I am very happy to write about this day. Happy because this was a day all of us were really worried about and we all including the support team made it back safe and sound. There were minor incidences yes, but nothing which we had to regret later. I must say, it was indeed one of the most challenging days of my trekking life, but then very happy to have seen it thorough.
We started early, around 5.15AM towards the pass. It was very cold in the morning, one of the coldest days on the trek. Thankfully, the weather was still holding good. The sky was clear and there were very few clouds that I could see. We all huddled together and I said a small prayer before we started. We were really going to need all the Mountain Gods to be with us today
Rohit had given his snow boots to Balwant so that it would be easy for him make steps in snow. When we started, there was no sun, but as the sun rose in the sky, all the surrounding mountains were glowing and were golden as the sun rays kissed their tops. This was a site beyond any words. I felt absolutely humbled in front of nature's glory.
We were all making steady progress as we climbed towards the pass. After a while, I smelt what seemed like gasoline on the snowfield. It was only after a while we realized that one of the porters had a fall and he spilled around ten liters of kerosene on the snowfield. Now that was not a good news.
I was walking with the guide, and he told me that we had taken a round about route and now we would have to descend down on to the glacier and then climb up again. Believe me, the descent down was very scary, since the snow was not very soft and in between we had slick ice. We were all descending very carefully now. I was tagging along with the guide.
We all had so many falls, but thankfully none of them were serious. Negotiating the snow, the killer altitude and the thin air was making our going tough, but with every step we were reaching closer to our destination. We reached just below the pass from where the last tough climb to reach to the pass commenced. This was a sheer wall of ice. It was so steep that I thought, the guide would ask all of us to use a rope to climb up, but that was not to be. The pass looked so close to but the route was very steep.
As the sun came up, the snow was getting softer and the guide was making steps so that we could follow him. I was right behind the guide. Every step was so hard on the heart. I realized that this was no mind over body. I did not want to tire and I would never give up. It was all a mind game from here on. I kept talking to myself, counting each step and taking rest after every 10-15 steps. I was marching quite confidently behind the guide and then when he shouted at me “Aram se ayiye, nahi to vahi chale jaoge jaha se aaye the” ( walk carefully otherwise, you would directly go to where you came from down below). I started to be more careful after those words but I still slowly followed him. All of us were on the pass after a while. Balawant told us that there might be ice cornices around the rocky edges and asked us to come very carefully till the end of the ridge.
We reached at top at 9.45 am and the views from top were out of the world. This was for the first time on the pass Sandeep and I got the best views.
The weather was still holding good. One by one all our team members including all the porters arrived. As Jaggi reached on top of the pass, he looked exhausted. Later on he told me he had vomited while climbing up, but he was still looking very calm and composed at the top.
We were all happy and ecstatic at the pass. We had dreamt of these views, had done all the hard work and we were not disappointed. Kala Naag (6387 meters), the Banadarpunch ranges (6316 meters) were clearly visible. There were colorful lakes of blue and green hue that were visible on the glacier, the huge ice fall from the Kala naag also appeared daunting. The whole snowfield was heavenly crevassed. Swargrohini (6250 meters) ranges were playing hide and seek in the cloud. Every time I looked around, I just wanted to soak in, into the beauty. The guide did the customary pooja atop the pass. We celebrated for sometime and then started another ordeal. I had forgotten that we need to get down on the other side. There was very steep descent from the pass, full of slick ice and snow and without ropes it would be not possible to go down. The guide fixed one end of the rope at the top and he went down to fix the rope at the other end. First the porters decided to climb down. It was a very slow process. The rope could take only one single person at a time. It was a tad risky if we had multiple people on the rope. Each one of us were taking almost 15-20mins to getting down. I was worried because we had never been on top of the pass for so long and the chances of weather turning bad were very high. Jaggi and Rohit went first amongst us as they both were not feeling well and descending down was the best option. All the porters went down. Brijesh and I were the last one to go down. We were on the pass for almost 3hrs waiting our turn to go down.
The descent on the rope was also very scary. The rope was only one length , 100mts so we could descend only 100mts. At the end of the descent, the ice was very slick and it was difficult to keep the balance hanging on to the rope. it was all slippery snow and we were all stopping just short of a big crevasse.
As I got down, I was happy to see everyone make it safe. Jaggi too was looking strong. At around 1 pm everybody was down the pass and I knew it was going to be tough route from here on in the slippery snow. It is easy to climb in the soft/slippery ice but its difficult to negotiate the soft snow while descending. Balwant gave the marching orders and we followed. This time his instructions were to follow his footsteps very carefully.
I have known this, as I have done quite a few high altitude passes that reaching the pass is challenging itself but the more challenging part is descending down and reaching safely to the camp site as it is a very common to lose focus once the summit is achieved.
At this time, we were crossing the snow field and suddenly a big rock came rolling from above and I didn't even notice it. Balwant ran towards me in a jiffy pulled me out, just avoiding the rock. I thanked him many times. I don't even want to imgine what would have happened if he wouldn't pulled me like this. The whole area was prone to rock falls and after this, I saw multiple rocks falling all around us.
Rohit and I was walking ahead with a few of porters. Sandeep,Brijesh and Jaggi were with Suresh, a little behind us. Suddenly one of the porters slipped on the ice and did multiple somersaults and was headed towards a big crevasse. Luckily, he stopped just before the crevice. Everybody was just shocked and were standing still for few seconds.
This is when he got up and we realized that he was absolutely safe. We were all so so relieved. I would have described the beauty of the surroundings, but the going was very tough now. All I can say is that I was walking amongst the shadow of the mighty Kala naag, with the heavily crevassed snowfields on my left.
After a while I saw Sandeep struggling while getting down the snowfield. He was prostrate and finding it difficult to get up on the slippery snow and on the other side the guide was shouting at Rohit and me to go ahead as we were standing near a big crevasse. I saw Suresh helping Sandeep to move ahead and only then I was relieved.
Once we crossed the crevasse zone, we were quite relaxed. All of us had countless falls in the snowfield and we had been walking for a long time now. There was still no sign of campsite. We crossed the regular campsite of Arjun Jhari and I was surprised, there is no “jhari” here, it is all a big snowfield. Our guide did want to camp in the snow and insisted that we go further at the end of the snow field.
Once the snowfield ended, we started negotiating boulders. Everybody was tired and most of the so called accidents happen when the body and mind are not sync. During one such section, Brijesh also slipped. He slipped and landed very near the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop of around 200 meters. Our heartbeats stopped momentarily. Luckily for all of us, his fall was automatically arrested just before the big drop. Thats when I realized that the day had not yet ended. When Balwant saw Brijesh fall like that, he got very angry and asked us to be doubly attentive. The walk was not going to be an easy one. As they say during the marathons , the last mile is always difficult. The same was true here. We had almost walked for 11 hours but still had to struggle in the end to to reach the campsite. The campsite was visible but it looked so far. Then again, because of the last years flash floods, all the trails were destroyed and we were having a very hard time negotiating the broken ridges.
Finally after a long long haul, we reached the campsite at around 5.30 pm. It was the longest day on the trek for us. Every part of the body was crying out in pain, but it was the most beautiful feeling in this world to be safely sitting in the tents. Jaggi too was ok after reaching the campsite. He remained very composed throughout and did not even once crib.
Wow, what a day it had been. Everybody was safe and sound in spite those incidences. I should say we were very lucky. I turned my mind to the campsite, once I had composed myself. This campsite was also very beautiful. Behind our camps, the massive Kala Naag and Banderpunch glaciers met. In front of the camp was the massive Swargrohini peak.
It was as if all these peaks were guarding and protecting us. We were still at a decently high altitude of around 4600mts, but all of us were openly relieved and were happy to be ensconced in the safety of the tents.
Later in the evening, Sandeep went to speak to the guide. All of us were still ready for the Bali Pass, but weneeded to take stock of our rations and fuel. It was indeed not a good situation. If we had to do Bali Pass, we would have to get rations from a long way and this would mean additional three to four days which we did not have. We all had a discussion and decided to skip Bali pass. It was not as if there was any more adventure lacking in the trek and Bali Pass would be done some other time.