Shivling - Shiva's Line
The Holy Mountain
Text and photo: Thomas Huber
Shivling, 6543 m.
If I continued climbing, I wouldn’t be able to calculate the
risk anymore. I was standing on a tiny ledge in the middle of an
overhanging wall. Iwan Wolf, ten meters below, was belaying, and
frozen. I, however, was dripping with sweat. Above me was a
brittle area, a fragile network of meter-sized flakes loosely
wedged into the wall. Even compact-looking sections echoed like
a bell when hit with a hammer. My common sense was paralyzed
with fear. I could not make a decision. A bit further above, an
overhanging crack disappeared in the mist. Damn, only 20 more
meters and we would make it, but in those 20 meters no gear
would be good enough to hold a fall. Should I risk climbing this
overhanging pile of rubble despite that fact? And if at some
stage the rock began to fall apart on me, would I be able to get
back? Or would I be brought down with a giant flake that crashed
onto Iwan like a guillotine? Even if we survived, we were still
at more than 6000 meters in a mountain region where nobody would
be able to help us.
I was fighting against myself. The desire to do it was here,
but the frightening image of defeat kept me from committing.
Meanwhile, it started to snow. Everything was shit—this mountain,
this route, this unbearable situation. I couldn’t bear it any
Iwan agreed with my decision, because he fancied leading this
pitch even less than I did. Apart from that, he was completely
frozen. So then, head back. . . .
But I searched the route above us one more time. We were here
because of this wall, we carried heavy rucsacks up the couloir,
waited at Base Camp for the bad weather to clear and now I was
frightened to death. . . because of these few, silly meters. . .
Shivling, at 6543 meters, is not an extremely high peak, but
it is one of the most beautiful mountains in the Himalaya
nonetheless. Light and shade outline a dream route as they
separate the northern wall into eastern and western halves. This
magic central line was climbed in part by the Tyrolean team of
Hans Kammerlander and Christoph Hainz in 1993. (Departing at 4
a.m. on May 31 from a bivouac at 5900 meters, Kammerlander and
Hainz climbed 650 meters with difficulties up to UIAA VII, or
5.10d, topping out in a violent snowstorm at 4 p.m. They
descended the line of ascent, reaching base camp at 4:30 a.m. on
However, at the base of the headwall at ca. 6150 meters, they
oriented to the right and climbed to the summit via the 1980
Japanese route (Fujita-Kubo-Yamamoto, 1980; the route was
climbed expedition style, with ABC established on July 28 and
the summit achieved on September 4. BC was reached on September
6. The “icing on the cake,” the headwall buttress, remained
untouched. In 1998 and 1999, German, Austrian and Spanish
expeditions tried to straighten the right turn of this
outstanding line—and not without reason, because the direct
north pillar is surely one of the biggest challenges of the
Himalaya. Climbing this line was my dream as well, though I did
not know when I would try it.
Shivling: 1 – Kammerlander, Hainz, 2 – Japsnese Route, 3 –
My brother, Alexander, and I decided on the project only
three months before the start of the expedition. For a long time
I wasn’t sure whether I could even build up the right attitude
to an expedition of this category. Only when we were leaving the
air-conditioned Arrivals terminal in Delhi did reality hit us.
After two days of a wild bus journey, we reached the first
peaks of the Garhwal Himal, land of holy mountains, rivers and
lakes. At an altitude of 3000 meters lies Gangotri, the
start-off point of our two-day trek to Tapovan Base Camp, which
lies at 4300 meters, directly at the foot of Shivling.
The weather could not have been better, and the day after we
arrived, we carried two heavy rucksacks toward the start-off
point. The sooner, the better: the sooner we finished, the
sooner I would be back at home with my family, Marion and our
son Elias. But our initial optimism was slowed one day later by
15 centimeters of fresh snow. Luckily, after two days of bad
weather, a Swiss and a French expedition who also wanted to
climb Shivling arrived, and their presence made for a more
We were tied to base camp for three more days by the
miserable weather. The Swiss expedition—Bruno Hasler, Iwan Wolf,
and Irma Wolf got ready to climb Bhagirathi II for
acclimatization, and the French prepared to shuttle loads for
Shivling’s normal route, the West Ridge. I had talked to Hans
Kammerlander; he told me that there was a good bivy site for a
small tent somewhere near 6000 meters. Alexander and I wanted to
establish a camp there to be in a position for a three-day climb
to the summit.
The route we wanted to climb begins at 5100 meters with a
couloir. From BC, we would cache gear and bivy beneath a big
boulder at 5000 meters. At 5400 meters on the right-hand side of
the couloir we would find another good site sheltered from
rockfall where we could pitch a tent. From there, ice up to 60
degrees leads to the beginning of the real climb at 5600 meters.
Ten or 11 pitches of free and mixed climbing would then bring us
to the site at 5900 meters that Kammerlander had mentioned. Five
more pitches, including some complicated route-finding around
gendarmes, lead to the best camp site on the entire route at
6000 meters, the place at the so-called “Bend” where the
Kammerlander and Japanese routes connected. Seven or eight more
pitches would bring us to the base of the headwall at 6150
meters. It was from this point that the Japanese and
Kammerlander-Hainz routes climbed to the right to the summit.
Before sunrise on May 10, and loaded with heavy rucksacks, we
climbed the couloir to the good camp site sheltered from rock
fall on the couloir’s right-hand edge, only 200 meters below the
start of the rock pillar. The next day we became martyrs once
more, climbing the 400-meter couloir with 30 kilos on our back
until all of the equipment, tents, stove, sleeping bags, ropes
and climbing gear were deposited at the site. 12 OF MAY,by dawn
the next day, we reached the start of the pillar. Because of the
snowfall of the last few days, everything seemed very wintry,
everywhere; the slabs and dihedrals were still covered with
fresh snow. It looked quite cold, dangerous and difficult.
Alexander immediately volunteered to lead the first pitch.
Alongside the torn remains of rope from previous expeditions, he
fought his way higher up across the snow-covered slabs. He
wedged the ends of his picks into fine cracks, climbed up a
snow-filled crack and scraped millimeter-wide ledges with his
crampons, a mixture of modern dry tooling, free climbing and
classic mixed climbing.
Holy men Baba.
The same day, we climbed 100 meters in four similarly
difficult pitches, fixing ropes to 5700 meters before we
abseiled into the couloir and shortly thereafter reached camp.
The next day, we hoped to reach our envisaged camp site between
5900 and 6000 meters—a challenging goal, but one we thought we
could make. Instead of climbing, however, the next day found us
sitting at BC at 7 a.m. with good coffee and pancakes while the
last snow clouds disappeared.
After acclimatizing without problems, the Swiss successfully
returned from Bhagirathi II in the early evening. Iwan and Bruno
now hoped to repeat the Japanese Route on Shivling’s north face.
Their planned ascent also started in the couloir and carried on
via our route between 6000 and 6200 meters. From there, they
wanted to climb to the right across a striking system of
platforms just below the top of the wall. We appreciated their
objective, because if anyone needed any help, we could assist
one another. But the weather was too unpredictable to climb all
the way in one go, and the altimeter did not give hope for
improvement. Despite the bad forecast, Alexander and I still
wanted to climb to the site Kammerlander had told me about in a
one-day push, jugging our fixed lines and fixing further ropes
to this site.
Thus, on May 17, four of us were climbing in the couloir.
Iwan and Bruno wanted to deposit their rucksacks at our camp at
5400 meters and then descend to BC in order to be ready for an
alpine-style summit push. But the only one descending to BC that
morning was me. My “engine” did not want to start, and I forced
myself until I threw up. Now I was lying on my insulation mat,
completely exhausted, with an empty stomach and fever as I
followed the action on the pillar with binoculars.
In the afternoon, Alexander, Iwan and Bruno were forced down
from the wall by a thunderstorm, but before they returned they
managed to climb and fix five additional pitches and secure
everything at approximately 5900 meters. From this point, we
thought it would be possible to reach the summit in three days.
The next day, I felt a bit better, and the continuously
unstable weather allowed enough time to recover completely from
my bad stomach. Meanwhile, the French group called off their
expedition. Air pressure had risen by 30 meters. A good sign: we
could start on the morrow.
Early start with Iwan from BC.
THE MAY 21
The four of us left BC at midnight. Iwan and Bruno waved
goodbye in the light of their headlamps while we continued to
pack our tents into rucksacks at the 5400-meter camp. Soon after,
we jugged the fixed ropes with heavy loads, working our way up
pitch by pitch. At the end of the fixed ropes, an easier pitch
brought us up to the site Kammerlander had mentioned. On this
day, it was Alexander who felt weak; he fought to his limit.
Under such conditions, we had no chance to reach the summit.
Storm clouds coming in from the west made our decision easier.
We quickly deposited all our climbing and bivouac gear behind a
block and started to abseil. Bruno and Iwan carried on, reaching
the Bend at 6000 meters the same day.
Early the next day, the weather was good again, and I was
disappointed and worried that we had missed our chance. But it
was only a theoretical chance, because Alexander would not have
had the strength. Shivling cannot be conquered with a 38-degree
fever and infected tonsils (as Alexander was diagnosed as having
by the French expedition doctor). The chances for his recovery
were small and therefore the success of our expedition was more
and more unlikely.
Via radio, we heard from the Swiss that a storm accompanied
by 100 km/h-plus winds was blowing around the crest, pinning
them to their camp. Now that we could see the kilometer-long
snow plumes blowing from Shivling and the surrounding summits,
we were happy with our retreat. At least we have not missed out
on anything up on the mountain today, I told myself, and I hoped
for a little miracle.
Iwan and Bruno were stuck. Though there were hardly any
clouds in the sky, the storm had been blowing with biting cold
for two days. It was absurd: the weather was stable and sunny,
but still they were nearly blown off the mountain by the storm.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s state of health had improved over the
last few days and he thought he had recovered from the infection.
We were on our way again: we wanted to climb all the way through
to the summit, the weather was still perfect and the storm
seemed to have settled a bit. Iwan and Bruno, who had moved camp
150 meters higher, hoped to climb to the summit.
MAY 25, At 6 a.m., I was at the start of the fixed ropes,
waiting for Alexander. One hour later he reached the belay
station without any energy. For him this was the final straw,
and at the same time the end of our expedition. Alexander had
done his best, but the infection breeding in his body weakened
him too much. He didn’t stand a chance. He was disappointed, sad
and angry all at once, but we both knew that now there was only
one decision to make. Head down, Alexander descended through the
sun-flooded couloir while I climbed up the fixed ropes in order
to collect our gear. On arrival at the camp, I talked to the
Swiss via radio.
First hard pitch climbed Alexander, I am following with
“Thomas calling Iwan, are you near the summit? Over and out?”
“Iwan calling Thomas, no, it is freezing cold; I cannot feel
part of my toes any longer. We are just below the headwall and
it still is very windy up here. We don’t have a chance, we are
abseiling. Thomas, where are you? Over and out.”
“Thomas calling Iwan, Alexander has descended to BC, he is
ill, I am at our camp at 5900 meters collecting the gear, we are
calling off the expedition. Over and out.”
“Iwan calling Thomas, please wait with the descent, we are
going to abseil via your pillar and will be with you in three
hours, then we’ll see. Over and out.”
“Thomas calling Iwan, OK, I’ll wait. Over and out.”
Did they want to…? I didn’t dare push the thought any further.
Hours later, they reached me at camp, tired but happy, and
firmly committed to supporting me for the rest of the expedition—but
only after a few days of relaxation at BC. Alexander was happy
that our expedition still had the chance to climb the direct
north pillar in one go. He left BC the following day.
We discussed our approach and the formation of the team. The
Swiss decided that Irma and Iwan would try to reach the summit
via the West Ridge, and Bruno would climb the direct north
pillar with me. Shortly thereafter, Bruno injured his finger; it
was nearly impossible for him to support me. After Bruno’s small,
but weighty injury, the Swiss changed their team once more. Now,
Iwan would try to climb the direct north pillar with me, and
Bruno and Irma would climb via the challenging West Ridge.
On the evening of May 28, we once again discussed our tactics.
Iwan and Bruno had found a good camp site at ca. 6000 meters at
the Bend. We would start shortly after midnight, jug our fixed
lines and continue to this point, putting up our tents. On the
second day, we would climb and fix a pitch of the headwall,
while on the third, we would climb through to the summit... if
everything went well, the weather stayed stable, and our energy
reserves lasted. For us, it would be our last chance to reach
the summit, because the porters were to arrive on June 4. If we
were surprised by weather, we would wait at the 6000-meter camp,
only returning to BC as a last resort. Tonight would be a short
We joined Japanese Route in 6100 m.
MAY 29; After three hours of dozing, sleeping and crazy
dreams, our cook jumped me out of my sleeping bag with a
cheerful, “Good morning.” What is this that you call morning? It
was midnight, pitch black and not a star in sight. The air
pressure on the altimeter was not too bad, however—so, let’s go.
Waiting another day at BC would endanger success, purely in
terms of time.
Two cups of coffee in order to pep up circulation, and off we
went. We stumbled along by the light of our headlamps, up the
steep moraine which led to the entrance of the couloir.
“We’ll manage,” Iwan said. He is an optimist. With any luck,
he would be right.
Slowly, the body adjusted to the regular exercise. Breathe
in: one step; breathe out: one step—nothing would change this
rhythm for the next two hours. We climbed into the couloir, the
slopes steepening to 50° in front of us, dreamscapes giving way
to a constant state of alert. At 5 a.m., we reached the start of
our fixed ropes. We were doing well in terms of time; the
weather also seemed to turn for the better.
“Maybe you are right with your ‘we’ll manage,’ Iwan.” His
cunning smile told me everything. I attached my ascenders and we
jugged the first 300 meters of the route.
At 9 a.m., we reached our cache at 5900 meters and sorted our
equipment: one tent, two sleeping bags, one stove, gas and
supplies for three days, cams, nuts, hammer, hand drill, five
bolts, and just in case, if everything failed, lots of pitons
and beaks and heads for the smallest cracks. In the meantime,
the weather had turned out perfectly: blue sky above us and no
sign of a storm. Under such circumstances, we had a good chance
to erect our camp 100 meters higher at the Bend.
We wanted to climb light and fast to the Bend, fixing our
three ropes so we could then haul the bivouac gear in the
afternoon. Iwan left the leads to me. After a short pitch, the
pillar steepened to vertical. A short, very scary slab that was
difficult to protect required all of my climbing skills, and I
needed several attempts before I could progress. A fall here
would not be a very good idea. After four meters, a solid cam
calmed my nerves and the way up became easier.
The compact granite of the ridge relented in angle, but the
route finding through the gendarmes became more complex. Still,
we managed to progress quickly. At 1 p.m., we reached the
exposed camp site—a crazy site, just big enough for our tent.
We climbed hardest pitch.
Four hours later, we sat, tired and worn out from carrying.
Melting snow, eating, drinking: everything happened with the
usual routine. The same applied to the weather: hours ago, it
was sunny and warm, but now a freezing wind blew, it was snowing
and our tent was swallowed by dark clouds. When it also started
to thunder, our adrenaline level rose. Thunder in the mountains,
at our exposed camp! We were trapped in a small cage and could
only hope and wait.
The next day, no traces of the previous day’s thunderstorm
remained; the weather had completely normalized again. We waited
until the rays of the sun reached the camp, then Iwan began up
the first pitch of the ridge.
Unfortunately, the sun did not have the warming strength of
the day before and a cold, cutting wind blew around the crest.
Below the headwall, near the summit, the wind whipped snow
clouds into the blue sky again. Iwan hated this weather; he knew
it very well.
We carried on climbing. Iwan reached the base of the headwall.
The old, rotten fixed ropes of the Japanese route ran over to
the right. Above us was unknown territory—the unknown, and
adventure, the crack systems of the Magic Line. I sorted the
gear on my harness and climbed up above the belay via an
Which brings us back to the beginning of this story.
“...Iwan, just hold on a second....”
I could not just give up like that, without having tried. It
would always be on my mind. I had to put an end to this story,
even if after ten meters I found that it is not possible for me.
“Iwan, I will try. Watch out and duck in case anything falls
From now on, there could not be any more doubts. I could, and
I wanted to, live this adventure here and now.
I was careful, I tapped every meter of rock with my hammer,
questioned every piece, and slowly climbed higher. But none of
the gear would hold a fall, because all of it was placed behind
loose flakes. With the help of hooks, equalized cams and a mix
of aid and free climbing, I traversed three meters via a
detached flake, hoping to find more compact rock in a fine crack
to the left.
4th pitch in Headwall - big adventure, one more pitch to the
top of pilar.
My movements were slow; I was very careful with everything I
did. I persuaded myself of a safety that no longer existed. I
had crossed the Deadline. Everything was in my hands now.
“At this moment, trust only in your actions, and not in a cam
that might save your life if you fall.”
The quality of the rock did not improve; it was the same
rubbish over here as it was on the right. It was sickening. I
fumbled and extracted two little stones from a crack that was
finger-width to begin with, and carefully wedged in a 0 TCU. It
looked like it would hold—or, I should say, it had to hold.
Slowly I shifted my body weight to the TCU and observed it for
the smallest movement, always ready to react, to step back to
the hook below. It did not move a millimeter. It might have even
held a small fall, although the rock still sounded terribly
“Only trust your actions,” I told myself; the risk of
depending on an allegedly good TCU was too high. Only two more
meters, and the unstable rock might lay behind me. I put my
total energy and concentration into the last meters, hammered a
long knifeblade into the rotten rock and slowly shifted my body
weight. It held…. Shit, it did not…! The piton slipped down two
centimeters, then wedged again; I nearly…. Fuuck, I felt sick.
“Iwan, watch out, the piton does not hold, I need to go back….”
Now, remain cool, otherwise I would have no other choice. Once
again, I hammered the piton completely into the rock and tried
once more to slowly shift my weight to the suspect piece. Deep
breath: avoid all sudden movements, place another knifeblade a
meter higher, hammering it in with careful blows. It too was not
good, sliding into the rotten rock with disconcerting ease. One
meter higher the rock appeared to improve, changing from the
white broken consistency to a more solid orange granite. Deep
A number 2 angle penetrated the compact crack with a singing
sound. It was my hymn of victory. We had made it. Ten minutes
later I reached the anchor. Behind was a 40-meter psycho
thriller that I had never experienced before. Tension slowly
subsided and I recognized my surroundings again. I was on
Shivling, we were at 6250 meters, climbing our route; it was
snowing, and cold. Iwan followed with the ascenders, then aided
and freed 25 meters of the next pitch as well. After that, we
abseiled in a snowstorm back to our camp, leaving our ropes
The wind changed to hurricane force and we started to have
doubts. And a thunderstorm with bad lightning made the situation
more and more exciting.
Thomas Huber and Iwan Wolf (Switzerland).
May 31: We were both skeptical whether this day would lead to
success. Again and again, we were swallowed by thick cloud; it
was snowing, and an uncomfortably cold wind blew. But despite
that, we were on our way. We had been on the overhanging
headwall for hours, fighting our way up pitch by pitch. It was
possibly our last chance to reach the summit, and we wanted to
make use of it in spite of the hostile weather conditions. After
finishing Iwan’s pitch from the day before, I set up an anchor.
Iwan jugged up the line, cleaning. The blank rock above overhung
so much I could not see what came next. I pulled the bolt kit
with the rivets and bolts out of the rucksack, just in case—but
when I went to switch it from one side of my harness to the
other, it fell. Our only life-line should a passage of compact
granite stop us from progressing further was gone. But today I
was lucky. At the last minute, again and again, I found a way to
place a piton, wedge a birdbeak into the smallest seam or place
a talon behind a flake.
It was 4 p.m. and we had only to conquer 25 meters of
overhanging rock, then we should reach the summit ice fields. We
were still in the race. Our 200-meter headwall ended in a small
roof. Above it, 200 more meters of 50-degree ice led to the
summit—but overcoming the roof would be another challenge. I put
all my hopes into one Camelot, the cams of which had more
contact with ice than rock. Another one of many suspicious
pieces—but luck was by my side again.
“Iwan, we have managed it!”
Once more, I enjoyed the view and the exposure on this steep
wall. Then I placed two pitons at the beginning of the ice and
fixed the rope for Iwan. Ten minutes later he was standing next
to me. Without a break, he took over the lead for the next five
pitches up the icy terrain, finally climbing up a 70-degree
cornice. At 6 p.m. on the dot, we reached the highest point of
Shivling—and again, we were completely stuck in mist. The summit
was a flat snow-covered plateau. Completely unspectacular. We
shook hands, congratulated each other on the success, and, after
a short rest, started the descent.
There was not enough time for emotions; the feeling of having
achieved the summit was dampened by the thought of abseiling via
the overhanging summit wall in the dark. At around 11 p.m., we
reached our top camp completely exhausted, and crawled into our
humid sleeping bags. We were too tired to be aware of the day’s
success, and minutes later fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, we were woken by the sun rising in the blue
Garhwal sky. Our wrecked and swollen fingers reminded us of our
big adventure. Only now did we realize our achievement, which,
the day before, due to exhaustion, we could only take in
automatically. We had managed to climb this magic line all the
way through to the summit. We called the route Shiva’s Line. At
7 A4, it was one of the most difficult routes I have ever
climbed. Via radio, we learned that Irma and Bruno had reached
the summit one day before us, in extreme weather. Perfect! We
dismantled our camp and started to abseil. We really deserved
the Swiss cheese fondue tonight….
Summary of Statistics
Area: Garhwal Himalaya, India
New Route: Shiva’s Line (7 A4 70°, 400 meters), a direct finish
via the headwall of a line climbed in part by the Japanese
(1980) and Kammerlander-Hainz (1993). The entire route is graded
7 A4 M6, 1443 meters. On Shivling (6543m), Thomas Huber and Iwan
THE DATES ARE:
REACHING THE BASECAMP TAPOVAN 3. MAY - LEAVING
BASECAMP TAPOVAN 3. JUNE
SUMMIT PUSH DATES:
29. MAY: 12 O´ CLOCK NIGHT LEAVING BASECAMP; REACHING
CAMP ON 6000 METER
30. MAY: CLIMBING 150 METERS
31. MAY: 6 O`CLOCK IN THE EVENING- REACHING THE SUMMIT
1. JUNE: 3 O`CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON: REACHING THE
Members: Alexander Huber, Thomas Huber, Bruno Hasler, Iwan