Last fall, Abbey Smith and fellow climbers Jason Kehl, Pete Takeda, and Mick Follari spent two months travelling and establishing new boulder problems in the mountains of northern India. In this guest post, Abbey details her favorite problems from the group's final destination, the Miyar Valley.
Snow-white peaks, sapphire skies and verdant meadows swirl into a dizzying psychedelic blur as my lungs gasp for oxygen. Severe pain pulses through my curled fingers, my outstretched legs quiver on pencil eraser-sized holds. The ground drops away. No modern medical attention for days. This is bouldering in the Himalayas.
5. Royal Challenge
The best way to get my head in check at a new area is to send a heart-pounding highball with positive holds, feasible moves and a flat landing. Once we mastered the 10-problem warm-up circuit, we tackled this striking altarpiece 20 yards from base camp. The physical crux is down low on small sharp edges, and the mental crux is up high where the holds get bigger and further apart.
At the base, my mind filled with menacing images of me missing a long reach at 16 feet and mangling my limbs. As I got on the wall, by focusing my mind so single-pointedly, insecurity and fear were replaced with the courage to reach higher and forget about the void below.
4. Black Heart
Establishing a first ascent is the pinnacle of the sport. To first envision the line, then clean just the right hand and foot holds to ascend the boulder is a form of artistry — and a lot of back-breaking, elbow aching, knuckle-scraping work. But there’s no greater satisfaction than to step back and admire the masterpiece once it’s complete.
For me, the crown jewel of the area was an overhanging gray wall with two black streaks that joined on a rounded bulge at 18 feet. With 16 moves total, the problem required precision, pacing and power. It took me a few days to decipher the tricky top out and stick the dyno from two small nubbins to a sharp blocky pinch. I named it Black Heart for the many spades I played in poker.
3. Gold Wall
By the third week, my body had adjusted to the altitude and I felt comfortable on the terrain. Five minutes uphill from camp, Pete Takeda prepared a sheer golden wall with three distinct problems, the prize being a direct line through the center. Steep, technical face climbing with big moves on small crimps suit my climbing style, so I decided to go for the flash.
From the ground, I studied every angle and imagined the sequences to try to execute on my first attempt. Moving in succession from the easiest to hardest, I began on the left side with a right arching flake to the apex of the triangular boulder. Then I moved right to a fat football pinch and a subtle left-hand undercling that started the two other lines — one trending right along an incut rail, and the other straight up on razor sharp edges.
Again, I chose the simpler looking line, and moved quickly and efficiently to same time, energy and skin. I placed each hand and foot deliberately, endured the torturous, half-pad crimps, missed the edge on the lip, but the maintained body tension to bump into a secure position and scampered to the top for the on-sight first ascent.
2. Snake Charmer
What I love most about climbing is the imaginative problem solving. Fifty feet from base camp, Jason Kehl and I each found our own unique sequence through the Snake Charmer. The line begins with tight finger seams that twist and turn into a difficult series of moves to pull the horizontal roof onto the tangerine face. From there, it spirals into a blunt arête of angular holds to the 20-foot summit.
To negotiate the overhang, Jason used flying kung fu toe hooks and I managed to pivot on a high right point to bump my left hand three times to a crescent moon edge.
1. Raging Bull
No matter if it’s an afternoon session or two-month trip, there is always a do-or-die moment to send. With two days remaining, I had one more problem on my mind — the first ascent of a coal-black roof with six powerful stabs along a matchstick rail and a three-foot backwards toss to a flat edge. I managed to sort out all the moves the first day and knew I could complete the problem if I suffered the finger shredding crimps and let my feet swing out violently.
On my third attempt, I took the bull by the horns and held on to the top of Raging Bull. It was likely the hardest problem of my trip, and one most of the memorable.
The best season to climb in the Miyar Valley is late August, at the tail end of the monsoon, through early October before the heavy snow and freezing temperatures seal the valley for the six-month-long winter.
Photo credits: Royal Challenge by Mick Follari; Black Heart, Gold Wall, Snake Charmer, and Raging Bull by Jason Kehl