On 27 September, an Indian team stood on the summit of Shoshala a decade after its first ascent in 2011. Shoshala (4700m) is a rocky peak in the Kinnaur region of the Indian Himalaya. 'Team Shivdurga' repeated Trishul Direct, a 750-metre 7a+ established by Elie Chevieux, Yannick Boissenot, and Giovanni Quirici. With this ascent, these Indian climbers set new standards in Indian big wall climbing.
Following their success on Kokankada (an 800-metre big wall in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra) in 2017, the Shivdurga climbers Rohit Vartak, Yogesh Umbre, Sameer Joshi, Onkar Padval, and Bhupesh Patil set their sights on a grander objective - a Himalayan big wall, namely Shoshala. Rohit remembered:
"In 2012, I met Elie Chevieux who discovered the massive Shoshala. He had come for the sport climbing competition that took place in Mumbai. I was already mesmerised by the high-quality rock and the tough climbing shown in the Shoshala film. Fortunately, I got to listen to the expedition stories from Elie himself and I knew I had to climb Shoshala one day."
The team began their preparation. Pinnacles, multi-pitches, trad routes, big walls, jobs involving technical rescues; over the years they racked up experience for the Himalayan giant. Bhupesh said:
"Three years after the Kokankada victory, I went to Rakcham for a reconnaissance. I felt pretty confident looking at the wall. I knew we had to do it now. We were ready for it." Despite their high spirits, the pandemic ultimately delayed the expedition. However, as the third wave diminished, they finally bought tickets to their dream climb.
A team consisting of the five climbers and filmmaker Shivam Aher left Rakcham village on 7 September. The expedition was led by veteran climber Sachin Gaikwad. The challenges began days before they started their climb when Sachin had to return due to high BP problems while they were acclimatising at the village. However, Sachin was constantly in touch with the team and continued his guidance until the end of the climb. Onkar commented:
"First, Sachin Sir had to leave. Then it took us over a week to trace the path to the base. Once we found the trail, Sameer and I were held back in the village due to heavy rains while others had moved ahead. That delayed our climb by another 3 days. In the 23 days, we got only 11 climbing days. Rains and storms were our regular visitors and we learnt to live with them.
"Each day we could open only 2-3 pitches. Terrible weather didn't allow us to continue for long. We would then retreat to our base camp and wait for the next best day. Some days it would be disappointing to jumar 400 metres for 2-3 hours, climb just one pitch, and then rappel back immediately due to rain. It was never-ending."
As the team bided their time for a good window, they harvested 150 litres of water, which saved them considerable effort. They climbed the 700-metre route in 21 pitches (the original line is 19 pitches; on long scree traverses they misconstrued the intermediate bolts to be belay bolts) through cracks and along scree traverses.The hardest section was 7a+. They also aid climbed wherever necessary. Yogesh commented:
"I enjoyed solving the pitch 4 crack. It was fun to crack climb at high altitudes. We also loved pitch 9, we called it the iconic pitch. It is a technical 7atraverse. I distinctly remember on pitch 14, Bhupesh and I were over 400 metres off the ground when a sudden thunderstorm halted our climb. By the time we descended to the tents we were drenched and cold. The weather this year was merciless."
The team enjoyed a memorable summit push. Bhupesh explained:
"I was leading the last pitch. Towards the last few metres, I could feel a momentum boost. After me, one by one everyone advanced to the top. I cannot truly express how we all felt. We were crying and laughing. It was a tremendous rush of emotions. It was something we had dreamt of for so long and after so many hurdles we had accomplished it. But at that moment we were aware that we had to wind up. The climb was not over for us."
While the whole team celebrated at 4000 metres, Sameer was recovering from fever at base camp. He added:
"I knew my body was not ready. It was wise to stay back and not put others in a critical situation just for my own sake. Whether I reached the summit first or my teammates didn't matter; getting to the top was more important. And I climbed up the next day to collect the gear. So, I got my summit too."
The first Indian ascent of the historic mountain of Shoshala with limited funding and equipment is a major boost for these climbers. Rohit added:
"For all of us the climb is more than a dream. The idea manifested years back and eventually it happened. But it requires a village to face a big wall. Luckily we had the most dedicated team. We are left with immense gratification and gratitude for our supporters. We shall now aim for something just as big and unreal!"