On September 7, a three-man team consisting of the Mammut athlete Stephan Siegrist along with Thomas Huber and Julian Zanker embarked on an adventure in the Kashmir Himalayas. On September 13, they reached the base camp. Ideal weather conditions allowed no opportunity for a break and by September 18, they had set up the Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 5,050 meters. After several trips to transport equipment and completing their preparations, the team set out to climb the face on October 1. They had to revise their initial plan of completing the ascent in five days. For tactical reasons, they abandoned their first attempt and made their way back to the base camp. Buoyed up with renewed strength and resolve, they took up the adventure once again on October 8. The weather was stable, with clear skies in the mornings, clouds forming by midday and snow falling in the afternoons. The team had to battle with icy cracks, spindrift and extremely cold temperatures falling as low as -20 °C. Not forgetting difficult technical climbing at up to A3+. On the summit day, October 14, their efforts were rewarded with sunshine. When asked how the idea had come about, Steph Siegrist answered:
“During our ascent in 2011, we planned an ice line on the north-west side of Cerro Kishtwar and climbed it in two days in alpine style. This climb also gave us a great view over the endless rocky expanse of the direct north-west face. It was an image that I couldn’t get out of my head over the following years.” He continued: “The face significantly exceeded my expectations in terms of difficulty. Falling snow in the afternoons and the cold made the seven days of climbing really tough. As expected, we had hardly any objective risks on the large and partly overhanging 1,000 meter face. A face at this altitude with such homogeneous difficulties really is quite exceptional. The summit day was the only time we enjoyed good weather. Our efforts were rewarded with sunshine and barely any wind. After so many days in cold conditions and with falling snow, this was a real gift and we made the most of it. Arriving on the summit with two good friends, after all those hard days, felt amazing and the experience touched us all deeply.”
The three athletes named the newly opened route on the north-west face of Cerro Kishtwar “Har- Har Mahadev”, an expression from Hindu mythology meaning “Raise moral values to overcome fear and conquer dangerous situations”!
In 1992, the British climbers Andy Perkins and Brendan Murphy attempted to scale this face. After 17 days, they were forced to abandon their attempt due to exhaustion at 100 meters below the summit. A year later, another team of British climbers, Mick Fowler and Steve Sustad, climbed the left section of the face over an ice ramp into a wind gap at around 5,600 meters, before switching to the rather flatter east side of the mountain to become the first people to reach the summit. After this, for years, access to Kashmir’s mountains was blocked to foreign climbers for military and political reasons. The ban was lifted at the start of 2010 and Stephan Siegrist, Denis Burdet and David Lama were the first expedition in this mountain region in 2011. Their aim was to scale Cerro Kishtwar in alpine style. They climbed their way over an ice track on the north-west side, right beside the imposing granite face, and became the second team to reach the summit. In 2015, Hayden Kennedy, Marco Prezelj, Manu Pellisier and Urban Novak climbed the east face of the granite tower in alpine style, receiving the Piolet d`Or for their efforts.
Interview with Stephan Siegrist
You have become something of a specialist in Kashmir! Why do you keep coming back to this mountain region?
From my very first visit to the Kashmir region in 2011, I was overwhelmed by the impressive mountain scenery, the many unscaled and aesthetically beautiful peaks and great unclimbed lines. But what fascinated me even more was the fact that you can still count on the purity of the culture there and you meet hardly any other western tourists or mountaineers.
You have already scaled Cerro Kishtwar once! Why climb it a second time?
During our ascent in 2011, we planned an ice line on the north-west side of Cerro Kishtwar and climbed it in two days in alpine style. This climb also gave us a great view over the endless rocky expanse of the direct north-west face. It was an image that I couldn’t get out of my head over the following years.
It was your idea and your plan. How and why did you team up with Julian Zanker and Thomas Huber?
I had known Thomas for many years from different expeditions. He is a good friend and an excellent climber. He is unbelievably positive and we always have fun together. Which is key factor in success! I was delighted when Thomas decided to come along. Julian is a young, strong all-round alpinist from Interlaken. He is one of the few young climbers who doesn't take himself too seriously. Someone with an unbelievably great character. He is helpful and understanding.... towards the older generation (-:
I had also met Julian before on a previous expedition. And our days of training together meant that I was sure he would be a good fit with us two alpha dogs.
Were there any problems in the preparatory stage?
Other than the visa, there were hardly any issues. Thanks to contacts with Delhi, we managed to get the visas just a few hours before the flight...
Were there any health problems during the expedition?
Thomas was attacked by fleas during the approach. These cursed creatures just loved Thomas’ tender skin. The stings became inflamed and accompanied him for the first three weeks.
After our initial attempt, I suffered from painful tendonitis on the back of my hand. It was badly swollen for a long time. It still hasn't quite recovered.
We all had frozen fingers during the ascent. Julian and Thomas suffered pretty badly and it will no doubt bother them both for a while longer.
How was it on the face? Did it meet your expectations?
And some! The face significantly exceeded my expectations in terms of difficulty. Falling snow in the afternoons and the cold made the seven days of climbing really tough. As expected, we had hardly any objective risks on the large and partly overhanging 1,000 meter face.
A face at this altitude face with such homogeneous difficulties really is quite exceptional.
How did it feel when you stood on the summit?
The summit day was the only time we enjoyed good weather. Our efforts were rewarded with sunshine and barely any wind. After so many days in cold conditions and with falling snow, this was a real gift and we made the most of it.
Arriving on the summit with two good friends, after all those hard days, felt amazing and the experience touched us all deeply.
What will you take with you from this time?
It was a project that succeeded thanks only to good friends, lots of understanding and support, motivation, fun and great team spirit. The driving force was undoubtedly Thomas. I can't recall any other expedition where we worked so continuously over a period of five weeks, apart from two rest days, in committed pursuit of a goal. The frozen fingers, a particular problem for Julian and Thomas, will hopefully soon be forgotten. But we have lots of great memories. Another Kashmir adventure with locals who are already friends.
The team secured parts of the first section of the face and set up camp 1 on the “snowledge” at the foot of the granite wall at 5,450 meters. On their first attempt they reached the 7th pitch after three days. They embarked on their second attempt immediately after this, on October 8. Seven days later, they reached the summit. The team spent a total of ten days on the face. They set up four camps: camp 1 “Snowledge”, camp 2 “Happyledge”, camp 3 “Sunnyledge”, camp 4 “Kempinski”.
- First ascent of the central north-west face by Stephan Siegrist, Julian Zanker and Thomas Huber on October 14, 2017.
- Route name: “Har Har Mahadev” from Hindu mythology, meaning no less than: “Use moral values to overcome fear and conquer dangerous situations!”
- Difficulties: Grade VII, A3+,6b, M6, 80° First section: 400 meters ice and mixed
- Second section: 600 meters rock and mixed, 24 pitches.
- Some belay stations fitted with bolts
- Drill holes in the pitches: 8 bat hooks and
- 7 rivets
- Equipment: 15 bird beaks of different sizes, 4 baby angles, 6 lost arrows, 4 knifeblade pitons, stopper, double set of cams up to no. 4
- Portaledge required
- Descent: Rappelling over the route