My first expedition takes me to the Indian part of the Himalayas. The Garhwal is not just breathtakingly beautiful, it is also a highly spiritual region. The divine mountains are visited by pilgrims from all over India. Apart from that, surrounded by peaks between six and seven thousand meters high, the holy source of the Ganges River arises from here. Religion and nature are impressively interconnected with each other in Garhwal. The 6.352 meter high Arwa Tower will teach and shape me.
My friends Stephan Siegrist, Denis Burdet and Thomas Senf have the high aim of being the first to climb the north face of the Arwa Tower. I am grateful that they are taking me with them. Being relatively inexperienced in large expeditions, not only do I join their project, I also follow my own aim: Repeating the French route through the west pillar. Yet I also gain a lot from the alpine experience and logistics of the accurate Swiss team members. In the run up, there is little for me to take care of. My expedition is supposed to be like a type of trial lesson. It later develops into a dramatic crash course in expedition mountaineering. A Swiss girl, Anita Kolar, who was 18 years-old at the time, will form a close friendship with me.
From Delhi onwards, we spend days on a bus driving on bumpy roads via Rishikesh andJoshimath, heading for Badrinath. From there, we are accompanied by carriers and a cook up to the 4,350 meter high base camp. I am the cook’s favorite, being the only one able to eat normally. All of the others are having problems with diarrhea and are eating plain rice instead. Although the three chaps are able to recover swiftly, Anita appears to be getting worse. She also suffers from headaches.
Anita and I trained together in the run up to this tour on the Großglockner. There I already felt the amount of pressure Anita was putting herself under. It was the same here, on the way to the base camp. Although Anita wasn’t at her physical best, she kept pace courageously. Her motivation and ambition for an 18-year-old is remarkable. However, she covered up her weakness. When we arrived at the base camp, she collapsed in her tent, hardly reacting when we spoke to her. She was coughing non-stop, rattling. Her condition was getting worse by the minute. We all knew immediately, what this means.
She had to be taken down - straight away. The men made a sledge from a haulbag. In a six hour, energy-sapping nighttime operation, we pulled and carried Anita to an empty military installation in Gastoli. The appropriate medicine and the lower altitude worked,, thank God. The following morning, she could come down with me to Badrinath and then take the bus down the valley to Joshimath. There she was able to spend a few days in the hotel recovering. On my way back up to the base camp, I can’t stop thinking whether we will still have the time to try climbing the face. My impatience is completely out of place. Particularly up in the high mountains. I am satisfied that we were able to help Anita. That is what really matters.
After a few days, Anita makes it back to us. Of course she is feeble and somewhat groggy. Yet she has made a reasonable recovery. We light up, telling each other jokes, fooling around, laughing and experience a lot of joy. The incident, although being very dramatic, did our team some good. It welded us together. One for all. We’ve learned a lesson. It’s the team that makes you strong, not the ego. Sometimes that even weakens you.
Anita and I eventually dare a single attempt at the west face and we complete two-thirds of the route before the weather changes. I have to admit that I don’t find the upcoming storm inconvenient. We abandon and return back to the camp. Taking responsibility for Anita is too big a risk. I am not yet prepared for this situation. By the way, in Sanskrit, Arwa means „horse“. It didn’t want to tame both of us - „Expedition-Greenhorns“ yet. Also Stephan, Denis and Thomas have a fight on their hands, before they succeed in the first ascent of the route „Lightning Strike“ , they spend a whole twelve days on the face.