Sep 7, 2016
TT: self, middle aged guy (42) who thinks middle age starts at 50. Constantly juggling work, family and sport (running and climbing). 5’5”, 52 kgs.
Aravind: 23-year old committed climbing partner. Totally driven, has solid endurance background (ultra cycling and hiking) and lots of bouldering. 6' and 57 kgs
Dhiru: My younger bro and first hiking partner since childhood; has lived in BLR all his life. Beginner climber but good head for heights and good outdoors sense. 5’10”
Ruthu: Enthusiastic niece (Dhiru’s daughter), aged 10, diminutive, 4’
All technical descriptions taken from Aravind’s notes made on the spot after each climb. The rest of the blurb is mine and I have appended sentences where my description varies from Aravind’s.
Day 1: September 1, Thursday: VIAD
Place/name: VIAD - Varlakonda In A Day (attempt)
Participants: TT + Aravind
60 m rope is just fine for all climbs here.
These climbs were identified and developed by my good friends and age-buddies Keerthi Pais and Sohan Pavuluri in 2015
This is an amazing topo.
VIAD is how the idea of this climbing trip was born. I met Aravind during my May 2016 trip, when we managed to do most of the 6b-6c routes on the left side of the crag. We had then decided we were both willing and capable of finishing all 20 routes in a day. As an operations management professor who keeps preaching about efficiencies, maximising the climbs in a given amount of time held a lot of aesthetic and practical appeal to me. And I found it hard to say no to the youthful energy and optimism of Aravind. So we committed to this 5-day trip about a month back, waiting for the D-day and praying for good weather.
Aravind came from Chennai and reached my house in Sanjaynagar around 6:30 am. We had breakfast and started from home by 7:30. Yeah, we could have started earlier but work keeps chasing me, I could not sleep early enough the previous night.
Packed lunch at the Nandi restaurant (I recommend this over the one mentioned in the topo; this one's at the Nandi Hills turning) and reached the Varlakonda crag at 9:00am. Note: Varlakonda is about 8 kms farther than described in the topo.
The goal was simply to do as many climbs as possible. We would share the leads (there only a few routes that have lead bolts) and both us would climb all routes. This was the most time efficient way to enjoy the maximum number of routes in the limited time.
We set off to the right side of the crag (routes 16-20). Neither of us had been there before but it wasn’t too hard to reach; just orientate yourself with features on the rock face and the topo. Once we reached the crag, we could only locate four climbs there (unlike five, 16-20 listed in the topo), so I will go with the numbering on the topo and assume #16, the 3-pitch route, to be non-existent.
19, Rola, 6a+, Lead route
I started the day by leading this. I was touching natural rock after 60 days, so I was pretty excited. I led this route without much drama, with a minor rest or two. Sustained good route, well-bolted. No rings at the top but easy enough to transition to the route to the right (#20).
Aravind then made a clean send and set up the top rope for Route #20.
20, Indefatigable 6a, Top rope
Aravind and I both found it pretty hard, fell twice. The route definitely felt harder than routes 17-19 which are graded 6a+ to 6b. Crux is at the first 20 feet, slabby moves. Has rings to lower.
17: In the Womb, 6b Lead route
I then led route #17; again I probably rested on the rope once or twice but completed it reasonably well. Aravind made a clean send and set up a TR for the next climb, route 18,
18: Bee Attack, Route, 6b, Top rope
Sustained, no particular crux. Aravind made a clean send, I did the same soon after, Biners at the top to lower off.
It was noon when we pulled out the rope; we had lost most of the time flailing on route 20, apart from exploration. We repacked our stuff and headed down back to the trail at the base and then toward the left side crag. The area now has a lot of vegetation due to monsoons, it was a bit hard to find the correct trail but we did reach the crag without wasting too much time.
11: P3, 6c. Lead route
Aravind led this with 3 rests, no falls.
I then top roped it with maybe a rest.
We kept the sequence such that once roped up and shoed, we would each try to finish 2-3 climbs in one go by setting up top ropes on adjacent routes. Only a few routes have maillon rings, so this involves a few back and forth transitions to set up TRs and back to a route from that you can be lowered or rap off.
12: Himse, 6b+, Top Rope
No specific crux, sustained all through, superb moves. Don’t use the ledge on the left which is used for P3. Traverse right once you reach the patch of grass in the rock. The traverse at the top to set up the next top rope is bad and scary, as the next anchor is lower, and has potential for massive swing fall.
Rain break: 2 hrs
It started raining at 3:00 pm. It was raining fairly heavily, with water streams forming on the rock face and I would have turned back, but Aravind suggested that we wait under an umbrella for the sun would come out. We ate lunch and in 2 hours the rain had stopped and some routes were coming back in condition.
13: Hard Omega, 6b+, Top Rope
First move is the crux. The rest of the route felt easier than 6b+
It was Dhiru’s brand new Mammut dry rope; with the rain the rope became slippery and I was straining to keep tight belay (braking and holding was safe and fine, but taking in hard with my hand friction was what strained me).
14. Street Hawk, 6b????, Top Rope
Aravind thinks this is the hardest route on the entire crag (quite possibly a 7a). The route starts below the obvious pocket and the first one fourth of the route is the major crux and is super sustained with hardly any rests. Super crimpy and sharp. After that the route eases up considerably.
15: Eagle’s Eye, 6c, Top Rope
First moves are the crux. Use the distinctive black knob (~ 8mm) first to pull with your right hand, and then to stand on. I think if that breaks off the route would jump to 7a or higher. The rest of the route is 6b+ ish and sustained. I felt this was the hardest climb; in my previous trip I had been unable to do it even after multiple tries.
I had placed a small personal maillon at the top (two bolts) during my last trip when we were in a hurry to leave; took it back as what this needs is a sturdy non-rusting maillon.
10: Why, 6c, Top Rope
Decent traverse to set up top rope from 11, P3.
Crux is 10-15 feet above ground; rest of the route is easier. Has two maillons on the top.
9: Feel the Flow, 6c+, Top Rope
2 maillons on the top. Sustained route with a lot of slopers. The major crux is taking off from the ground. There is a major hold at the start that was filled with creepy crawlies (about 100 of them, the brown colored 1-2 inch thingies that come out during monsoons and stink if crushed), the gross factor was too much for me, it was already getting dark by then, so I opted out of attempting this climb. Aravind was able to circumvent them and managed to climb this one too and set up the top rope for Spider (Route 8).
Note that one can just as well set up top ropes for routes 8-10 approaching from the left, by leading Delicate Affair 6a+, which in my view is the finest, most uniformly challenging climb at this grade.
8: Spider, 6b, Top Rope
By this time it was already 7pm and completely dark. I had climbed this route easily multiple times during my previous trips with kids but I struggled this time. Groping in the dark for nice friction holds that do exist, gives you a feel for how it must be for the blind.
Eventually we were done with this around 7:30 pm. Some more time lost in searching for our gear/stuff lying scattered around and finally we headed back down around 7:45 or 8 pm. As for our climbing muscles, we were both perfectly fit to log in another 8-10 pitches up to 6b that evening. I am familiar with routes 4-7 from my previous trips. Nevertheless, at this time it was it was pitch dark and vegetation was overgrown, everything around was wet to the core (including the rope, of course) and driving home safely was top priority. So we were done for the day, VIAD or not.
We immediately lost the trail. We did some stiff bushwhacking and got to the car at 8:30pm. It was close to 10pm when we reached home (Sanjaynagar). It was a fulfilling day with a good mix of bushwhacking and wetness to go with the hard climbs. The only thing I didn’t like was reaching home late and sleeping even later. It would eat into our next day’s climbs.
Day 2, Friday: Gethnaa Rock (Madhapura)
TT + Aravind
Appa and Ruthu
Topo here: mountainproject.com/v/11167846...
Drained from yesterday, left from Sanjaynagar around 9:00am. Our earlier plan was to sleep over at Ramanagaram on Day 2 but Ruthu had a holiday and as soon as we were ready and loading the car, she longingly but shyly asked if she could join. I was suddenly torn between my selfish goal to maximize my own climbing and give due undivided time to my climbing partner vs. a kid that asking me longingly, I could see it in her eyes. I looked at Aravind. Without hesitation he said yes, “Sure, come along, we are not fully rested today, we are not going all out, so we can easily accommodate you”. Then my dad offered to come along to take care of her. So we left as a party of four.
Reached the crag around 1130
Aravind led Sunday Brunch and Hold Me Back; I struggled on “Hold me Back” (which I have led well in the past), and didn’t push myself hard, as I wanted to conserve my skin and muscles for TR Dreams, which I had not seen before. I just set up tope rope for Knee Man’s Land and let Aravind climb it. I also made half-hearted attempts at NTR and gave up, because first, I was just not recovered from yesterday, and second, pushing too hard would mean an injury that would jeopardize future days’ climbs.
Led TR Dreams with a few rests. Ruthu was dying to climb a few more pitches (after struggling on Hold My Back), but by then it started raining and we made a quick exit.
Drove back to BLR and slept at Sanjaynagar. Had a late night sleep because there were some office crises that I had to douse. I hate it when I am fully exerted but cannot rest well and recoup all that I have painstakingly lost in terms of broken muscle and tendon fibres.
Day 3, Saturday: Gethnaa Rock (Madhapura)
Participants: TT + Aravind
Late start; reached the crag close to Noon.
Aravind led TR Dreams. We each did 1-2 repeats of the upper part of TR Dreams to figure out the moves, it still felt difficult.
Top-roped Sunny Ka Funda, nice crack climb. Just watch for how the climber will swing in case of a fall at the start and position the belayer.
After that we got down to the ground.
I set up a top rope to the right, and barely climbed one, the finger skin started hurting, so I called off my climbing for the day, just belayed Aravind. Aravind climbed three top ropes there.
Left the crag around 6:30 pm.
Overall, what I feel about this crag is, although it is rated as one of the most accessible climbs for beginners, the leads are not beginners friendly, especially TR Dreams. The finger holds are too sharp and the grading is stiff. I felt beginners are much better off at Varlakonda left side, Rastha Café, Achalu or Senapathy crags; that’s where I would recommend my brother’s family to start.
Proceeded to Mandya for overnight halt
Day 4 (Sunday): Gowda’s Farm and Rastha Cafe
Started from Mandya at 6:45 am, just as Dhiru and Ruthu started from BLR. We met at Ramanagaram bus stand, had breakfast and proceeded to Gowda’s Farm.
Straightforward approach, we reached the crag around 10am. It is only after reaching the crag that I realized I had been here in 2010 when I used to chauffer Keerthi’s sub-junior climbing team kids. Those days before the area became vulture sanctuary we used to approach it from Ramadevara Betta.
5. Middle route, Right, 6b+/6c
Led this quite securely with one or two rests at the crux, Dhiru belaying me:
Detailed info from source FB page :
Sohan’s description: “5. Middle route, right start. 5.10d-11a (6b+-6c). Get on the boulder, clip right and traverse right. The start is on thin holds on the slab, and doesn't letup for about ten odd feet. Thereafter, the next crux requires a reachy slab move, before the route traverse left and straight up. Three star route. Gerhard Schaar & Pranesh Manchaiah”
Not pumpy; good footwork and positioning at the crux. The upper half in more like 5b-5c and super fun; gives a summit experience at the top. Solid chemical eye-bolt + ram horn bolt anchor. Totally stress-free.
Aravind and I then top roped it and set up a burly rope so that Ruthu could spend a lot of time top roping it. She managed to clean send it (TR) eventually. I think she has talent and hunger and she will do well if given the opportunity.
Aravind and I also did a variant: climbing from under the boulder at the start, lovely chimney-face climb. I enjoyed it a lot more than climbing over the boulder; it is a touch harder, but still below the crux difficulty. We would highly recommend this alternative to the over-the-boulder start.
Route 4 middle route, Prema’s Chapati, 6a+
Aravind then led this, I top roped it. Routes 3 and 4 share the anchor, again a pair of solid horn bucket and eye bolt.
We also let Ruthu climb this. Dhiru didn’t have shoes and he couldn’t climb.
Ruthu on 5. Middle route, right.
Blue rope on 3. Middle route, left
Route 3, Middle route, Left 6c+
Aravind and TT both did this on top rope
Aravind did it first; he crossed the crux with a few quick tries and he thinks it is 6b.
I felt, going right under the roof it truly deserves a 6c+ rating. For me, it was probably the hardest single crux move in this trip. The beta that Aravind gave was very helpful: pull on the right hand sharp edge hold and then reposition your hand to mantle.
Route 3 and 4 can be climbed with a 60m rope but barely so. Make the belayer stand on the boulder, or use counterweight mechanism to stay within 60 total length. In any case, tie the ends of the rope!
7. Far right slab start (right most route). 5.10c (6b).
TT led this with a few attempts at the start to launch off into the climb (there is now some annoying tall grass at the start, which needed clearing), from there on it is fine, probably a clean send. Upper 2/3rds of the route is far easier than 6b. Good two bolt anchor with maillons. Aravind top-roped this.
6: Far right slab, left route, 5.10d, 6b+/6c
We both did this on top rope. Start is slabby technical; managed it after a few quick tries at the base. Aravind thinks the start is harder.
As for the crux,
TT: I couldn’t clear the crux. Maybe height dependent, or maybe that is just an excuse, but there seemed no way I could reach the nice crack-jug hold. After several futile attempts, thinks this is 7a for someone 5’5” and shorter. Had to pull on a QD to get over to the jug-crack. For a tall climber, pulling this jug (like a sharp pull-up) is the crux whereas for shorties, there is a much harder move to just reach this jug (which was just beyond me). After the crux it was straightforward, nice steep rough slab.
Aravind: thinks the crux wasn’t that hard; 6b+ is about right.
As soon as we were done with these climbs it started raining, around 4:30 pm.
We made our way to the left most routes (1 and 2, Kamasutra) hoping it would dry up soon. But once we reached there, I reasoned that we would be better off going to Rastha Café (use the driving/walking time for the rock to dry up), because they have some top-ropes; it would be good to show Dhiru and Ruthu to climb independently in future. We also knew Sohan and team were putting some bolted routes; a good chance to meet up.
We reached Rastha Café crag base around 6pm, after a 10-15 mins approach from the car. Ruthu and Dhiru proceeded to hike up to the hill summit to get a lay of the land and enjoy the views.
There used to be three top rope routes on Rastha Café back in 2015 May when I had met Sohan’s team and they were still considering setting up lead routes. Route 1 anchor is easily reachable by hiking up, 2 is further up from 1 and required a bolt-safety to access the top rope. 3 is a distinctive ladder pattern climb, I have no idea how to set up TR. I had done these climbs on TR back then, with multiple rests.
All three had been recently bolted now.
Route 1 is probably 6a or 6a+, nearly vertical; we prioritised our options and skipped it.
We started by leading the middle bolted route (2); took off from the boulder/ledge (rather than the ground below) managed to lead it with a few rests. I remembered the start move (which is easier than it looks) from my previous trip in 2014.
We both then top-roped it; it didn't feel any easier on TR. Sustained vertical, possibly 6b or 6b+.
By this time we were rapidly running out of daylight and Dhiru and Ruthu were back with us urging us to hurry up. Yet there is always the temptation to get in one more last climb (since we would not be coming back to Ramanagara in a while). So we went for the next one to the right.
Route 3 (ladder-like)
Aravind tried leading it, but after the first 3 bolts he found it too heady. I offered to lead it from there, but there was no way I would jump on to the route (the first move from ground up requires you to be taller than 5’10, or jump up to the generous jugs), so I pulled the rope to launch myself on to the climb, and from there on finished the climb, pulling on a QD. It was an absolute race against time as it was getting dark. The route felt 6c or 6c+ then; sustained vertical/slight overhang, and pumpy.
Caution: this is a sheer vertical or overhanging route with no rope friction. With just 5% body weight difference between us and despite having a new stretchy rope I was getting lifted off when Aravind on lead used to rest abruptly or fall even a few inches from bolts 3 or 4! This was another reason why I took over the lead from Aravind, I didn't allow him to push hard and potentially take a lead fall.
In the end we were both able to complete the climb and lower off safely and reach the car just as it got dark, else with Ruthu with us it would have been needlessly "adventurous".
Day 5: Uddanapalli Betta
Dhiru and family
We reached the area around 10am.
Directions: It is not “extremely easy” to reach the climbs.
Park the vehicle at the coordinates, the first bunch of shady trees before the mound of coconuts, don’t go all the way to the main trail that leads you to the trail to the summit (which is what locals would direct you to).
Take the jeep road/trail that appears to the right and follow it and turn left, you will see a power plant to your right. The bolted faces are behind (not visible from the main road; basically you need to go around to see the routes). The three easier routes are to the extreme right; don’t reach them directly from the base as it is longer or trickier. Instead, approach the first climb, Takelage and then veer off to the right once you are level with the start of the climbs.
The approach is a good 15-20 mins hike if you know the way; we took maybe an hour-plus, with all the stuff we were carrying and with the family in tow and exploring from multiple directions. We regrouped at the right most routes. Aravind quickly set up top ropes for 4 and 5 (Monu’s Backyard and Easy Peasy, 5.8/5b). They are very short routes, but seemed more like 5c to me as it felt at my limit climbing barefoot. Dhiru and family would spend the time there while Aravind and I would go to the routes 1-3 on the left.
From here, Sohan’s description is pretty accurate and I will just add as my personal experiences.
The trail leading to the start of Takelage is fun.
1. Takelage 6b
I led this, found the first four bolts challenging, rested at every bolt, and at 3-4, even managed to z-clip for the first time in my life. Thanks to Aravind for calling out in time. I can understand why Sohan says the first 20 feet can flummox some: there are several features actually, and you tend to get confused by too many options. Thereafter it is a bit run out but nothing too hard, I got enough rests to cruise along smoothly.
Two bolt anchors with 4 maillons. The right-side bolt was loose, I tightened it with my nut key with my judgment but I always worry about folks who don’t understand bolts and can over-torgue and screw up the whole thing permanently and dangerously.
Aravind then did a clean send.
2. Smoking Chimneys 6b. Two-pitch route
Aravind led P1, 6b.
“Sohan’s description: starts with the crux move of the entire route. If the start feels harder than the 5.10C, that is probably because you have to solve the beta. Not a straightforward move.”
Aravind led P1 from the right side of the bolt and did a clean ascent. Anchor belay with 4 maillons.
As follower I was carrying a pack weighing about 5 kgs and I found the start extremely difficult. I fell at the start and tried a different approach, from left-below; felt like a solid 6c or higher move, one of the 4 hardest moves in this entire trip, but it could be due to pack weight. In any case this was a completely different move from what Aravind, a six-footer took.
From there on it was nice and even, maybe 6b.
I led P2, which is a nice scramble till the last 2 bolts, which are fun chimney moves to the boulder field/ledge. Aravind cruised up, with the pack repositioned on his chest to allow chimney moves. Lovely to stay up there and enjoy a meal/drink and take in the scenery and breeze.
Overall an extremely enjoyable multi-pitch with easy walk off. The key is to get past the first two bolts of P1 and then you will be rewarded.
3. Love Me Tendon/Mastan 6b+
I led this, but the crux is the first 2 bolts, I rested a few times and even then didn’t do it all cleanly. Here again, the holds are there, the friction is there, but there are multiple options; you need to figure out what works best for you. I can imagine if Ruthu were here, she would be doing several moves more than Aravind does to get to Bolt 2, but then for her tiny hands the holds would be pretty good.
Caution: When we went the first hangar rotated freely, it requires attention.
I was up on the second bolt when Dhiru yelled out from below (he had had got a call from home) that the Cauvery water issue had escalated and we had to turn back asap to avoid problems on the way back. After the third bolt the climb became straightforward. I didn’t find the route heady at all, in fact I would be fine if the last bolt (before the anchors) had not been there; it is secure climbing with features for the feet.
Aravind quickly top roped it. He wanted to lead it again; so did I but I had to resist the temptation and get us both down asap. Dhiru helped carry all the packs while we quickly cleaned the anchor at Easy Peasy and briskly made our way back to regroup at the cars and head home. We reached in good time, before the road blockage/disruptions. This was not even a half day’s job, as the climbs barely last 3 hours, but nevertheless quite fun and time-efficient.
In conclusion, I think this was a perfect climbing partnership. I had some qualms about pairing up with someone so youthful and so much into climbing, whether I would be able to “satisfy him” (I know because I have many great friends whose friendship and companionship I absolutely love, but they are generally spent while I am still craving for a few more last pitches), but in the end I felt we synced up pretty well. Yeah, we could both have done another couple of pitches in the whole trip, he could have notched a couple more pitches than me given his faster recovery rate, but what we accomplished including family time and in a stress-free and injury-free manner was more than enough to justify this trip.
Weather held up awesome, each afternoon showering only lightly except Day 1 when it poured and spoilt our VIAD attempt.
Overall, I would give this trip 5/5. Been ages since I had a climbing partner more ambitious and motivated and stronger than me to push me.
Joined Jul 8, 2015
Sep 8, 2016
Cool to hear about climbing in India, thanks for posting up.
From Sydney, Australia
Joined Sep 9, 2010