Shuangqiao Valley – Thin Ice in Tibet

Albert Leichtfried and Benni Purner went to Asia in search of ice. They found it in the “Tibetan Alps”, east of the Himalayas, in the valley of the two bridges – Shuangqiao Valley.

In the old, black-smoke kitchen we could barely make out the man sitting opposite us.  The kitchen was heated vigorously for our interview with the oldest person in the village. You could see the life experience of this seventy-plus year-old etched in every little of his face. He told us about the history of the valley. In the beginning there were only two bridges. Now there is a road through the 38 km long valley and tourists come to experience the fascinating nature and the mountains, which rise up to over 6,000 meters right and left of the valley. Tibetans live in the simplest way in the valley, which lies at about 3500 meters, with their sheep, cattle, yaks, pigs and other domestic animals, which are always roaming free. An incredibly friendly atmosphere emanates from the entire valley, where larch forests extend up to 4000 meters. The village elder spoke a warm welcome and was pleased that we had traveled so far to climb in his country. He thought ice climbing was cool and wished us all the best for our projects – saying that we were all like one big family. It was such an incredibly open and friendly philosophy on life it brought a tear to my eye.

After arriving in the metropolis of Chengdu and an outdoor temperature of + 19 ° C, I couldn’t believe that we would still be able to find even a single chunk of ice anywhere. But with each kilometer towards the highlands northwest of Chengdu, the temperatures got cooler and the air thinner. As we arrived in Shuangqiao Valley, we could even see the first ice routes. But first of all we a hard struggle with the altitude, the jet lag and the unfamiliar food – our physical performance was reduced to a minimum. During our inspection of the valley, which was made in comfort by taxi-bus, we could hardly believe our eyes – line after line of ice, one after the other. The locals speak of more than 100 icefalls. All this, with little snow and walk-ins between 10 and 60 minutes from the bus. We had arrived in ice climbing paradise!

Due to the altitude we had to start slowly. We knew that just a few steps would have us gasping for breath. But as the days passed, we noticed that the approaches were getting easier and we were able to increase our selection of routes to go for. We climbed some beautiful lines – the choice was simply overwhelming. By the dry lake we left our mark and created a new sector – the “Austrian Corner”. “Mira kim” WI6 and “Mei mei” (“Little Girl”) M10 + were two absolute highlights. “Mei mei” is probably the most difficult mixed route at this altitude (3850 meters). I had to draw on all my climbing skills to redpoint the three pitches of this shapely line.

Now I look back on an inspiring time in Tibet, with many beautiful moments on the ice, but even more profound moments with the people who welcomed us into their family.

Text: Albert Leichtfried | Images: Elias Holzknecht