Sunday, September 30, 2007

The climb to Vasuki Taal

28th August

Last night, the weather turned bad. It had started raining sometime after midnight. We were woken up by the sound of rain lashing against the tent. I lost all hope of seeing the clear views of Mt Shivling. The rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping and just for a moment, I thought if we had to use our contingency day here.

But at around 8 AM, it had stopped raining. We got out of our tents and were ready to hit the trail again. Around 9AM, we started for Vasuki Taal (4890 meters,16200 feet).

As we started, I was a little anxious. Almost always when I had read about this stretch, it talked of the last climb which involved ascending using fixed ropes. Since, I had never climbed using ropes, I did not know what to expect and therefore the anxiety.

The start was slow. Walking at this altitude was making a big difference to our speed. Initially when we started, we had to traverse a very long ridge. The Raktvarna glacier was now on our left as we headed towards Upper Nandanvan, which serves as another camp for climbing Bhagirathi II. The slopes of Bhagirathi II were visible from a distance and we wondered how climbers braved these hazardous scree, rock and ice slopes.

On the way, we met a group of climbers who were returning from a successful summit attempt of Mt. Satopanth(7075 meters, 23347 feet ). Satopanth is one of the most popular mountains in this area and has been regularly climbed by different teams. Vasuki Taal serves as a base camp for Mt. Satopanth. As we congratulated them, they wished us luck and asked us to be careful on the treacherous route. At the place where the ridge ended, we had to descend down to the glacier floor. Raktvarna glacier had given way to Vasuki Glacier, another of the tributary glaciers of Gangotri Glacier. We took a small break at this point.

Moiz had a look at the route, came to me and said, “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is we are not far, but the bad news is look where do we have to go from here”.

I could now understand why some teams have returned back from this point. The descent to Vasuki Glacier and the next ascent to Vasuki Taal do look daunting.

The only person amongst us who was comfortable on these boulders and was more than happy to traverse them was our own Mountain Goat - Moiz. It didnt matter to him, if the boulders were big or small, loose or fixed - he just sailed on them.

The descent was indeed very risky. When we were actually negotiating the Vasuki glacier we could hear the sound of glacier cracking. I remember telling myself that I should get used to negotiating glaciers and the scary sounds that it keeps making.

The Vasuki glacier is very small when compared to the Gangotri glacier which we had to cross the day before. Crossing the glacier didn’t turn out to be as difficult as I had thought. The next part looked very tough though. We had to climb a ridge to reach the campsite at Vasuki Taal. There was no visible trail on the ridge. I had also read in all the travelogues that all the members of the group used fixed ropes here. Since it had been raining in the morning, the rocks had become very slippery which added that extra scariness to the climb.

Our guide and one of the porters fixed a rope. The rope was not long enough to reach the top. We had fallen short by at least 20 to 25 meters. Harsh and JP went first, then I and Sandeep followed by Moiz. While climbing, I did dare to look down and got the scare of my life. More than half of the way, we climbed using rope but after that our porters had to help us to reach to the top of the ridge as we did not have enough rope. The climb again was not as difficult as it had seemed.

After we reached the top, we could see our beautiful camp site in the shadow of the mighty Vasuki Parvat (6792 meters, 22413 feet). We also saw that there were few other tents pitched there. After going down till our camps we understood that there was a group from Slovenia on an expedition to climb Mt Satopanth. They had setup their base camp here. We reached our campsite at around 1.20 PM after walking for about 4 hours.

Joining the Slovenian team were a group of Indian climbers as well. One of them, Mr. Suresh Polekar, invited all of us to have tea with their team. Talking to Mr. Suresh and his members was quite an experience. They had a lot of experience in this area and they shared a few stories with us. They were quite motivating as well and told us that we should be able to finish our trek comfortably.

All of us still had a mild headache, and were beginning to worry a little about AMS.

One of our biggest worries was, one of our team members, Yogesh had still not arrived at the camp even after 3 hours. Budhi and two porters had been waiting for him at the point where the ropes had been fixed. Yogesh arrived at the campsite with Budhi after about 4 hours. His condition did not look very good and he was showing all the signs of AMS.


No comments: