India Big Wall Expedition

So its a week now before 6 of us head off to discover if there is any decent rock in the Indian Himalayas. We’re all pretty focussed on last minute shopping, packing, logistics and mental preparation. A round of flu’s and colds recently haven’t helped either. But things are on track and we’re all well psyched. Here’s the plan:

The Plan

Fri 9 July we fly to Delhi. On Sunday 11th we hop on a plane to the town of Leh. This flight should be spectacular as we fly over the eastern Himalayas and land at an altitude of 3500m. We’ll spend two or so days in Leh sorting logistics and supplies and then we set off by truck or jeep, initially alongside the Indus River, and then East to the military town of Kargil. Hopefully we can do this trip in less than a day a press on South on the road to the high peaks of Nun and Kun, alongside the Suru River. After a bit the road curves West, and we’ll start to pay attention.

We’ll be looking out for friendly-looking big rock walls, hopefully with fairly short approaches. When we see something juicy, we’ll pile out of the jeeps and set up base camp. Who knows what will happen then?

India Big Wall Expedition Planned route

Above: a map of our planned route

And here’s some photos of rock walls in the area. So far we know of a handful of existing rock routes. Most of the walls, however, are unclimbed:

India Big Wall Expedition

India Big Wall Expedition

India Big Wall Expedition

India Big Wall Expedition

The Team

This plan, like all good climbing plans, was originally hatched at 1am after a heavy party to celebrate Bernard and Linda’s wedding. We therefore had a team of four – Myself (Hector Pringle), Rushad Nanavatty and Bernard and Linda Spies).

But we read somewhere that its good to have strong climbers on an expedition so we roped in Julia Wakeling and Clinton Martinengo. Clinton, conveniently, is already in Delhi, while Rushad is flying in from Washington DC where he now lives.

Comment by Hector Pringle on July 8, 2010

Below:  Eish, packing not going too well…

India Big Wall Expedition

Comment by Bernard Spies on July 11, 2010

Our team has arrived safely in Leh!!!
What an amazing little town – lots of prayer-flags, friendly Ladakhi people and good food.

To have gotten here was quite an epic. Firstly, at OR Tambo, we were a little bit over weight (about 20kg!!) After quite a re-shuffling, and very friendly check-in staff, we managed to get that all into our hand luggage -including a whole rack and 3 ropes 🙂 This all went well, until Dubai, when we had to re-Xray our hand-luggage, and the rack was certainly not allowed. Luckily we got that checked into the main-luggage, and before we knew it, we landed in Delhi.

After checking out the Delhi streets at night (the place is still sweltering hot, even at night!), we got on the plane 6:30 this morning (Sunday 11th) and took a spectacular flight over the mighty Himalayas.
Truly breathtaking!

Today our team is just chilling a bit, getting used to the 3500m altitude. We hired a cook and are stocking up on supplies for the next 2 & half weeks – lots of rice & dal (lentil-dish), dried fruit and nuts, it seems.

The excitement is definitely here (and at the world-cup finals, in Joburg, I guess). Tomorrow we’re driving into the heart of the Zanskar mountains – from Leh to Kargil, to halfway on the way to Rangdum, and setting up base-camp in the next couple of days at around 4000m altitude.

Comment by Hector Pringle on August 5, 2010

We’re back! Well mostly. Julia and Clinton are still eating rice and dhal in India, but they’ll be on their way home this weekend.

The following blog post is courtesy of Julia:

“Huh, these crampons are made differently”, Clinton said at the base of a long snow ridge on one of our acclimatisation hikes. Hector managed to take a long enough breath from his laughter to say, “No dude, you’ve got one on backwards!” How he actually attached the crampon firmly to his shoe, backwards, we’re not sure.

Leh: A green oasis in the desert mountains of Ledakh Four days previously we’d met up with Parshuram Rai, our Nepali cook, in the captial of Ledakh, Leh. We were all set to go after an afternoon of food shopping and tea with the army General. (There’s a huge military presence in the area and Rushad’s military contacts had helped us in advance with advice and maps.)

Having tea in the stately residence of the General, Linda innocently asked if the bunny-rabbits hopping around the immaculate garden were for eating!?!

India Big Wall Expedition

Base Camp
After two bumpy days in buses, we were spat out at a small police check point on the opposite side of the mighty Suru river from where we wanted to be, next to the majority of granite in the area. In the day it took us to get permission to cross the bridge, we all went on various acclimatisation walks. The flowery meadows of the valley bottom are at 4000m, and Bernard, Linda and I went up a snowy gully to 5100m.

We were several hundred metres below the top of the gully and it was awesome to realise that every single peak around us was higher than Mt Blanc (that Bernard and Linda had climbed a year ago). That afternoon and the following morning we moved base camp across the river, to near a small steam at the base of some sizeable granite walls.

Let the games begin!

India Big Wall Expedition

“The Namoona Ridge”

Hector and Rushad’s first objective was a long ridge just behind base camp. The first day involved 15 pitches and a bunch of simul-climbing mostly on good rock, but some wet slabs. They camped at 4600m on a flat ridge with 600m drops on all sides.

Despite extremely organised packing they were forced to eat their dehydrated meals dry as they’d forgotten the gas for their stove (he he he).

The following day, a long snow ridge and a handful of rock and mixed pitches lead them to the first of a series of summit pinnacles on the ridge (5100m).

Stymied by a car-sized block stuck on with marmot snot they sensibly retreated and had another glorious night with no hot food. They then downclimbed, rappelled and scrambled back to the joys of base camp.

(“Namoona” means novice or “nincompoop” and refers to the fact that they lost a belay-device, dropped two water-bottles and left the gas for their stove behind!)

India Big Wall ExpeditionA failed attempt at the Golden Sentinel

Clinton and I had our eyes on a beautiful dihedral on the Golden Sentinel and had left gear at a high camp on the day Clinton learnt how to put on crampons.

The approach to our climb was somewhat involved.

Crossing the river was as terrifying as ever but we survived to slog up the long snow slope again. Our ridge campsite was truly spectacular and not even that cold at 4am the next morning when we started off for our route. After 5 hours, of snow slogging and multiple “easy” pitches on terrifying choss-scree affectionately nick-named “jenga”, we were still far from the base of the route.

We made a grumpy decision to turn for home as we weren’t keen for a night at 5000m with no bivvy gear. Our spirits were raised by silly Vuvuzela-blowing atop two ridge-peaks (5045m and 5000m) on our very long way home.

The next day it took us 5 hours with 28-30Kg backpacks to get to base camp. The river crossing was again unpredictable and terrifying.

That whole mission was a whole bunch of mountaineering and not a lot of rock climbing. Although we’d learnt a lot, we felt like we’d “had our asses handed to us” (in Hector’s words) and we didn’t feel at all successful, despite probably being the first up the two ridge peaks. (The Golden Sentinel was first climbed from the other side by an Italian team.)

Exploring the valley below Nun and Kun

Bernard and Linda set up a camp at the base of a dramatic valley, a few hours from base camp. They spent a day boulder hopping, crossing scree and glaciers, and were rewarded with views of hanging seracs and 7000m chunks of terrifying snow and ice.

Bernard got chased by a bumble-bee which required several 100m sprints (no joke at 4500m), and they had the pleasure of watching a himalayan bear for half an hour…the sighting if the trip!

India Big Wall Expedition

When Julia and Clinton get back to SA we’ll sift through the rest of the photos and write up our other adventures. Turns out Namoona Ridge and the Golden Sentinel Ass-Handing were just the start.

We’d like to thank our sponsors…the Mountain Club of South Africa, First Ascent, RAM Mountaineering; and Evolve & Bluewater for Clinton.

India Big Wall Expedition

|Update Starts here:|

And here’s the rest of Julia’s blog:

A turn in the weather

There was a spill-over of monsoon into the desert mountains of Ledakh (an event that has been happening more frequently with climate change), and we had two days of incessant rain. A few hours before it had started, Hector and Rushad and headed off to try another route.

Bernard and Linda hitched a ride with some Hungarians to the nearest village, Rangdom, and had a vivid cultural experience: late-night dancing with Ledakhi girls and Kargili boys, visiting a buddhist gompa, and watching some locals who fancied themselves as fishermen: fully-clothed and neck-deep in the freezing Suru River. Clinton and I drank endless cups of tea in base camp and started feeling gloomy that we’d come to the other side of the world and were running out of time to achieve anything of any significance. We still hadn’t climbed a single decent rock pitch.

India Big Wall Expedition

“Here Comes the Son”

Hector and Rushad had got a ride to Rangdom where there was another bridge across the Suru. With the assistance of two of the smallest porters in the world they did an 8Km bog-walk, only to be abandoned by them as soon as the terrain got steep. Their river crossing was also hairy: 2 packs each, and water flowing fast over steep scree. In the rain they slogged up a hill until chancing upon a small dripping cave, where they then stayed for two nights. The drip got closer and they huddled further into the back of their tiny overhang, each with half of an Apocalyptic science fiction novel.

They were on the point of coming home, but had kept an eye on the barometer and at 4am the following morning it looked ok, so they packed up and set off.

After a bitch-ass slog up a hill and a few pitches of simul-climbing up steep snow, Rushad kept it together for 3 chronic mixed pitches. An example of what this involved was jamming one hand in a waterfall while wielding an ice-axe with the other, and smearing with crampons on slab.

Then it was Hector’s turn to lead some terrifying wet slab in mountaineering boots, with no gear. A few easy pitches, and some unprotectable very steep snow slopes landed them on the small platform of a summit (4966m). Their views of the Shafat Fortress were spectacular, but as everyone knows, they way up is only halfway.
While rappelling, their rope got damaged and Rushad was forced to downclimb 70m of seriously steep snow. They had to use their altimeter to find their cave in the dark and were happy to find it dry. They proceeded to have a hot meal for a change, condensed milk and Hluhluwe droe-wors. (The climb is named in honour of the imminent arrival of Rushad’s first son, and the joy of sunshine after two days.)

“Nanga bakra”

After the rain Clinton and I were extremely psyched for some climbing.
We started on a single pitch crack that we’d painstakingly cleaned just before the rain, and aptly named it “Learning to climb again” (20), as neither of us had climbed much in the last 2 to 4 months.

India Big Wall ExpeditionWe had spied an arete from the other side of the valley and went to scope it out…long and steep…we decided to try do a few pitches that day, so we could then scramble up to our high point the following morning to give us a head-start.

The climb turned out to be four pitches: an 18 crack, a 22 crack, a 20 scary slab of mine and a 23, heroically lead by Clinton.

A single abseil landed us in a gully. We saw an easier line right on the arete and decided to start there the next morning.  The route turned out to be four pitches and we name it “Nanga bakra” (Hindi for naked goat) and we really could have done with a goat at base camp to attract the mosquitoes away from us). This had been a great warm-up.

Parshuram inserted the tea into Clinton and my tent at 4am (he would have drunk it for us if he could have…his enthusiasm is a real pleasure).

A mostly flat 45 minute approach with no river crossings got us back to our gear. Now that’s what I call a decent approach!

The first pitch looked really easy so I took the lead, but at about grade 20 it was not a total giveaway. The climbing remained sustained for the whole 17 pitch route (the rest of the pitches graded 20, 22, 20, 24, 22, 23, 21, 24, 20, 21, 19, 18, 18, 16, 14, 11).

At the first 24 grade pitch we thought we’d be forced to abandon our gorgeous arete, but Clinton pulled off a phenomenal lead. One move involved smearing on smooth slab with one foot and basically doing the splits to touch his other toes on a spur of rock. How he moved from this position I’m still not sure, but the feats Clinton can pull off often defy gravity.

The entire route went free except one pitch inwhich Clinton fell downclimbing a 22 crack. If only he’d known it was the wrong crack he wouldn’t have gone that way. He freed the rest of the grade 24 pitch…more committing scary slabs to get from one crack system to the next.

We did two pitches by moonlight (safely lead by Clinton), then chanced upon the perfect bivvy spot. The mountain was extremely kind to us with no wind and tolerable temperatures. The room service was a little slack, but a few pieces of droe-wors and a couple of energy bars filled a bit of the hole. 17 hours of climbing had exhausted us to the point that we were able to sleep quite a lot, and we topped out onto the Namoona Ridge after two pitches in the morning.

Yippee! A scramble later and we were home to hugs, tea, food, sleep, oh and mosquitoes. (The route name translates as “married and done” and is in honour of my cousin and his girlfriend who got married in Zimbabwe on the day we did the climb. I was very sad not to be there.)

Short routes and bouldering

A number of other short routes (and a few boulder problems) were opened, mostly on the band of rock just behind our base camp, and up to a walk-off ledge, including:

The naked goat“: 3 pitches (16, 19, 18) and a sramble to the top (Hector and Rushad)

Every good crack comes to an end“: single pitch (27) (Clinton, of course)
Gnarly nala“: single pitch (22) (Hector and Rushad)
Bernard and Linda’s double expresso“: 2 pitches (10, 13) and a long scramble to the top (Bernard and Linda) “Atilla the Hun“: 5 pitches (13, 12, 15, 14, 10) (Bernard and Linda)
India Big Wall Expedition

Boulder problems:
Slatch that hoe” 7A,
Do it in crocs” 6A,
Flying marmot” 7A
and so many more…

From single pitch 27’s, multi-pitch 15’s and big wall 24’s to easy snow-slopes and technical mixed climbing, this really is an awesome spot, well worth a visit!
We can only recommend that you take a goat and a razor 🙂

India Big Wall Expedition

India Big Wall Expedition

India Big Wall Expedition

Funny Guy

India Big Wall Expedition

We’d again like to thank our sponsors… The Mountain Club of South Africa, First Ascent, RAM Mountaineering; and Evolve & Bluewater for Clinton.

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11 Responses to India Big Wall Expedition

  1. Drifter Aug 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Lovely Photos!

  2. John Aug 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Where is the photo of Himalayan Brown Bear?

  3. Justin Aug 19, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    An update has been made to the article and is marked – The update starts just under half way through.

  4. Ricko (klimkop) Aug 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    it looks so lekka! 🙂 Im realy envious.

  5. Rob P Aug 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Is this expedition still under way? I am a SA climber going up this way soon, (1 week or so) and keen to do some climbing. Have gear.

  6. Hector Aug 24, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Nope, sorry. We got back about 3 weeks ago.
    Get in touch with Rimo Expeditions (Motup is the boss) in Leh. They are super-organised and will probably be able to make a plan. Probably not a great idea to travel too far from Leh by road though. The roads in the area got badly washed away in the floods a week after we left. I heard the airport got damaged as well.

  7. Rob P Aug 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks for that, will do. Still a bit worried about travelling to Leh. Heading to Himachal Pradesh first and then up to Leh. Did you manage to meet many climbers up there? Haven’t seen a single rock climber in all of india so far.

  8. Hector Aug 26, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    We didnt meet any other climbers. We saw a party heading to Kun base camp but that was it. Drop me a mail if you want more details on contact details, places to stay etc. hector(at)rula dot co dot za.

  9. Fabrizio Sep 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    Good! Congratulations!!!!! Fabrizio Mazza – Italian Club Alpine ( Italian Team Golden Sentinel 2007).

  10. Jerome sullivan Jan 16, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

    Hi guys!
    Congratulations on this great adventure!!
    Any info on the two last photos before the team presentation?
    Thanks a lot
    Jerome sullivan

  11. ali rotami Feb 16, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    hi can you help my?i need informion abavt your plan from deh inda

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