Guest post by Christopher Miller
I was down in Australia for the first half of the year, living off the grid for a few months climbing at Mt. Arapiles and the Grampians. One of my close friends/climbing partners, Mike Dobie, dropped me a line about teaming up for some alpine big wall climbing up in China/Tibet later that year along with climber/photographer Garrett Bradley. Stellar virgin rock in a picturesque setting with two of my best buds – it didn’t take much convincing for me to jump on board.
The transit there was long and tiring, though the views were amazing. At one point we were climbing a small pass when we caught a perfect rainbow arcing directly over a smoke stack polluting the beautiful countryside – a powerful juxtaposition and casual reminder of the impact humans can have on the environment.
When we finally arrived, we were greeted by the magnificent yet intimidating sight of the massive granite walls of Jar Jin Ja Bo. We set up basecamp in the Buddhist monastery nestled in the main valley beneath the cliffs. We organized our gear and food, then set off to the neighboring valley where we built our advanced basecamp, home for the next week.
We spent the next two days looking through binoculars and scrutinizing a photo of the wall to sort out a potential line. From our basecamp to the base of the wall was about a two-hour approach – uphill over rocky terrain and loose scree. We were aiming for a single day push of the wall. Our first push to summit was unsuccessful thanks to an unpredicted hailstorm. We waited at a hanging belay for some time in an effort to ride out the storm in hopes that it would subside. Eventually we came to the realization that the storm was not letting up soon and we were forced to bail off the wall and retreat back to basecamp.
We rested for two days before giving another push, hopefully reaching the summit this time. We got up at 4am, typical alpine start. There was moisture in the air, but we were anxious to get back on the wall. We were about a half hour from the base of the wall when it began to drizzle, yet we were determined not to let the rain kill our psyche. When we finally arrived at the base of the climb the rain had slowed down but the climb was still wet. We needed to wait for the rock to dry so we set up a makeshift shelter to out of a tarp, some trekking poles, and two boulders. We got comfy, and prayed that the rain was done and sunshine and a light breeze was on the way. After about an hour, maybe two, the rock began to dry. We wasted no time and got right on the wall as soon as we could.
We quickly reached our previous high point and continued to push on, trying to make up for our late start due to the rain. As we neared the summit, the exhaustion started to kick in. Pushing yourself physically at high elevation is taxing on the body, each pitch felt like two or three. Sore, bloody, and tired we eventually reached the final pitch of the climb. Garrett led this one and was the first to take in the magnificent view from the summit – .which sat at approx. 5300m / 17388ft. As I pulled over the final bulge and scrambled up the last few blocks to the belay, I felt like I was about to collapse. Once I turned around, however, it all made sense. The view was incredible, no photo or words could do it justice. We took a few minutes to admire the view before we got to work and began our descent. The sun was starting to set and we still had a few hours until we’d be back down at basecamp. We rappelled down, hand drilling bolts to rap off of when nut placements weren’t available. Once we were back on the ground my legs felt like jelly, which made the one and a half hour scramble over sleep slopes of loose rock and talus fields quite interesting. At 12:20am we arrived back at basecamp, whipped up some celebratory instant noodles and passed out, still riding the high of our successful ascent and our full body (and mind) exhaustion. It wasn’t until we arrived back down at the Buddhist Monastery a few days later that I was able to fully reflect on the climb. We don’t climb for fame or money, we climb because we love it. Putting our physical and mental limits to the test and going for it. It’s a way of interacting with nature to discover and challenge yourself, it’s truly a remarkable thing.