A mountaineer never retires. Like in other sports he does not hang up his boots and say I am done with the mountains. And even like old soldiers, he does not fade away even. After spending the youthful years in serious climbing, exploration, one graduates to enjoying the mountains in a gentle way.
But how does this happen, and for that we have to briefly trace the history of the sport. The sport of mountaineering started in the Alps when the early pioneers climbed smaller but challenging peaks like Matterhorn. Then came the explosion when the climbers took on the toughest and highest challenges in the Alps. The focus shifted to the Himalaya in a major way since 1950s when Annapurna was climbed. In the next two decade all the 8000 m peaks in the range were climbed, and this is called the ‘Golden Age’ of mountaineering. It was thought that there will be no more challenges left now. But soon there was a paradigm shift- instead of the easiest way up a mountain, expeditions selected the “Hard Way up”. This was led by Sir Chris Bonington whose team climbed the South Face of Annapurna, instead of the normal North face. Soon many mountains were climbed in this fashion, ending with the South West face of Everest, and later peaks were climbed in winter including Everest by this hard route.
Every generation finds its own challenges, if not it creates one. Thus whenever one thought that this is the end of the road, climbers have developed new strategies and routes. In Garhwal when all the peaks seem to have been climbed, there came Arwa Tower and Arwa Spire- two of the most challenging peaks. Rock faces of Bhagirathi III and Kedar Dome East Face were climbed. On Shivling the Northeast Pillar route was climbed by Doug Scott while the Indians climbed Chaukhamba and small but challenging peak of Swargarohini I.
For the current and forthcoming generation there are challenges and better ways of tackling them. Equipment has improved so much that they can climb safely what earlier climbers could not dream of even. Roads have made inroads deep into the range that allows a climber to reach the climb quicker. Communications, mobiles, rescue, commercial organisations and local support is now available. All we require is commitment.
The areas which are for the future are many. I can give only few examples here. The Siachen Glacier is a vast climbing area that is bound to open someday- may be soon. War has ended and once peace returns there will literally be hundreds of peaks of various heights available for climbing. Small pinnacles like the Siachen Tower to the highest like Saltoro Kangri II – possibly the highest unclimbed peak in the world today, are there to climb. Peaks of the Apsarasas group remain a great challenge and some of its peaks are unclimbed. Many are deterred by problems of obtaining a climbing permits there, but that is also an challenge like climbing peak. And Rome was not built in a day so patience is the key. In my experience, if you follow the procedures, start applying early and never give up, everything is possible. For mountains cannot stop a mountaineer, why bureaucracy be allowed to stop Indians in their own country.
Nanda Devi Sanctuary is also an area that is closed for almost two generations now. Many of its peaks can be approached from outside the Sanctuary and they are great challenges. Peaks like Deo Damla, Rishi Pahar or faces of Nanda Devi East from the Milam valley, Haredeol and Nanda Gond, West wall of Trisul will challenge any climber. I can go on endlessly with names of peaks, different routes and areas that can be climbed.
There are many aspects of the Himalaya that can be explored too. Now a trend is developing where people climb a cluster of few peaks in a valley where there are many challenges. Smaller peaks, between 5500 m to 5900 m, but difficult peaks. This is the challenge like in the Alps in the early days. Go to the Pangi valleys for peaks like Shiva, Sersank and many rock pinnacles in the Miyar nala. The Jiwa nala, in Kullu, has a number of peaks in one valley which will give stiff climbing challenges. There are so many peaks of different heights and difficulties in Ladakh and Zanskar that it will take more than two generations to climb them all. The motor route from Ringdom to Padam has valleys going south from it, where you can almost change base camps by car and climb highest at the grades of climbing difficulties.
What about other aspects of the Himalaya? People are changing, culture is evolving and sometimes rampart destruction is causing environmental damage which cannot be imagined. There are valleys- still- never visited and peaks never seen- without any exaggeration. One can go for this type of link with the future also. After many decades of visiting the Himalaya I can safely say that there is enough to keep one busy in the range more than one life time!
As President Obama stated: ‘History is not only the path to be looked back upon. We are walking on it at present and it will lead us to the future.” There will always be mountains to climb.