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Spiti Serpent

Photo of the route taken from the pipeline walkway on the opposite bank.

29th January 2018

The first time I saw a picture of this route on Bharat’s phone, as one of the potential high frozen falls he had found in the Shillah Nallah, I was awed. It looked steep and slim, a neat objective with a contemplative last pitch; an almost free standing pillar topping out to rubble and scree. Dauntingly amazing.

Spiti Serpent full route, 4 pitches.

The middle section of this serpentine gully was the only bit that saw a decent amount of sun making it soft while still retaining a fair amount of compactness in character, unlike what we had seen this season. The higher sections were made up of hard, plastic glass ice building to a crystallized curtain with a cave behind it. Like the many other falls and seepages frozen along the Shillah nallah gorge, this too had been preserved to perfection as this nallah receives only a couple of hours of sunlight and remains cold.

Pitch 3

We parked our car a little before the Nallah and hiked up to reach the pipeline that goes all the way till the end making the 40 minutes hike in feel like a nice stroll. From right across the route, we descended down to the river, a class 3 scramble. The climb started at 2.30. We didn’t think it would take us more than a couple of hours, especially since we had carried all equipment to rappel down and topping out was a low probability. We didn’t scout the route back just in case that happened, a price we paid for later in the day(more like night). Abhijeet lead the first pitch which is a short steep section literally starting off a solid chunk of the river that flattens out to a slippery walkable passage to meet the vertical standing fall. I got on to lead the second pitch from hereon. A bit more than halfway up the sustained face I made a belay station and we switched leads. The next section turned out to be tricky as the sun had gone out of the gorge and the ice got hard quickly slowing us down a bit.

The Cave

We made it in the cave in about an hour. The group was waiting across on the other side for instructions. The decision to climb the pillar had to be made and since no one said no, we went for it. Somehow we managed to communicate with Bharat and get beta on the way back. The day light dimmed by the minute and Abhijeet only had his phone’s flash battery remaining as he belayed me to an unknown top out. By the time I reached the top, it was very dark and very cold with only the thought of having completed the climb warming me from inside.

Final Pillar Pitch

From what I had seen from across the pipeline, there were rocks with horizontal cracks just the size of the three cams I owned and would most likely fit. So I carried those and it worked like a charm. Clearly that anchor was meant to be. I belayed Abhijeet in full moonlight feeling smug about my cams.

Rest is just a long ramble along the gorge that we had to make to get to the road. Our gear clinking together, fatigue making our climb look a bit drunk, we made it safely to our friends who’d been kind enough to come look for us with torches in the dark. On the way back, in Tsering sir’s car, the name Spiti Serpent, was given to the route. We gave it grading of HWI 6. Bring on the chhang.

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