Kinnaur Wall—new route by Silvia Vidal
by John Middendorf
In 2004 my wife and I travelled to a remote area in India, near the border with China. We camped in the beautiful Kinnaur Valley, where we were pretty much the only tourists (I think the area had just been recently opened up to tourism).
Above the valley, I spotted a shield of rock unlike most of the more ragged mountains in the area—a beautiful wall! Naturally I would love to have made plans to climb it, but instead I was following a new passion of creating a family!
(above: my photo from our world trip)
I posted the photos on my bigwalls.net website but I did not disclose the location! I offered a free A5 Big Wall Hammer, a hard-to-find big wall tool at the time, to anyone who could figure out the location. I gave a few clues, but it took 5 years to solve the mystery! “Goatboy” won the hammer in 2009.
See BigWallForum archive (pdf) for the chain of events.
(above: Goatboy's winning entry)
Then in 2010, Silvia Vidal, whom I had supported and featured in an A5 catalog back when I ran A5 Adventures, the big wall outfitters, sent me an email asking for more details. I gave her more information and she was off, solo, to climb the first ascent of the wall (I think I also arranged a portaledge for her!).
Her report is also found here:
On November 15, 2010, I received this email:
Here is some information about the last ascent I did this summer in Kinnaur Valley, India. It was a solo ascent and I spent 25 days (from 15th August to 8th September both included) on the wall, during this summer's strong monsoon. It has been a hard experience for me. I went to India accompanied by my friend Eulàlia Sancho, she came to the BC and then left to continue her trip. As always I didn't take a phone, Internet or any kind of device to communicate. The result was "Naufragi" (shipwreck in Catalan) 1.050 meters climbed, A4+/6a+ at 5.250m. in the Kailash Parbat range. I didn't get to the main summit of the mountain, which was still far away (I haven't seen it, it's a huge mountain), but to the end of the main wall. A wall picture and its localization on Google Earth was all the information I had. I found it at John Middendorf's web page. The area; Kinnaur valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Without knowing where to start the approach, once in the valley, showing the picture to the locals and taking some porters, we started to walk up in the middle of the rain. They left the haulbags in the middle of the fog at 3.800m and left. In the 7 days that I spent on this BC I never saw the whole wall. I spent two days trying to find the access to the wall because there was no visibility and I had no idea were the wall was. I had to fix some ropes on the way up. The approach to the wall is like trying to hike up a river ravine. Complicated and slippery. I set ABC (4.430m) close to the wall, the portaledge hanging on a boulder, because there was no flat place to put the tent between the BC and the base of the wall. I fixed the 3 first pitches (150m) and then spent 25 days hanging on the wall, alone, in horrible weather, because this year the monsoon has been very strong. A local newspaper published that the Kinnaur valley got 156% more rain than usual this year. From the month and a half that I spent up on the mountain, there was rain and fog every single day. One day, when jumaring, I lost consciousness, due to hypothermia because of excess of humidity. I counted food and water for 18 days and finally I spent 25. This and a bad logistic were the reason that more than once I thought to quit the route. But the motivation and the desire to stay there were stronger. Fighting against my principles, from the 10th pitch (14 day) I started to make bat hooks (holes for hooks) to be able to progress through the monolithic faces. In some sections there was no natural line for extreme aid climbing. I didn't have enough bolts (spits) and I wasn't able to descent from the route only for that reason. I down climbed part of a pitch but then I realised that I didn't want to leave the wall, I was too motivated to leave even if the weather was so bad and it took me too much efforts so far. I always thought that the weather was going to change, but it didn't... I tried not to use the bat hooks to increase the aid climbing grade. I mean; the A4 and A4+ are naturals, without drilled holes. That's the price I had to pay for going on an expedition without knowing about the area and the wall. And I need to explain it.
Alls well that ends well!