Tuesday, September 7, 2010

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.