In late September myself and Nick Bullock headed out to Sichuan to attempt the first ascent of the south face of Minya Konka. Despite only having been climbed by the relatively straightforward north east and north west ridges, the mountain has a very dubious reputation for the number of people who have died while attempting it.
We reached the road head at 3300m after two days of driving from Chengdu but the relatively straightforward one day approach to basecamp was hampered be a series of missing bridges, that had been lost in the monsoon. In the end we were forced to take the mules over a 5000m peak to get to BC at 4100m, on one of the toughest first days we had ever had. Also managed to lose the cook and liaison officer in the fog on the first day as well, very embarrassing!
Once at BC it proceeded to snow for the first three weeks, something the area is known for and something that seemed to occur throughout the Himalaya this year. In total we probably had two sunny days in a month and the summit constantly had a wind plume when visible. The worst thing was the almost constant fog at BC, which made life miserable for the cook and LO.
The heavy snowfall made acclimatization and reconnaissance of the route very arduous. It took three attempts to force a route through the ice fall to the foot of the route, something that was probably more hazardous than we were comfortable with. It collapsed significantly between our various attempts.
The almost constant cloud cover meant that the snow that had fallen, did not stabilize and remained as powder even on south facing slopes. In the end we had to make the decision that, despite the slight improvement in the weather, that there was just too much snow on the route for a safe ascent this season. As we returned to base camp the temperature dropped considerably and the cook informed us that winter had come early! The high point of the trip was being surrounded by wolves.
Not the most fruitful trip I have been on but it was clear that the South Buttress is one of the best unclimbed lines in China. You need to just find the right route up the ice fall, get some descent weather and then climb the thing.