Cerro Kishtwar (6155m), in the Kashmir region of the Indian Himalayas, saw one of the greatest "New-line" climbs of the year 2017, appreciated the world over.
On 14th October 2017, Swiss alpinists Stephan Siegrist and Julian Zanker with German alpinist Thomas Huber summited via a spectacular virgin line they named "Har Har Mahadev" on the central North West Face, climbing 24 pitches in just 7 days.
In an exclusive interview to Dream Wanderlust, Stephan Siegrist talks about their incredible epic climb.
DW: Congratulations gentlemen for what could be one of the most important climbs in the Indian Himalayas this season - a virgin line, Central Buttress direttissima On NW face, of Cerro Kishtwar
DW: Stephan, this is your 2nd summit on Cerro Kishtwar after your first in 2011. Why did you come back again? Just the attraction and the challenge of a new line?
Stephan: We made out an ice line that we were able to climb alpine style in two days during our climb in 2011 on Cerro Kishtwar. We often had a great view of the endless rock face of the north-west wall during our ascent. That wall just wouldn't let me go over the years.
DW: In 2015 Marco Prezelj's team got a Piolet d'Or for their climb. Did that in any way influence your decision to try a new line direttissima?
Stephan: No, not all all. I was just attracted to this face and climb other peaks in between in Kashmir.
DW: Your first attempt was aborted after 3 days, for having under- estimated the wall and for tactical reasons. Please elaborate.
Stephan: It was definitely a very hard decision. But it turned out to be the right one in the end. Looking back we can say that we underestimated the wall and our project. We thought we would reach the summit after 5 days and had supplies for six days with us. After we hadn't even climbed a third of the wall after three days we had to rethink our tactic and how we should proceed further anew. It was we either radically reduce our food rations or we put everything into a new attempt. We decided to discontinue our attempt. Our decision was also influenced by my restriction of the use of my left hand. It was heavily swollen due to tenosinovitis. Furthermore, Julian's toes had no feeling in them and I was afraid of failure. I just didn't want to go back home without a summit. It was also our intuition that let us lean towards a second try and our trust that the weather wouldn't let us down. We rappelled and went back to base camp with the attitude that we would get our chance.
DW: Your second attempt was successful in 7 days. what was different in this approach? What tactical changes did you make this time?
Stephan: We realized and accepted that we couldn't just climb our way to success. We were in a much better state mentally even though the weather wasn't as perfect due to snowfall from cumulus clouds and the fact that we had to fight with iced up cracks and spindrift. We still had to fight the same symptoms but I bit my teeth, Julian and Thomas were highly motivated as usual, and I gave my best. We just worked together perfectly in the wall. We lived to survive!
DW: Whatever tactical changes you made proved successful. But did it also make it more dangerous and did it compromise your escape route plans in case of accidents or bad weather?
Stephan: I don't think it made it more dangerous - just wit the snowfall it needed more tactical decisions. Even more on the way down we needed the perfect timing with the fresh snow in the lower part. If there would be sunshine we would need to leave the face before midday (avalanche hazard in the lower part) and if it snows the same avalanche hazard in the lower part. So we needed cloudy weather... we were lucky enough to get it on the summit day - just in time as we wouldn't have anymore food or gas.
DW: One of the objective hazards of big-wall climbs is the continued and relentless exposure. How do you mentally cope with it?
Stephan: On this steep and compact pillar we had no objective danger...just the snow fall with the spindrift. Spend 6 nights in the cold and humid...that was the mentally hardest part.
DW: In fact you all suffered from frost bitten toes. How did that happen? Are you all better now?
Stephan: The problem was that we couldent first dry our shoes anymore. Second it got very cold and humid (snowfall) during the days. We are all better now - thanks (-:
DW: You made four camps on the wall. You also carried a portaledge. Did you have to use it for all the camps?
Stephan: Yes we climbed in capsule style since we needed snow for water. So if there was some snow on the face we moved the camp up. Portaledge was the only way to make camp.
DW: The route being on the NW face the sun would reach you late. Did that make the early morning climb more uncomfortable? Or did the shade keep the snow/ice harder making it easier to climb?
Stephan: On the first try we enjoyed sun from 2pm in the afternoon. On the second try after midday it started snowing. The mornings were very cold but still more comfortable then climbing in spindrift...there was no ice on the rock - just powder snow.
DW: You had to climb 24 pitches to reach the top. Can you please briefly elaborate on some of the more important crux pitches?
Stephan: Already in the lower "easy part" we had a hard mixed pitch to climb. Then on the face it was very homogenous. Nearly every pitch A3/A3+. Only the last 4 pitches to the summit - even there were loose rocks, were relatively easy mixed climb.
DW: On your way down from the summit, did you abseil most of the route or did you also have to down-climb?
Stephan: We abseiled the whole route.
DW: One of the attraction and logistic problems of the Patagonian Andes is there remoteness. Is it the same for this part of the Himalayas?
Stephan: Kashmir is way more remote then Patagonia. The logistic to climb in Patagonia these days is very simple.
DW: How is big-wall climbing like this different from big-wall North Face climbing in the Alps?
Stephan: There is the remoteness - then the altitude but also the more complicated logistics...even more in case of an accident.
DW: You have named this line "Har Har Mahadev". Please tell us how this happened and are you conversant with the religious connotations of this popular chant?
Stephan: We learned this from our Liaison Officer. He was a very nice and helpful guy. Since it fit perfectly the way we lived and with thanks to our LO we named the route.
DW: Do you have any future plans to come back to this or other parts of the Indian Himalayas?
Stephan: I have others ideas...may come back this year again.
I was already overwhelmed by the impressive mountains during my first visit to the region of Kashmir in 2011. There were so many aesthetically wonderful mountains and amazing, unclimbed lines. I was even more impressed by the fact that you can count on the purity of the culture and that you hardly encounter any other tourists from the western part of the world or alpinists.
DW: Tausend dank und viel gluck Stephan und das team.