Exploring the Miyar Valley

A personal story about climbing in one of the most remote places on Earth.
Photo credit: Carlos Guerra
The Indian Himalayas are part of one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, yet they remain largely unexplored. The reasons? I don't know them, but what I do know is that they are mountains stolen from the dreams that drive us to seek them out.It all started in a corner of my hometown (Capilla del Monte, Argentina), where climbing is one of the main sports activities and the environment in which we move every day. It's where ideas and projects emerge. Among mate sessions — a very popular and traditional drink in Argentina — and climbs, dreams take shape. Our main idea was to climb the Trango Towers in Pakistan, but due to the ongoing conflict, the country had closed its borders to foreigners that year. "Every cloud has a silver lining": thanks to being unable to enter Pakistan, we found another, more untouched and remote objective, which would challenge us in multiple ways.

The team consisted of three close friends: Aztlan Medio, a super-strong rock climber, with whom we had climbed a lot and shared a strong connection, always bringing smiles and positive energy even in the most tense moments. Lucas Alzamora, a versatile climber motivated by exploration and virgin walls, a great opener and excellent planner. And myself, Carloncho Guerra, also motivated by the new and eager to capture the moments of our expeditions. By pure coincidence, we once crossed paths with the Catalan climber Silvia Vidal, an explorer and one of the greatest, perhaps the best big wall climber, with an impressive record of solo first ascents. It was through her that we learned about this place. She had been to India a few years before and told us about the Miyar Valley, a place with endless possibilities.

Inspired by Silvia, we set out to explore — this is where the adventure begins. We didn't have the budget for a full-fledged Himalayan expedition, so we did it our way, or rather, the only way we could: without porters or pack animals, as light as possible, and without satellite phones. We sought sponsors and managed to secure some equipment, but we couldn't raise funds. Perhaps we couldn’t make it because the project seemed a bit outlandish, something that doesn't often happen within the climbing community in Argentina. It's hard to believe that someone would want to do something like this, and it's unlikely that the objectives we set align with those of the brands. In my case, they clearly reflect the saying, "it's about the journey, not the destination" (and returning home, safe and sound). The idea was to spend as little as possible; we couldn't afford any unnecessary expenses as we didn't have the budget for it.

In September 2013, we took a flight and landed in New Delhi. Upon arrival, we realized the magnitude of this civilization, so different from our own. It was a cultural shock. There are tourist transports, but they were too expensive for our budget. We traveled over 1,000 kilometers using local transportation. Upon reaching Manali, we finalized some preparations and embarked on a heart-stopping bus ride, traversing vertiginous cliffside roads that led to the last villages before the valley. From this point on, the mountain adventure began.

Four days through green meadows with streams where animals graze. When these meadows end and the terrain becomes more rugged, surrounded by glaciers, the locals consider it very dangerous and diabolical, so they usually don’t go further into the mountains. At this point, after four days of approaching, we reached approximately 4,200 meters above sea level. Then three more days of approach and nearly 800 meters of elevation gain over a glacier with lots of debris and large moraines. Through carrying loads and long walks on unstable terrain, we managed to reach what seemed to be "the best spot."
We couldn't find a flat spot to pitch the tent due to the irregular glacial terrain. We had to carve and level a place with stones for the tent. This spot was incredible; we were at a base camp at 5,000 meters above sea level, surrounded by towering peaks exceeding 6,000 meters, with glaciers and large granite walls, many virgin peaks, ice corridors, and everything yet to be done. We felt like kids in a toy store, albeit one where nothing could go wrong because we had no means of communication and were immersed in the Himalayas, six days away from the nearest settlements. Up to this point, the weather had shown us that it wasn't the best. We had to rely on our judgment and navigate as safely as possible since we had no way of checking the weather forecast.
After scouting the surroundings and imagining lines everywhere, we decided to attempt a route on Masala Peak. That would be our first objective since, when the weather improved, it would be a wall with little snow due to its steepness and orientation. Dawn broke with stars and an orange sky, and we set out for our wall. In the previous days, we had analyzed where we could mark our line, and off we went.A line with endless styles: small and large cracks, sections of slab with little protection, chimneys, ice verglas, etc., making for a highly technical climb. We started off well, climbing several pitches smoothly. It was my turn to lead a pitch; I started it and it went well — easy cracks with good protection. The weather was extremely cold though. The wind started to blow; as we climbed higher, the cracks closed but there were still good pockets, albeit with almost no protection. It began to snow, and I had no way to shelter myself. My hands started to freeze. I had to keep climbing to reach some shelter higher up. It snowed more and the wind picked up, very cold; I kept climbing with my hands freezing, unable to feel the holds. Finally, I could find a good spot to place a nut and a friend, secured the rope, and started rappelling. My hands began to come back to life with intense pain. We wrapped up and started rappelling. We reached the ground and went back to the tent.
Next day, a new attempt. We jugged the fixed ropes to the last point of the previous attempt.We continued navigating the wall, seeking the most feasible passages. A couple of times, we had to reconsider our line as we reached dead ends, but we always found a way to keep moving on the granite. As we climbed higher, the shadow enveloped us with its icy presence. We encountered a diagonal chimney with quite a bit of ice and very difficult to protect but of a low grade. It was a matter of climbing carefully to avoid slipping and suffering a fall that should not happen, especially at this altitude.
A few more pitches, and I grabbed an edge at the top, exhausted. I made the last effort and peeked over that coveted edge, feeling a cold breeze accompanied by the last rays of the sun, bringing a sense of peace. We reached the summit. Hugs and emotions overwhelmed us, but we couldn't linger; the climb would only end when we reached the tent safely. We set up rappels and descended. Everything went smoothly until nightfall hit our tired eyes; on the last rappels, a rope got caught, and we decided to descend, leaving the ropes fixed; we'd retrieve them the next day. This way, a line was born on this page (Los Crotos, 6b+, 750 m, 5,800m).
Turning the page, the bad weather returned. Days passed in the tent, each of us lost in our thoughts, sometimes filled with uncertainty about the weather forecast. It could worsen, making it very difficult to leave the valley. No one would come looking for us here. In the Indian Himalayas, we huddled inside a fabric igloo, our only shelter offering a fragile sense of safety in the vast wilderness. And so the days went by. One night, Lucas got up, and the sky gifted him with a dark infinity adorned with stars that reignited the energy that had brought us to this corner of the world.

We had our next objective, which fueled our dreams, left us speechless when we saw it, intimidated us, and sent shivers down our spines: a 1,000-meter granite monolith. Its summit overlooked 6,000 meters above sea level: the "Neverseen Tower." But it wasn't the day yet; despite its allure, the bad weather from the previous days had cloaked it in white, covering all its corners. We had to wait for it to regain confidence, to undress and reveal the granite.

"We huddled inside a fabric igloo — our only shelter offering a fragile sense of safety in the vast wilderness."

When we felt its call, we prepared to climb as high as possible. We crossed the glacier early in the morning. This was followed by an ice ramp leading to the base of our chosen dihedral. Here we were, ready to begin. We unpacked our gear and started climbing. The cracks allowed for protection but were somewhat icy. We continued to search for the line, ranging from something manageable to 6b. The idea was to climb to the central ridge, where we spotted a possible ledge from below where we could spend the night. It was all incredible; we continued with pitches ranging from 40 to 60 meters.

As evening approached, the sun began to abandon us just as we reached the "ledge," which we thought was larger and flatter. We had to be fast. With ice axes in hand, we had to carve out a ledge on an ice slope, taking a couple of hours before we could lie down. Lucas stayed against the wall, Aztlan in the middle, and myself against the void. That night would be the coldest of our lives. We made a mistake with our sleeping strategy; our plan was for all three of us to squeeze into a bivouac sack. We didn't bring sleeping bags, just our clothes and down jackets. Clearly, it would have been ideal for each of us to have our own bag; we couldn't stop shaking, hugging each other, rubbing our feet together, with our boots on. It was unbearable; we prayed that the wind wouldn't pick up because if it did, we'd have to flee the wall. As dawn broke, we shook off a night that drained us of much energy and left us sleepless. Now, we made coffee with some chapatis (flour with water and salt, flattened and cooked in a pan) that we had made at base camp the day before. We began to climb, now crossing to the other side of the monolith. We noticed a significant change in conditions, although there was a lot of snow and ice in the cracks. We kept progressing but slower; the progress became tedious due to the snow and ice we had to clear. We reached a very vertical pitch with beautiful cracks, Aztlan climbed it without problems until he reached a point where there was a lot of snow. Once again, he decided to set up the belay there. I started climbing, and upon reaching the anchor, I asked him to belay me to give it a try.

Peering over, I realized we were under a funnel-shaped slope with a great risk of avalanche and rockfall. It was almost impossible to protect. So we decided to descend to the lower belay and assess if there was another way out. But things started falling from all sides; we couldn't find another option. Everything was covered in ice with loose snow on top. We looked at each other, and without hesitation, we all thought the same thing - Let's get out of here now! The ropes dropped, and we slid down them.
We continued to set up the rappels and descend, we accepted and understood what we had achieved. The numbing silence disappeared.We were on the other side of the world in a remote valley, six days away from the first people we could encounter, having opened two new routes in a 6,000m environment. It was the dream, our dream. Although there are only a few pages left to turn, we know we have to return safely, and the decisions we made were the right ones. Happy to have made it a reality, we leave behind the legacy of a route on Masala Peak (Los Crotos, 6b+, 750 m, 5,800m) and another on the Neverseen Tower (Changa Style, 550 m, 6c/+, 5,700m). The latter joins an Italian route that follows the central spur of the needle.

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