The Lonely Sherpa

(First published on the Dali bar blog 2016)

The Lonely Sherpa

The idea of putting up a climb on this wall started about 8 months ago, on my first visit to the Shigu valley. It is a big, beautiful wall, shadowing all those who pass through the valley below. I made many subsequent trips to Shigu, staying at our friend’s guesthouse – The Stonedrum House, and bolting a number of single pitch climbs, but always this wall tempted me. Finally, with a 2-week break over Christmas, I decided the time was right. And with some support from Dali Bar and Stonedrum House developing this wall became possible.

One of the hardest parts of the process was to choose the right line up the face. I was tempted by a bold line through the middle of the wall, which would go through a big tufa-filled roof right at the top, but feared that the climb might be really difficult and therefore limit the number of people who could enjoy the route. We had been hoping for an easy/moderate line as the first route up this wall. So we looked to the left where there are some interesting red corners and decided that this is where the line should go. The route would start up a long section of face and then feed into the higher of the red corners, under a small roof and up a break in the wall to the top. No problem, 4 maybe 5 pitches. Not quite. Pretty soon the wall earned it’s name, The Deception Wall, as it turned out to be a lot bigger (and harder) than expected, about 160m and 8 pitches in total.

The next day I hiked up to the top of the cliff with a couple of visiting Aussie climbers, Laelia and Bec, and scouted out the access points. I had tried to convince the Aussies how fun it would be to help me carry the gear up the mountain the next day. They politely didn’t respond to the hint. Hence the name of the climb, I hiked up a total of 6 times to the mountaintop, carrying loads of gear each time. The bolting went smoothly, I got the first 5 pitches in pretty quickly, cleaning big blocks off where necessary, rapping down and scoping out where the most interesting features were, or where the natural line of the climb went. After one of these sessions Laelie expressed some interest in helping out. She’s an experienced climber, but predominantly a boulderer with no experience in developing sport climbs, but I figured it would be nice to share the process with someone who was so psyched to join. I’d fixed some static lines for her to jug up and sent her off to bolt the first 2 pitches from the ground, which she did in great style, cleaning and bolting as she went. Perhaps a few bolts could have been closer together, and a few extra flakes hammered off, especially as her pitches turned out to be the crux pitches.

With all the bolts in Laelia and I set off to try the climb and found that the first couple pitches still needed some work. So I decided to rappel in from the top (another walk up the mountain) and check the entire route. I moved a bolt near the top that I was unhappy with, managed to clean a few more lose holds, and then spent some time to figure out what to do with pitch 2. At the time pitch 2 was about 45m long and felt to be about 7c, which was inconsistent with the grading of the rest of the climb. I decided to add an anchor and split the pitch into 2 separate pitches, which turned out to be a great idea in the end.

Finally, after all the work, it was time to send the route. We made an early start, walking through fields of icicles in the early winter’s morning. The first two pitches went easily, nice moves and no problems. I set off to open the third pitch, and too my surprise found that the wall had sprung a leak overnight. Weird, but out of no where the wall was leaking water right down through the first crux of pitch 3, at the most run-out crimpy part of the climb! I nervously set off, cursed my way through the wet part and managed to open the pitch. Now the pressure was off as this was the crux pitch for the route. After lots of amazing climbing and munching on Dali Bars all the way up, we topped out around 4 pm to some much deserved whisky and a cheesecake that I had stashed under a rock. Luckily it was so cold the cheesecake was still fresh!

The pitches are graded as follow: P1 7a, P2 6b+, P3 7a+, P4 6b, P5 6c, P6 6b+, P7 6c, P8 6a+. The longest pitch is 33m (P3), so be careful if you choose to rappel down. You’ll need about 17 quickdraws, take a few long ones. Don’t try link P7 and P8, the rope drag is terrible.

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