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Dazzling New First Ascent on Cerro Kishtwar by Huber, Siegrist and Zankar

Located in the Indian Himalayas, in Kashmir, Cerro Kishtwar had been climbed three times prior, all via different routes. But until Stephan Siegrist, Thomas Huber and Julian Zankar no team had yet succeeded on the plumb-line directly up the northwest face.

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On October 14, German alpinist Thomas Huber and Swiss alpinists Stephan Siegrist and Julian Zanker capped a seven-day first ascent for the ages. Their new route, Har-Har Mahadev, goes straight up the center of the northwest face of Cerro Kishtwar (6,155 meters), a granite-walled peak in Kashmir, India.

The new route, Har-Har Mahadev (VII 6b A3+ M6), on Cerro Kishtwar. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Huber.
The new route, Har-Har Mahadev (VII 6b A3+ M6), on Cerro Kishtwar. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Huber.

In 1992, Andy Perkins and Brendan Murphy, of England, mounted the first major attempt on the northwest face. Over 17 days, Perkins and Murphy pushed to within 100 meters of the summit before abandoning the climb. The next 25 years saw three new routes go up on Cerro Kishtwar, by some of the biggest names in the game: Brits Mick Fowler and Steve Sustad claimed the first ascent of the peak in 1993; Siegrist, along with countryman Denis Burden and Austrian David Lama, forged a new route up the peak in 2011; and a third unique route was put up by the late American Hayden Kennedy, Frenchman Manu Pellisier, and Slovenians Urban Novak and Marco Prezelj, in 2015, for which they won a Piolet D’Or. All the lines skirted the central buttress however, and a central direttissima straight up the northwest face remained elusive.

Siegrist was the mastermind behind the 2017 expedition. On his 2011 climb he was intrigued by the central granite face. In an interview after last month’s climb, Siegrist said, “We often had a great view of the endless rock face of the [northwest] wall during our ascent. That wall just wouldn’t let me go over the years.” So this year he went back with Huber and Zanker in tow.

After spending several days in Base Camp scouting the wall and preparing for the climb in mid-September, the trio established Advanced Base Camp below the wall proper on September 18. They started up the vertical granite on October 1, armed with five days worth of food and supplies.

Three days in, however, they weren’t even a third of the way up the wall. They had only climbed seven pitches. The team decided to bail. In an interview, Huber said that though it was a tough decision, he is confident they made the right choice:

Looking back we can say that we underestimated the wall and our project. We thought we would reach the summit after 5 days and had supplies for six days with us. After we hadn’t even climbed a third of the wall after three days we had to rethink our tactic and how we should proceed further anew. It was we either radically reduce our food rations or we put everything into a new attempt. We decided to discontinue our attempt. Our decision was also influenced by Stephan’s restriction of the use of his left hand. It was heavily swollen due to tenosinovitis. Furthermore, Julian’s toes had no feeling in them and I was afraid of failure. I just didn’t want to go back home without a summit.

By bailing early on the route, they gave themselves time to recover and still mount a second attempt. They fixed lines from their high point as they retreated, and rested at Base Camp for another go.

Huber, Siegrist and Zanker started up the northwest face a second time on October 8. After jugging their fixed lines to the beginning of pitch eight, they went back to work following thin, seams of technical A3+ aid climbing, relying on Bird Beaks and all manner of other pitons and passive protection.The wall overhangs at the top, so they were largely sheltered from dangerous rock and ice fall, but still had to contest with spindrift, ice-filled cracks and temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. Siegrist said, “The wall outdid my expectations regarding its difficulty. The afternoon snow falls and the cold made the seven days really tough.”

On October 14, the sun accompanied the alpinists from their high camp, Camp 4, to Cerro Kishtwar’s summit. They named their new route Har-Har Mahadev (VII A3+ 6b M6), after a Hindu saying which, according to Huber, means, “Increase your moral values so you can overcome your fear to master dangerous situations.”

The name “aptly describes our adventure,” he said.

All photos courtesy of Thomas Huber.

Also read Climbing World Mourns the Loss of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins