Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Long Walk

The swim refreshed him. It had become a habit, no matter which season, he would religiously take a plunge in the pool and swim for an hour. To quench the hunger he walked with Prasad to NN. Munching on a cream roll they talked about another crazy idea. The cycle trip sounded too simple and what could be more impressive than walking to Mumbai.

The idea was set and they planned the walk. Food to carry, medicine etc. Girish handed a bottle of Sloan’s linment balm.

He was working in a design department as inpart trainee. He had a chip conveyor design to finish but the anxiety of starting the walk kept the thoughts off the design. He sneaked out of the office at 3PM and Prasad was all ready. They quickly packed the food and one set of extra clothes and started to walk.

They debated about the actual distance. Was it 175 kms or more. They walked nonstop to Nigadi from Pimpri hostel. Soon found their pace to be 6kms and hour.

They crossed Dehu road and the slow climb to Talegoan . He could feel the strain of the walk.

They crossed Kamshet. He sank into a heap of construction sand completely exhausted. They took of the shoes and applied the liniment on their aching feet. It was now very dark and they had to shine their torches. The only sound was that of the wind and the roaring trucks.

Something glistened under the fading beam. Oh! It’s just a squashed snake. Lucky, he didn’t step on it. At the thought he shone the torch further. There was another long one, alive wriggling on the road, October heat perhaps.

It dawned on them that they had never considered snakes. With a dim torch it there was big chance of stepping on one. They were at the outskirts of Lonavla. They had walked 50 kms and were very tired. They decided to take a long rest.

Prasad was in deep sleep soon and he shivered as wind grew and the sweat cooled.
He could not sleep at all.

After an hour he woke up Prasad. They realized that it was better, if they got a ride to Khopoli. They could always continue early morning. Trucks rolled by, unwavered to their waving hands. It was almost 4AM. Finally one driver took mercy. As they clambered into the warm cabin, they immediately dozed off in deep slumber.



“How long are you going”


He discussed with Prasad. Both weighed if they should rather drop off at Panvel?

Most of the ill decisions are taken when half awake or improper rest.

The driver was OK. They dosed off again.

They got off at the goa highway crossing. As the sun rose higher, the pains from the past day elevated. The liniment had done damage. It caused bad blisters on his feet and the friction with the canvas shoes made the walk more painful. They moved along the creek near Panvel and the heat was unbearable. They poured water inside their shoes. Squeaked at every step but effectively cooled down.

He could see butterflies flutter by and collapse on the road due to the heat.

By noon, they reached the London Pilsner factory near Juinagar and there they decided to call it off.

Since the last evening, they had covered a distance of 70 kms by walk. Well some achievement at age of 17.

Disaster strikes

Mt Tinchenkhang- Camp1 @ 17000'

The wake up alarm seemed like a call from another world. I rolled my sleeping bag; shifting body weight from the left shoulder to the right. It had been a long day and the night was over; already at 1AM.

He woke up and switched on the head torch. I turned away from the beam. I was dead sure that I was not going to join the rush for the summit. I had been very vocal about my thought .

Moreover, my dear friend had been very persuasive last evening. If I woke up the talk may start again. It is easy to get lured.

I knew my limitations, well and slept on.

I could hear Anju help him get ready. Soon he was out in the night with the other knights. I heard Shantanu’s voice. He was dropping off too.

I dozed off. This was not my arena, for sure. Every man for himself. My Sleeping bag for myself.

I felt the warm sunlight hit my side of the tent. Decided to wake up for a pee call. Meant that I need to enter those cold outer boots and clamber past the guy ropes to the latrine pit. The laces were already wired with ice. I looked up the gully above the whale head. Mingma was leading. Then another climber, probably Ang. Slowly, someone climbed up, probably Mangesh, from behind the rock. I yelled and tried to cheer. Progress seemed slow, if they planned to turn back at 9AM.

Shantanu was back in his tent. I had taken a strange dislike for our Camp 1site. It did not look safe woith our tents perched on the tiny mound a crevasse on one side and a drop on the other. Perhaps, I had lost the sense of being in precarious places. It did not seem to bother other climbers.

The pyramid of Makalu looked close behind a ridge. Mountains can be deceptive.

As the sun rose higher I shot a movie of the climbers, who disappeared over an icy mound. We got into Shantanu’s tent. Tried to munch some food. I forget what it was. Probably Upma. Well! Everything tasted like sawdust to me.
We chatted about things we would enjoy after going down. Luxury unlimited. A lobster party.

It was getting late. No sign of the climbers as we were close to a steep face.

At around 1.30 in the noon, the Motorola set beeped. Mangesh and others were on the top of the mountain. They had gone up a steeper, but shorter route. This set up cheer in Camp-1. We decided to re-contact at 3PM.

I took a stock of food. Not much left, but we could spend a night at Camp-1, if the summit team was late.

Shantanu started the Gas and we started the slow process to liquefy ice. It was as windy as it should be in a col at 18000 feet. Tinchinkhang does get the first blast of high winds and cols are wind tunnels.
The news of success made me feel; I should have at least given a try, than a complete resignation.

At 2.55PM the set beeped again. We were eager to know the progress.

Through the wind and the flapping tent we barely heard a voice crying in Nepalese. I made out that some sack has fallen off. "There goes the summit evidence", I thought. There was another sharp static. It was Rinzing our Liaison Officer calling from base. We couldn’t make out the jargon as most was in Nepalese dialect.

It was Mingma I guess. ‘Sab khatam ho gaya. Chota saab to gaya. ‘

The world stood silent. We craned over the set to hear.
The blow was stunning. Chota saab would be none other than Poor Sada. ‘Gaya’ means for some reason he is dead. In our little tent, I sobbed internally with a dry impassive face. It was hard to believe.

‘Mangesh saab kuch nahi bol raha hai.’ What the hell! Something was wrong with Mangesh too? We were desperate. Anju started crying. It was definitely some piece of news that would haunt us forever.

Rinzing barked few orders. He asked the sherpas not to move from the accident site and be with Mangesh and get him down. The wind , the beating tent flaps seemed to freeze, as I desperately tried to make sense of the situation. Something was terribly wrong.

I remembered one of my snaps. Kangchenzonga had its summit severed by a cloud bank.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Point of no return?

Ambiguity encountered in a situation, wherein an individual decides to retreat from a set goal often, fades with memory.
At a later point, the decision might be looked as callous or imprudent by humans around oneself.

After a failure to climb a mountain, at a later date, I have been troubled by “Ghosts”. I attribute a “Ghost”, as a thought invoked by a fading memory of the dire situation. One cannot precisely remember each and everything that happened, when the decision was made.

It is critical to physically log the details of the circumstances. An individual’s record is often a rapid description of his/her point of view that has gaps, sometimes as best as he recollects.
But lethargy rules at times and the report, has wide gaps that cannot be remembered and back filled.

There is always a third person to point these out OR himself, when he wanders into the haunted past.
Haunted? I feel; the “Gaps” are the “Ghosts” that trouble the conscience later, however objective a human can be in a situation.

It is not easy for a third person judge a situation, when he is absent and has not endured. He may not be a physical or mental equivalent. His own personal beliefs would play into judgment, so would his values.

It is important for young climbers to understand this, so that they don’t flay them self for failure.

The real judge that one faces is his own conscience. If everything went as planned, would there be any learning for future?

The success is in terms of Photographs on the Summit of the mountain and a safe return is a priority.
The resource is not so important to a layman. He tries to make the news easy for himself. Climbed, Not climbed. Further an interest in Number of porters, Duration, length of rope and equipment carried.

I often felt that the journey and the resource as more important aspect to truly respect the experience. Norton’s world record on Everest with his primitive equipment has a lot more value to me.
Lack of knowledge of the mountain, no exposure to high altitude, may have been the factors and I think he may have thoroughly enjoyed his adventure.

With the world so explored and the knowledge available on web, Contour maps..
As the real taste of adventure gets bland and the real climber now tries to make ascents on tough routes and face seasonal challenges solo.
There is a growing “market” where a layman pays to get to the top of the world with a guided tour, something that I personally detest for the values I follow. Causality due to lack of knowledge or climbing experience are heard of now and then.

I feel ; drawing the line for every individual pursuing a goal and deciding the point of return is extremely important.
Does one have courage to face the world? How does one define success? Is reaching the top everything?

My thoughts return to the Matri attempt and our team.

The team crawled up the Matri basin. The packed snow made the climb easy, though I felt the rarity of Oxygen. The bivouac on the earlier night had not allowed me a good sleep.

We soon came to a larger bergschrund. This One started on the Rock face on left and ended up in a ridge almost a kilometer long.
We nicknamed the “ridge” as Gyani ridge.

We traversed to the right after crossing a few easy crevasses.
The wind and occasional clangs of Axes on the shoe crampons to remove the Snowball, my occasional cough and the rasp heavy breathing cracked the otherwise silent world around us.

A huge hanging glacier loomed 500 ft above us and we tried to move as fast as we could, to get away from its path.

Soon we came to the edge of the ridge. Unfortunately the Bergschrund gap was even higher than my Arms could reach. The axe sank in a conglomerate of icicles which clinked and broke off as I tried to pull myself up the gap.
I soon was completely exhausted and dropped off.
Girish took the lead and crossed over to the end of the ridge.

The ridge un-mountable, as its hidden face was at 60-70 degree. The face dropped a 1000-1500 ft into the glacier and I tasted fear for the first time during the expedition.

Below us the glacier lay in Pink and Blue colours marred with numerous crevasses as the glacier steered towards Mt Sudarshan.

With Girish back after his quick recee , we decided that we had to stay on this hump till one of us found a route.

The hump was sloped and had large wide open crevasses.

Anand: Can you climb down into the crevasse? Let's camp inside.
Parag: No point in spending another night in Bivvy. Its useless. I plan to camp outside.
Anand: This is your second expedition and you don’t know of the avalanche risks. Please climb down and test the bed.

Anand was offended.
I decided to get into the crevasse without further arguments with a experienced climber (a lot older too).

As I got down, the crevasse was full of snow and I sank to my thighs. It was not the same cosy little cave, we spent our earlier night.
This was an icy world and we were aliens. I came back to announce it as not habitable. After further fireworks, we hacked platforms in the snow for our tent.

I chose to stay with Girish The other tent was occupied by Milind with Hemant and Anand.

The sky burned red as the sun set. It was a beautiful scape with vivid colors.

The only colors we saw throughout the day were wite and blue.
Even a glance at the Ochre rock was soothing, though not much skin was bared by the mountain.

Next morning, the Matri face ensured that we got the sunrays the last. We were on the west face. Milind took over lead climbing.
He did an excellent job by crossing over the face to hammer in the first piton. Anand and Hemya were at Belay.

Girish and I were on our task to heat water and prepare food. The spirit fumes burned my eyes and the heated exchanges had spoiled my mood and I felt worse at
18500’. I started calculating.

We had overall 500’ rope. The face looked ~ 1000+ ft, without any ledges to camp. The highest we could go was 500’ with fair chance of a ledge to stand might climb another 500’.
This meant that we had no bottom rope, which was risky as we were 5 days away from civilization in a terrain known to very few climbers.

Milind was back after fixing the rope. Anand jollied me to jummar up and take a look.
I rose (to the occasion). I had taken my decision though hadn’t voiced it yet.
I slid up the rope on the other face. I returned as I neared the rock patch.
With my personal ambition to climb further satisfied, I declared that I wasn’t fit enough to go up.
The thought of 5 team members on a sheer face with a 500 ft of rope reminded me of the failed Khada Parsi pinnacle climb prior to Matri expedition.

Girish had decided to turn back with me. Anand, Hemant and Milind were going to try another go the next day.

As the two of us descended into the basin, we could hear hollering on the face; mostly Anand’s . I was glad to have escaped the waiting period between each move, but was sad at Milind, who had lost the last chance to continue to the limit of his ambition. The team is as strong as the weakest link.

Back at the glacier we saw many crevasses, newly yawning. So we walked towards the right of the glacier.

As I moved ahead crossing one crevasse and other I saw a red cloth. Yelled to Girish as I found it was a feather cap of a Feather jacket. Pleased with my new win, I bent to pick it up.
Suddenly, I had a uneasy feeling.

Was there more underneath the cap. Perhaps the dead Bengali climber? I voiced my doubt to Girish as I walked back. No. The cap wasn’t worth it and we carried on busy in our thoughts.

Over the tea, at Advance base we chalked plans for the next day.

We were to help the other three as they descended to Camp1.
Ranjana was keen to camp near the glacier camp (C1), having been at Advance base moraine for 5 days.

We walked up early morning to C1 and were amazed to see the rest of the team already descended to C1. They wanted to retract from the mountain ASAP.

The team was soon back at Advance base making further plans to descend, packing equipment.
Ranjana was unaware of the gruels of the climb, and was perhaps sulky as she had been deprived of her personal height gain target.

I thought; All well that ends well. For the equipment we carried we had reach a pretty high point of almost 20000 ft on a mountain that we were completely unaware of.

It was a true reconnaissance that had allowed us the pleasure of discovery and exploration. Perhaps the climb that I shall always cherish.
The Matri face attempted by us in 1987 is still Virgin.