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Climbers

Oct 23, 2017

First (Solo!) Ascent of Nangpai Gosum II by Jost Kobusch

The world’s fourth highest unclimbed peak has just been climbed by German wunderkind Jost Kobusch.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Mountaineering lore is populated with names like Reinhold Messner, Ueli Steck and Jeff Lowe―climbers who elevated style (the means) above the goal (the summit)―and at just 25 years old, Kobusch is intent on living that legacy.

In 2015, Jost Kobusch was in Nepal to climb Lhotse. Like many other climbers in the Everest region, he witnessed the avalanche that killed 22 people. It was the closest call he’s ever had in the mountains, and it changed his outlook on life.

But perhaps not in the expected way: rather than thank his lucky stars and vow to take fewer risks in the mountains, Kobusch says, “I realized everything after that was a bonus, I was lucky to be alive. So I decided I would do what I wanted, and just climb. I decided to commit myself 100% to becoming a professional climber.”

Two years on, Kobusch has done just that. On October 3, he made the first ascent, solo, of Nangpai Gosum II, which, at 7,296 meters, was the fourth tallest unclimbed mountain in the world, and a major prize in the Himalaya.

Jost Kobusch with Nangpai Gosum II looming behind. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

The mountain had been attempted four times prior, most recently twice in two consecutive years by the same team of French mountain guides. The French were gracious enough to help Kobusch with the information they had about Nangpai Gosum II, including pictures, route descriptions and learnings from their failures. Kobusch decided he would try to finish the route the French had begun; though not the easiest line up the mountain, it was one of the proudest.

Kobusch climbed solo, but not-free solo. He fixed ropes and used protection when necessary. “The French Route was pretty technical,” he says. “And the conditions were terrible. The problem is that it’s a south face. Intense sun melts everything quickly, so there’s really bad and scary rock fall. Literally just a rock shower.”

On one of his forays up the route, he was climbing an especially dry spot, with little ice in which to place protection. “I built up a belay with an ice screw and an ice axe, and started hammering in a piton. Suddenly everything ripped out and I was hanging by the half-hammered in piton. The sun had melted my ice axe and screw out in only 20 minutes. Not so cool…”

Kobusch retreated back to the ground. “I realized this route was not going to work,” he says. He turned his sights to an easier, but equally beautiful part of the mountain, and began planning.

Jost Kobusch climbing on Nangpai Gosum II. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

Despite his relative obscurity, Kobusch has been working up to a coming-out achievement like Nangpai Gosum II for a long time. At just 25 year-old, the young German already has a bevy of impressive alpine-style, solo ascents to his name. His climbs demonstrate a reverence for the ethos of light-and-fast alpinism and the stylistic sensibilities of giants like Ueli Steck and Reinhold Messner.

On a trip to Kenya at 19 years old, Kobusch organized his first minimalist expedition, hiring just a porter and cook, and climbed Mount Kenya―Africa’s second highest peak―solo. “That was the beginning of my soloing,” he says. “I realized, going by myself, that I didn’t need someone who had the same target, skills or budget. I could do it all by myself.” His next big step was climbing Mont Blanc in winter conditions―again solo.

In 2013, eager for more of the solemnity and self-reliance intrinsic to soloing, Kobusch lit out for Kyrgyzstan, where he had his first major humbling in the mountains: “I tried to solo Pik Lenin [7,134 m] in wintertime. It didn’t work out, I almost died a couple of times,” notably when his tent’s snow anchor ripped out and he found himself sliding slowly toward a crevasse.

The do-or-die attitude that Kobusch cultivated up to that point needed some refinement. He says, “You learn from these mistakes a lot, and they kind of let you grow faster. I also did an unclimbed 4,000 meter peak in Kyrgyzstan, which was the beginning of my passion for first ascents, the need to touch the untouched and explore a bit more.” The year after Kyrgyzstan, he visited the Himalayas for the first time and climbed Ama Dablam. His was the first ascent of the year, and he free soloed the route, shunning the unsafe fixed ropes from the previous season.

When he returned to the Himalayas in 2015, the Everest avalanche derailed his Lhotse plans. Deciding to dedicate his life to the mountains going forward was only one of his takeaways, though. He found the crowds at Lhotse a major turn off, and determined to avoid them as much as possible in the future.

So with those two pseudo-epiphanies about what he wanted to do and how, Kobusch traveled to Annapurna in 2016. “It’s one of the rarest climbed 8,000 meter peaks and it’s also one of the most dangerous ones,” he says. He soloed Annapurna.

“I still wanted to go more pure, though. I figured a project like Nangpai Gosum II would be the perfect place to do a very pure solo far away from everybody.”

Kobusch high up on the mountain at night. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

Korbusch’s new strategy was to climb a steep couloir on the right side of Nangpai Gosum II’s South face, traverse to a prominent spine on the right side, ascend to the ridge of the first false summit, and then continue towards the top. He would climb it in as pure a style as possible: “I went minimalist: no ropes, no ice screws, nothing. I just took my harness and one carabiner in case of a helicopter rescue.”

He started from Advanced Base Camp (5,600 meters) at 3:00 am. The nighttime temperatures kept the snow firm and consolidated, and mitigated avalanche risk. Kobsuch reached Camp 1 (approximately 6,440 meters) at 4:00 pm, chopped out a one-meter-wide platform for his sleeping pad, and laid down to rest.

The second day he ascended to 6,840 meters. “It was an easy day. It was going good. I was there before sunset,” he says. After a few of hours of sleep, he roused at 10:00 pm, and started his summit push. Catching the sunrise from the first false summit, Kobusch drank in the curve of the earth as he sat above the clouds and gazed towards Everest, steeling himself for the final summit-ridge slog.

He postholed through deep powder for the final 800 meters, pausing every ten steps to catch his breath. Finally, he made the top. He took in the views, enjoyed the moment, gathered his strength, put up some prayer flags, and turned right back around. By the middle of the next day he was back in Base Camp.

Kobusch is extremely happy with his new route up the no-longer virgin peak. “It was beautiful and also felt like I was really exploring. I had no information. I was just reading the terrain and going where I thought would be best to go. It felt like true alpinism,” Kobusch says. “So remote; no one was there, and you’re standing somewhere where you know no one has ever stood before. It was a real adventure. It’s difficult to have a real adventure today where things are unexplored.”

Stay tuned for a film next year about Jost Kobusch’s Nangpai Gosum II expedition!

Want some adventure yourself? What are you waiting for?! Go climb a mountain! Check the world’s best adventures at The Outdoor Voyage.

On the summit. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

 

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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