Siegrist: “Adventure connected to performance”
Who says that there is nothing left to explore! During their expedition in northern India this fall, the Swiss mountaineers Stephan Siegrist, Dres Abegglen and Thomas Senf first climbed three shapely mountains, all of them almost 6,000 meters high: Bhala (also called “Spear”, 5,900 m), Tupendeo (5,700 m) and Te (translated “Crystal”, 5,900 m), each of them on challenging routes. Indian Kashmir is still regarded as an insider tip among climbers. Because of the conflict with Pakistan, the mountain area had been closed to foreign visitors for a long time, until it was reopened in 2003. “The region was simply somewhat forgotten”, Stephan Siegrist tells me. The 42-year-old top climber has become almost an expert for Kashmir in recent years.
Stephan, three first ascents during an expedition cannot be matched by many other climbers. Have you been on a roll?
The motivation was very high. We climbed the first two peaks rather quickly. It is a great advantage that the time you need to acclimatize for altitudes up to 6,000 meters is much shorter, you almost don’t need any time. And the weather conditions were great.
How did it happen that you climbed as many as three mountains?
First we climbed Spear. We had a picture that showed this mountain from the north side. It was technically much easier than we had thought before. Then we set off to climb Tupendeo. We still had time, the weather was fine. So we tried it three days later and were successful. We found that it was exactly the mountain we had seen and photographed from Kishtwar Shivling last year. After two and a half weeks the good weather was over and it was snowing for a week. But we had still enough time left, our expedition was planned to take six weeks. Further down the valley, there was another very aesthetic, distinctive mountain, the Crystal. Our primary goal was not the main summit but the secondary peak that really looks like a crystal. It has steep rock walls on all sides and a snow cap. After we had made it up to the top, we abseiled and climbed up to the main summit.
That sounds like real adventure. Did you feel like explorers?
Yes, that’s exactly what we are interested in. It’s not just about performance but adventure and experience too. We have not looked for the simplest possible routes. There would have certainly been easier ones. We also wanted to test our abilities. Then it may happen that your attempt is a complete flop. I think we do some kind of exploring where a good performance is needed too.
There is only a single village in this remote valley. I assume that it is very rarely visited by western climbers. How did the local people receive you?
It is still an adventure to visit remote villages like Kaban in this Kashmiri valley. Especially the children have most probably never before seen a Westerner wearing these funny clothes and carrying climbers’ equipment. We are always trying to take enough time for these contacts. We had a liaison officer who spoke the language of the locals. The people there are extremely helpful. Immediately, you are invited to eat and spend the night in the village. The locals are also interested in what you are going to do. But they can hardly understand why you want to climb this or that mountain.
You’ve been in Indian Kashmir, a political conflict area. Didn’t you worry about your safety?
I was in this region for the third time now since 2011. There are members of three religions, living absolutely peacefully in their separate valleys. But on our way back, there was a new conflict between Muslims and Hindus. You must be aware that you are traveling in a not entirely stable region. If you behave not arrogant but quite normal and cautious, you – as a visitor from the west and as a Christian – are not affected. But it’s no longer really dangerous. In Kathmandu, it is no less dangerous. I would even go there with my family.
In 2014, you found your destination for this year’s expedition. Did you pick out a new goal again?
There are still very interesting mountains in the north.
Means that you have not been there for the last time?
(He laughs) It is very possible.
Date6. November 2015 | 16:43
TagsBhala, Crystal, Dres Abegglen, first ascent, India, Kashmir, Spear, Stephan Siegrist, Te, Thomas Senf, Tupendeo