Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bhatoba Pinnacle in a Day (PIAD)

I'm coining a new term for Indian climbing: Pinnacle in a Day (PIAD).  Reason:  It appears that most climbs in the region like those of yore (yes, probably only 30 years ago in western climbing history) are done over several days with multiple people through clubs using lots of gear and support.  I like to sleep in my tent at night, so multi-day, assault-style expeditions are just not my thing!  Light and fast are the way to go; ask Alex!  So, this may end up being not just another successful adventure story, but maybe even a comparison of climbing styles in India.  It’ll probably create some heated discussion on this end as it has already started to fester, but I’m hoping it can be more of a dialog between old school thinking and new school innovation that will eventually help the local Indian trad climbing scene get a 21st century kick-start!  Wish me luck.

Here's a link to ALL the pictures on Picasa; only some are included here. Make sure to read the captions:

Discussions of our next trip at the local Podar College climbing wall usually start with, “How can we scare the sh*t out of Sunny, this time?!”  Although climbed nearly every season, Bhatoba Pinnacle is considered one of the more difficult targets.  Here, they call it crack climbing. I call it full-on off-width with nary a hand jam!  The climbers trying to scare me, again: Ajit and Richie.  Ajit had climbed some part of the route about eighteen months earlier, but had retreated due to time constraints.  His recollection of the route and estimations of height are sketchy at best.  Richie is mostly a sport climber and has been up in the mountains, but his trad leading experience was minimal.  Then, there was me, with no experience of local pinnacles, so not much use either!  Finding me a partner was left to them.

Ajit and Richie were going to bring most of the aid-climbing gear like hammers, pitons, and pegs/stakes, which are cheap alternatives to bolts on these routes.  I was providing all of the free climbing gear, including cams, biners, slings, ropes, helmets, ascenders, étriers (aiders) and a Metolius Easy Daisy, which I thought was essential for aid-climbing.  I had donated one to the Girivihar club back in 2006 and it was in CBD Belapur, a good 1.5 hour train ride each way.  For me, the adventure had already begun!  I had to switch trains twice, and at both stations the midday crowds were crazy, with me actually jumping on moving trains both times to get on!  Not easy with a backpack.  My climbing buddy Prashant met me at the station and we walked to his house.  His wife Shami had prepared one of my favourite southern dishes, neer dosa (rice crepes) with coconut chutney (relish).  I think, I must have eaten ten of them!  After some playtime with his kids Manu and Guddu, we drove to Sir Bong’s house in the Artists’ Village, where they were holding the weeklong 42th Annual Girivihar Rock Climbing Camp.  The club is nearly sixty years old and this has developed into a full-fledged, five-day beginner’s course.

While Sir Bong looked for gear, I was roped into showing the newbies some bouldering moves on his house along with a small pep talk on how unforgiving gravity can be.  From the looks on their faces, I’m pretty sure, I either made a complete fool of myself, or they didn't understand a word I’d said!  I’m thinking it was the former, as they were smiling and shaking their heads; Indian-style!  On the way back, I realized I needed to drop the gear off with my partners, as my backpack would be full the next day with my overnight gear as well, with a couple of trains to catch.  I made my way to the climbing wall.

We discussed our strategy at Podar, soon realizing we might have a few problems.  Although Ajit has done some trad climbs in the Sahyadris and even Bhatoba, his understanding of descents, etc. is as good as mine was in the first few years of climbing; very limited and scary.  It appeared nearly virgin to us, as there was no information on how parties had retreated.  This was of our greatest concern; don’t they have decent descent anchors around here?!  A four hundred foot static rope was mentioned; this was used by past teams and it kept being brought up.  I was against this as we would need to first find one, then we would have to carry it all the way to the top; not a good plan for fast and light.  Ajit recalled a need to traverse on ascent/descent, but was not sure how far up/down/sideways we had to move.  We were going to be two teams of two.  We only had two 60m ropes and a 70 foot static line and no bolting equipment.  This, coupled with the leave-no-gear-behind mentality, caused me much confusion and trepidation.  If we were going to use these ropes, then to descend, both teams would have to make it to the top with no room for error!    

Richie said that Taklu (baldy!) would be my partner.  A good belay is pretty much my only criteria for safe climbing in India.  Taklu had done Duke’s Nose and was still alive, so I felt safe with their choice!  Either way, it was a short, sleepless night.  I still had a yoga class to teach, buy my food, take a shower, shave, pack up and head to the station for the next leg of my journey.  The bag definitely felt heavy as it had been eighteen months since my last multi-day trip in the North Cascades.  The step up into the trains here can be a good 18” or more, and with my spindly legs, this is definitely a disadvantage!  Fortunately, I got to Podar early with no mishaps.  The boys were delayed due to slow trains and late supply runs.

While I waited, in walked Taklu.  I already knew Ketan from climbing at Podar, but I had no idea this was the Taklu referred to!  I asked him if he was just there to climb or was going to Bhatoba; after all he was bald!  Eventually, we determined that Richie was a little tired when he told me who my partner was and couldn't recall Ketan’s name.  He only pictured his shaven head, hence Taklu!  We laughed several times about this on our weekend out!

Getting There
Richie and Ajit arrived and after a quick supply run and hasty packing, we were ready to leave, albeit a little late.  Mumbai rush hour was upon us and any later would make it all the more difficult for our 2.5 hour ride to the town of Asangaon.  Strategy was to actually go all the way backwards to CST (Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus previously known as Victoria Terminus or VT) and then take an Asangaon-terminating, fast train.  Going away from your destination to the origination station of your train is preferable as you might actually be able to get on the train and maybe even get a seat.  Getting on at subsequent stations is nearly impossible at this hour, and suicidal with our huge backpacks.  My friends had it all figured out as they do this every day!

Victoria Terminus during the end of the day rush hour just before boarding our train to Asangaon.

We were fortunately seated with our bags up high on the Asangaon train by 5:40pm, but it was already completely full with people between our legs as well.  About an hour into our journey, someone shouted “CST”.  I was like, “Huh?!  We've already left there.”  Actually, it was the signal from a regular traveller, letting those who had gotten on at CST know they ought to give up their seats to those who had gotten on later.  Amazing social-conscience-notice that actually works!  As the local farangi (foreigner), I was graciously told to continue sitting, but I gave up my seat as my backside was hurting from the hard, wooden benches.  Yes, they still have these on Indian trains!

The train arrived uneventfully at Asangaon at nearly 8:20pm, emptying out at each station along the way.   We waited for our late night tempo (jeep with small pickup truck bed) ride from Guru, the local climbing guide.  He doesn't actually climb, but has been the go-to man in this area for over twenty years.  He even has several pinnacles named after him!  He can be described as quiet, focused, strong, resourceful and patient, as opposed to us, who were noisy and impatient to get to our destination!  He fed us local faire of fresh rice chapattis (crepes) and a couple of different bhaajis (vegetables).  We were quite stuffed before we went to bed late on his nice ceramic floor.

Richard Kher, Sunny Jamshedji and Ajit Bobhate ating a simple village meal before going to bed. Rice chappatis (tortillas) with two typical vegetable dishes. By the time we realized we needed to take a picture, we were done!

One would think these villagers were living the highlife with well-built buildings and electricity, and I've been told, living in villages is not as expensive as the big city.  But, Guru didn't have running water.  He supplements farming with guiding during the short climbing season.  This is not a lucrative business as he makes about 150-200 rupees ($3-4) a day plus the meals we ate.

It was another hot, airless, sleepless night and an early rise in the morning.  Up at 4 AM, we peed into his fields where two calves sat watching these silly outsiders getting ready for a self-indulging, fruitless adventure.  Breakfast was light; tea and fruit.  We hit the trail at 5:15 AM and after twenty minutes of pitch-black, flat-ground-hiking, we walked into a streambed strewn with Styrofoam eating trays.

Guru pointed to a tiny, hardly two-foot square pond at the base of some rocks. This was going to be our only source of water for the weekend.  He located a couple of cups on the ground made from the bottoms of plastic bottles.  We used these to scoop the water and invariably tadpoles (no, really) into the plastic jerry cans.  Not knowing if these were clean themselves, I noted that I would filter-pump the water out of these cans into my bladder, but eventually never did and am still alive to tell the tale!  We filled three five and one ten litre jerry cans for a total of 25L between us for 2-3 days.

Filling 25L of water before heading up. Yes, that is a cup made from a plastic bottle we found on the ground. Yes, that is garbage beside our water source. No, we did not filter the water before drinking it! Sunny Jamshedji, Guru and Ajit Bobhate. (Courtesy Richie Kher)

We had already decided that we might stay an extra day if we did not summit and jug fixed lines in the not-preferred assault method.  Guru carried the ten litre can in his daypack.  I added a five litre to my load.  Ajit, Richie and Ketan switched carrying the other two cans by hand between them.  I thought my fully loaded 80 litre Arcteryx backpack was already heavy, but at some point, I landed up with the second rope on my back and another water can in my hand!  It was teamwork at its best, with Guru machete’ing his way up the trail and we shifting loads to keep up the pace.

After 2:40 hours of hiking and a couple of rest stops, we got to a bivy spot on some rocks.  We could see Bhatoba above us, but there was still a bit of a hike left.  Unfortunately, since we were the first climbers of the season, there was a lot of undergrowth that Guru had to hack through.  It was slow going, but we were at our bivy spot in under an hour and it was a good idea as this section had been the hardest and we were now right below our quarry.  We immediately started to clear the spot and set up the tent.
The crew just after we settled into our bivy spot and before Guru left us to our madness. Richie Kher, Ketan Vaidya, Sunny Jamshedji, Guru and Ajit Bobhate. (Courtesy Richie Kher)
Guru laid out lunch, which we ate greedily, followed by a short nap.  We were still quite wasted at this point.  It was hot and we were sitting in the sun.  Guru headed home as we decided what to do.  Since Ketan and I had not climbed together, and Richie did not have much trad leading experience, we decided to tackle pitch one on the first day.  We could get our systems down as well as some experience on this mostly unknown rock.  Good thing we did!

After much instruction on anchoring and belaying, Richie took the lead with a cumbersome set of gear, including cams, nuts, slings, étriers, ascenders, pitons, hammer, and pegs.  Thanks to my lack of aid experience, I saw étriers being used and a piton banged in for the first time!  More new experiences in the Sahyadris!  Ketan belayed and then followed him up.  He had not climbed outside in a couple of years and had just returned to climbing only a few months ago.  This coupled with a backpack, fear of bad anchors, and offwidth climbing really threw his mojo off.  He was just not up to finishing the pitch.  I cleaned for him and inspected the anchor.  There were two rusted ring bolts and a #3 Camalot 20 feet away.  This is why even the follower cannot fall in the Sahyadris!  Ajit followed me up.  We walked along a narrow ledge and set a rappel off a tree, leaving the rope overnight.  This whole episode took us into the evening with the sun setting and chilly evening gusts.

Richie Kher making some full-on chimney moves as he makes his way up the maw to the P1 ledge. (Courtesy Ajit Bobhate)

We decided to talk over dinner, but by the time we were eating it was quite late.  Ketan had decided that he would not go up.  This worked as we would now be a team of three with both ropes, partly easing descent concerns.  We slept the night, thinking of an early start, which of course did not happen!

The Climb
Although, we were up by 6 AM, eating breakfast, racking up, and more instructions on anchors and how we would accomplish a descent left us starting our climb around 10 AM.

Richie Kher, Ajit Bobhate, and Sunny Jamshedji, geared up and confident, yet dwarfed by Bhatoba and the gash they were just about to climb! (Courtesy Ketan Vaidya)

The 70 static rope was not required as the route followed a nearly straight line.  We top-roped the section where we had left a descent rope the night before.  We still hadn't figured out how previous climbers ascended/descended this without ropes/protection, although I was told later on that Ajit had free soloed to the ledge and so had figured out the descent as well!  We walked across the thin ledge and anchored ourselves in.  Ajit needed to aid through the first section overhanging section.  The bolt appeared high enough to require a shoulder boost to get into the off-width above.  Richie bent down and Ajit took a ride!

Alley Oop! Richie Kher gives Ajit Bobhate a shoulder lift to clip the first aid bolt. I (Sunny Jamshedji) basically fell from where Ajit's head is and although I landed flat on my back, I miraculously did not get hurt due to the rope stretching just enough to break my fall, but not to kill me!
It was a tough start as Ajit figured out what he had to do with all the gear strung around him. An additional double rack of friends (cams) to #4 Camalot was new to him.  Except for the anchors, and banging in one piton, he freed the route completely; an amazing job really, considering the grade and condition of the climb.

After a short while, Ajit said he had reached his high point from last time where there was a bolt as well as placements for a piton and peg behind a block he was sitting on.  To me, it seemed like not much rope had gone out.  He did not want to go further as he did not want to run out of rope.  I acquiesced.  Once he had settled in after a lot of banging, I stepped out from under the overhang to see him only about 50-60 feet up!  After much debate, we decided I would just go up to him and we would keep moving up, albeit slowly.

I started up the overhanging off-width.  There was a flake (see picture) in the crack which allowed me to use familiar hand-jamming to enter the off-width.  I was smiling as I freed it, and just as I was about to put my foot on a large inch-deep chip, which would have allowed me to enter the off-width safely, the edge of the flake broke and I exited upside down.  I hit the ground on a flat rock on my sacrum, like a pancake.  I lay there for a moment thinking, this is not good; Sahyadri epic about to begin!  I noticed no pain.  I had just fallen from at least eight feet, flat on my back, how could I not be hurt?  I moved, no pain.  I got up, no pain.  I moved around, no pain!  The rope was just short enough with stretch to break my fall just enough that I had gotten shaken, but not stirred!  When I looked over to Richie, he was sitting there aghast – “You, okay, man?” I said, “I think so.”  I got right back into the crack, but this time used the étrier and Easy Daisy to climb my way through.  Not my style, but better safe than sorry!  I’m sure this section can still go free.

Richie passed me the daypack with supplies as I realized this would be too much for him to handle in the off-width.  I got to Ajit’s belay to see his fantastic anchor system.  He had belayed me with the bolt as a directional and had a shaky peg and piton which I removed by hand while I was fidgeting later on while belaying him!  Again, reinforcing the fact that falling is not an option in the Sahyadris!  Sorry, Arno?!  As there was no room on the belay station for a third person, we decided that Ajit would continue to the ledge above, finishing the first pitch.  I would bring Ritchie up and he would climb through with me bringing up the rear with the bag.  All went well.  Again, a lot of banging, as we waited for the next anchor to be built. Meanwhile, I tied Ajit off and brought Richie up to a spot just below me, switched ropes and then tied him off.

Ajit Bobhate made his way up to the comfortable P2 belay ledge before Richie Kher (on P1 ledge) made his way up to Sunny Jamshedji on the cramped half ptich belay stance. (Courtesy Ketan Vaidya)

Once Ajit’s anchor was secure, Richie climbed through and attempted to go up several times.  Although, he was a strong climber and sent the first half in good style, this second half was more challenging and the full-body gymnastics got the better of him.  The crack also required helmetless travel!  He came down and we decided that he would watch me execute it and then give it a try.  It was tight and painful; again, Ajit had done a magnificent job!  I got up to the real pitch one ledge, with a bit of struggling in this first section.  He had placed a solid piton, a very marginal peg and two HB cams; yes, I’m still climbing with these antiques!  Before leaving the earlier belay, I had decided that we were going to leave the bag behind.  It was just too heavy with several cucumbers, carrots, water, lots of dried fruit, four additional pegs for descent, and our headlamps.  I had also told Ajit not to drink too much water as both of them were drinking like camels at an oasis!  Richie and I stacked up on cucumbers, carrots, and a pocketful of nuts and dried fruit.  Ajit got the trail mix when I got to him, but was already parched from a couple of hours without water.  He was relieved to hear that Richie was bringing him cucumbers!

Richie started up, but was still finding it hard to get through the first section.  He, smartly, opted to jug the line as he had an ascender.  He did so in good time.  Had we thought about it, he could've brought up the backpack as well … with our headlamps!

Richie Kher arriving at the P2 ledge after jugging up. Ketan Vaidya is taking picutres from the ground just off his left shoulder and our bivy spot with tent is just to the left of his head. Chitchatting after a gruesome pitch!

It was getting late.  We all ate the food.  Ajit said it was my pitch.  I said, “Thanks, but you're doing great.”  This was his route and I was feeling somewhat jittery; no big pieces.  He took off, and after several minutes of wrestling an overhanging offwidth section, he kicked a #3 out of the crack and was standing on a thin ledge with pretty much no protection.  He exhaustingly hammered his first piton placement in, and traversed to a second bush-filled crack.  Now, he was moving as the rope inched away from us.  It was slow going, so I decided to build the descent anchor while we waited.  I transferred the belay to Richie and I opened two prusik cords and equalized them using the peg, piton and a screw link.  Good thinking.

Ajit Bobhate making his way through the P3 off-width. Slightly overhanging, dirty and slippery. Sunny Jamshedji, concentrating on the belay with lots of raining rocks. Richie Kher was clowning around until he got hit by a softball-sized rock! (Courtesy Ketan Vaidya)

Since we could not communicate anymore, we used Ketan located on the far slope of the buttress under Mahuli Fort.  He had been napping and taking pictures all day and by this time Guru had returned prematurely to take us back down.  Although, this sounds like putting the cart before the horse, Guru was mostly not contactable from our location, so we had pre-planned our departure.  They sat at the base helping us communicate for nearly an hour as Ajit made his way to the last twenty feet of rope.  After much shouting and screaming, he understood that he was out of rope.  We realized that summit fever had taken him over!

Richie and I decided one of two things based on our lack of headlamps.  Either, Ajit and I would descend immediately, or if the summit was close, we would go up alone with Richie staying put.  I scurried up the pitch.  Another #3 had popped out, but it was also another fantastic pitch by Ajit.  I'm thinking this guy has balls!  I get up to his stance in the middle of a wide slab, between a huge cactus and small dihedral.  His anchor looks good, but the expression on his face is priceless!  He points to another cactus about forty feet above an alcove in front of us and says “That’s the summit!”  I can see the fever is higher than I thought.  There’s no way, I can say no.  I tied off Richie’s rope and took the lead.  Some easy 4th class climbing brought me to just below the summit cap.  I placed a cam before starting up only to find that walking up forty feet of grassy slope is not easy in climbing shoes.  It was slippery and I backed off.  No time for accidents.  I brought Ajit up.  He had the pegs and after a pre-summit pose, he started hammering them into the ground and using them as support to move up.  Had I known better, I might have just taken my shoes off and walked up barefoot; I’m sure it would've worked.

Ajit Bobhate driving pegs into the dirt as the grass was too slippery to go up. Next time, we're doing it without our climbing shoes!

Fifteen minutes later we were at the top.  You should've seen his face!  All glee!  We took our summit photos with the Mahuli Fort in the background, searched for a rappel towards our giant cactus and descended quickly.

Bhatoba Pinnacle summit shot of Sunny Jamshedji and Ajit Bobhate with the Mahuli Fort in the background.

The Descent
The sun was nearly gone.  I decided that we would leave webbing and a screw link, so that it would be easier to pull the rope down.  There was some resistance, but Ajit acquiesced although his leave no gear behind mentality was still strong.  I reached Richie quickly and Ajit followed.  He still had to remove the single piton he had used while climbing.  We could see he was very tired.  It was getting darker.  The two anchor pieces did not look adequate.  While Richie and I worked the ropes, Ajit hammered in a solid peg.  I used another prusik cord and re-equalized it.  We could hardly see what we were doing.  I was ready to descend.  I told them to keep the backup cams in place till I descended, just in case.  I also told them to double- and triple-check their rappel setup before leaving the ledge.  I looked at them in the dimming light and realized that I couldn’t leave them in the way they were.  I had learned a technique from a guide in my first year of climbing, where the most experienced climber puts their partner(s) into the rappel system before descending first.  As long as they don’t remove themselves, a fireman’s belay from the bottom is the only backup they need.  I proceeded to put them in with cowtails off their belay loops.  I told them they just needed to unclip their personal anchors and descend.  Since this was nearly a 180 foot descent with thick, stiff ropes, I switched the orientation of the rope going through their rappel devices, so the friction would be less.  I indicated what I had done to them twice.

When I left I could hardly see their faces.  I reached the bag and took out my headlamp.  Whew!  I continued to the overhanging ledge and clipped in, drank and ate.  Richie followed in good time.  He took his headlamp, food and drink.  Then we waited.  It was quite a while before Ajit showed up amidst a lot of shouting and instruction.  Even before he hit the ledge, I saw that his belay tool was in the opposite orientation.  Richie had also explained to him that the tool was just backwards and he didn't need to switch it, but he was bonking due to the fatigue and the lack of water/nutrition.  He had wondered why it was so, and in the pitch dark he had switched it around.  All he could think of was getting down and drinking water.  We were relieved he was still alive!

We walked over the narrow ledge in various ways.  Me on lead, Richie clipped into and sliding on the rope, and Ajit following without a belay; all from miscommunication!  We rappelled to the ground, this time leaving webbing around the tree.  It was around 8 pm.  Guru and Ketan were there to greet us over ten hours later.  We made our way back to camp gingerly, legs shaking.

As I started eat my dinner and sort the gear, we talked about the amazing time we just had above.  Guru was with us unexpectedly, so we switched our sleeping arrangements and put him in the tent with Richie in his sleeping bag outside.  We went to bed late and tired.

In the morning, we were up somewhat earlier than expected with Richie and Ketan wanting to go up another shorter pinnacle.  I said it was possible, but we needed to get back as I was leaving on a weeklong trip the next day.  We all agreed that we had succeeded in what we came to accomplish and without injury.  It was a good time to return home triumphant; the pinnacles weren't going anywhere.

Getting Back
Our packs were slightly lighter this time, but we were quite tired and the steep hike back had us slipping and falling over. The going was slow, but we were down in a couple of hours with a quick wash at Guru’s and short walk to the state transport bus stop.  The rickety bus took us to Asangaon.  We got our train tickets and a quick snack before the train appeared.  Unfortunately, this was not the originating station.  The train was packed, and we had to stand all the way to Dadar station two hours away.  Richie had a momentary altercation with some chap wanting to start the pushing process a little too early!  I got home just after 4pm.  I had only sat for thirty minutes since we had gotten up at 7:30 AM!  I was exhausted as I’m sure my partners were.

Total train rides taken for this adventure by just me: 12; between 15 minutes and 2.75 hours long!  I’m sure Ajit and Ketan would've taken more.  Richie lives a cool fifteen minute walk from the Podar Wall.

These chaps are fantastic to climb with and I look forward to each of their scary adventures.  I know I had gotten short with them several times on the wall, but they seemed to soak up all I had to offer and were grateful for it.  I am grateful for their patience; putting up with this softie farangi, and to realize that this pinnacle stuff is not such a big deal after all; just dirty, offwidth climbing.

Guru, waiting anxiously, yet patiently as the sun sets on the team. He ended up staying the night as we descended after dark. (Courtesy Ketan Vaidya)

Guru is the local guide.  He basically brings nearly everyone into the area.  When we were packing up to leave, I gave him a bhaashan (sermon) on the benefit to him of keeping the area clean as well as ensuring that other climbers who followed would not remove the descent gear as well as any permanent bolts that were put up.  He slowly understood what we were getting at.  It is only a matter of time before people stop coming, if the environment is not taken care of and the climbing traffic increases.  Usually, the government either does nothing or completely closes access to the site.  Not unlike in the USA.  They’re talking about an Access Fund-like organization in India, but nothing has materialized yet.  The plan is to go back once more and place proper bolts at each belay station, cleaning it up and keeping the low-quality rock from being further damaged; ultimately making safer and more accessible for future generations.

On the climbing side, we realized that Ajit had basically done the route free.  If the anchors had been in place, this route is essentially three long and two very short pitches, with two long and two short rappels, and probably can be been done in less than six hours up and down.  If we could just convince the locals this was the case, we would be moving local climbing into the 21st century!  There is a sense that things have to be done a certain “way”, call it habit, machismo, stupidity, the way it is, whatever suits you.  I have not gotten into any discussions with the people setting the “way”, but one of other three in our group had an “altercation” with the local pinnacle gurus; some having done 200 or more routes in the nearby mountains.  They kept saying, “But, you can’t do it that way.”  “What about the 400 foot static line for descent.”  “What about doing one pitch on one day and then jugging up the next day and doing the next pitch.”  And, so on.  Several of them couldn't believe that it could be done free and have aided their way up these monsters.  There are even pinnacles with bolted sport routes that adventure companies take clients up, ascending it like a bolt ladder!  Of course, I don’t know if these can be completely free climbed, but I've been told that many of these are free-climbable or at least multi-pitch sport routes.

I've only been climbing since 1996 and pretty much have zero aid experience.  So, I can only imagine this is similar to how climbing was in the Wild West in the USA and how it evolved into the more free climbing of today.  Meaning, old routes were done in a similar assault style with lots of gear, over days, using aid, etc.  When the gear became more modern and versatile, and climbers willing to take more risk, maybe even relying on this new gear, the routes became more “free”.  Routes like The Nose on El Cap are testament to this.  I’ll let the oldies (yet Goldies) tell us how it was!

Fact is that these routes can be done free with the right gear and climbers have to believe that it can be done.  Also, more actual hand-jamming crack routes, if they exist, need to be established with proper rappel stations.  As the gear becomes more available, so will the route possibilities.  We also need to let the old guard know that yes, they paved the way, but now it is time for a new generation of strong climbers to come along and up the ante.  We aren't taking away their glory, just making new ones.  This new guard of terrifically strong and bold climbers are now on their way to do it, and need a little financial help to purchase the appropriate equipment.

So, this is where I had decided to come in, or at least my big American-ized mouth had!  I had determined, and not incorrectly, that the climbers here needed some free climbing gear that is appropriate for their local needs.  This means cam sets with larger sizes, lighter slings and carabiners, hand drills, lighter étriers (aiders), adjustable daisies, etc. The largest piece I saw was an old, pink #6 Camalot hanging on Sir Bong’s wall, which I would’ve taken had I seen it before I left,  AND if it didn’t have broken wires!  The other larger cam was a purple HB, which was at least 15-20 years old.  These appeared to all be in not-so-good shape.  Other climbing groups do have cams, but mostly in regular sizes; not really suited for wide cracks.  There are other cams around, but not a full rack like we take for granted in the west.  The ones that belong to Girivihar have been used by several different people, over many years, with no one reporting usage, or taking care of them in the interim.

To assist in this endeavor, I had enthusiastically set up an Indiegogo project to collect money from anyone willing to help out.  At the time of writing, the project described what was needed and how the gear would get here.  How the equipment will be administered had not really been determined, but the intention was to find some responsible, open-minded folks who would host the gear and allow a wide range of climbers to borrow it without prejudice.  A few dollars from interested parties would have kick-started the project easily and provided years of fantastic free climbing for many in a slightly less fortunate financial situation.

But, as life would have it, I decided to back off from this endeavor.  I realized on a subsequent trip that it is best not to give people [climbers] the tools to kill themselves in the kind of litigious world we live in.  I’m more than willing to allow the crew to use my gear when I’m there, or that provided by the local climbing groups, but I felt I would be more responsible, if I actually helped gift it to them.  I wasn't ready to make that commitment yet.  I’d be happy to accept comments regarding this and to see what the rest of the community or the three other climbers reading this would have to say.

Since then, my friends in Mumbai have informed me that they are already beginning to save up to buy their own gear.  Apparently, a thin dynamic rope has already been purchased and hopes for a full rack by the fall season are in the making.  Maybe, despite my backing out of it, these chaps will dream their own dreams.  I wish them the best in this endeavor and hope to climb with them again later this year.  I’ll let you know how this progresses in future posts.

Until next time...

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