Monday, August 4, 2008

Search for a trek

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'what is the use of climbing a Mountain?' and my answer at once be, 'it is of no use'. There is not the slightest prospect whatever of any gain. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, nor a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise the food. It is no use.

So you must understand that there is something in man, which responds to the challenge of mountains and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is that is struggle of life itself upwards and forwards. What we get from his adventure is sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and
make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life is for.
(George Leigh Mallory)

When we were on the Kalindi Khal trek last year, we had decided that we would be doing a simple scenic trek the following year. We had been battling with high altitude and extreme conditions throughout the trek of Kalindi Khal and we thought we had had enough.

And here I am; back again on higher altitude. When we were deciding on this year's trek, after a lot of discussion , we decided to to do something different. Mountaineering had always been intriguing for me. I used to wonder how people do it; what with all those gear, trying to tackle ice walls, glaciers etc. Anyways, as I said, after a lot of discussions, we decided, we would try to attempt climbing a peak. We would do some initial training that is required and then attempt the summit. Of course, finding a peak that would allow us to do just that in a matter of two three weeks was in itself a task. There were so many names taken at first Ladakhi, Shitidhar, Stok Kangri and we even tried to see if the mighty Kalanag was doable as a first peak.

However we decided on a simple peak, not quite known to the rest of the world. This peak is called Mount Yunum and is near the Lahaul - Ladakh border near Bharatpur in Himachal. Mt. Yunum is about 6100 mts (20000 ft). We spoke with Kaushal from and after a few days of discussion, drew up our plans. It was going to be a two week affair.

It was the same team as last year's Kalindi Khal expedition with the addition of two new members. Dan and Chris were going to join us for this expedition, all the way from Sweden..

As I have said earlier, preparation for the trek is almost always exciting as the trek itself. But not this time. The most frustrating part was, there wasn't any kind of information on the internet available about Mt. Yunum, about its surroundings, route etc. So it was only until after we actually reached the area that we knew something about what we were getting into.


(Home Page)

To Manali

We started our trip on the 11th of July and unlike last time, this time everyone decided to meet up at Manali itslef, on or before the 13th morning.
Our adventure started right from Bangalore. On reaching the airport, we found that our flight was delayed by about an hour. The problem was we had to catch a bus from Delhi for Manali at 6PM and on top of that, we were carrying the tickets for Dan and Chris as well. I called the HPTDC office at Delhi from Bangalore Airport and requested them to allow Chris and Dan to board the bus. The guy at HPTDC assured me that he would give them their seats. After sometime, I heard the announcement that our flight had got further delayed that nullified what little chance we had to catch the bus. Finally our flight took off at 3.45PM after a delay of about three hours. By the time we reached Delhi, our bus was gone. But the helpful people at HPTDC gave us seats on the next bus. We hoped to catch our original bus at Karnal where we would stop for dinner.

I was sleeping when our bus reached Karnal and the first thing Sandeep did, was looked around for Dan and Chris. Sandeep recognized the pair from the photographs we had shared during our email exchanges. It was really nice meeting them. We shifted our luggage to their bus and ordered some food for dinner. As soon as we started to have our dinner, the bus driver started honking. We had no option to leave the food and board the bus.

I was feeling extremely tired as since morning till about now we had been running against time. Our bus was pretty comfortable, however a 16 hour journey on the mountain roads can really tire you. I wondered how, Harsh, Moiz and JP would manage in normal non-deluxe bus. Dan too was feeling very uneasy and this was natural for it was his first time for so long in the bus.

The journey was otherwise quite event less. We reached Manali at 9.30AM and checked into a small hotel called Taj Palace, which was already booked by Kaushal. We left our luggage at hotel went to have some breakfast. We strolled around for sometime and then decided to come back to the hotel. On our way, we met Rinku who had been looking for us. Rinku was again going to be our guide (along with Bhagwandas). Kaushal also joined us after sometime at the hotel. He had brought Koflaches (snow boots) with him for us to try out. When I tried them on , it felt like my legs were cast into a plaster and I couldn't walk properly. Kaushal and Rinku assured us that as we start using them we would feel comfortable. Rinku told that his wife Sushma would also join us and I was a little happy on hearing this. I would have some female company on the trek.

As we discussed about the training plan, the trek and the climb, I realized that the terrain, the training and the climb were not going to be easy. Like Kalindi, the main thing to tackle here was the altitude.

The rest of the afternoon was spent just chatting about different treks. It was good to be in the mountains again. It was around 4 PM when Moiz arrived. We were now waiting for JP and Harsh.
In the evening we took a small walk till the Hidimba and Ghatotkach Temples. I still remember asking Dan and Chris to pronounce these temples' names; it was tong twister for them and fun for us. The later part of the evening spent in finding a good place for having food. We again went to bus stop at around 11 PM to welcome JP. The food lover JP, ordered some exotic Chinese food at small hotel in Manali and that too at 11.30 PM in the night and he was not disappointed.

After some time we called it a day and went to sleep.

Harsh was the only member left and everybody was waiting for him. He joined us the next day at around 6:30 AM and that finally completed our whole group.


(Home Page)

Reaching Base Camp

We got ready and started a little late at around 11 AM for Jispa. As our luggage was getting loaded on the Sumos, a dhongi baba, carrying a snake started pestering for money. Apparently wanted money to feed his snake; for snake snacks.

Our driver was called Chunni Lal and was quite an interesting character; kept us entertained for the next couple of days.
On the way, we stopped at “Marhi”, where Kaushal and other members had their lunch. We saw a lot of tourists at this place, para gliding.

The next stop was at Rohtang Pass, which at around 3800m. It was extremely windy, when we got down at Rohtang. Again there were many tourists here, all with overcoats and snow boots enjoying the weather.

As we were going to gain considerable height in the next two days, all of us were wary of acclimatization and used to drink lots of water. The only person harrowed by all this was Chunni Lal; we made him stop very frequently on the way for nature breaks.

Further down, after crossing the Rohtang pass, we saw the road which goes towards “Chandra Tal.”. I have been wanting to visit this lake for some time now as I have heard that it is an extremely beautiful place. May be sometime in the future.

There is a checkpost at Khoksar and Chris and Dan had to show their passports here. We also wanted to have lunch at Khoksar, but we were getting a little late so decided to wait till we reach Keylong.

After Khoksar, the condition of road was little bit good. So our driver decided to speed up a little and what happened next was quite funny. There were a couple of cops, waiting for this moment, catching the drivers for speeding, using a speed gun. Now, the Manali-Leh road isn't in a very good condition. Theres only this 2 km segment which is probably newly done and the cops choose this same place to catch speeding drivers. Amazing business sense some people have; but not so fast. The cops called Chuni Lal, but couldn't give him a ticket, because their printer got jammed at that same moment. After they tried for some time, they managed to correct it, but now it printed only blank white sheet. Chuni Lal, was elated as he came back to the jeep with victory written all over his face.

The surroundings were amazingly beautiful. As we were now in Lahaul, there was a stark change in the countryside, which was getting more and more barren. But I should say, it was very beautiful. We could now see the beautiful snow capped ranges with tens of small glaciers around us.

We finally reached Keylong at around 4 in the evening. Everyone was pretty hungry and we had our lunch at a small Tibetan place there. We quickly grabbed a bite and started for Jispa; Chuni Lal told us that the headlights of his vehicle were not in a working condition. We wanted to reach Jispa before it got dark and we finally reached the town at around 7:15 PM. There is mountaineering institute in Jispa and we were going to camp there for the night. This campsite was on the banks of the Bhaga River.

After sometime Kaushal gave a briefing about the training; kind of setting the expectations for the training and climbing program. We had a great dinner, went for a small walk towards the town and finally hit our respective sacks.

From the day we decided to climb Mt. Yunum, I was trying to get information; some photos, write ups for Yunum without much luck. The thought of now seeing the mountain which we were going to climb was exciting.

As we got up early the next morning at 5, I could see that it was already quite some light outside. This was good, the days seemed longer in these parts during this time of the year.
We got ready, and packed our sleeping bags and folded our tents. After having our breakfast, we met a Bengali guy who has been living in Leh for the last 20 years.

He was accompanying a few bikers, riding from Manali to Leh and then to Srinagar and then Dharamshala on motor bikes. He was carrying all the luggage and fuel for the bikers. It was great talking to him and listening to his experiences. We finally started for Bharatpur at around 8.30AM. It was going to be a 4 hour drive from here. On the way at Darcha, Chris and Dan had to again show their passports for verification.

The drive was steep on the Manali-Leh road and Chunni lal was driving perfectly. After some time, we stopped at Baralacha La (4800 mts), which is again a famous trekking destination in Himachal.

This was an extremely windy and cold place and as we got out of our jeep, we realized that we were now at respectable altitude. We clicked a couple photos and moved ahead.

The vegetation and the terrain are really different in Lahaul. I have never been in such surroundings before and it was beautiful in its own different way.

We finally reached Bharatpur (4300 mts) at 11.30AM and found it to be a really small but nice place. Bharatpur has only ten odd small dhabhas, which remain open during the tourist season. We called Bharatpur the Las Vegas of India; this was a pretty happening place in the middle of the desert.
Theres a different kind of tea; “butter tea” served in those dhabas, but didnt have the will to try it at that time.

Our base camp was about 300 odd meters from here. We did load ferrying from the road head to the base camp. Dan alone carried a big 25kg potato sack and we were thankful to him throughout the trip; our “aaloo paratha”, “aaloo sabzi” were all courtsey Dan.

After reaching the base camp, all of us pitched our tents and after a while had our lunch. This was going to be our home for the next whole week at least.

The altitude was starting to show its true colors now. We had had this experience during our earlier treks, specifically during the Kalindi trek when we were hit by altitude for quite some days. This is definitely not a great experience. As the headache and nausea started to creep in, we thought we would go for a small acclimatization walk. Dan wasn't feeling up to it. So the rest of us started to climb towards a smallish glacier that we could see from our camp. We must have climbed a few hundred meters and just then we saw the mountain. Mt Yunum. So this was the mountain, finally my curiosity of the last few months ended. The peak looked beautiful in the daylight. There was a sheer slope the North-West face on one side; but the south face with snow and scree , what looked from here was a gentler slope.

On the way Kaushal showed us how to take a resting step while climbing, how to climb down on boulders etc. After some time we came back to base camp. Moiz and Chris were also not feeling good.
It was getting extremely windy and cold. We had our dinner and went to our tents.


(Home Page)

Training Days

15th July - 19th July

The going was not very good. All of us were battling the altitude and the terrain. The type of terrain was a little new to me. This place was extremely windy, extremely sunny and extremely dry. The first few days, Sandeep and I both had headaches so couldn’t sleep through out the night. Typically we used to wake up at 4 in the morning (we used to wait for the mornings eagerly), take a small walk for acclimatization, then try and come back to the tent and sleep. Invariably, we never used to get sleep again.

Today’s plan was to start around 8.30 for a walk till the glacier. We had our breakfast and started for the acclimatization walk. There was a small glacier about 250 to 300 meters above our camp and the plan was to go and spend the day on the lower part of the glacier. The terrain was full of boulders; different kinds of boulders and I do not like boulders. It took us around one and half hours to reach the lower part of the glacier. Rinku and Kaushal went further ahead to explore the area. I was talking to Sushma ji, Rinku’s wife for sometime. She herself is a climber and told me about her different expeditions and it was indeed nice talking to her. She is really a tough lady.

We explored the glacier for some time, recce-ed the area, spent some time exploring the surroundings and then decided to turn back. This whole area was to be our training ground.
Today we were going to learn about different types of climbing knots. So after lunch, we all met in the dining tent for the knots sessions where we spent time learning about different kinds of knots which are used while climbing and descending. It was fun and I actually forgot about my headache for sometime. After the knots session, in the evening, learnt a new game called “Wolf”, played it for sometime and spent the evening talking about AMS.


I could get some sleep last night. A daily routing in the morning; when we came out of the tent and met each other in the morning, instead of saying good morning, the first thing we used to ask “hey how are you feeling today?” And the answer was invariably always the “hmmm better then yesterday.”

Today we were going to start the actual training on snow. We had breakfast and started at around 8.30. Today we were carrying our mountaineering shoes and seat harnesses. We reached near the glacier and put on our shoes.

Rinku first showed different techniques on how to walk on the snow. The walking techniques were good. I didn’t know them earlier. We did lot of practice of each of the walking techniques. After that he showed how to do self-arrest while falling down in snow and then finally fast descending techniques on snow. The whole session was very good learning experience and by the time it was over, it was already 2 PM.

Everyone was tired because doing all such physical activity at close to 5000mts was not an easy task. After lunch at around 3.30, Kaushal took a test on the knots session. Both Sandeep and I failed :-) As the evening progressed, it was getting cold and I started to feel feverish. I was hoping to feel alright next day.


Today’s training was about different belaying and rappelling techniques. Everyday before starting, I used to think that today I would not exert much, as I was conscious of the fact that we were on high altitudes and did not want to expend my energy. But after starting the practice session, I used to feel energetic and did not want to stop. Infact looking at all the other members practicing used to give some kind of an impetus to me as well.

Belaying techniques are used while ascending and fixing the ropes. We divided ourselves in two groups with Chris, JP and I in one group and the rest of the members in the other group. We had selected an ice wall with a decent gradient on the glacier and we climbed around few meters using these techniques. While we were climbing, suddenly Rinku pushed one of the members and everyone started falling. This was a test for the self arrest techniques that we had learnt earlier. We spent a lot of time understanding and then practicing these techniques.

Rappelling was the one which I really wanted to learn because this is a very basic technique and I know that even normal trekkers like me should know about these techniques. Rappelling is used to descend down from a slope. We did this climbing and then rappelling down for quite some time. It was indeed very tiring but all of us were kind of enjoying the experience.

We came down to our camp late in the afternoon. Harsh was not feeling very well all this while. Although, all of us were still showing signs of AMS, Harsh was feeling it the most. One of the reasons was he had not eaten properly for the last two days because of the nauseating feelings. He wanted to try and have a change in taste; so decided to go down to the road and have something at one of the dhabas at Bharatpur. All of us decided to accompany him till there.
We had tea at the dhaba and after sometime, we decided it was time to head back. However Harsh, JP and Moiz decided to stay over at the dhaba itself, hoping it would give some relief. So Sandeep and I headed back to our camp along with Dan and Chris.
We didn't have much to do, so just whiled away the time at the campsite. Dan had a
board game and we spent some time playing that as well. We called it an early night today.


For me at least, todays was the toughest part of the training. In the morning, I was excited because we would be learning cramponing techniques today. As part of this, we would be climbing some ice walls as well..

While climbing towards the glacier, I felt I wasn't able to get sufficient oxygen and was breathing hard. The initial climb was quite irritating because of this. Everyday we used to leave our mountaineering boots behind some boulders near the glacier and then we used to put them on along with the harness. Today we had to climb much further up in the glacier, nearly at 5100 mts because we wanted a bigger ice wall for the training session. We had put on our crampons also. The first sessions were on ascending and descending on ice using crampons. For the next sessions, we went further up for learning the climbing techniques on ice wall using crampons and ice ax. This was real fun. Everybody was tired but performed like mountaineering pros.

This was the last day of training on glaciers. We were all extremely tired today as I felt we had done a lot of aerobic exercises at more that 5000 mts.
When we were having our lunch, JP told us that Harsh was planning to leave the next day. This was a sad news as I felt that when you go as a group, everybody’s presence is equally important and is required for the motivation of the team. We tried to convince Harsh but he had already made up his mind.


When we woke up in the morning, we got another bad news. JP was also planning to leave along with Harsh. JP was having chest pain for some time and he said he did not want to take any further chances. After Harsh's and JP’s departure, we were now only 5 people in the group.

Today's training was crevasse rescue, rock climbing, first aid and attending to a casualty. For a change, instead of walking towards the glacier, we walked down from the camp and then further up the road towards an area which was suitable for rock climbing. We might have walked around 3 kms from the camp.

Bhagwandas ji showed us how to do a crevasse rescue.

Some of us also attempted to do a mock rescue.

After this there was a training on rock climbing where the boys attempted to climb several of the rock walls around. I did not try my hands at this.

While coming back to the camp, we stopped over at Bharatpur where I finally tried the salted tea. The last thing, which was left as part of the training, was first-aid and attending to a casualty which we started to do post lunch.
Rinku showed us how to carry casualty in the mountains using ropes and sleeping mats. Chris and I happily became the mock casualty.

We also learnt how to make a stretcher using ropes. During the first-aid session, everybody asked lot of questions about edema and how people die because of edema. I thought, this was not a right time for these questions because tomorrow we would be starting for the summit.


(Home Page)

Summit Days

20th - 21st

We packed our bags and started for the ABC at around 9.30am.. The ABC was at around 5300 mts but the route was longish and was full of boulders. We crossed our first water stream on this “trek”. It was the first time on a trek that I was climbing with a lot of load on my back. Usually it would be just my day pack, but today, I had to carry my entire rucksack The initial climb was alright, but as we climbed more, I started to get tired and dehydrated. The whole climb was on boulders and scree. Earlier we had decided to do the load ferry, establish camp and the attempt the summit. But then Kaushal suggested that we could do it alpine style. We liked the idea, but I had not realized that even then we would need to carry so much of load. The climb would not have been that difficult if I would have had to carry the rucksack. But this was also part of our training.

I was very slowly moving ahead with my rucksack, after sometime my legs started shivering and it was almost getting impossible for me to walk.
It was only about 100m left when I asked Bhagwan Das if he would carry my rucksack. This is something which I did with a very heavy heart..I wanted to reach my destination on my own merit and strength but the altitude was killing and so was the dehydration.

We reached ABC later in the afternoon. The views from the ABC were wonderful.
We could even see Las Vegas of Lahaul, Bharatpur down below.

Saying, this place was windy would be an understatement. It was windy like crazy and after sometime it started to snow lightly as well. Infact, we experienced the four seasons, all in the next few hours. Heavy wind, harsh sun, rain and then snow. This clearly says how unpredictable the weather is at these altitudes.

It took some time for us to adjust to this altitude. We carried our water glasses and our plates and we had to clean them. The water was directly coming from the glacier and touching the water itself was a big mission. No body wanted to think about headache or AMS but we simply couldn't avoid it.
Generally I never play cards in the mountains because I some how feel it is kind of disrespectful to the mountains, however during this trek, we did play cards few times.
In the evening, we didn’t have any thing much to do. Going from one tent to another was a great ordeal in itself, so exploring the surroundings was totally ruled out as everyone wanted to preserve their energy for the summit day.

As the evening progressed, it became extremely cold, We had an early dinner and decided to hit the sacks. Sandeep and I decided to sleep in kitchen tent itself. For quite sometime Sandeep was talking to Tikkam Da, a very senior guide with our group.
Tikkam Da has spent all of his 60+ years in the Himalayas and has done a lot of climbing and trekking. He told quite many stories as well. One of the stories he told was when he was on one of the higher camps on Mt. Kamet, he saw all the Gods of the heavens come down and dance on the mountains, all with mridangs and tablas and other instruments. He also told stories of evil spirits and how they sometimes haunt trekkers and mountaineers. Now this wasn't very comforting.

After sometime we decided to sleep, as we had to wake up around 3.30 in the morning. The night was cold and windy. I was sleeping in the corner of the kitchen tent and could feel the cold air come into the sleeping bag. I couldn’t sleep for a while and waited for the morning.

We woke up at 3AM in the morning and had some tea and oat porridge. Rinku asked Sandeep and me to go ahead, so we started earlier at around 4:10 AM with Sushma ji and Bhagwan Das. It was total dark outside, the sky was totally clear and we could see all the stars. Moiz, Dan and Chris started at around 4.30 AM with Rinku ji.

We were on the South-East face of the mountain. We were making slow progress and enjoying the surroundings (whatever we could see using our head torches). There were some patches of snow, but most of the way was on boulders and scree..
I was feeling very confident and was walking at a good pace, but the altitude was killing. With every few steps one deep breath-resting step was necessary. It was still dark so we couldn’t take any photos. After sometime we met Dan and Chris. Moiz was behind with Rinku ji

Everything was going on well. Till this point I never imagined what would happen in the next 20mins. As the morning progressed, the intensity of wind increased suddenly. The weather also changed and it got very cold suddenly. There was a big rock on the way and everyone decided to rest on a ledge there for sometime and let the weather pass. As soon as I reached there, I thought I was feeling cold and numb. Within minutes, unknown to me why, I started shivering tried to lie down on the rocks. Sandeep tried to make me feel better by rubbing my hands and Dan even gave his spare jacket. But, I just couldnt understand what was goind around me. I started to feel dizzy. I tried to walk, but was not able to see the rocks also properly. My hands and feet were still feeling numb, I wasnt tired or exhausted, but never had this kind of feeling earlier. Whatever it was, it didn't look good, not at this altitude at least.

Rinku ji then told Sandeep to go ahead with the rest of the group. He told him, he would wait here with me for sometime and then come up a little later. It was only a little way ahead; we were about 200-300 mts away from the summit. So everyone went ahead, while Rinku ji and I rested on the rock ledge. My condition was not at all good. Actually there was no sun and I was feeling extremely cold. I don't know, but I started feeling hypothermic. I just couldn't do anything about it. Rinku ji saw me like that and decided that we would have to go down immediately. In that split second I too decided to go down. As I started to go down with Rinkuji, Sandeep saw me from above and he also turned back. I already knew he wouldn’t go ahead without me.

I remember back home one day Sandeep had asked me “Will you go ahead for the summit if I do not feel well at advance base camp”. And I immediately replied “There is no meaning of the summit for me, if it is without you.”. I did not know that this same thing would get repeated except instead of Sandeep, it was me, who decided to abort the summit.

While coming down, when I felt little better, I realized what I had done. After that all the way till the Advanced base camp I couldn't stop crying. I was feeling very very very bad. I was thinking about all the hard work that we had put in for this climb and how excited we were about our first climbing experience..
It was sheer bad luck. In the morning when I started, I never thought it was going to end like this. When we reached ABC and Tikkam ji saw me crying, he told me that Tenzing Norge used to say “A good mountaineer is one who comes back alive.” But I was inconsolable. I still couldn't understand why all this had to happen.
Well, I very well know that mountains will always be there and it is in their hands if they allow you to climb. We could always go back and climb any day if; provided we are alive. But I was still having a very bad feeling

Meanwhile, our other teammates; Moiz, Dan and Chris successfully did the summit. They reached the summit at around 9.30AM and by the time they came back to ABC, it was around already post noon.. After coming back, Moiz told us that even he was not feeling very well and the “mighty” Dan helped him on the last few meters from the summit.

I knew, how difficult it is when you can actually see the Summit, few meters are left but every step that you take is so demanding that you are totally left out of energy. At such high altitudes, it is very difficult to take care of your own self, and it requires great courage to help your teammates as well. It was very heart warming to see Dan and Chris helping us out , not just during this summit attempt, but throughout our adventure. In fact sometimes just few words of motivation are more then sufficient.
Moiz told us, Dan told him, he wouldn't go to the summit without Moiz. Those words meant a lot to Moiz and gave him the energy to go the remaining hundred odd meters.

Well everybody was happy when they came to ABC. We decided to take some rest then decided to go back to the BC. By this time I was feeling completely all right. Everyone one was tired but after the summit the spirits were high. By the time we descended, the level of water in the stream had grown. So instead of crossing the water, we had to take a longer route to get back to BC.
Hot pakodas we were waiting for us when we reached our camp. Everybody laid down in the dinning tent and shared their feelings on how they felt at the summit.

So that was it. It was going to be our last night and last supper on this trek. Chris and Dan prepared pasta for dinner. We celebrated the summit of our friends by gorging on the very delicious pasta.
After sometime we decided to go to sleep.


(Home Page)