Mick Fowler has once again put down his auditing pen and eked out an incredibly stunning line on the NW buttress of Shiva. Partnered with Paul Ramsden they went true exploratory style with very little information apart from an email from Andrey Muryshev saying: “Frankly I cannot imagine how you will do it. Do you mean the north west buttress? It is c700m of climbing after the col and it is the north west side in October – all the rock will be frozen. From the other hand, the ice will be scarce as the buttress is very steep. So it will be very hard dry tooling and very hard protection… I am not even sure that anybody has climbed anything of the kind at this altitude ever in history. Still your idea inspires me.”
Inspiration was all they needed and in early October they flew into Delhi and made their way into the Pangi District of Himachal Pradesh in India. Setting up Base Camp at 3900m they settled in for their climb. ”Above us the Prow of Shiva, as we christened it, looked challenging. But it also looked safe from objective dangers and through binoculars it appeared that the loose shaley rock of the area gave way to granite as the Prow started to steepen up. Acclimatisation consisted of four nights out from Base Camp checking out the approach to the Prow and sucking in as much thin air as possible. A peak at about 5,500m on the ridge stretching north from the Prow gave a fine climb and a wonderful point for viewing our intended route,” commented Fowler.
The approach itself would prove quite the adventure costing them two days to negotiate the complex glacier to the foot of the climb. Once established on the ridge they chopped out a bivouac and settled in for the main ridge the following day.
Fowler continued, “Challenging snow and ridge climbing led to what looked as if it could be an impasse. The crest of the buttress was indeed granite but the hoped for ice on the smooth slabs of north side was proving to be too thin and intermittent to climb. The crest was very sharp at this point and with the north side slabs dismissed that left only one other possibility; aiding an overhanging crack on the east side and hoping that the fault line, which then crossed to the north side, would continue in a climbable fashion. Fortunately it did and we were able to continue.
After a fine bivouac on an undercut rock balcony (with several hundred metres of space beneath our feet) the climbing continued up off vertical ice choked cracks, fortunately with generally good protection every now and then. Paul enjoyed a memorable ice axe belay and I recall a particularly memorable effort on my part as I struggled up a blank overhanging groove to gain a steep, wide, snow-choked crack. The climbing ranged from numerous pitches up ice-choked cracks in Chamonix-style granite to long, protectionless leads on thinly-iced slabs reminiscent of winter climbing on Ben Nevis.
On our sixth day out from Base Camp, mixed climbing up steep grooves led us to below the final area of vertical rock. A ledge line leading right round the crest gave us hope of reaching the summit that night but an unexpected impassable gap and afternoon bad weather saw us bivouacing again with the only way up being an ice-choked chimney splitting the headwall. My lead was not the most elegant but by 10:00am on day seven we reached a final snow ridge and broke through a cornice to reach the summit and see the glorious panoramic view to the south. It had been a brilliant climb and a short hug felt to be appropriate.”
A fine achievement from Fowler and Ramsden and one which they “ranked alongside the best either of us have experienced in the Himalaya,” which with 30 years of climbing behind them is saying quite a lot.