Climbing Haba Summit in winter

Monday, February 6th, 2012

January and February are perhaps the hardest months to climb Haba.  With deep snow, howling winds, biting temperatures and low visibility it is an immense challenge even for the experienced mountaineer.

In the account below, Jonathan (Backroads of China guide) shares his story of climbing Haba in early January, with three experienced climbers, Maxine, Simon and Michael.

We originally planned to set off for the summit climb at 4:00am, but we didn’t get going until 5:37am. When I got up to prepare breakfast at 3:37, the whole hut was full of snow and the wind was howling outside. Below the peak the moon and stars were shining clearly, but on the peak it was completely foggy. Before we set off, Max asked me: “Do you think we will make it to the summit“? I told him, “Maybe.  We won’t know until we have tried.”

The snow outside of base camp was as deep as my waist. When we finally arrived at the Slippery Rock Slope, there was much less snow but it was covered with ice, so we needed to climb very carefully. The wind and snow were still strong, we were forced to climb with legs and arms. To our mountain guide, Haosi, our speed was just right. He said, according to this speed, we should have a 60% chance to reach the summit.  The weather had changed- no longer could we see the moon or stars, and the wind and snow, mixed with mist, were swiping us in waves.  A new determination set in and we got faster and faster. Michael, Simon and Maxine were all athletes, plus very good rock climbers.

The wind and snow got stronger and heavier. There was a steep slope between 4900 metres and 5200 metres, it was a massive struggle. The wind and snow got so strong and heavy that it felt like we were in the middle of a snow cyclone; we had to protect our bodies with our snow axes. When we arrived I noticed Simon’s eyes were sinking deep and turning purple. Maxine said: “We’ve got to get down now.”  The peak was so close, we could see a glimpse of success. It was a real struggle to give up. However, it was the only wise option, otherwise we would have paid for our stubbornness. The wind and snow were way too strong andthe temperature was way too low.

I asked Haosi, who has climbed to the summit successfully over 800 times, “For  weather like this, is there any possibility to ascend to the summit?” He told me, it was a miracle for us to reach 5160 metres. In these conditions, even if he had anotherlife to spare, he still wouldn’t make it. The weather proved that we were wise to turn around when we did. Otherwise, within an hour, our safety would have been compromised. Snow storms with heavy mist are terrible conditions. I had frost bite on my lips, ice hanging on my eye brow and my water bladder was completely frozen. The descent was no easy feat either. By the time we got back down to the base camp, it was 12:37.

We had another attempt the next day, but failed again. A third of the base camp hut was filled with snow. Our water was all frozen up, you needed an ice axe to fetch water. We all felt disappointed, but with great respect for the mountain, we waved goodbye to Haba Snow Mountain. Thanks for your tolerance, you have generously let us to climb the altitude you willed us to.

If you’re interested in taking on the challenge of Haba Snow Mountain, Backroads of China are offering a 7-day join-in tour this May 14th-20th. May is the perfect time to climb Haba with less snow and wind and gorgeous wildflowers dotting the hillsides on the lower slopes of the mountain. If you’re interested, Contact Us for more information.