experienced this Autumn in Sichuan, an area in Western China, and especially in the valleys around Rilong at the foot of Mount Siguniang.”

A team of mountaineers, both men and women, set out to explore China’s interior,

“from Chamonix (by adoption), Saint-Jean de Maurienne and Chablais in Savoy, Gap,
Annecy and… Latvia (Maris, winner of the GORE-TEX competition). These were the teams that began this trip by exploring an amazing traditional sandstone climbing site in the Yunnan region, not far from the town of Lijiang; an opportunity to get to know each other and especially to try out our roped parties around the magnificent sandstone fissures so characteristic of climbs at this site. For this trip we were lucky enough to be accompanied by four women climbers, Fanny, Mélanie, Chloé and Marion (the famous Baffin Island “Panik” girls).” See the video at Youtube.

1200 kilometres in a 4×4 to the Tibetan high plateaux

“After four days spent in Laojun clinging to sandstone towers, we continued the trip in two 4x4s for a journey of almost 1200 km to explore the high plateaux of Tibet. A trip within a trip to experience some amazing landscapes and some always very welcoming places.
Having arrived in Rilong a week earlier, Damien Tomasi and Jérôme Para did not wait for us to start the ball rolling.
We discovered the track of their new ascent of Mount Daogou, 5466 m at the summit. An additional stimulus to achieve our different objectives as quickly as possible.”

First meeting with our Chinese mountaineer friends

“We tackled acclimatisation two days after our arrival by mixing our roped parties with our Chinese friends. Communication was not always easy, even with those who spoke English. Motivation seemed to transcend frontiers and our new companions were as enthusiastic as we were on the approach to the summits. Their presence made it much easier to communicate with the locals and other mule drivers for access to the faces of the mountain.
The groups were spread out in two different valleys, we climbed the slopes at the foot of Mount to set up our base camp. Next day we chose a beautiful high ridge in order to get to know Konrua, our Chinese partner. We let him climb in front, even though progress was a little slower than ours in the mixed sections, dry-tooling techniques seemed to find him slightly wanting, but his enthusiasm was very obvious. For schedule reasons, Maris, the winner of the GORETEX® competition was in the other valley with Christian Trommsdorff and Marion Poitevin.”

A strong wind at altitude spoiled the party

“The next day, with Thomas Vialletet, we managed to open a very good route on a probably virgin summit at 5600 m with the ascent of a pipe visible in a North slope area of weakness. Setting off with a back pack, we chose the “fast and light’ option and despite the very real cold, everything went well.
With the drop in the Jet Stream (a strong high altitude wind) and the approach of winter on the Siguniang mountains, temperatures fell and the wind made altitude attempts problematic.
It was mainly for this reason that in spite of huge motivation and a clear sky, none of the teams present for our attempt on Siguniang by the South face was able to reach the summit in the following days. Jérôme and Damien rose early to set off from their bivouac at 5400m and managed to reach the final ridge 200m above us. We, after a glacial bivouac with our buttocks resting on a snow ledge at 5800 m, did not dare push it to the icy slopes and breathtakingly steep ledges of the East ridge.
Despite the fatigue, cold and failure to reach the summit, the whole team got back to Rilong to end the expedition with a memorable franco-chinese party. The sole absentee was Maris, who had had to leave earlier for professional reasons, we shall certainly have to make up for it later at one of the lively spots in Chamonix… “

A very special destination

“This trip to Western China offered everything it promised. We discovered a fast changing country and an amazing dynamism. Although, according to some Chinese commentators, major upheavals are expected in the next two or three years, China is still an ideal mountaineering destination. In the valleys bordering Mount Siguniang (6200m), everything is still to do and apart from permit constraints and the language barrier, Sichuan has proved to be a wonderful destination. What I shall remember of this trip to China is the image of the very different landscapes we encountered on our Road Trip, the comforting and sometimes
suffocating rice with every meal, but above all the tremendous feeling of freedom during our ascents and approaches in the heart of these wild valleys.
Surrounded by both a wild and voracious capitalism and a rich culture thousands of years old, the mountains of Sichuan still hold some great mountaineering moments in store.”

Maris Rozenblats, winner of the Facebook GORE-TEX EXPERIENCE TOUR competition to take part in the Sigun’Exchange talks about the most memorable moments of his adventure:

What was your reaction when you heard that you’d won?

At first, I didn’t really believe that I could have won this trip, but in Chamonix I did realise it was possible. I did my best to win. Of course, I was really happy and surprised when I got a message from Christophe telling me that it was me. This was my first experience of climbing outside Europe.

What are the most outstanding moments you experienced during this expedition?

The expedition was exciting because it didn’t only involve climbing. The aim of the expedition was to meet and climb with local climbers, to popularise mountaineering and traditional climbing and to create new routes in the Siguniang mountains. This was a superb opportunity for me to visit the Chinese mountains, to learn from other climbers, to share an
experience, to meet great people and learn about a different natural world and culture.
I especially remember the Trad Climbing Festival which took place in the Laojunshan national park. The rock there is like it is in Utah –grey with wonderful fissures that can be easily protected with a traditional protection. A great many climbers from all over the world came to this festival to popularise this type of climbing and tackle some difficult routes.
The Road trip from Liming to Rilong particularly left its mark on me: seeing the natural Tibetan countryside and meeting the Tibetan people, a unique moment… Most of the time we travelled at an altitude of more than 3000 metres with a few parts of the trip in mountains reaching 4600 metres.
Lastly, of course, the Siguniang mountains and the mountain climb to over 6000 metres. Snow-covered mountains, crests, impressive beauty spots, numerous possibilities for establishing new routes never previously climbed…

And how did you get on with Christophe? What did you learn from him during this expedition?

Christophe is great, really interesting and a talented climber. I learned some really technical climbing tricks and some techniques in Liming.

What is your opinion of GORE-TEX products?

GORE-TEX is the best there is in the outdoor activities world. I use GORE-TEX every day except on sunny summer days! For me, I find that the GORE-TEX 3 layer pro shell is the best for winter mountain climbing and the GORE-TEX Paclite best for climbing in summer. All my mountain boots and shoes are GORE-TEX too. I don’t think there’s anything better…