Frigid Bivy Leads to First Ascent in India’s Zanskar

On August 23, a Basque-Catalan climbing team stood on a Himalayan summit no other human had ever broached.

That day, Tasio Martin and Marc Toralles climbed Punta Guillem Aparicio (5,700m) in the Shafat Valley, Zanskar, India. Martin later called their 740m route a “gift”, despite the horrendous bivouac it forced.

The two climbers called their new route “Txoria Txori”, after a Basque poem about birds and the concept of freedom. Martin and Toralles spotted its “continuous fissures and spectacular rock” from below. They then climbed each pitch free at a relatively moderate maximum difficulty of 7a+. Most pitches land in the 6b range.


For climbers of Martin’s and Toralles’ calibre, that may be easy to free — but in this case, the mountain demanded more than its moderate rating would suggest.

“It was a brutal experience. We were blown away by the quality of the rock we found, the direct line to a virgin peak… And the whole route has been cleared [sic]. It has been a real pleasure to share these experiences with Marc, a special person from whom I constantly learn,” Martin wrote on Instagram (auto-translated).

A cold, wet, lonely bivy

The brutality Martin referenced happened during the team’s bivy episode.

Martin and Toralles ultimately needed two pushes to complete “Txoria Txori”. Halfway through the first one, they had to stop and spend the night. They had planned on the stoppage, but they were not counting on the fusillade of rain, sleet, and hail that rolled in.

They huddled up in space blankets on a narrow ledge midway up the route.

“There were two moments that were a bit critical during the night: 1, when we started to get wet and feel the cold. 2, when we saw various lightning bolts,” Martin said.

“With the thermal blanket we were able to manage something, but we each spent many hours on his shelf, without seeing each other or being able to communicate, surviving as best we could,” he said.

The weather pinned the two climbers in their respective cocoons. Because they holed up against the storm separately, the conditions stymied any direct communication. However, they tethered themselves together with a fixed rope and came up with a strategy.

“We knew that if we did not come to the other’s bivy, that means that he is okay,” Martin said.

Fortunately, the night passed with no emergency visits between the men. Martin called the makeshift camp “unforgettable”.

A pristine first ascent

The two climbers weathered the night and descended to safety after the ordeal. After their boots hit the ground on August 15, they waited out some more inclement conditions (more comfortably this time).

When the sky cleared and they went up again, Martin and Toralles altered their strategy. They powered up the route on their next attempt with minimal gear, resolving every pitch and the descent in a total of “more than” 20 hours.

(Scroll below for climbing action, including the moment Martin reached the summit, captured by Toralles.)


Compared to what they’d just gone through, the final effort must have felt like a light jog. Martin said they trimmed several pitons and a hand drill from their original kit. Along with the now-foregone bivy gear, weight savings were considerable.

In all, “Txoria Txori” is astoundingly clean and approachable for a route on a remote peak like Punta Guillem Aparicio. If you want to discover the product of Martin and Toralles’ resolute work first-hand, plan on bringing a double rack of cams up to a size 4, one number 5, and a rack of stoppers. Martin said the team left stoppers and pitons for each of the 15 rappels, all about 60m long.

“One of the most special activities of my life,” Martin wrote. “A 700m wall in a virgin mountain of the Himalaya. What more could we ask for!”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.