04-Nov-2002 -- Of the top 10 highest confluences in the world (according to the degree confluence project), many are scattered around western Tibet, which is difficult to access. This one, the world's eighth highest is an exception being only a several hours' drive from Tibet's capital city, Lhasa. However, that doesn't make getting to the actual point much easier! The following account is really two attempts made within a few weeks.
In mid-October, 2002 I headed out with Tracy, a Chinese mag-lev engineer from Shanghai, Hans, a farmer from Holland and Kasper and Mireille, the Dutch couple with whom I attempted the world's second highest confluence point, 30N 85E.
The highway north from Lhasa heads to Namtso Lake, a popular scenic destination. However, if, a few hours before Namtso, you instead take a left at a 'T' in the road at Yangpachen Hot Springs (the famous Yangpachen Monastery is also located there), you can drive to 30N 90E. This is exactly what the five of us plus our nearly blind, loving-to-get-air-with-the-jeep driver did after having spent a day at Namtso Lake and a few nights loafing in the hot springs. After the 'T' we drove down the road about an hour and got as close as we could to the point by road: 16 km. We saw the perfect U-shaped valley to access the point (note the use of T's and U's in this story!), but it was close to noon and we knew we didn't have enough time to attempt the point. That had to be left for another trip.
A few weeks later an Austrian physician/mountaineer named Rainer responded to my ad posted outside a Lhasa hotel. The ad announced a trip to Lake Namtso and something to do with "finding never-before-visited geographical points". Although he seemed very enthusiastic, he said he wasn't so interested in the confluence point, he just wanted a good mountain trek.
On the morning of November 4th we arrived at the U-shaped valley just as it was beginning to get light in the morning. There were one or two tents set up from nomad Tibetans and a scattering of yak at the mouth of the valley. We decided to see if we could do the hike in a day rather than deal with cold, high-altitude camping.
We proceeded up the valley crunching the ice of a frozen stream bed and climbing boulders from time to time. It was difficult walking given the thin air at altitudes primarily above 5000 m. The valley trended approximately north whereas the point was located to the northwest. Finally the steep left wall of the valley descended to a steep gully and what appeared to be a saddle in the horizon. At about the same time we noticed that our great U-shaped valley terminated in glaciers! It was between 10 and 11 AM, we were about 13 km from the point. It was time to climb out of the north-trending U-shaped valley via the left wall gully.
This was not easy. I would typically take about 7 steps before becoming completely out of breath. I later realized it was better to rest after 5 steps to keep a more regular speed. At this point Rainer started to feel ill. He was running out of energy and exhibiting signs of altitude sickness.
After climbing about 200-300 meters we reached the top of a small peak. We had not yet crossed the saddle, but at this point the view of it spelled our fate. There was another giant glacier blocking access over the saddle. The only other way to cross was a rocky peak to the right of the glacier. The peak was directly in front of the point now 12 km away. We reached an altitude of 5500 m and Rainer was now very sick so there was no point in continuing. I, myself, was short of breath and losing my balance, another sign of altitude sickness. At about 12:30 PM we decided to head back, descending a gully which was closer to the point, bringing us to our closest approach of 11.2 km from the point. It took Rainer several days to recover from the altitude sickness. On his flight out of Lhasa he noticed a better approach to the point which is what I hope to try next time.