Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dark Diwali

Post Tinchinkhang acident:

It was 4pm and at Camp1 (18000 ft) we started debating about the condition below the summit. What was Mangesh's condition? Perhaps, he would wake up.
He had a strong will and it will help him to get back to camp with assistance of the sherpas.
But they had said he was unconscious. I wished that it wasnt so and it may be the fright of the fall that made him dumb. Then Mingma spoke of the details..
All of them slipped into a crevasse.
For 15 mins they all were Unconcious.
Ang was the first to recover.

He pulled out Mingma then Mangesh and Poor Sada was already dead and stuck inside.
Then he called us on the walkie talkie at 3PM (prescheduled call.)
He tried hard to wake up Mangesh but he could not. (Mangesh was breathing).

He held the mouthpiece and all we heard was rasped breathing.
We pleaded to Mangesh to say something but he was completely blank.

There was no moaning. No sign of pain. No whisper.

Mingma mentioned; they were descending the slope and someone slipped pulling them off the face. Mingma tried to arrest twice but slipped each time. The ice must be very hard. They slipped into a Crevasse (probably the bergschrund that seperates the face from the top basin.).

We had an hourly call with Ang and Mingma, The last call made at around 5PM, but there was no responce from Mangesh. he had passed into a state where he could not feel anything.
Shantanu and Anju thought of going up the fixed rope.I debated that the snow gets softer adding to more risk If it took them more than 12 hours to climb the summit, it would take us, the weaker team, a lot more time.

(Means climb through the night and reach the accident spot next morning.)

I debated that if we were strong enough to climb up the slope, we would have been in the attempt team and
would not have stayed back. What if one of the rescuers themself met a casuality by a falling rock? We would end up with more casuality.

Rinzing had asked us to stay at camp. He must have been very thoughtful. He would not like to pose more risk to the team.

The three of us agreed that we could not do anything other than reducing risk.

Shantanu searched for a number in Mumbai where we could send the message of the accident.

At the 5PM call, he asked Rinzing to go to the village of Tshokha which was in mobile range. Convey the news of accident. Get Heli rescue immediately. Rinzing left base immediately after the call.

My immediate response was ; if Mangesh was still unconscious, the Sherpa's should try to get down to the camp. This would at least save 2 people in 4. My mind was focused on reducing casuality. It was only people numbers. Faces did not matter.

The handset battery was getting low. With no battery, we were at a bigger risk.

The set rang again. "Saab! Kuch to karo Saab! (Sir! Do something!)" Followed by sobbing. He wanted Mangesh to speak into the handset. We could hear his breath.

How cruel could I be! Perhaps God was testing us. I asked Shantanu to switch off the set.
We could do nothing. If we listened to the cries, we might set false hope.

Eventually the battery would die.
I hoped ; the Sherpas would try to take care of themselves at the right moment and descend.
I preyed to god as never before, to give the Sherpas the power to decide,what was appropriate.

The night was haunting. We had to eat to stay warm. The upma was unpalatable. The boiled water tasted of upma and I nearly puked.

It must be 8pm and we noticed a torch shine behind our tent. A figure collapsed outside the tent.
It was Mingma. 1 saved. I was elated to see him back, alive.

Shantanu helped him with his boots and Anju opened up a sleeping bag.  Mingma was mumbling about going up with a sleeping bag.

Ang was with Mangesh at the accident spot. Mangesh was alive, but unconscious when Mingma left. He must have climbed down since we did not reply on the radio set.
Ang's arm had taken a beating and he was unable to move it.

Shantanu inspected Mingma for broken bones/ribs.
There was a bad swell on his leg, perhaps caused by rope burn, when he tried to stop the fall.
Mingma was back only to go up again. Certain that a heli will come for rescue.

Shantanu gave him a sedative to ease the pain, which he swallowed reluctantly.
We did not ask him anything about the fall. He had come a long way and we did not want him to remember anything unpleasant. We jollied him into a sleeping bag and asked him to rest for an hour.
I was relieved that we got back one person at least. Would Ang make it through?

From the talk with Mingma we could gather, that Mangesh was in a state where he could not feel pain.
Where would be Rinzing? The poor guy must be heading to Tshoka. Would we get a Heli rescue?

I felt that a rescue will take a very long time. Perhaps too late. At least for sake of Ang? Perhaps Mingma
was right in taking the sleeping bags up.
Mingma woke up late. We assured him that he should not feel pressurized to go up again.

But he was thinking of poor Ang, his nephew. He packed the sleeping bags, wore his boots and gaiters.Strapped the crampons on the boots and hung the haversack.

He took few steps and collapsed in the snow.

We brought him inside the tent. I was stern and said, we did not want to lose more. This was no time to take risks. He was back in his sleeping bag.

It is almost impossible to convey to the reader what we had gone through that night. I thought of Mangesh's wife and daughter. If this had happened to me what would be my family reaction. After all I had told them we were going for a easy peak.

I can just say this should never happen to any person who loves an adventure.
The pressure was tremendous. We were thinking of numerous tasks that would follow. We could not afford negativity of any kind. Personal feelings have no place when we attempt to manage a disaster.

The mishap had brought the three of us  close. I was fortunate to have exceptional people around me. It only made me very strong.

My cough was getting bad. The torch cell was dying. We were wide awake apart from Mingma.

Suddenly in the middle of the night, must have been around 2AM we saw another torch light. Mingma?

I did not hide my pleasure when I saw him walk to the door and fall down into the snow.

Again we asked no questions. I remember taking his head on my lap. He was such a kid. I tried to warm him up and he groaned. I apologised, as I had forgotten his injured arm.

Again, we asked no questions. We wanted him to focus on recovery.

I tried to make him drink water, but he kept coughing. Shantanu did his check.
Shantanu was worried that there might be rib damage. Ang was in a very bad state.

Would we need a stretcher to rescue him? We had no rope.
With the sherpas asleep, we held a council of war in our tent. We had less food. We were running out of battery.

If we could somehow talk them into a slow descend back to Advance base, they could be moved further down by a rescue team. Entirely depended on their morale.

As the sun rose, the gloom at our camp reduced.
We went into the sherpa tent to check. Ang was talkable. He told us that Mangesh stopped breathing at 1AM. He then started his long descent.These sherpas had been on few expeditions with Mangesh and the risk they took was commendable.
I could gauge the respect they had for Mangesh.

Though they knew of the fatality , they stuck with him to the last breath.
I gently opened the subject of going down.Could they walk?

Mingma: 'Lets wait for helicopter.'
Parag: 'What if there is no helicopter. What if its is delayed by 2 days?'
I turned to Ang and said, "You have a Wife and a Kid.You want to return for their sake."

I left the matter with them for discussion.

It worked. In an hour both were ready to go down.
We hurriedly packed one of the tents. Collapsed the other and buried it in the snow.

Shantanu attached the slings and rope pieces to make a moving rope and the 3 of us attached ourselves to it.

We were on a very short leash of around 10 feet between climbers.The Sherpas did not want to rope up.

The sherpas followed us closely at the start of the crevasse zone started.
I had become overly cautious for each step I took. No more accident.
The clouds moved up the valley. Visibility was reduced to 20 ft. The descent seemed very long to me.

We could see the massive rock around which we had set camp. There was no one at camp. Where was Daman?

The Sherpas got into one tent and immediately fell asleep. We occupied the other tent, put our carrymats and stuff for the night.

Daman was back in the camp. He was carrying some food from base. He expressed his condolence politely.

He mentioned that he had seen a small avalanche on the peak but it was much away from the climbing route.

Ang was sinking into delirium. He was chanting.Not responsive. Mingma was better.

With Daman around, we were at home. A pack of 10 Sherpas was coming to Advance base to evacuate our injured.

This was a big relief. I slept well that night.