Being able to clearly see an objective in the mountains can provide the necessary information and incentive to complete a route or reach the summit. But sometimes what you can’t quite see or what is not known offers the greatest motivation. In 2003, an image in the American Alpine Journal caught my attention. The photo was taken by the famous Japanese explorer Tamotsu Nakamura, who is the modern Bradford Washburn inspiring alpinists with spectacular mountain images. The photo did not contain any enticing virgin peaks. Instead the image in the Journal showed a stunning 600 year old monastery in the center of the valley. However on both sides of the valley clean granite ridges poured down from some unknown spires hiding in the clouds above. After reading Nakamura’s description of the region, “The highest peak in the region is Mount Genyen (6,204m), it is a divine (sacred) mountain which was first climbed in 1988. However, more than 10 untouched rock and snow peaks of over 5,800 meters await climbers. In particular a 5,965- meter peak towering like a sharp beak looks magnificent and the scenery surrounding the 600 year old Lenggu Monastery amid spiky rock pinnacles is truly enchanting,” I began planning my first trip the Genyen region.
In October 2006, Sarah Hueniken, Molly Tyson, Andy Tyson and I spent a month in Western Sichuan, China climbing in the Genyen Mountains. The unseen spires really did exist and we were able to summit several unclimbed peaks, including, the “sharp beaked” Shachun before the cold and snow chased us out of the valley. The expedition was overwhelmingly successful.
Later after I returned home to the States, I learned that Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff were overdue from their own climbing trip in China. Charlie had given me some advice about logistics and permits before I headed to China and after I got out of the mountains I sent him a short email detailing the amazing climbing in the Genyen region. As the days dragged on, reports indicated that Charlie and Chris had indeed headed into Genyen. Around Christmas a search team found Charlie’s crampons poking out of the snow at 17,000 feet on Mt Genyen. Was it a random avalanche, a broken cornice, or a fall that claimed the lives of two amazing people?
I do not know if Charlie ever read my email, but the thought of potentially enticing him to the region still weighs heavily upon me. When I think Charlie and Chris in the Genyen region, I imagine them drinking yak butter tea while chatting with the monks of the Lenggu Monastery. Above them the glacial peaks and rock spires spread long shadows across the Genyen valley. Charlie points to Shachun and asks if it has been climbed. The monks then tell him of our successful ascent just a few weeks earlier. I can almost see the smirk come over Charlie’s face revealing his crooked front teeth. There is a small trace of envy in his smirk followed by a smile beaming with the knowledge that it was with his inspiration and help that made our ascent possible.
Five years have passed since my first visit to the Genyen Massif and I am once again drawn to beauty of the mountains and smiles of the local Tibetan people living in the region. It is time to return to and safely climb the true jewels of the Genyen Massif.