Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Check it out...

Took the overnight bus to Bangalore this weekend, and have been hanging out with friends here that I met at the bike race. For now, check out this link to a CNN/IBN special on the bike race we did. 15 seconds of fame, baby!

This YouTube link is best:
(the second half is in "Related Links" to the right)

(broken up into four segments online - click on Videos: 1 2 3 4 below the frame)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hands on rock

Note: Lin generously supplied photos due to a mis-match of my technology. I promise to put more up next week on returning to Delhi...

There are times when it seems like the whole world has been discovered, mapped, tapped, and been-there-done-that, looking for the next thing. But if there has been one overriding theme here for me, it's that the natural places of India haven't been tapped at all. Toni, Japanese, living in Hyderabad, has been developing boulder problems in the large rocks just four minute's walk from his apartment. He's working to map climbing problems, meet and encourage new climbers, and help protect the park from development, a serious threat in this rapidly expanding tech-boom city. Solang sees an incredibly small amount of mountaineering traffic, and has tons of potential for un-skied backcountry terrain. The climbing in Hampi is practically limitless, and there is rock in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore...

I forgot how fun it is to climb when you've actually been practicing! Two days in H'bad, four days on the sharpstone in Hampi - this might be more rock than I've been on all year! My (and Lin's and Nishit's) fingertips got hashed for a few days, but now they're starting to toughen into the callouses I used to know. I'd better get out onto the artifical wall here in Bangalore tomorrow, just to use them.

Hampi was a really neat place - I'd heard lots of serious climbers talking about it, read about epic trips there, but didn't really know what to expect in terms of terrain, people, climbing, etc. The town itself is based around ruins from about 1350-1550 AD (I think), with tourists of all nationalities coming to see temples, carvings, etc scattered from the main center on the river to sites many kilometers away. But on the other side of the river there are still rice fields and water buffalo, graceful white birds and bananas and papaya being sold by the road. The climbers all stay here, where it is peaceful and quiet and less than half an hour's walk from the clean-enough (maybe) tin-roofed room you've paid just two to ten dollars for, mosquitos and all. So what that the power is off daily until noon, and again from 6-7pm? Food is cheap, you can avoid the stoned Israeli population with a little work, and there's really not a lot else you have to do. A local rock guide (the only one!) showed me and Lin some easier problems, then we hooked up with bike-race friend Nishit and his mentor friend for some problems that made me remember how good it is to finish a challenging line. My fingers are a little torn up from the sharp granite, but it feels great.

The funny thing? The guide and our two friends (from Pune) were the only Indian climbers in the whole place. The season is just starting, so things aren't crowded yet, but of the 20-25 climbers I met and saw, they were the only ones! There are plenty of historical and social and economic reasons for this that I could ramble about for a while, but here I'll just say that I look forward to an expanding national climbing community growing from the work and encouragement of those who are out there. Keep climbing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another glorious adventure

Well, once again, the mountains do what they want, regardless of planning. The monsoon stayed late this season, and the fall weather patterns have continued to be generally unusual. Generally September and October are a great time to climb in Manali/Solang and the northwestern Himalaya, but the rains stayed well into September, and the weather has been uncharacteristically unsettled throuch most of October.

So Lin and I set our sights on a shorter-expedition peak, only 4-6 days, but I again managed to get sick on day 2 (this isn't a habit I'd like to cultivate), this time with Giardia, a nasty stomach/digestive bug. Check that off on the life list of things I don't need to do again. Concerned with being alone at base camp in a compromised physical condition, I headed back down to Solang to recouperate while Lin headed up Shitidar peak, about 17,500'.

They had fabulous weather through summit day, climbed well (nice job Lin!), then got chased down the valley by clouds and snow the next day. Perfect timing! The weather forecast was for continued unsettled weather. Sure enough, I saw a newspaper story on our return flight to Delhi about the rain and snow that arrived there just as we left. I'm feeling rather thwarted by these mountains, and may have to spend April next spring just camping out, skiing whatever looks good when the weather clears.

On arriving in Delhi, we spent the day doing laundry and going to the IMF, the Indian Mountaineering Federation's headquarters where they have a climbing wall and bouldering area. It has been a while since I've spent much time on rock, so we figured we'd warm up before our next chapter of adventuring. In one of those only-in-India moments, however, we ran across the production of a segment of Indian Sesame Street about climbing, on location at the IMF! Grover and his young friend had just finished a climb and were feeling rewarded but tired, Grover falling asleep on his friend's shoulder. How funny!

From Delhi we headed to Hyderabad to start a more south-Indian itinerary of touristing and climbing. Today we just wandered around this tech-central city (there's actually a district called Cyberabad!), checking out Charminar mosque and the garment variations introduced by a predominantly Muslim population here (as opposed to mostly Hindu in the Delhi area). A different type of architecture from a different historical background - beautiful.

Tomorrow we'll sightsee for a bit, then meet up with a local climber for some bouldering - there are beautiful rocks scattered on low outcrops throughout the city, so there must be some good terrain somewhere. Looking forward to getting hands back on rock...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What a ride

That was, indeed, interesting. One never knows what to expect from an event like this, so it's always interesting. Unfortunately, I had a crazy stomach bug for two days during the race, so didn't complete days two and three, and therefore wasn't in the running for any competition. But there were a total of six women riding at various levels, and about seventy men - Indian Army guys, an organized Aussie group, the barefoot farmer who completes this every year, and many amazing Indian riders from Bangalore, Delhi, and Pune, some competitive, some here for the same reason I was, just to see if we could do it. Nine days, 32,000' elevation gain and loss, 650 kilometers.

The actual logistics included staying in canvas tents set up for us each night by an industrious crew in various school grounds and cricket fields, and mostly Indian food served buffet-style until we couldn't eat any more. Each day saw a variously ignored start time, usually with a freeride section before the first of two or three race stages. I'd never done a stage race before, but the idea is that you have to ride the whole distance over the day, but only certain sections are started in a race format and timed. Finish that section, ride along at your leisure to the next section, and race again. Eventually, get to camp, take your bucket of hot water into a little personal bath tent, splash around with the soap until clean, and get ready to do it again tomorrow.

Terrain? Well, in the mountains there's rarely much flat ground, so days were spent variously climbing and descending 2 to 10% grades, sometimes in race stages, sometimes at whatever pace you wish. On a good day (for me), the road was decently graded, with at least some sections of pavement, making for relatively smooth going. On a bad day, the road was either broken rock or these incredibly obnoxious slate cobbles, laid with the sharp edge pointing up, or an 11km bike-and-hike through steep forest and hillside. Most of the time it was a mix of dirt and gravel with the occasional large rock or muddy section thrown in, and of course a landslide or twenty.

The monsoon this year stayed much later than normal, ending perhaps only a week before the start of the race, so there were a huge number of landslides all across the state of Himachel Pradesh. One or two days saw the entire course rerouted to get past still-closed roads, and every day saw many spots where rocks and dirt had been mostly pushed aside, leaving compacted bumps to remind you to look up to the fresh dirt of the collapsed hillside. Local workers were clearing this stuff by hand, piling rocks and scraping mud aside to open the roads that keep them connected and supplied. Fun times.

The most enjoyable aspect of the ride for me, however, was the people I got to meet. From all over the world and mostly all over India, there were sponsored racers, casual riders, adventure racers, military branches, and a few who had just started biking. And being around the same people for ten days, you get to see a lot about them, much like climbing in the mountains. What they're like when they're tired, hanging out, hungry, overheated, cold, frustrated, racing, taking it easy... You get past the barriers of pleasantry and start to glimpse peoples' motivations and weaknesses, dreams and disappointments, vision and history. We're all standing around waiting an hour or two for dinner - how did you come here? Lin's friend is the hub of the Delhi cycling community and I ended up hanging with a cadre of Bangalore racers and riders, learning and joking and having time to just be.

Probably 30 people were actually competing (the prizes were not-insignificant sums), but many others were there largely for the experience of riding that far for that long and seeing some breathtaking terrain. It is beautiful here, and everyone I ran into was great. Stops for chai, kids cheering by the side of the road, women in fields, men watching us ride through their village - what a amazing way to see this place. The race was actually incredibly organized, in an Indian fashion, with water and road markings and people to help just when it was needed. An incredible experience awaits if you ever want one...

Lin and I have stayed on just north of Manali, in Solang, preparing for our next phase of mountain climbing. The weather has been a little strange this fall, so our dayhike today will buy some time to see what the weather will do. If all's well, we'll leave in two days for a week or more trip to whatever the weather and snow conditions dictate. The good news is we're well-acclimatized and feeling strong, but we'll have to wait and see what the mountains let us do.