Mountaineering
Millet Expedition Project
30.10.2015

MXP on the Cerro Kishtwar in India

Manu Pellissier and three of his friends realised in India the first ascent on the Cerro Kishtwar East Face. Story

There are some propositions you can’t refuse…                                                                             

When my old friend Marko Prezelj invited me to an expedition in India together with Urban Novak and Hayden Kennedy, I first asked him to give me a week to think about it. It only took me 1 hour to call him to confirm and ask for some more details about this East face of Cerro something…

The Cerro Kishtwar is located in the Jammu Kashmir area, in the Kishtwar province. Cerro Kishtwar is around 6173m, it has been climbed twice, first by Mick fowler and Steve Sustad in 1993, and by a Swiss team in 2011 made up of Stephan Siegrist, David lama, and Denis Burdet.

There was also a remarkable attempt in 1991 by Brendan Murphy and Andy Perkins on the stunning North Face. They spent 17 days on the wall and stopped 100m from the summit. On the most direct line on the North Face, a 1000m climb and about 28 pitches in capsule style…

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

 On September 10th we all meet in Delhi. Urban and Hayden knew each other from climbing on K7 in 2012 together, and with Marko, I have shared some grand alpine adventures for more than 17 years.

 It was an interesting team, 2 Slovenians, 1 Frenchman, and 1 American, two young guns with two old farts… All focused on the same goal, the unclimbed East Face of Cerro Kishtwar.

 Hayden is a young talented American climber. At only 26 he already has a bag of big climbs under his belt including Pakistans K7 and the first clean ascent of Cerro Torre. He is also   strong and has a good ethic on climbing mountains by fair means. Urban is the “brain” of the team, a PHD student and experienced alpinist, he’s very calm and very open minded (he had climbed with Americans before…). Marko is to Alpinism what Keith Richards is to Rock’n Roll  but more romantic, without drugs or excess of woman and with only a bit of alcohol. And then there is me, Manu, an alpinist on the brink of retirement, I relapse in to expedition because of the Rolling Stone.

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

 We would soon realize that the alchemy between us was good, and if the line and the weather would add some good spice we would have the perfect recipe for a meal to be served on the tables of the expedition gods.

 Travelling to the Kishtwar range is long and arduous, first through Manali by bus, followed by 4x4 via the “Kishtwar Killer Road” to Gulhab garh. The Kishtwar Killer is a crazy road built in the middle of huge cliffs some 200m above the river, where any mistakes would mean a fall to certain death.

 Four days of trekking up the Darlang Valley treated us to some of the most scenic and spectacular trekking we had ever seen. Passing the holy village of Machai en route, we arrived at base camp at 3900m, at the foot of the Chomochior glacier the gateway to our goal, the East Face of Cerro Kishtwar.

 The spot we chose for base-camp was at the base of an imposing granite cliff with some brand new bolts! We learned afterwards that this was from a Swiss team that was there in August. It was just what we needed to keep our rope-gun Hayden sharp enough…

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

The ideal location of our base camp was very short lived. With the melting of the first snow our card game was very abruptly interrupted as we had to scramble for shovels and ice axes and frantically dig water channels to redirect the water around our tents to save all of our kit.

 The snowfall that nearly sent the whole expedition down the valley was also a gift from the expedition gods. At first sight the East Face of Cerro Kishtwar was very dry and thankfully, with the arrival of the weather, it turned a potentially very risky and dangerous climb in the dry conditions in to something altogether more manageable with a lower risk of rockfalls.

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

 The first part of acclimatization was executed on 2 levels. Marko, Hayden and Urban climbed the west ridge of Chomochior 6278m. My chest had other ideas as it closed up for a few days so, instead of going up Chomochoir with the team; I joined Bagual our guide and Betoo our kitchen boy and took in several 5000m peaks above BC. This did wonders, easing up my chest and getting me ready to tackle the goal head on.

 With acclimitisation complete, it was time to relax at base camp drink beer, talk a bit of bullshit and plan for our attempt on CK.

 The plan was: take 5 days food, move ABC to the base of the face and fucking climb it…

 On Oct 5th after it snowed all night the face was plastered with fresh snow. It was cold, Marko was breaking the trail, and Urban, Hayden and I were starting looking left for an easier gully that could give us a better chance… a better chance for what?

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

 Some words of wisdom stay with you forever.

"Don’t be such pussies, we can do it...”

 These sweet words spilled out of the mouth of the Slovenian poet Marko Prezelj… The sharp words from Marko hit a sharp note and we immediately recalibrated our minds and focused on the best route possible, not easy or comfortable, but definitely the best: straight up the East Face.

 The key pitch of the climb was not a WI6 or a 5.11, but truth be told it did not matter what grade it was, we all knew what was required of us and all doubt was cast aside with “one sentence”, that was the password we needed to enter the real game…

mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj" 

We took the climb pitch after pitch, sharing leads, bivys, decisions, good laughs, and a good headtorch… somehow on October 8 we all woke up to one of the most beautiful sights on the sub continent a crazy view, mountains everywhere you look, not even one sign of civilization, there are some moments you never forget and this is one that I will hold with me forever, at 6173m , the summit of Cerro Kishtwar.

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

 After one day rappelling down the left gully, under rock and ice fall, we were more than happy that Slovenian poetry put us on the right path……

 From the summit we descended directly to base camp, just one day to rest and pack (and finish the beer and whisky) it was with special memories; lessons in Slovenian poetry and slow steps that we started down to civilization carrying memories of a truly spectacular expedition with us.

 There are some expeditions you never forget…

Manu

 mxp cerro kishtwar manu pellissier

  credit photo: "Marko Prezelj"

The team would like to thank all the people and companies that helped us on this trip:

L’équipe voudrait remercier toutes les personnes et entreprises qui nous ont aidé dans notre aventure:

Millet Expedition Project, Katadyn, Julbo, Petzl, Nemo.

And of course our beautiful mysterious creatures……

First ascent of east face of Cerro Kishtwar: “light before wisdom” ED+/1200m; (wi6; 5.11; A2;M6), from 4 to 8 of October 2015; by Marko Prezelj, Urban Novak, Hayden Kennedy, Manu Pellissier.

Credit Photo: "Marko Prezelj"