India 2015: Ascending into unknowns – Part I

India. I hated it upon first arrival.

I was a jet lagged unprepared American and it was 4 am.
I spoke no Indian.
I smelled of recycled air and privilege.

With a fax number for my hotel contact and a vague mile long street location, I was downright lucky the kind and patient taxi driver decided to use his own phone to repeatedly call a fax number destined to never be answered. He asked every snoring street-side sleeper if they had heard of Karlos Kastel Hostel. Finally he backed into a small alleyway with a smile, nod and hand motion that we had arrived.

I was uncertain, thinking he just wanted to be rid of his pre-dawn cargo drama. But he was right, we had arrived.

The 3 boys sleeping across the tiny lobby’s sofas and coffee tables assisted with my check in. My name was ‘on the list’ thanks to Crystal and Whitney one month prior.

Unloading gear from the most patient taxi driver’s vehicle. It was beyond time for rest.
Unloading gear from the most patient taxi driver’s vehicle. It was beyond time for rest.
I entered my private room sweaty, exhausted, and cross-eyed.
I slept. Maybe. I don’t remember, so I must’ve slept some of the time.
Legs twitched from 20 hours on a plane.

My journey jostling elbows in this city of over 18 million people had only just begun.

Alone with many more hours to travel, I ventured cautiously from my ‘private’ alleyway to sort out transportation onward.

Car horns, rickshaws, people, and cows fighting for space nearly all hours of the day. The hours zoomed by in a whirl of bobbing and weaving through streets lined with shops, fruit stands and the occasional pile of feces…cow and human.

Unloading gear from the most patient taxi driver's vehicle. It was beyond time for rest.

Unloading gear from the most patient taxi driver’s vehicle. It was beyond time for rest.

Finally, on the night bus, I tossed and turned almost rhythmically along with the exceptionally winding road north. After a brief and unintended three-hour pit stop somewhere rural northern India, due to an axle issue, I finally plopped into a gravel parking lot in Manali. Excited my travel journey was only to be 20 minutes more, I hailed the first motor rickshaw driver in sight, forgoing any sort of bartering with the driver. Forget saving 40 cents, I just wanted to be in Vashisht with the girls!

A breath taking ride from Manali to Vashisht, reignited my heart. I had been so busy with life prior to India, then focused on travel logistics, that I hadn’t taken a moment to ponder and appreciate. I had now reached fresh air, where lush mountains and ridges abound. More perfectly vague directions got me dropped off at the end of the small cobblestone road, right outside a public bath. I ditched my gear at a local shop, backtracked a few hundred yards to a rooftop café, and walked in to meet Crystal and Whitney lying in wait, friends speaking a language I knew.

My shoulders nearly slid off my back as I relaxed entirely.

The girls, having a 3-week head start, had just completed their second foray into the Himalayas. Their first mission included a second ascent of peak CB6a (5450 m), by the NibbiJibbi (5.10-, 400 m) route. The second adventure was an unnamed 5100-meter peak in the Miyar Valley. They named their route Poornima (5.10, 600 m).

The Miyar Valley was bitter cold. A long storm left them tent bound for days. Almost October, the higher peaks were experiencing a pubescent snow cycle with immature ice. Once clean rock was pitted with snow and a deadly concealment of crevasses.

They switched objectives and climbed a beautiful new line in a single push.

The majestic Himalayas from the bivy - chilling and empowering.

The majestic Himalayas from the bivy – chilling and empowering.

Seeing their smiling faces, breathing fresh mountain air and nearly touching the surrounding peaks, renewed my stoke. I bit my lip, attempting to calm my excitement. Somewhere among the hello hugs and “It’s so good to see you,” I blurted out, “When do we head back in?”

Having already logged miles of trekking with big loads, cold climbing and wet camping, the response was a dispiriting shrug. I couldn’t blame ‘em for lack of enthusiasm, but my excitement was hard to contain.


While they chilled in the hippie town of Vashisht, I planned and schemed. At 5 am on the third morning a private taxi van began transporting us 12 hours east across the Himachal Pradesh. The dirt roads resembled American bike paths carved into mountain walls. In many places there was only room for one vehicle and someone always had to back up to where the two could pass, and when they did, both sides were so grateful they literally kissed one another as they passed.

© 2016

Part II tomorrow.

Read more on the Alpinist about the fresh routes that Quinn’s team climbed prior to her arrival in India.