Monday, October 21, 2019

Hailuogou Glacier, China

I was invited to join a field expedition to Tibet, where the group of Francesca Pellicciotti at WSL, Switzerland, studies a debris-covered glacier. I came along to do some ice thickness measurements with my ice penetrating radar. The trip to Tibet is long and further delayed by bureaucracy. Our first stop in China was Chengdu. I had never even heard of this city, but it is huge with over 10 Million inhabitants. Among others, it hosts the world's largest building (by floor space). In Chengdu we had to get our permits to be allowed to Tibet. Because we arrived a bit early (due to cheaper ticket prices), we had the opportunity to visit the Hailuogou Glacier. This glacier descends from Mt. Gongga, the highest mountain of Szechuan province. It is of particular interest to somebody from UAF, because it was first climbed by an expedition led by Terry Moore, who later became president of UAF and remained interested in mountaineering and aviation for his entire life. Mt. Gongga (aka Mt. Minya Konka) was believed by some to be higher than Mt. Everest. The fascinating story of its first ascent, which was done in very modern fashion, is given in this account, and in the book 'Men Against Clouds'.

We never saw the mountain, that stands at an impressive 7556 m asl on our trip, but got a view of it from the air later when returning from Tibet:

Mt. Gongga is the pyramid that stands out highest. Note the snow drift coming of its ridge.

Hailuogou Glacier is becoming a prime tourist destination, despite its difficult access with a long winding road that ascends from the city of Mo Xi at about 1600 m to the base of the glacier at about 3000 m. This is some of the most impressive relief I've ever seen. Here are some pictures from the trip:

A Catholic church in Chinese style in the city of Mo Xi, the gateway town to visit the Hailuogou Glacier

A sign by the church explains how it was 'liberated' during the Cultural Revolution!
... and in front of it is now a giant statue of Mao

The visitor center is at about 3000 m asl. The steep terrain is full of loose material, leading to frequent debris flows.

The glacier terminus, rapidly retreating

A cable car leads to 3500 m with a look-out for Mt. Gongga. Since it is so frequently cloudy, there is a helpful large poster of the view on a sunny day, so people can still take pictures...

This was our view. Note the ice fall that is only just barely connected anymore (compare to the picture above, which is just a few years old)

We did walk around on the glacier a bit. Of course we had to ask for permission first, as with just about anything we did.

No comments:

Post a Comment