Dramatic Scenes From Remote First Ascent in China

Go behind the scenes of 'China Jam,' a big-wall expedition up the 19,000-foot Kyzyl Asker mountain.
By Brody Levan

Last September, four climbers ventured to a remote valley in western China to bag a first ascent in the Tien Shan mountains near the Kyrgyz-Chinese border. Evrard Wendenbaum, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nicolas Favresse, and Stephane Hanssens documented the journey in the film 'China Jam,' named after the team's interest in music and improvisational jams along the often-harsh journey. Below you can get a taste of the first ascent through some remarkable photos.

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Rock, ice, and snow
Tien Shan mountains
Rock, ice, and snow “The summit is located on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border in the middle of the Tien Shan mountain range and more precisely, in the Western Kokshaal Tau massif,” says Evrard Wendenbaum. © Evrard Wendenbaum
No straw on this camel's back...
Tien Shan Mountains
No straw on this camel's back... “I would say that we had around 250 kilograms to haul. Two portaledges, 400 meters of static ropes and several ropes for progression plus some thin tag lines. Two full ranges of cams and nuts, a few pitons. 15 days of food, gas, instruments, filming gear and all the warm clothes and sleeping bags.” © Evrard Wendenbaum
Summit almost in sight
Tien Shan Mountains
Summit almost in sight The team lucked out with incredibly good weather for their summit push. © Evrard Wendenbaum
High camp
Tien Shan Mountains
High camp “The way of life on the wall is one of the most fun experiences one can have. Even if there’s no comfort, sleeping in portaledges and spending all our time on ropes is a very exciting experience. There’s no other explanation for our passion for this weird activity.” Evrard, we agree. © Evrard Wendenbaum
Wonderful rock
Tien Shan Mountains
Wonderful rock “The rock was also the best we’ve ever climbed,” says Wendenbaum. “The granite was very comparable to the towers of Bavella in Corsica [France].” © Evrard Wendenbaum
Cold climbing
Tien Shan Mountains
Cold climbing The China Jam team was often climbing in adverse conditions. How adverse? “The sky was blue and clear in the morning, then the first clouds arrived between 10 and noon to finally become a snow storm between 1,400m and 1,600m.” © Evrard Wendenbaum
Unknown territory
Tien Shan Mountains
Unknown territory The team had little information before arriving. “We had a short email from Mike Libecki, an American aid climber and adventurer, who has been there at least four times but remained very quiet about it,” shares Wendenbaum. “We also found some information from the American Alpine Journal.” © Evrard Wendenbaum
Tien Shan Mountains
Camel-pak “To reach its base from the last village, it’s a two-day hike, but we actually needed seven days in total to carry all our equipment,” says Wendenbaum. And yes, they used these camels. © Evrard Wendenbaum
Valley view
Tien Shan Mountains
Valley view Says Evrard: “We actually chose the valley using Google Earth and once there…we just explored the whole valley and decided which wall was most attractive to us.” © Evrard Wendenbaum