I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville


Adventure Travel

Sep 14, 2017

First Indian Ascent of Difficult Himalayan Big Wall ‘Samsara is Nirvana’

Indian climbers Kumar Gaurav and Madhu CR recently snagged the coveted second ascent and first repeat ascent of one of the Indian Himalaya's raddest lines.


Michael Levy

Samsara is Nirvana is a 17-pitch big wall climb rated 7b/+ (5.12b/c). Located in the Kharnak Gorge, in Ladakh, it ascends a steep, 750-meter tall limestone wall, at over 4,000 meters in elevation. The late Swiss alpinist Giovanni Quirici, who died on the Eiger in 2011, made the first ascent of Samsara is Nirvana along with Guy Scherrer, Phillip Chabloz, Claude Chardonners and Elie Chevieux in 2007. 

Ever since then, the pitches have lay in wait of suitors seeking the second ascent.

Kumar Gaurav, a 23-year-old from Delhi, was just the guy for the job. He made his first attempt on the route last year. He and his partner climbed until the 12th pitch, where Gaurav took a large fall. He broke a bone in his palm, and doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to climb for the remainder of the year. “But I always [had] the same thing in my mind,” he says. “‘I want to climb this big wall.'”

Gaurav at the belay station, while Madhu CR leads a traverse on the upper pitches of the “Samsara is Nirvana.” Photo: Play.

He spent the year bolstering his other mountaineering skills, unable to do any technical rock climbing because of the plaster cast on his hand, but all the while preparing for his return to Samsara is Nirvana.

This season he was ready to go. Over the summer, Gaurav climbed Stok Kangri (6,153 m), King Yatse 1 (6,401 m) and Kang Yatse 2 (6,250 m), all in alpine style. While great climbs in their own right, they were just warm-up for Gaurav: “My motivation [was] always the same. I wanted to finish Samsara is Nirvana [at the end] of my trip in Ladakh.”

In early September, Madhu CR, a 25-year-old from Bangalore, joined Gaurav for his second attempt on Samsara. Their first two days were discouraging. Intermittent rain kept the wall slick, and the slabby first pitch wouldn’t yield to their efforts. On day 3, Madhu CR pieced pitch 1 together with new beta, giving new hope to the team’s prospects. Each night the duo descended to the ground to sleep before jugging fixed ropes up to their high points the next morning. On day 4, they pushed the ropes up to the base of the 12th pitch, and decided to bivy on the wall that night, committing to one final push. The next day, September 5, they blazed upwards and reached the summit at a civilized 2:00 pm.

Gaurav and CR’s was the second free ascent—which also happened to be the first Indian ascent—of Samsara is Nirvana. The duo’s climb was documented by the Adventure Sports Channel 4Play

Gaurav says the climb was a “dream come true.” Where or what he starts dreaming of next remains to be seen, but with his ambition and skill, it will likely push Indian big wall climbing to even greater heights.

The mountains are calling! Try your hand at climbing Stok Kangri, just like Kumar Gaurav, with The Outdoor Voyage

Madhu leading the final pitch. Photo. 4Play.

Feature Image: Madhu gives Kumar a hand as they approach the summit. Photo: 4Play.

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Jul 10, 2018

The 2018 Whitewater Awards: Nouria Newman and Benny Marr take the spoils.

The Whitewater Awards is a gathering of the world’s best kayakers to show off the biggest and best things that have happened in the sport over the past year.



Brooke Hess

 To be considered for an award, athletes, photographers, and filmmakers submit media taken over the past year that they believe showcases the best progression in the sport.  

There are sixteen different categories for submission, including separate male and female categories within the “Best of” kayaking categories. Categories include Photographer of the Year, Film of the Year, Expedition of the Year, Best Trick, Best Line, River Stewardship, Grom of the Year, Rider of the Year, along with several others.  Awards are decided upon by a voting process done by the Association of Whitewater Professionals.

This year’s Whitewater Awards was held in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. It was hosted on June 14th, the same weekend as the North Fork Championships, which takes place on the North Fork of the Payette River just outside of Boise.  The North Fork Championship is regarded as one of the hardest kayaking races in the world.

The race takes place on Jacob’s Ladder rapid, which is a rapid so difficult and consequential that most kayakers feel accomplished simply by surviving the rapid, much less racing the rapid. Nouria Newman, a 3-time NFC racer and winner of this year’s Whitewater Awards Female Rider of the Year describes it well,

“The NFC is the hardest race in whitewater kayaking. [Jacob’s Ladder] is a scary, consequential rapid. Running it is challenging, and it only gets harder to race it and make the gates.”

In order to minimize the risk involved in the race, event organizers have developed a strict qualification process for racers. 30 racers will qualify to race Jacob’s Ladder. Ten of them are pre-qualified from placing top ten at the event the year before. Those ten then read numerous athlete applications and vote on the next ten racers who will join them.  The last ten racers are decided through a qualification race on S-Turn rapid, another one of the North Fork’s infamous class V rapids.

Every year on this same weekend in June, kayakers, photographers, and filmmakers from around the world flock to Idaho to celebrate quality whitewater, progression of the sport, and the community that surrounds it. Both the North Fork Championship and the Whitewater Awards had great turnouts of athletes and spectators this year.

John Webster

The finalists of each category in the Whitewater Awards were presented in film format at the Egyptian Theater for the entire audience to view, with the winner being announced live. Winners were presented with an award and expected to give a short speech at the event. The big winners of the night were Nouria Newman and Benny Marr, who were awarded with Line of the Year and Rider of the Year in the female and male categories. Nouria says that voting for the “best” in each category is a challenging process, “…voting is always tricky, (look at both French and U.S. presidents, not too sure if they are really the best available option). And it is also very hard to compare lines and rapids. What’s bigger? What’s harder? I got voted Best Line of the Year with a good line down Parque Jurassic, a long technical rapid, but Rata’s line down Graceland, which is a huge slide, was equally as good, if not better.”

No matter how tricky the voting process can be, Nouria agrees that the Whitewater Awards plays a large role in the progression of the sport, “I think it’s super cool to see what people can do in their kayak, how they push the limit of the sport and how they open new possibilities.”

For more information about the Whitewater Awards, you can visit whitewaterawards.com, you can also follow them on Facebook and on Instagram.

You can follow Nouria on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can follow Benny on Facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo courtesy of Ari Walker

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