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Adventure Sports

with Stefan Nestler

4 questions, 4 answers with Tino Villanueva

Tino Villanueva (l.) and Alan Rousseau (r.), in the background Rungofarka (the middle of the three peaks)

Better late than never. There was always something coming up, so I did not have the time to report on one of the most impressive climbing achievements of last fall. In the beginning of last October, Tino Villanueva and Alan Rousseau succeeded the first ascent of the six-thousander Rungofarka in the Indian Himalayas. The two American mountain guides first attempted a direct line through the North Face, but turned around at 6,000 meters. Later they reached in five days the summit of the well-shaped mountain via the North Ridge. Finally, I contacted Tino, and he answered my questions:

First of all congrats on your great performance. You succeeded the first ascent of the 6,495-meter-high Rungofarka. How far to your limits did you have to go?

Thank you for following our climb! The route on Rungofarka was long and sustained. Once we started up it never let up. The first day on-route the terrain we encountered was fairly moderate, 250m of AI3 up a fluted ice face. After that, however, the climbing became much harder mixed climbing largely on rock. While the climbing was not at our limits, it was committing, difficult climbing at high altitudes in a remote area. All-in-all, the climbing felt technical, thoughtful and difficult, but managable.

Route via the North Ridge (l.)

You had to abandon your attempt to climb via the North Face and switched to the North Ridge. Did it feel like a second-best option or simply the better option?

Whenever we go into expeditions like this we have a few options in mind. We will have a primary route in mind but feel it is important to provide for some wiggle-room for options if conditions or hazards are working against us or if the planned route doesn’t go. In the case of Rungofarka, we had talked about a couple routes on the North Face, as well as the North Ridge, as options. One of the routes on the North Face did not look like it was in condition and also looked like it was more severely threatened and had recently been hit by an ice cliff overhead. Our attempted route on the North Face appeared to be far less threatened by the ice cliff. We believed the North face would provide a more elegant line to the summit and we were also unsure if a vertical step in the North Ridge would be climbable. After attempting the North Face and succeeding on the North ridge, I think the North ridge provided a very elegant, high quality alpine climbing route – the better option.

How do you rank this first ascent in the Indian Himalayas in your personal climbing vita?

The North Ridge of Rungofarka definitely ranks in at the highest mark on my personal climbing resume. It was one of those climbs where everything just works out perfectly. The weather was spectacular (aside from a bit of snow on day 2), we found two awesome bivy sites (and one that was marginal but suitable), the terrain was challenging enough to keep us guessing if we would be able to climb through it, and the climbing was committing enough to be very mentally engaging.

On the ascent

You both work as guides for the expedition operator Mountain Madness. How was it for you to climb “on your own account”?

Alan and I have done a lot of climbing together. This trip to India was our third big expedition together in the Himalaya. While we are guiding expeditions we strive to provide a fun and challenging experience for our clients, while maintaining a high margin of safety. Expeditions for personal climbing are much the same but we adjust the parameters of the expedition to line up with our skills as climbers. We are able to move faster and climb harder and therefore can move through more severe terrain. Still, I’m sure the expedition experience is similar in that it is at the same time exciting and scary, fun and dreadful. The one word to describe the entire experience: challenging. We continue to embark on alpine climbing expeditions to challenge ourselves physically, mentally and to see what we can accomplish in the big mountains of the world.


14. February 2018 | 16:39