Catalan female Sílvia Vidal, one of the most accomplished big wall aid climbers in the World, has made the first ascent of an El Capitan-sized granite wall in the Kinnaur region of the Indian Himalaya.
Vidal spent 25 days on the face in awful weather to complete the 1,050m Naufragi (Shipwreck in Catalan) at A4+ and 6a+.
Due to the heavy monsoon this year she experienced rain and mist on every day, and at one point lost consciousness while jumaring due to hypothermia. As usual with all her solo trips, Vidal took no form of communication device.
On several occasions she seriously considered abandoning the climb and at one point down-climbed part of a pitch, having decided to bail. However, her motivation and desire to finish the route always got the better of her.
Before arriving in India, the only information on the wall that Vidal possessed was a single photograph and Google Earth coordinates.
The picture of the face had originally been posted on the big wall website of American John Middendorf. To spark a lengthy on-line competition, Middendorf offered a hammer to anyone who could identify the location of this impressive formation.
It was eventually discovered on the southern flanks of Raldang (5,499m) in the Kinnaur Kailash Range, approximately northeast of Sangla village in the Baspa Valley.
Once in the valley Vidal showed the picture to locals, who arranged porters to carry her loads up to 3,800m, where she established base camp.
During the seven days spent there, she was never able to see the whole face due to cloud and heavy rain, and it took two days to find the foot of the wall. Access was via a complex and slippery ravine, in which she needed to fix a few ropes.
After fixing the first three pitches of the face, Vidal set off for her 25-day stint alone. Two weeks into the route and above pitch 10 she reluctantly had to resort to drilling bathooks through completely featureless sections.
However, she tried not to use bathooking to increase the grade and emphasises that the crux A4 and A4+ sections were all natural.
Over the last nearly 20 years Vidal has notched up an impressive series of aid ascents, such as Zenyatta Mondata (A4+) and the third ascent of Reticent Wall (A5) on El Capitan, and first ascents of Sargantana (A4 and 5.9) on Half Dome, Sol Solet (A5) on the 1,300m west face of Amin Brakk in Pakistan, Sangtrait (A4 and 6b+) on Turnweather Peak, Baffin Island, Mai Blau (A3+ and 6b) on Neverseen Tower in India, and Life is Lilac (A4+ and 6a) on Shipton Spire, Pakistan.
Being light (95 pounds) is obviously an advantage when it comes to tenuous aid; being small (5' 2") certainly isn't. Hauling has always presented a problem to Vidal: on one occasion, while soloing the difficult Wyoming Sheep Ranch on El Capitan, she found it such hard work she developed tendinitis in both arms and had to spend the rest of the year recovering.
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