All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien



Apr 03, 2018

Indian Climbing’s New Exploring Boulderer

Ladakhi climber Jamyang Tenzing has been exploring and opening new climbing destinations in North India – and he’s only just begun.


Karn Kowshik

For years, rock climbing in India was an out-of-the-way sport, with little interest from the general public. Local climbers opened, even bolted, routes in their areas, but it was still a sport populated with social misfits. Even the now-popular climbing spots of Hampi and Chatru were opened by a hermitic – and mythical – climber called ‘Pil’. He spent much of his time alone, living out of ‘goofas’ (caves). In Chatru, he created a small topo map of his climbs. Only one copy of it exists, and he was renowned for not wanting to share ‘his’ climbing spots.

Over the last few years, though, climbing in India has begun to enter the mainstream. A new breed of climbers has emerged – young, strong and ambitious. New Delhi is home to one such community, and at the center of this community is Ladakhi climber, Jamyang Tenzing – known affectionately as Jammy.

Over the last few years, Jammy has committed himself to discovering and opening new bouldering spots in North India, all the while making it open and inclusive by bringing as many climbers as possible. After getting his start with Trad Routes in Ladakh, J&K, he organized the first Suru Bouldering Festival near Kargil. Looking for boulders in Delhi, where he spends his winters, he found and popularized a spot in South Delhi he calls Zion. Soon after, he organized the first Kareri Rock Trip, hidden away under the Minkiani Pass in the Dhauladhar Himalaya. Right now, the second edition of the Kareri Rock trip is underway.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Jamyang.

He started on his climbing career relatively late in life. At 27, he completed his Basic Mountaineering Course, where he discovered rock climbing. “I recall my first attempt on the climbing wall at the institute and it was love at first sight and it felt like the most natural thing for me to do. After that I went climbing at I.M.F. (Indian Mountaineering Foundation) a couple of times but I still wasn’t really climbing.” It was during the Leh floods of 2010 that he became a regular at GraviT, a small bouldering gym in Leh owned and operated by Mumbai legend Vaibhav Mehta. “There was chaos everywhere,” he tells me, “and amidst this chaos I discovered GraviT through some friends. “It was such a good vibe around the gym and everyone was very supportive and shared whatever knowledge they had. It was around this time I met Kunal, Shyam, Suhail, Nishit and you who made me realize the depth of the sport and the community.

Over the next couple of years, he almost climbed exclusively indoors, with some outings to Shey and Gompa rocks (which any climber visiting Leh now knows well). One summer day in 2012, local climber Suhail Kakpori visited his house and announced he had bought GraviT, asking if Jammy wanted to partner up to run it. He jumped at the opportunity. “There was no stopping from there!” Jammy says. In the years that followed, GraviT would become the center of the rock climbing community in Leh. But before they could do that, they needed to make money. At Rs. 100 per day, with free shoe rentals and only a small bunch of full-time climbers, most of whom often had some excuse to not pay, GraviT found it hard to break even. “We tried to set up a proper café at the gym,” he says, “but it didn’t work out. “Food frying and the stench of climbing shoes don’t go too well together.”

As he focused more on GraviT, he had less time to devote to his regular business of organizing treks and expeditions in Ladakh. “We then focused on climbing outdoors in Shey and Gompa on some top rope routes bolted by Vaibhav and soon we were taking tourists on day trips while getting better at our own climbing as well.” This allowed GraviT to make enough money to pay the rent. But the daily climbing sessions meant Jammy had fallen even deeper in love.

Jammy says, “I had caught the bug big time and couldn’t think of anything apart from climbing and started dreaming about getting stronger and starting a climbing revolution in Ladakh. Suhail and I started looking for rock faces around Leh and that’s when we found ‘Flash pump’ a 30m face on the way to Khardungla, we set up an anchor with all the knowledge that we had had we finally started climbing there. It was just awesome, this feeling of discovering and actually climbing it. We started taking people out climbing there, mostly friends and since the face was mostly shaded it was just fabulous.”

Around that time, Jammy and Suhail began climbing with Jeremy Higle, an American climber and instructor who ran the International Mountain Leadership Institute, a non-profit working with local guides in Pakistan, Thailand, and Ladakh. Along with Jeremy, the duo managed to turn Shey into an international crag. “We managed to be a part of the process of developing Shey into a proper crag with over 20 documented sport routes and a couple multi pitches and several identified trad lines.”

They also made their first foray to Suru, which Jammy calls “A wonderland of climbing”. “We spent a week there and were completely in love with the feeling of exploration and it kindled my curious nature and rise above the mayhem of the universe, I felt like I had found a purpose finally and it was to look for these boulders and climb them. I know it sounds silly to a non-climber, but that’s how I felt. Suhail and I started making plans of getting our friends and other climbers to suru valley but we couldn’t come back for the next 4 years due to personal obligations.”

‘Personal Obligations’ have forced many Indian climbers to quit the sport. In 2012, the Ladakh climbing crew was still struggling for gear, depending mostly on used gear and shoes left behind by visitors. Money was hard to come by, and Jammy’s family was growing. But that winter, Jammy took his wife – then 6 months pregnant with their first child – on a climbing trip to Hampi. “We had a blast there, for the first time I got to climb graded boulders and I realized that I had to work very hard in order to climb as much as I wanted.”

Over the next few years, he would constantly mull over the idea of having a climbing festival in Suru. With a new baby and bills piling up, Jammy was forced to focus on ‘work.’ “But I kept talking about Suru with friends,” Jammy says. “Suhail and I realized that we had to get many people to come climb in Suru to develop it as a climbing destination and once that was established we could also support the community that we were trying to build.” The moment of change came in 2016, four years after the first Suru Exploration, when Sandeep Kumar Maity, one of India’s strongest climbers said to Jammy, “Just follow your instinct.”

“That night as I kept rolling in my bed pondering over the idea, spontaneously I got up and created a facebook event called Suru Boulder Fest and marked the dates towards the end of tourist season, from the 25th of August to the 5th of September.”

The next day, some climbers had responded. Not too many, but enough for a rock climber to consider it ‘solid’. The festival started slow, but by the end of the week, over 70 climbers from 20 countries had turned up, turning it into an international climbing party.

In the winter of 2016, while Jammy was ‘babysitting’ Dahzum, his daughter, Sandeep and he stumbled upon a forest full of boulders and climbable sandstone faces. “That helped get the Delhi community out on the rocks again as everyone was bored of climbing the same boulders. Large enough numbers of people were showing up on weekends and we managed to open around 15 new problems. I decided to call it Zion.”

I chatted with Jammy often during the organizing of the Suru Boulder Fest, and his commitment to the community was clearly visible even then. As many climbers called and said that they couldn’t afford the nominal entry fee – to be used for providing food and tents to climbers – he always responded with “just come and climb, pay what you can, we’ll figure it out.”

In 2017, with the momentum of Suru and Zion behind him, Jammy organized the first Kareri Rock Trip. It wasn’t an easy trip to organize, as staying in the Kareri valley needed logistics like tents, porterage and a kitchen to cook for the hungry climbers. Delhi-based Project Rockface helped out with crash pads. After a day’s hike in, they made camp in a boulder field under the Kareri Lake. “We were 15 people who finally made it to Kareri and over 4 days managed to open around 30 problems of which the hardest was ‘Ninja Chacha – 7A’ opened by Ashish Khanijao at 4am. It was also very inspiring to watch Prerna Dangi send the tricky ‘Kareri Double Arete’ 6B .”

Jammy and the Delhi crew have just departed on the second Kareri Rock Trip. This time, Jammy says that GraviT’s Weapon of Mass Destruction, Sandeep is on the trip as well. “We hope to be able to establish many new lines with Sandeep,” Jammy says.

As climbing becomes more popular in India, Jammy has his work cut out for him. He has his sights on many different areas where he sees potential for all kinds of climbing. The devoted father, who often brings his daughter out climbing, has finally begun to break through the financial difficulties he faced in the beginning and has his sights set on other undiscovered climbing locations.

He says, “we also found a village near Leh called Nye and realized the immense potential there. We opened several boulder problems and 4 trad lines there. So after stumbling across all these new climbing areas, it has become my responsibility to take people there. A lot of climbers like to be secretive about their projects and areas but for me, I like to climb when the environment feels like a celebration and that’s what motivates me the most towards putting these events together.”

All photos from Jamyang Tenzing collection. Jamyang can be found on Instagram as @jammy_gravit.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."



The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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