All photos by Marisa Steyn and Niel Mostert
We arrived at the Goan Corner resort in Hampi in the heat at noon, tired, dirty and thirsty. We’d been travelling via taxi, airplane, overnight train and rickshaw from Delhi and had to walk the last dusty kilometer to the resort, straining under the weight of our backpacks that by now felt like they contained small planets. Marisa cut the friendly reception clerk’s enquiry as to how he may help us short with “A Coke…two Cokes…please” and plonked down in a chair.
A friendly middle-aged Indian woman – who immediately impresses on you that she is the matriarch of the resort – came over and introduced herself as Sharmila. Yes she received our bookings but forget when we were coming, but no worries there just happened to be a bungalow open that we could have. With us and our Cokes in tow she led us past the chicken and rabbit coups to a little thatched-roof bungalow on the edge of the resort, complete with an en-suite bathroom, Ganesha figurehead at the door and hammock on the stoep.
This would be casa de SA climbers for the next couple of weeks. I’d been thinking of nothing else than having a shower and crawling into bed, but I wanted to just go have a “quick” walk around the resort to see if I could see if there were any boulders close by. About 40 minutes later we were bouldering at the Rishimun Plateau boulders nearest to the resort, the past 30-something sleepless hours a distant memory.
The granite bouldering utopia known in the general climbing lingo as “Hampi” is actually the name of the town in the south of India where it is located. It was also famously featured in the bouldering video Pilgrimage. Though once you’re there, you realize that Hampi is only a very tiny island of developed climbing in a very large ocean of granite boulders.
On a rest day during the trip we rented a motorcycle to see how far the boulder fields stretch and did about 10km in every direction, but could never see the end of it. The scope for bouldering development is mind blowing – there are hillsides covered in fields of boulders packed so closely together that you would struggle to walk between them.
As a first order of business we purchased a topo from the reception the following morning. I was a man possessed and with Marisa and a crash pad somewhere in my wake screamed out along the narrow banks of the rice fields surrounding it to the Rishimun Plateau where we were the afternoon before, eager to get crushing.
The topo wastes no time with route descriptions and cryptically lists problems such as “Crimp’s + dyno Fb 6A”(sic) , Suicide Arete!! 5+” or, where a problem is named, “Space Baba F7b”, with its position shown on hand-drawn topo. Many of the problems have also been renamed many times and you could find that the same problem can go by three different names, such as SD + Double Dyno, Chris Sharma Double Dyno and Dinos don’t Dyno 7B, all the same problem at the Hot Slapper Sector.
Because nothing is drawn accurately to scale, our first few days involved a fair bit of walking around to find everything and we didn’t have the sense at first to hook up with other climbers who already know the area. Several years experience in unraveling the Topside guide was of some help though. We were lucky though to run into the guide author who pointed us in the right general directions.
Another lesson learnt quickly was that the guide grades in the 6A to 6C range meant absolutely nothing. A large number of these problems are either ridiculously sandbagged or super soft. Many boulderers tend to run past problems they consider too far below “their grade”, however this forced us to really have a good look at everything to make sure we did not miss any gems. Though theoretically comfortably within my abilities, I spent four murderous, tip-shredding days to scrape my way up a “6C+” called Crimps, but had to leave an unnamed “6A+” with holds straight from hell for another trip…
We were there for two weeks over December and January and to beat the heat most of the climbers headed out early mornings after breakfast (the Goan Corner’s kitchen opens at 06:00), climbed till about 11:00, then goofed around in camp until about 15:00-ish before heading out again. We fell into our own little routine: Every night I’d set the watch for 6:30 the next morning, it would go off, I’d snooze it, it would go off again 10 minutes later, I’d snooze it again…this would repeat until about 8:30 when we would eventually get up, saunter off to go have breakfast, then realize it’s already too late to go climbing so we would just head back to bed or crash in the hammocks and drink beer until late afternoon.
Quite a bit of the climbing in Hampi tends to be on the highbally side and this nearly ended tragically for me… I was eavesdropping on conversations at the tables around us at camp one night and I heard about a problem called 90 Degree Arete at 7A that was apparently a must-do. It was about an hour’s walk from the Goan Corner and we found it some days later, sitting perched on top of a sloping granite slab in a rice paddy next to the road, an exact as description of a problem as a name ever could be.
It was just me, Marisa and a single crashpad but I was psyched and after spending about 4 seconds sussing out the problem, I was convinced that the crux on the 5m high near perfect 90 degree arête was lower down and that the upper part should be fine.
I warmed up on the bottom moves and huffed and puffed my way to a tricky section about 4m up. I was laying back hard with my feet on tiny scratches right near the arête when, suddenly, one of my feet blew. The sudden force made me corkscrew completely around the arête, spiral downwards and miss the pad with considerable distance.
I fell on my feet and Marisa just stopped me from face planting into the rock, but I drove my right heel hard into the granite slab. I immediately collapsed and was convinced it was shattered. It didn’t hurt at all for a second but then everything in the universe that has ever caused pain decended into it.
After some minutes the pain eased a little and I could have a good look at it.
It wasn’t swollen yet, wasn’t turning blue and was still more or less the shape a healthy heel should be. I think I was still in shock from the fall because I immediately put my shoes back on and sent the problem. I was nearly crying when I came down from pain and adrenaline and we made a beeline for camp before the heel could get chance to cool off and really start hurting.
The following three days were spent not climbing, drinking lots of beer and continuously retelling the story to wide-eyed audiences enquiring about my limping. Apparently I’m the only person ever stupid enough – one might also say brave enough, I think – to climb the 90 Degree Arete with a single pad and spotter.
One French climber was visibly dumbfounded at my disregard for the sanctity of life and half shouted:”Noh, but zees ees not wise!!”, after I told him the story, then pointed at my foot and matter-of-factly smirked: “but now you know”.
Three days later the heel was still hurting like hell and there was seemingly no hope for me to climb any of my goals for the trip, nor much of anything else.
I’d had a problem called “Double Tap” in the back of my mind all the way from South Africa. It follows a beautiful double arête feature which flares out into a dyno/lunge for a sloping flat top, a decent distance off the deck.
In the Pilgrimage video Nate Gold can be seen giving it some proper effort before latching it. It is easily the most popular problem in Hampi and nearly every evening there is a horde of psyched climbers trying it, which is convenient because the landing area is a mixture of large rocks, bushes and a slopey granite base.
My spirits were feeling as crushed as my heel, until late afternoon on the third day post heel-crushing decided I’d wasted enough time being injured and our time left in Hampi was getting little. By hook or crook I was going climbing. I convinced Marisa to head out with me over easy terrain to the Baba Café boulders, which had good flat landings.
As we were negotiating a narrow bank between two rice fields en route to Baba Cafe, some loud screams echoed out from Double Tap a little up the hill on our right. A group of climbers were obviously there working it.
I was keen to at least go watch people have a go at it since I wasn’t going to be able to anymore so we changed course and headed up.
It turned out to be a group of seven Spaniards and Germans trying it. I contributed my pad to the stack at the base, spotted a little but just watched mostly. It looked every bit as awesome as in the Pilgrimage video and then I realized: there was no way I could leave it that night without having at least one go. I managed to gingerly get a climbing shoe on my injured foot and running through plans in my mind of how I would fall to keep weight off my heel, stepped up to the start of the problem. On my second go I touched the lip and on my fourth go I was mantling onto the top of the boulder.
My biggest goal of the trip was realized, injuries and all. I took about 20mins to get off the boulder again because I could not do the normal jump. We packed up, did a short choreographed dance scene with Indian girls that suddenly came bursting from nowhere, then I put my Aviators and leather jacket on, put Marisa on the back of the bike and drove off into the sunset.
Why you should go:
1. The climbing is awesome. Really. Super. Awesome. And there’s a lot, even for a “tiny island of developed climbing”, the topo lists about 540 problems. Grades from Fb3 – 8B.
2. The Indian people are rad. Also, make sure you know at least three Protea Cricket players’ names and you’ll find help wherever you need it.
3. India is VERY affordable for South Africans. 300ml Bottle of Coke R2.50. Bungalow for two in Hampi with en-suite bathroom R75 per night. Typical awesome tourist restaurant meal R15. Anything resembling shoes or textiles, a tenth to a third of whatever you’d pay in SA. (The exchange rate was R1 = Rs 6.5 when we were there)
4. It’s girl(friend) friendly. When your little sausage is gatvol of you and/or climbing, she can happily walk around alone and shop her heart out. Refer again also to point 3 above.
5. Apart from the climbing, the culture and history is amazing. DO NOT miss an opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal. There are also many other temples and areas of interest to visit almost anywhere.
6. The New Year party at the Goan Corner in Hampi is really great or you can hit party capital Goa on the west coast.
What you should know:
1. November to January is best to go. It’s dry then (no monsoon) and is the “cool” part of the year, although it will still easily hit 30degC. This is not really a problem though and you tend to fall into a routine of climbing early mornings and late afternoons as described earlier.
2. The granite is super bomber, very featured and can be extremely smooth in some areas, with the entire spectrum of holds to be found. You won’t find many roofs though, as granite goes, but everything else there is plenty of.
3. Almost all tourists get the “Delhi belly” at some point and many people will tell you wild-eyed stories about the terrible stomach illnesses awaiting you. During our trip I had an upset stomach for about an afternoon and Marisa never got sick despite eating her way through nearly all India’s animals. Help yourself by carrying waterless hand sanitizer on you and use it regularly.
4. Travel in India is generally slow and delays are common. Give yourself decent time between connections and don’t stress if the pace is slow. Enjoy the scenery or go shop some more.
5. You can hire crash pads at many of the resorts in India for about R12 a day so you don’t have to lug yours with you from SA like we did.
6. Travelling long distance by rail is not a major form of transport in SA anymore. You HAVE to do an overnight train trip in India, it’s a real experience.
All photos by Marisa Steyn and Niel Mostert