Wednesday, February 24, 2016

India Part 2: New Terrain.

India: Part 2

Approaching the Mystery Wall

The 3 ladies, nicknamed “Not ready to be Housewives” along with our new friends, finally arrived to our destination.  Five people, 12 packs, 2 crash pads, and 1 driver exploded out of the Toyota Hiace.  I wish they made them in the states p.s.  

Looking back towards the valley and our basecamp

The cliff luring us to this side of the Himachal Pradesh loomed straight over head.  Shoshala was first climbed by a Finnish team a few springs ago.  Their climb, mixed with many bolts, opened a serious of corners and small cracks on the south-center aspect of this spearheaded peak.  Throughout our research it seemed they did not tag the true summit.  Doing so would have required more climbing via a jagged undulating ridge.

Whitney brewing up

Speaking to locals we learned that our mid-October attempt would have limitations.  No water.  The steepening grass tufts and ramps allow no place for water to sit.  Spring snow accumulation allowed for the European team to collect some snow from shaded areas nearby.  We would have no such luck.  Water would have to be transported up.

Two nearby valleys also caught our eyes, the gameshow suspense began.   I was keen to climb, push myself to higher elevations.  This is the Himalayas after all.  Team discussion thickened.  Option number 2, the Mystery Wall, enticed with its name alone!  Sylvia Videl first person climbed the Mystery Wall’s giant granite face.

Still Approaching.  First pitch of climb is the leaning dihedral.
Aiming for the middle of three splitters abov.  

Hugged by pinnacle gendarmes swooping over a vast expanse of landscape, all tucked under a massive hanging glacier and 6000 m summit.  
Another slightly less impressive objective also stirred the conversation, option 3.  Alluring in possibility of stellar camping, running water and route-less peaks.  These peaks much smaller in comparison.  

Door number 1, 2, or 3, what would it be?

With 3 porters, 60 some eggs hard boiled, a head of cabbage, some stinky cheese and an arrangement of dehydrated oats and prepackaged meals we opted for door number 2.  The approach to the Mystery Wall involved a long slog straight up a grassy hillside.  Four hours in, we were forced to do a proper bouldering move to ascend any further.  Dropping our own heavy packs in a semi-flat nook 20 feet up from the boulder problem.  I scurried around hoping for a better bivy site while Whitney cleared a space big enough for our tent.  The porters insisted and angrily attempted the boulder problem refusing to give us the packs until they had ‘finished.’  I finally snagged the pack off the eldest of the three (who was completely exhausted, hungry and thirsty) and passed it up to Crystal.  One of the porters mentioned they hadn’t eaten breakfast, and of course were not carrying any lunch.  Geez!  All quickly rummaged the packs, shoving food and water their direction.  

Quinn on the first pitch.  
The men ate and began their load-free descent.  They would return in 9 days to help carry out our kit.  The ladies settled in, discussing our plan for the morning while the sun descended beneath the neighboring snow covered range.   

Essentially, the rest of the approach followed the water carved steep slabs and curvaceous deep waterholes requiring moderate soloing.  We encountered a singular bolt above a 100 foot steep section.  A trace of Sylvia and her gaggle of porters.  Nice, at least we don’t have to down climb that section! 

Our intentions were to climb new routes, hopefully new summits, all alpine style and bivy on route if necessary.  As we approached the light on the face altered the mountains features.  Sylvia’s wall undressed as a sheer, featureless granite sheet.  
My eyes gazed left, towards a pillar leading to the skyline ridge of the mountain.  Vertical climbing to probably difficult ridge climbing sprinkled with snow and ice.  
Crystal scoping out the line.  A splitter in the dihedral. 
At 4000m we carved a tiny bivy spot in scree.  The only flat-ish spot even close to the start of our intended line.  I led the first 70 m pitch, a less than vertical, very dirty right facing dihedral with a wide crack.  Crystal led the second 70 m, a really fun nobby face to another right facing dihedral.  
Whitney led the third rope stretcher.  She made a hard move off the belay, trending leftward to a giant scree covered ledge.  It started to graupel.  Crystal and I followed the pitch, then scurried further up the ledge to check out the corner we had been eyeing.  

Was it really a crack?  

Heavy clouds teased us, swooping about, we barely caught a glimpse.  
Splitter!  It looked really good.  

We retreated to Whitney, cautiously poking around for a proper rappel anchor.  The ground white with tiny ball bearings of precipitation.  Finally, a purple camelot and number 2 ball-nut found their home.  Crystal descended first, her rope shifted causing a basketball sized boulder to tumble onto her knee.  

Trying to find an reasonable anchor.  Graupel accumulating.  

Bivy at the base of the climb.
Again we slept at the base.  Sunrise brought crisp mountain air, a thick blanket of dew and a weather forecast of clear skies for only one more day.  We estimated at least 5 more new pitches to gain the ridge.  Scale of the upper mountain was hard to gauge.  Whitney and I were left to continue upwards as a pair.  Crystal’s knee was stiff and swollen, she was out. 

Descending was a difficult decision in blue skies, but staying together as a team was important.  Arriving to our tent lower down valley, we drank the remaining whiskey.  The following morning we opted to hike our gear, days earlier than scheduled departure with the porters.  A snow storm swirled in the following day, easing our decision to bail.  I found myself discouraged.   

The snow storm.  Glad we descended.  Mystery Wall, the lower left pink face, our pillar edges the left of the wall.

Days passed.  With new snow accumulation, we hoped snow would be available to melt, in addition to the 25 liters our porters would carry to our original destination, Shoshala.  We estimated a 5-6 day mission.  

Departing in good spirits, water slowly seeped from the porters backpacks.  Straight out of town we ascended thick grassy slopes to find a few hours later another tiny perch with outstanding views.  
The next day we rallied early.  Crystal climbed the breakfast pitch.  A beautiful and clean V- slot led her to a perfect hand-sized splitter on the left.  This pitch finished with a 10 foot section of perfect number 5 Camelot to a bushy mantel, 5.10+.  I headed up another perfect hand sized splitter to another smaller nest of grass, 5.9.  Pace slowed on the third, as the now finger crack was brimming with bushes and tufts of grass.  Whitney cleaned, tufts of dirt spewing over the three of us.  She retreated, Crystal headed up and wrestled a giant bush mid-pitch.  

We giggled, inappropriate jokes abound.  
First Pitch.  

The sun quickly arched over us, decent back to camp was upon us.  The following day we jummared to the base of pitch 3.  I took over, cleaning only enough to aid my way up the crack.  The crack began to taper but so did the angle.  I free climbed above tiny wires to another bushy stance.  We needed to continue upward momentum.  Crystal followed quickly, I belayed her as she blast off on pitch four.  Whitney mini traction the third pitch and attempted to clean a bit more, a now climbable finger crack at 5.11.   
Swapping leads upwards 3-4 more pitches brought us clean cracks again.  Unique and varied climbing, bushy mantels, lay backs, underclings, fist cracks, and a dash of heady slab moves.  Day three we had reached a steep mid-mountain grassy knoll.  
Pitch 3, Housewife cleaning.  All that remains is the green bush. 

We glanced upward, a myriad of broken cracks and bushy dihedrals confused us.  Daylight was again fading.  Day 4 flurries kept us tent bound.  Sipping tea, we discussed our personal lives and our climbing options.  Day 5 we rallied early but cold temperatures slowed our pace.  Beautiful climbing and good gear quickly ended.  Funky placements and a thick bushy ledge traverse led nowhere.  
This was our last day of food.  Eight excellent pitches with much more mountain to go.  
Defeated we descended the mountain.   

Like most humans in stressful environments, we didn’t always agree, we weren’t on the same eating regimen or sleep schedule, we have different skill-sets and overall priorities.  The dichotomy of external and internal challenges constantly edged us, weather and water issues, strong opinions and fluctuating stoke.  As a group, though, we were able to confidently express our views, earnestly listen, see one another perspective and move on as a collective.  

Still giggling even though calorie deprived and short of a summit.  

We traveled to India “Not ready to be Housewives.”  A joke name with serious undertones of us running from scary unknown terrain of life.  Impending and almost certain adventure-less moments—marriage, babies, or full-time work.  Oh my!  
Hilarious!  As climbers we constantly navigate and seek out difficult unknown terrain with a positive attitude and fervor.  
Ah, how climbing continues to make me a better person.  
We may not have conquered any summits in India but we also haven’t conquered ourselves.  Thank goodness, because I would hate to have already reached the pinnacle. 

Our high point.  Tibet not so far behind us.

***Whitney and Crystal arrived 3 weeks before I and did climb two new routes.

Many thank you's for supporting this expedition GORE-TEX, Petzl, Hyperlight Mountain Gear,
Skratch Labs, Omega Pacific, Mammut,  La Sportiva.