The Zanskar Region in the Himalaya of Northern India is a relatively unexplored mecca of sheer granite walls and 6000m peaks. Inaccessible for 8 months of the year, you can imagine the excitement when Julia Wakeling got the call for a planned trip to this mountain fortress.
“Hey Julia! Rushad and I are planning a trip to explore some granite walls in Northern India. You want to come?” For me, there’s only one answer to that question.
Excited e-mails started flying, with photos of snow-capped granite peaks. We estimated some of the rock to be 200 to 600m tall and initially thought no one had climbed anywhere in the area. I was then re-watching a climbing movie “The Sharp End” and spotted the peak that has been staring at me from the desktop of my computer. Wooooaaaaah! Stop! Flicking back I saw Jonny Copp and Micah Dash, two American alpine-big-wall legends, climbing the Shafat Fortress…what!? That’s our mountain! Dreams of opening new lines shattered, we started finding out more.
We knew a number of hiking parties had visited the area, but now we started finding out about routes that had been climbed too. Jonny and Micah’s line “The Colorado Route” ended up at 1100m, much longer than we’d estimated, and included some seriously bold leads and hard aiding. Amongst others, an Italian party opened a much easier 1200m route named “The Chessboard”. To put it in perspective…that’s 4 times the height of the biggest walls in SA. Woohoo! Bring it on! There is still plenty of rock that hasn’t been climbed including some gorgeous looking lines, so our dreams are restored and our minds are focussing on training and gear!
A little about the team:
Hector “The Boss” Pringle
He’s an engineer during the week, and has climbed extensively for 14 years throughout Southern Africa. He prefers the big routes in far away places and is a legend of Blouberg (a big wall 5 hrs north of Joburg), having climbed many routes and opened Blue Moon (24) with Rushad. He’s had a number of trips to the eastern and western Cape, loads of time on Spitzkoppe and a bit of ice-climbing in the Drakensberg.
Rushad “Snow Leopard” Nanavatty
Our Indian contact, currently living in Washington DC, although has previously frequented Jo’burg…an international man of mystery? He’s climbed around Jo’burg, in the Magaliesberg, Blouberg and around the States, Europe and a few spots further north in Africa. He’s even been up a few 6 to 7000m trekking peaks in the Indian Karakoram and Himalaya. His local knowledge is going to prove invaluable!
Clinton “The strong one” Martinengo
Clinton’s been trad climbing since he started climbing about 20 years ago! He’s repeated many infamous routes (like Oceans of Fear (28) and Dream Street Rose, 28?) and opened routes around the country, up to grade 32. He’s spent time in the Black Canyon and Yosemite in the States, and free climbed all but a few pitches of Freerider on El Capitan. He’s also sampled the pleasures of altitude-headaches and learnt to ice-climb at 5000m on Mt Kenya.
Julia “Energiser Bunny” Wakeling
Julia learnt the pleasures of trad climbing above the Mother City, on Table Mountain and have since climbed throughout SA (somehow avoiding the Joburg area). She has also enjoyed trips to Mt Kenya and the States with Clinton, and trekked up a 5600m peak in Nepal a while back.
Bernard “Terrorist-deterrant” & Linda “Quartermaster” Spies
Together (and apart) they’ve spent plenty of time trad climbing in Magaliesberg and around the Joburg-Mpumalanga area with trips to Blouberg, the Eastern and Western Cape and Spitzkoppe. Last year they styled up Mt Blanc (4810m) in the Alps. Also, Bernard has braved ice-climbing in Scotland and Linda’s been up Kilimanjaro (5685m)!
A bit of climbing jargon…
Trad or traditional climbing is a style of climbing where there are typically no fixed bolts in the rock. The leader places delightful gadgets (camalots, friends, nuts, hexes etc) in the rock for protection and the seconder climbs up behind them collecting everything as they go. In comparison, sport climbing requires people to slave away drilling in bolts that are used for protection.
Aid climbing is used when a section of rock is unclimbable with just your fingers and toes. Very basically, you place a piece of trad gear or sky hooks or other terrifying things, and stand in slings attached to them. This is in comparison to free climbing in which you use only your body parts to ascend the rock and don’t actually pull on gear. Please note that in free climbing you do have a rope and gear for protection should you fall. Many people confuse it with solo climbing which is when you don’t have any gear at all for protection. Oh, we should mention the other kinds of climbing too…bouldering, for the seriously strong, who aren’t as driven by big mountains and big views. Ice climbing is self-evident…normally a little chilly and requires those sharply pointed crampons and ice axes.