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with Stefan Nestler

Spectacular first ascent on Cerro Kishtwar

In the Northwest Face

In the pictures, it almost seems like they were climbing on the legendary granite walls of El Capitan – were it not for the snow and the chilled faces. In mid-October, the two Swiss Stephan Siegrist and Julian Zanker and the German Thomas Huber first climbed the central Northwest Face of the 6,150-meter-high Cerro Kishtwar in the Indian part of the crisis region Kashmir. The three top climbers needed two attempts before reaching the summit on 14 October. It was only the fourth ascent of the remote mountain. Overall, the trio spent ten days in the extremely steep, partially overhanging wall – three days on the first attempt, seven on their successful second one.

From start to finish difficult

“The wall outdid my expectations regarding its difficulty,” enthuses Stephan Siegrist. “There’s probably no other wall with that height and such homogenous grades anywhere else.” The 44-year-old Swiss had fallen in love with the central Northwest Face, when he had succeeded with his compatriot Denis Burdet and the Austrian David Lama the second ascent of Cerro Kishtwar on a new route to the right of the wall. In 1993, the Briton Mick Fowler and the US American Steve Susted had climbed the six-thousander for the first time. The year before, the Brits Andy Perkins and Brendan Murphy had tackled the central Northwest Face, however, after 17 days, had had to give up completely exhausted 100 meters below the summit.

Having underestimated the wall

Route through the wall

Siegrist, Zanker and Huber entered the wall on 1 October, with the goal of reaching the highest point within five days. “Looking back we can say that we underestimated the wall and our project,” reports Thomas Huber. After three days they “hadn’t even climbed a third of the wall”. The team, says the 50-year-old, then reconsidered the tactics: “It was we either radically reduce our food rations or we put everything into a new attempt. We decided to discontinue our attempt.”

Frostbite on toes

With renewed strength and motivation, the trio started their second attempt on 8 October. The weather was stable, however anything but cozy: cloudless in the morning, but snowfall in the afternoon, temperatures down to minus 20 degrees Celsius. The extreme conditions left marks: Stephan suffered from a tenosinovitis on his left hand, all three climbers got frostbite on their toes. “It hit Thomas and Julian pretty hard. That’ll accompany them for quite a while,” says Siegrist.

Unique moment at the summit

At the finish: Stephan Siegrist, Julian Zanker, Thomas Huber (from l. to r.)

When they finally reached the summit, “the emotions really got to us,” recalls Stephan. This is confirmed by Thomas Huber: “The days were always variable but like a miracle we had the best weather on summit day. We almost felt like we weren’t alone and that we were being rewarded for all what we had gone through with a unique moment. Cirrostratus clouds were passing just 500 meters above us in the jet stream and we were standing there, in the complete calm. We all knew we were only able to make it because we felt like one courageous alliance!”

“Get a grip!”

Total commitment required

Julian Zanker, who will celebrate his 27th birthday on Sunday, was by far the youngest in the team. For him, it was “a huge opportunity” to be en route with the routiniers Siegrist and Huber, says Julian. “It was six weeks filled with wonderful moments, new experiences, and a beautiful line on an amazing mountain to top it all off.” The three climbers named their new route after the title of a popular Hindu song “Har-Har Mahadev” – “in Bavaria we’d say: Get a grip!”, as Thomas Huber explains.  Cerro Kishtwar “enriched my life with a wild story,” summarizes the older of the two Huber brothers. For Stephan Siegrist, Cerro Kishtwar is now finished after two ascents on new routes. “But Kashmir in general is not yet completed for me,” the Swiss climber adds. The remote region still offers many untouched peaks and walls. Were it not for this endless smoldering conflict between India and Pakistan.


10. November 2017 | 9:48