Piolet d’Or Winner Tim Miller On a True Climbing Adventure

Tim Miller is the Millennial half of a cutting-edge UK team with veteran Paul Ramsden. The pair has just opened a new route on 6,605m Surma Sarovar in western Nepal. Tomorrow, they will receive a Piolet d’Or for another impressive line they climbed in 2022 on Jugal Spire.

ExplorersWeb spoke to Miller about their latest climb shortly before the UIAGM guide boarded a plane to France for the awards ceremony.

Unknown terrain

The adventure on Surma Sarovar started long before the climbers planted their ice axes on its face, says Miller. As with Jugal, Ramsden had been researching the best place to go. By their standards, that meant somewhere where there was as little information as possible.

“Salimor Khola Valley has had only had a handful of expeditions, most of them over 20 years ago,” said Miller. “[These were] not very successful, so virtually everything in that valley was unclimbed.”

The few peaks with previous ascents had been climbed from adjacent valleys. So their first goal was to check out possibilities in this particular valley.

“We went with no particular goal in mind,” said Miller. “[We had] some Google Earth images that showed three interesting-looking faces, but these satellite images often don’t resemble how the peaks look in reality. There were no actual photos available. The few people who had been there were not around anymore.”

A man goes with a heavy backpack along a big, lonely valley, with snowy peaks in the far end.

A member of the UK team treks toward Salimor Khola. Photo: Hamish Frost

The gorge

After several flights, a bumpy drive, and six days of trekking, the four-person team of Ramsden, Miller, Matthew Glenn, and Hamish Frost set up base camp at the foot of the valley. They were still far from the peaks and faced a deep gorge that barred the way to the upper valley.

“It was several kilometers of very steep terrain, mostly scrambling, with the river running below,” Miller said.

They wound up on the wrong side of the valley. So after the gorge, they had to ford the swift, frigid, at times waist-deep river.

A climber crosses a white-water river in shorts, the strong current up to his thighs.

A full-concentration river crossing. Photo: Hamish Frost


Ramsden and Miller did a first reconnaissance when they decided on their goal. On the second trip in, they carried their climbing gear and supplies and made the single push to the summit. Their two partners went off to attempt another nearby peak.

“Until we got there, we didn’t realize the huge scale of everything,” Miller said. “Just to get to the base of the mountain was an adventure. That was precisely the essence of our trip. Sure, a helicopter would have put us right there, but that was not what we wanted.”

Their trip fit squarely on the exploration side of the spectrum. The whole time, they didn’t see a helicopter, a plane, or even the trail of a plane. Apart from a few locals they met along the way, who were not used to foreigners, they heard no manmade sounds whatsoever.

The climber,with a big backpack, sitting by a river bed in a huge, lonely valley.

Miller takes a break during the approach trek. Photo: Tim Miller


The climb

Eventually, they reached the base of their potential goal and had a good look at it.

“There wasn’t a clear line up the face, because the mountain was complex in its features: ridges and buttresses and glaciers and seracs,” said Miller. “We checked every option until we saw a suitable ascent line and also a possible way down. Only then did we commit to try that peak.”

The climb itself featured a massive, 2,100m face, from the starting point to the 6,605m summit. The first half of the face was mostly up a gully.

“It was not too technical so we progressed quickly, except on a couple of pitches of tricky ice/mixed climbing,” recalled Miller. “But about three-quarters of the way up, there was a steep rock band with no clear passage through it. That was definitely the crux of the climb.”

The climber up an ice-covered rock band.

On mixed terrain. Photo: Tim Miller


On the first day, the pair covered 800 vertical meters. On the second day, they managed another 800m.

“In the second half of that day, we had to deal with a big icefield which provided a tricky, really tiring climb,” said Miller. “Luckily, we didn’t have to dig platforms for the bivouac, thanks to Paul’s self-designed snow hammock.”

On the third day, they climbed six pitches to the rock band. “We expected it would be harder from that point,” said Miller, “In the end, it proved easier than we thought but was still demanding at that altitude, with a big backpack.”

The following day, the climb was easier all the way to the summit. But then the weather turned for the worse.

“We would have liked to start descending that same day, but the descent was tricky and it involved a lot of route-finding,” explained Miller. “So we chose to bivouac right below the summit.”

the route topo makes a u turn arund the main face.

Route topo, showing the way up Surma-Sarovar’s north face on the right, and the descent on the left. Photo: Hamish Frost

The descent

On the fifth day of the climb, they proceeded down. There was lots of fresh snow from the previous afternoon, which made the going even trickier and quite scary because most of the slope was avalanche-prone.

“Also, we descended down a ridge,” said Miller, “so there was not much abseiling. Most of it required downclimbing. That meant slower going. In the end, it took two days more. It was not the hardest part but we were both tired, so mentally, it was the hardest part.”

In total, the climb from base camp to the summit and back to base camp took eight days. Six of those were on the mountain.

A climber on flatter snow terrain, the valley and mountains far, down below.

On the upper sections. Photo: Tim Miller


Both Miller and Ramsden suffered some frostbite, but both are well and on their way to Briançon, in the French Alps, for the Piolet d’Or ceremony. Miller is “totally over the moon” both at the award and at the prospect of a holiday. For Ramsden, it is really no novelty. This is his fifth (!) Piolet d’Or.

Interestingly, although they saw two or three other interesting peaks, Miller shows no big interest in returning to the Salimor Khola in the short term.

“I hope someone else goes there and climbs these peaks,” he says. “But for me, the exploratory aspect of the climb wouldn’t be so rewarding if I returned to a place I already know.”

Close shot of the climbers with helmets and hoods on, cloudy background.

Tim Miller, left, and Paul Ramsden on the summit of Surma-Sarovar. Photo: Paul Ramsden/Mountain Equipment


Miller adds that he and Ramsden make a good team, which is so necessary on an exploratory journey like this one.

“We have different strengths and weaknesses. Paul is 20 years older than I am and he’s done loads of expeditions, so he has a wide experience. He does all the research. Half the battle in this kind of expedition is finding an interesting peak that is also safe. Paul is systematic and meticulous when researching.”

“Then my job is to lead the hardest, trickiest pitches.”

The two climbers have also similar values: no helicopters, for example, and alpine style.

“But Paul is also a fun guy to hang out with. We get on really well and that’s important when you spend six weeks in the outdoors together.”

the four cimbers pose in Base Camp with t-shirts and light trekking trousers.

Left to right, Hamish Frost, Matt Glenn, Paul Ramsden, and Tim Miller. Photo: Hamish Frost


Miller also wanted to highlight the work done by Hamish Frost and Matt Glenn. Although they didn’t succeed because of dodgy conditions, “they made two really cool attempts on big peaks,” he said.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.