Top 10 Expeditions of 2023: #5: Meru South

On May 13, Mathieu Maynadier, Roger Schaeli, and Simon Gietl opened a new alpine-style route on the south face of 6,660m Meru South in India’s Garhwal Himalaya. They named their new 800m route Goldfish and proposed a M6+, A1 rating.

It was Maynadier and Schaeli’s second attempt at this line. In the autumn of 2019, they tried the route with Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, but the weather thwarted their attempt.

'Goldfish', the new route in alpine-style on Meru South.

‘Goldfish’, the new alpine-style route on Meru South. Photo: Daniel Hug


Maynadier, Schaeli, and Gietl are top, multifaceted climbers. They rock climb, take on big walls, paraglide, and target alpine-style ascents. They are disciplined mountaineers, climbing in a pure style. Photographer Daniel Hug joined them to document the climb.

The Garhwal Himalaya is a favorite playground for elite climbers. Meru, the three-peaked mountain, lies between Thalay Sagar and Shivling. It includes 6,660m Meru South, 6,310m Meru Central, and 6,450m Meru North.

three hikers in snow

It started to snow during the approach trek. Photo: Daniel Hug


Waiting on the weather

On April 19, the small team drove to Gangotri. Three days later, they started their trek to Tapovan base camp at 4,300m. They were the first climbers to arrive for the spring season.

“The weather is great and the vibes couldn’t be better. We are all excited for the expedition,” Gietl wrote on social media.

One of the sections on Goldfish.

One of the sections on ‘Goldfish.’ Photo: Daniel Hug


In base camp, the climbers had to wait for a weather window. Fresh snow was good for the ski approach but made the route between Camp 1 and Camp 2 pretty dangerous because of possible avalanches.

On May 10, the team finally set off, climbing to Camp 2. Maynadier, hampered by diarrhea, let Schaeli and Gietl lead across rock sections and a snowfield.

The push

On May 12 at 3 am, the trio set off again and climbed until 11 pm without stopping. Before midnight, they found a suitable bivouac spot on an exposed snow mushroom on the wall. There, the three men squeezed into a two-man tent and tried to rest.

The next morning, they were uncertain if they could find a route to the summit. The terrain was more complex. Yet after the first pitch, an ice tunnel appeared, providing what they described as “one of the most original pitches we could imagine.”

Climbing up the steep face of Meru South.

Climbing up the steep face. Photo: Daniel Hug


Three pitches later, they reached the ridge and climbed the last 200m vertical meters on steep ice and in icy winds. On May 23 at 9 am, the three climbers topped out on Meru South’s summit. Reaching the summit was a well-deserved gift after several weeks of finding their way through deep snow, up steep inclines, and past dangerous crevasses.

The descent

Maynadier, Schaeli, and Gietl descended all day without a break to reach the base of the face in the afternoon.

From the south face of Meru South there is a beautiful view over the Garhwal Himalaya.

The south face of Meru South looks over a beautiful view of the Garhwal Himalaya. Photo: Mathieu Maynadier


Their climb perfectly represents avant-garde alpinism: three professional climbers with technical knowledge and skills, forming a small group where team spirit is based on a one-for-all and all-for-one ethos.

They chose a challenging target, did not give up after the first failed attempt, and enjoyed the expedition. They were creative in the face of new terrain. Schaeli, Gietl, and Maynadier are humble alpinists who do extraordinary things.

As Schaeli wrote after opening Goldfish: “Sometimes it’s better to be a goldfish when [the world is] already teeming with sharks.”

From left to right: Mathieu Maynadier, Roger Schaeli and Simon Gietl, on the summit of Meru South.

From left to right: Mathieu Maynadier, Roger Schaeli, and Simon Gietl, on the summit of Meru South. Photo: Simon Gietl

Kris Annapurna

KrisAnnapurna is a writer with ExplorersWeb.

Kris has been writing about history and tales in alpinism, news, mountaineering, and news updates in the Himalaya, Karakoram, etc., for the past year with ExplorersWeb. Prior to that, Kris worked as a real estate agent, interpreter, and translator in criminal law. Now based in Madrid, Spain, she was born and raised in Hungary.