"Maahh...honestly, I'm not even sure I want to see, because your technique is just horrible" he said, when I went to show him a video. "Even Martin said that, didn't he? You're not as good a climber as you'd like to think..."
I was at the fragile intersection of excitement, overreaching and self analysis. Here, everything is amplified - statements deeper than they are, subtle reactions are malicious and each climb is part of a self-esteem circus.
Coming into strength does that. By wanting to show and be acknowledged, it's deeply vulnerable. It was a new climb called Eye of The Bastard. The eye was a perfect 3 finger slopey slot, I don't know who the bastard was - a friend had discovered the boulder and was working on the sit start. I did it from one move up and wanted to share the video.
It had started a week or two ago. A friend and myself were supposed to join him to spend some days at Paraport. We arrived at 6:10 am at the chai shop at the corner of the road leading to the Sanapur reservoir. He was there ten minutes before, as was the plan. We picked up some provisions and then headed, but via a route I hadn't taken before. Cutting across the Ek Number boulder plateau, where he kept pointing at bear scat - dark little clumps with seeds - and saying "Karadi”.
As we walked through wild plateaus, he'd often stop to point towards more esoteric areas - Eagle Rock plateau, for one. Then, he pointed to a small one and said "I've done some new things over there, about 20 problems." On we went, until the pinnacles were visible. The first problem he stopped at was Iron Grip - two perfect crimps and a slightly distant foot, with a rightwards move for a good hold that sets up for the stand.
And then, we came around to the Dharma Cave, which is where we were going to make home. "Dharma Kaya...think the sit start may be around 8B?" he said. He retrieved water, a stashed pad and then everyone settled for a quick nap. The breeze was so good. It was two hours that felt like eight. Coffee before starting. Those who smoked, smoked. And then, we headed to Iron Grip. Nobody sent that evening, but we played on problems all around. He headed back early to make dinner, then panicked because we hadn't returned even after dark. He came screaming "Anaannnttt...Dhillaaaannnn....", which was lucky, because we'd kind of lost our way.
A word about Karadis and their habits, and he showed us what was cooking. "It's really...like a Dal Khichdi...just everything in one cooker...". Veggies, dal, potatoes - all cooked together like a stew of sorts. It tasted great; probably the best vegetarian food I had all season. Tomorrow was proper climbing day. "I'll be up early. Feel free to join whenever you wake up. I'll be at Searching for Soma."
Up early was porridge at 4 am and climbing by 5. Took us three hours to join. Under Soma, it started. "You're not really that good...are you?" he said. What was 'that' good? It didn't matter. I felt like a fraud, a lesser person already. In my mind, it was 7C and done in good form. Perhaps quick work of the early 7's? But, important, was that feeling of being in a 'members-only' club. One where words are whispered behind your back of being a 'great climber...'. Clearly, I had failed there.
I asked him why he thought that and he said "You seem to lack automatism." Sure enough, later, we were under the Paraport Express boulder and my focus was on proving a point. Cutting feet, holding the swing on two crimps. "Aaahhh...tch tch...too much power." Didn't do anything there either, even though my beta ended up working well for the others. But how? I had trained my head off some months ago - laps on an overhang with an 8 kg kettlebell attached. Endless pull ups, lock offs, core work. I had climbed well in the summer, measurably close to some of the strongest. My friend tried offering some feeble support, "Dhillan's actually put up some really good lines in Thurhalli this year...especially one called Fluid Tension".
The next day, we were at other Paraport classics - Central Magnetism and then, some unnamed things around. "It's still so impressive how much Pillu has done..." he said, speaking of Pil's first ascents. I hoped for someone to speak of me in those breaths, some day. On the way back, I asked him how I needed to improve. "Automatism...and you know, don't always be so out there...talking and showing things...be a little quiet."
Some weeks later, the video episode happened and I lost it. There was a full-blown "Fuck you man...enough of this..." tirade. "Dhillaan, I think you're a nice person, you know...it's nothing against you." But I wanted to be a good climber, the person bit was all well. I actually didn't have trouble believing that he liked me, which made me sadder. My climbing really was the problem.
That season went deeper into shit. I tweaked my finger playing a stupid warm-up game. Climbed none of my projects. Stood by watching others having the seasons of their lives. Heard about them making fun of me. Someone even told me my climbing was "painful to watch". Eventually, fell sick and left Hampi with a fever.
But, his words stuck. Swallow your ego and work on your technique. Focus on really feeling your feet push. Higher volume, lower intensity and more awareness. Think less about where I should be. It doesn't come overnight. This stuff defined my training for the season ahead. By the time we met again, I'd enjoyed some success on rock and understood unpleasant jolts may have their value. Equally, the difference between harsh and malicious mouths.
Hari Vieroth was a harsh one. Like the brambles. The cold, windy valleys along the Chandra River. The wilderness of plateaus beyond tourist shacks. The caves that stoic sorts call home. He loved his lemon cake for lunch. Joked about a symphony of coughs between two smokers. And had an eye that gave Indian bouldering so many test pieces. He owned responsibility for places he climbed in - evident in his custodianship of Hampi alone. One of our last conversations was about carrying development forward.
When I received an email that he'd passed away in 2018, it was shocking. He'd apparently been in good form earlier that season and suddenly, cancer caught up.
History can be frail like that. If we don't recognize those inner parts, they may eventually wither. These words are late and far too few. But, at the rough soul of Indian bouldering, Hari Vieroth shall be waiting for more. He's aware of our sense of time.