Originally, Stephan Siegrist and Jonas Schild traveled to India for their first alpine-style ascent of Bahai Jar's north face (6,142 m). Overall, it was the Mammut Pro athletes' ninth expedition to the country: A journey with an unexpected turn of events.
Text: Stephan Siegrist
The India expedition started off really badly for us. We had great plans but were ultimately limited by several unfortunate events. It all started when our crew set up base camp in the wrong place. On the way to our project, to "Shiva", as the locals call the mountain, forecasts warning of disastrous weather conditions came into play as well. At first, we didn’t really want to take them seriously. But when we looked out the window the next morning, we couldn't believe our eyes: 60 cm of snow. According to locals and then later also the national weather service in Delhi, it hadn't snowed this early in the year, at 2,500 m above sea level, as far back as anyone could remember. We were stuck. Nevertheless, several days later we managed to get to base camp at 3,900 m. But we had to shovel snow for hours just to make enough space for the tents.
Two days later, Jonas and I set off for our expedition goal, the Shiva. It was nothing like mountain climbing to begin with, as the fresh snow really slowed us down. At times sinking down as far as our hips, we struggled towards the start of the north ridge. We had to leave our backpacks behind at 4,700 m. Without them, we then reached an altitude of 5,000 m later in the day. However, it began to snow again so we had to descend. It continued to snow the next few days and, to make matters worse, Jonas also came down with the flu. But at that time we noticed a mountain that could be climbed heading south from base camp. It turned out that it was actually an unscaled six thousander.
"Clouds of fog obstructed the view, but I was glad to be standing there."
As the weather and Jonas' health improved, we climbed back up to 5,000 m. The next day we set out for the first ascent. However, on the way to the summit, Jonas realized he wasn’t feeling well enough yet and decided not to go further. But he gave me the opportunity to conquer the mountain alone. So, I climbed the summit by myself. Clouds of fog obstructed the view, but I was glad to be standing there. I climbed back down to Jonas and we headed back to base camp together, where we arrived soaked to the bone thanks to another snowfall.
Conditions got worse day by day. It was super cold, around -25°C (-13 °F). So cold that even the large river next to our base camp was almost completely frozen. Slowly, we realized that any further mountain climbing in this region wasn't going to happen. It was frustrating but we did our best and had to accept it. We immediately started planning our next steps. As the next days promised no improvement weather-wise, we decided to search for unexplored rock faces at lower altitudes. Since I had never been to the Manali area before, and it had potential, we made it our destination. When we arrived in Manali, we did plenty of research until I noticed a side valley near us that promised steep terrain, the Jobri Nala. We wanted to get a good look at the valley on the same day using our liaison officer's motorcycle. But before we could turn off into the valley, guards blocked the way. It quickly became clear that we needed a special permit to get to Jobri Nala.
Within an hour of getting the permit, which took some effort, we found ourselves in a paradise-like location. A river wove through the valley and small horses, goats and sheep grazed in the pastures. And it took less than five minutes to reach the first rock on foot. The rocks presented several good routes that we graded as 7a+. Not so easy! It wasn’t just us who liked the rocks, hardworking bees were building a huge nest in the cracks. Jonas was even stung on his eyebrow!
"To match our experience, we named it 'To bee or not to be'."
We spent three days on a rock face. We believe it could be the most difficult crack climb in India. On the third day, Jonas then successfully made the final ascent. Truly an awesome climbing challenge, which we graded 8a+, making it the most difficult crack climbing route in India. To match our experience, we named it "To bee or not to be". Our hands were in pretty bad shape after three days of climbing. After resting for a day, we were ready and happy to climb again. We attempted and completed walls with difficulty grades of 7b+, 7a, 6b and 6a. After another day’s climbing, our gas and supplies ran out. The time to return to Delhi had come. Even if the climbing on this trip wasn't all that we hoped for, we were all happy and traveled home as a well-oiled team with lots of new climbing experiences.