Sunday, September 30, 2007

The D-Day

2nd September

We were all woken up by a thunderous sound last night at about 2 AM. Actually nobody was sleeping. We just couldn’t sleep what with those avalanche sounds. Sandeep rushed out of the tent without putting any warm clothes. The sound had been so scary and so was the avalanche. The naughty Avalanche peak had been at it again. This was one of the biggest avalanches we had seen in the day and we had seen more than twenty five. The snow landed in the glacier and continued to flow till it stopped just a little distance from our camps. We were saved by the depth of the glacier. If the glacier had not been as deep, the following year some other groups would be picking at our boxes and utensils.

The weather had turned really sour too. It had been snowing the whole night so we decided to postpone our early start by a few hours to let the weather settle down.

Till about 5.30 AM there were no signs of weather clearing and we couldn’t wait any longer. Finally our guide asked us wrap up things and to get ready to leave. We didn't have anything much to do. We had to wear our warm cloths, gaiters, sunglasses, wrap up the sleeping bags, mats etc. But all this took the greater part of the hour and took a great deal of our energy. The porters had already packed up the tents; we had some very light breakfast, did our customary huddle, prayed for good weather and started for the pass at around 6:15 AM.

Today we were walking for the first time on white glacier and no boulders. That was some relief but the altitude was killing. We were negotiating the glacier between the barren Kalindi Peak and the deadly Avalanche peak. Just after some time, we all had to stop and all of us including our guide and few porters had to rope-up. The path was laced with deadly crevasses and we weren’t taking any chances. It did take some time initially for all of us to adjust to climbing with the ropes. After some time I think all of us adjusted to each other’s pace. Our guide and leader porter were finding the way between the crevasses using their ice axes.

While moving towards the pass, I remembered our earlier ascent of the Thamsar Pass ascent and how we had got down with fatigue. I had already prepared my mind not to repeat the same again and take things slowly instead of rushing up.

Loud avalanches were common and by now we had got used to these giants. We were moving slowly but cautiously on the glacier because of crevasses. After climbing a certain distance, our guide asked us to remove the ropes as we had passed the crevasse field.

As we un-roped and climbed on the rocks of the Kalindi Peak, Budhi pointed at the bodies of the climbers from Pune who had died while attempting Avalanche peak.

While we moved on rocks, some of our porters were still following the path on the glacier. After a while, we too joined them on the glacier. Just when we were about 100 meters below the, one of our porters, Govind, fell down in a hidden crevasse. We could see that he was in the crevasse till his shoulders and just then Budhi pulled him up using his ice axe. My heart had missed all it beats till then.

Finally after a long haul, at around 9 AM, we reached the pass. It was really a very emotional moment for me. We were standing at nearly 6000 meters (5947meters, 19600 feet to be exact). It took some time for me before the feeling could sink in.

As all of us congratulated each other on the pass, we couldn’t help but feel emotional. We had negotiated glaciers, trampled on boulders, camped on precarious ridges, battled the thin air and now here we were, on top of Kalindi Khal.

The only thing that upset me was, the weather was still bad and this prevented the grand views that one would expect. It was continuously snowing and even the Kalindi peak was not clearly visible. We didn't get any views from ~6000m. I had read about the views from Kalindi Pass.Kalindi Pass and seen the views from top, there is very little left in the world to be seen", one such article had said. But then it all depends on weather and at such height chances of weather being generous with you were very less. At the top, Sandeep told me not feel to bad about the weather and instead feel good that we could do it.

Everybody was happy. We happily clicked photos in different victorious poses.

Actually hats off to our porters, they are the real heroes. With very minimum or almost no gear, no proper gloves, no proper shoes, no warm clothes and carrying weight with happy faces, singing songs, they had crossed the pass. One of the senior porters offered Pooja” to the Gods.

We spent around 20 to 25 minutes on the top. The snowfall was getting heavier. We still had to go down a very long way. We again roped up for the descent. There was a complete whiteout by now and we knew that the entire snowfield till our next campsite of Raj Padav was heavily crevassed. One of the senior porters and Budhi were our leaders. This time the entire team including all the porters and we had roped up together. It was a very slow moving line and since the porters had the habit of walking fast, initially there was some chaos on the line. But then immediately, it was all sorted out. Budhi and one of the senior porters were checking the crevasses using their ice axes and then generally everyone followed their foot steps

The biggest mistake which we did while starting from the base camp this morning was, we didn't fill our water bottles. Actually there was no water source near the camp and when Harsh and I had gone to fill the bottles, there was no water left in the kitchen ten. All of us were extremely thirsty and getting dehydrated while descending down. I resorted to eating snow and literally ate lots of it before one of the porters asked me not to eat so much snow.

Finally we got some rocks on the way so we decided to take some rest before moving ahead. We ate some chocolates and had some fruit which helped to some extent compensate for the water. All through the descent we were walking on fresh powder snow but now we could see the hard ice field with crevasses. We descended from the slippery rocks and moraines and then the negotiating of ice field was really a difficult part. Again it was the experience of our senior porters and guide. They were opening the path for us.

On the way we found a pair of Koflachs and gloves scattered near a crevasse. I wondered who would throw away his shoes/gloves at this point. It was only later in Ghastoli that we learnt that about10 days ago, in one of the groups, a porter died on the descent to Raj Padav, after falling into a crevasse.

Everybody was now starting to feel tired. For me, I actually had got sick of walking in the shin deep and sometimes knee deep snow. Then ultimately I asked one the porters "Ye snow kab khatam hoga" (“When will this walking on snow end?”) and then with smiling face he replied "madam jaise hi ye snow khatam hoga boulder chalu ho jayenge" (“madam, just after the snow ends, you will have to start walking on boulders”). I didn’t say anything further.

Finally the snow field ended and the boulder zone started. Suddenly I saw a huge chunk of ice, as big as a mid size car fell from a mountain nearby. It made a sound which would have been scary but now we were used to the sounds of avalanches and falling rock. The only part which I didn’t like was, the rock had fallen on the way where we had to descend. The descent appeared very treacherous. I had heard that trekkers rappel using ropes to get down from the snow field to the boulder zone. I asked Budhi, but he said, he would cut steps in the ice and would make way for us. It took a complete one hour for all of us to descent to the boulder zone. We had to descend a further one hour before we could see our campsite. Finally we reached "Raj Padav (4900 meters, 16300 feet)" at around 3.30 PM. We had started at around 6.15 AM so it had indeed been a long day. After reaching the campsite, I really didn't want to move from the place where I was resting but it started raining again and had to forcibly go and arrange the mats inside the tent.

Once inside tent, I sat quietly for sometime and recollected all the moments of the day. I was thinking, was it really such big day? Deep inside my mind I still felt bad as we didn’t get to see any of the famed views from top of the pass. But then, I feel it was indeed a great day. We had been up at nearly 6000 meters and had crossed the pass without any serious incidences. As I talked to the porter who was leading our pack, he told me about the deadly crevassed zone that we had crossed. He was telling JP; "Bas sir ji aaya gaye thik thak varna to aaj thik thak aaney ka chance thoda kam lag raha tha.". (“Sir, we somehow managed to come till here alright. Otherwise the chances of us reaching this place safely were not looking good”).

After sometime, Sandeep and I went the other tent, to join rest of the group. Every day in the evening, we wouldn’t have much to talk to each other except discuss mountains, glaciers, crevasses etc. Today for a big change Harsh, Sandeep and Moiz started discussing Indian Politics, Indian economy etc. After a while the discussion started to border on boredom and at this point I asked them to stop but they didn’t. Even JP who looked to be contemplating on the days moments with his eyes closed all this while, asked them to stop. It was only when he blackmailed them by saying that he would start singing, if they didn’t stop those stupid discussions that they finally stopped.

If you ask any of us, what is the greatest thing you feared on this trek and expect an answer like, Glaciers, Crevasses, Avalanches, you would be thoroughly mistaken. The greatest thing we feared on this trek was JP’s singing. I think no Yeti or Snow Leopard dared venture near our campsite during the nights because of JP’s singing.

It was such a big relief when the guys stopped their discussion. We had our dinner and then decided that we would all start a little late tomorrow since everybody was very tired and wanted good sleep.


No comments: