Monday, December 5, 2011

Pune Marathon 2011- New milestone

Oct 2009 Mt Tinchenkhang.

I was with a group of 4 other climbers; of which, two had completed full Mumbai marathon. Long distance running was a far-fetched dream. Mangesh (an dear old friend and PTC colleague) thought that I should enroll for full Mumbai Marathon. I had timed 55 min in 10 km category and was toying with the idea of half marathon. Sada was keen on registering for a full marathon.

Mangesh and Sada passed away during an accident on the mountain. The thought of improving my running, stuck in my mind. I could use it as a tribute to my friends.

In Dec 2010, I ran my first half marathon and I timed 2 hrs 35 min. I had absolutely no practice, apart from one 8 km run a week, before the marathon. I had bad blisters on my feet and could barely walk. If I could run a half, I could probably do it again with some training.

I joined the Pune running group and on the first run I missed the turnaround point. I completed 26 km run and broke the ½ marathon barrier. The next run was during rains and I bettered to 2 hrs 19 min. The very next run in Oct 2011 , I timed 2 hrs 17 min, which was my personal best. I felt in shape, less tired. Absolutely no knee pain! (I used to suffer a bad left knee, that I inherited from my days of climbing.)

A good running circle and my mates at PTC, Sujit, Nitin and Umesh was an inspiration. My son Neel started accompanying me and soon he completed his 1/2 marathon with Pune Running.

The Mumbai marathon registrations started and I did not enroll. The thought; why run at a different location, when all I need was a road without traffic. I registered for full Pune marathon in Dec 2011.

I pursued my runs at Pune racecourse. Ensured at least two week end runs of 8 km each. Yet two weeks before 4 dec, I had too much work on my mind and the practice ebbed.

On the last week, I caught a cold infection. A bad throat could worsen my chances on completing the run.

The night before the event, I weighed myself. Neel cooked pasta for me. I could not get a good sleep due to anxiety.

I woke up at 4.30AM. Tried to progress with a digital painting that I was working on.

Brewed some green tea. Then I sniffed few drops of Nasivion to clear off nose congestion. I was ready and was picked up by Nitin’s bro to the venue where the PTC folks were waiting. I had to hurry to the start point as Full marathon was due to be flagged at 7AM sharp.

After registering, I joined a group of Kenyans and Ethiopians. I felt overweight . I met Mr Raghu, I guess he was at least 10 years older. He planned to run barefoot. He was to serve as an inspiration.

After the flag off, I was being pushed aside by a small Afro- lady who was keen on a good start. The run was on. I soon adjusted to my normal pace.

I reached the 10km mark (Blue Diamond) without much effort, timed at 57 minutes.

The water stalls by Pune running group were well spaced and I kept a wet sponge with me to keep myself fresh. I saw Sujit’s better half and kid with a plaque in hand. Go Parag! It was encouraging. I quickly picked up half an orange and it helped me get back to normal self.

At the next stall of Pune running, I continued with another Orange.

I broke into a walk-run-walk mode and reached the half marathon point at 2 hrs 17 mins. Raghu crossed me and waved a hand.

Someone mentioned that I could not continue full marathon as I had missed the time. It seems that the cutoff time is 1.45, which I guess I will never meet.

He also mentioned that I would not get any support from then on. I continued at my own risk unaware of what lay beyond. At 23 Km I started longer walk and short run. At around Bremen square I had the last glass of juice, unaware that I would not get any water after 25 km. Traffic was in full swing. For them the marathon was over.

A Volks wagen stopped by and someone inside cheered. I started my jog again. Another marathoner caught up with me. He was a young lad doing his first marathon. Offered me water. I still had Gatorade in my pouch. I was no match for his speed and he soon vanished. I recalled that I had a walkman which I switched on. Deff Leppard screamed “ACTION”.

The slope to Symbiosis hurt and I was at 32 km well inside the city. The traffic was dense and people kept glancing at my limp. (The left knee has started paining.) I could not jog anymore. It was too painful. A call from Nitin-“Do you want us to pick you?” to which I replied no. I wanted to know my time for full marathon.

I followed the marathon posters to Kothrud Police station- Karishma-Mhatre bridge.

I limped to the tune of the “Orinoco Flow” and soon arrived at Nehru stadium. It was 12.07.

All signs of the marathon were removed. I looked inside and a truck full of banners was being loaded. I realized.. I had just completed the toughest of all marathons.

I could not even qualify for Pune M; but I completed it without support from 25 km to 42km.

A new goal was reached.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A never ending story

After placing the Surround sound Speakers, I had an ugly wire running between the speakers. 
The thought of hiding it behind a large canvas painting started 4 years ago.

The Three men in a boat was not large enough (36”X24”). 
So I visited an art store to order for a 6feet by 2 feet large canvas. 
Which means Two Squares side by side. The canvas arrived on a tempo. Meanwhile, I beefed up my supply of paints, Turpentine and linseed oil.
The first thing that came to mind was the famous Michaelangelo painting from Sistene Chapel.
Male nudism did not fit into my living room. (Or so I thought..)

The next thought was my all time favorite The Swan lake ballet. I clipped few snaps from the DVD, played around in Twisted Brush to fit frames and images.

The first one looked like a Stage backdrop and I was soon bored with it.

The next one was from act 2.. Somehow, it still did not portray my appreciation for the Moscow Ballet. I felt it missed out the evil sorcerer.. and so Introduced him.
 (Uhh ..Ohh.. I lost the sorcerer stage image..)
The painting was getting real bad. I searched on the web for Ballet pics. Found a ballet dancer wearing her shoes. I saw determination on her face. She was a bit old to be a dancer, so I introduced her 'dreams' of free dancing.
For few months, the void on the wall was filled.(Or so I thought!)

Slowly and surely, I started detesting the images in the background though the main character was still appealing. The image of the ballet dancer evaporated and I bought acrylic putty to wipe out the entire image. Lot of disapproval, as, many had liked the ballet dancer, including Ila.

I felt that the room needed something fresh. 
I played around with the idea of another digital painting called "Psychedelic dream". It is is still on my comp. As I tried to paint this on the canvas with results that were far from the digital one.
I also thought (digitally) about the Sun and chariot image. Apollo was weaker than the Hindu Sun god by 3 horse power.

After I get back from work something that would seem pleasant. The canvas took a coat of Acrylic paints this time. A painting lovely to look at, not such a work of skill from my view, as it looked like any other Chinese painting. It surely was well appreciated. But isn’t all easy to digest stuff, easily acclaimed?

The painting was on my wall till a month ago, I got thoroughly bored from the look of it.
There was a Black tape running along the border and I started pulling it off. Ila and the kids were amused. Perhaps they lived with the painting for a longer time than me.

What’s life without a change?

Here is the last one in stages (Last one? Or so I thought 2 hours ago).
The painting has almost 5 paintings underneath. I guess I need to buy a new canvas next time I get bored. J

Stage 1
Stage 2

The second female did not fit.

Yet another weekend to refine the first and give a thought to the "other".

The "other girl" looked too Mongolian and I undertook the task to give her a face lift.

In future it has enough ‘paint’ for thought; for a critic.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A dream-So real!

Someday in 1993....

The ridge of Mt Shivling was less difficult, than I had imagined. There are few tough patches, where I have to struggle and my friends Philip , Paul and John help me ascend the critical pitches.
The high winds chill my bones but the Goretex suit attempts to cocoon me.

The goal to climb the mountain in a day, seems close, as we climb up the Hanging glacier to the summit slope with a gradient of 50 degrees.
Finally, one by one each of us stand on the fairytale summit that has place for only 2 men.

With the ascent over, we focus our energy on a safe descent. My energy sapped during the climb to the summit and I have little left. The snow gets thin and my crampons slip on blue ice. I slip down the ice slope. Paul has a tight belay on me and he arrests the fall. I am out of breath to apologise for the inconvenience. My knees get wobbly and fear rules over me.

We have not fixed any ropes; the other climbers are top niche and I am the weakest link in the chain. Yet, they try to share the burden of getting their Liaison officer safe. We reach the rock ridge and the Camp1 site. Another 3 hours and we are back on the Meru glacier.
It is the biggest achievement of my life. A dream climb which I long to share with my friends.

As I travel in Pune, I ring up Prasad and Morya. No Response! I go to Morya’s apartment and see him in a intense talk with Prasad. I cannot hear them.

I yell!.Guys! Shivling is climbed!
They do not even feel my presence. What is wrong?

Early morning, ~4AM, someday in 1993, I wake up and realize; it is just a dream!
I have not climbed anything at all. I feel dismal.

But it was so real!
I could bet ; I had been on Shivling. Does the dream mean I will climb it sometime soon?
Me climbing with the guys from Meru expedition? I had almost lost touch.
Phil died in a climbing accident almost a year ago, but he was on the dream climb with me.

It is difficult for me to ignore the dream.

I recollected this dream today and tried to reason, if there is a connection of the dream, to what happened on Mt Tinchenkhang? Was I not, as good as, declared dead?
If I indeed had met with an accident, would I try to reach my friends to share my success?

Mangesh died on the mountain after a successful ascent.
He would surely want to share his bit of success.

Is my dream a reality, for him?

It is about time I wrote this down!
11April, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mount Kedarnath- My first expedition

Mount Kedarnath is the peak that towers above the Kedarnath Temple. Half the people feel that the trek to the pilgrimage and the expedition to the mountain are the same, much to the disappointment of the climbers in India.
The face on the side of the temple is a sheer vertical wall which has a successfull ascent.
The Main Kedarnath peak has three satellite peaks, Mt Kedar Dome on the left  and Bharte Kuntha and Kirti Stambh on the right.

The invitation to join the Mount Kedarnath (22770’) team was not a surprise. Anand was grooming me for his tall plans and Kedarnath was a tough goal for an alpine style attempt. The route was on the opposite side to the rock wall. The Entire face was of Snow and ice.

The expedition was in May 1987. I had a brief experience of early winter in Himalayas Oct Nov season and the scene in May was entirely different due to lot of snow deposit.

Anand had calculated 3000 ft rope that needed to be fixed on the face. We had ordered rope from Garware Nylons that came at half the cost due to their donation.

Girish and I were the least experienced climbers. Pravin Narkhede, Hemant Kashikar and Bhushan Bapat were veterans.

The group used to assemble in a small room at the heart of Pune to pack the equipment and rations.

The much awaited start date arrived and we moved the gear to the station. Each kit bag load was 25kg. At every transfer point these were to be unloaded and reloaded to the transport.

As the train chugged away from the Pune railway station we bid farewell to our families and friends.

I was reading a Maurice Herzog book, The first ascent of Mt Annapurna. (The first 8000mt peak that was successful.) I had dreams about reconnaissance of Mt Kedarnath and about us ending up at the Kedarnath Temple after a month of travel. Someone pointed us the real mountain which was 11000’ above us. Once I dreamed that the mountain was bare rock, devoid of Snow and I saw a leafless tree at the summit.

We acquainted well in the train. Anand gave SLR handling lessons. How to frame a scene? What’s the best time in the day to shoot etc..

We caught a bus from Delhi to Rishikesh and then to Uttarkashi. We were to hire equipment at Nehru Institute of mountaineering and arrange for porters.

At Uttarkashi, a black sheep dog kept following me. He would not let go of me. Soon, I saw that he climbed into the NIM bus. It was Kalu, the dog I befriended, almost 6 months ago during my Basic mountaineering course. He had not forgotten me.

We had a meeting with Col Bajaj the Principal of NIM. He was eager to know our plans about climbing the mountain.

He was blunt and mentioned that there was a lot of snowfall in the season.

We might be wading through Knee deep Snow. He reminded us of the Satopanth accident a year ago, where the team from Pune was avalanched off the base of the mountain with lot of fatalities. He mentioned that we should be careful on Kedarnath, as it had huge snow laden slopes. He had been on the satellite peak of Kedarnath called Bharte Kuntha and the team had to wade through thigh deep snow.

We had all the equipment, but we did not get a size 12 climbing boot for Pravin. An expedition without the boot would mean Pravin would be grounded at base.

We were having our dinner at Patiyala Dhaba, when a large frame European entered. Pravin enquired if he was a climber. He was a Austrian engaged in fishery research at Dodital. Did he have a mountain boot. Yes!

He was kind enough to give us the address of his cottage at Mussourie. Pravin left the next morn for Mussourie.

I truly started believing that if you have guts to talk with an open mind, you may get solutions to the worst problem that may seem not feasible. The world is full of resources that one needs to tap. There is a good chance to get out of tight corners.

There is a small gap from the possible to the impossible. There is a lot to learn during travel.

I believe that I got over, my shy nature, through the mountaineering expeditions.

The loads were arranged and the lead Sherpa was a guy called Jagdamba from Mount Support. The drop of all loads was to be at Kala Patthar on Higher Tapovan.

There was time to kill and we spent time on physical activities.

I tried to mimic Bhushan, who was a fitness freak. One of the exercises was super dips with a quick jump on the arms and clap while going down. Being the weaker guy, I landed on my chin as my arms gave way and the chin bone was seen through the wound. Anand sprayed the quick heal so that I would not need stitches. I still carry a small scar, a trouble when shaving.

A team of 3 climbers from Indonesia were friendly. They planned to attempt Mt Vasuki. They presented us with an altimeter. Unfortunately its highest limit ended at our base camp.

In the mountains

Gangotri was a much smaller place than I had imagined. The bridge at Bhaironghati fascinated me. We stayed at a small guesthouse. The Panditji was a good talker. He narrated many stories that matched with a Bollywood gangster movie. I could not imagine him, connected to Smugglers at his age and thought that he probably needed someone to talk to. His ramblings were surely an effect of Rice liquor and abundant time to kill. Apart from Bollywood stories, he also had some knowledge about the folk tales around the peak names, which were interesting.

The loads were distributed to the porters in the glow of an oil lamp. Gangotri had no Electricity.

The porters grouped for a camp fire; as we slept the Garhwali folk songs faded away.

Gangotri road head at 11000’ is a big advantage for Climbers. The base camp can be set at 14000+ feet in two to three days time. Our first halt was at Bhojbas, 12000’. It was an easy walk compared to my first experience during the basic mountaineering course. We stayed at a vacant hut which was used by the local Police. Bhojbas had traces of snow and the conditions higher up could be quite bad. At 5.30PM we tuned to listen to the AIR weather broadcast that we had subscribed to.

NIM was running the advance mountaineering course nearby and Girish got his pair of boots as promised by the colonel.

Next day we started on our way to Tapovan. The NIM team was training on ice craft on the snout of the glacier. I met my Instructor “Guruji”. We crossed the river over a snow bridge and started plodding our way up the slope to Tapovan. Snowcraft at the basic course seemed fun; when laden with a heavy sack , it was a pain.

As we reached the upper slopes, the sun scorched. The UV radiation from the snow all around burned my skin. I pleaded for a cloud and saw that my prayers were answered.

But as soon as the cloud covered the sun, the temperature dropped rapidly and I longed for the sun to crawl out of the cover.

Late noon, we reached Khada Patthar camp. A team from Mumbai had set up their campsite. They were to attempt Kedar dome as a Pre-Kangchenzonga expedition.

Our cook, Buddhi Singh prepared the dinner of Khichdi and Tomato soup.

Establishing Advance base

It took us 3 days to ferry loads from base camp to advance base. The route skirted around the slopes of Shivling and then entered Kirti Glacier. There was huge snow deposit (Knee deep) over the moraine. We established the camp a little farther into the glacier than the Mumbai team.

The tents were of Polish make, Triangular three pole; camping equipment but not meant for Mountaineering expeditions. Budhi was in a small canvas tent that was our “mess”.
The heat at 11AM was almost unbearable. The thermometer showed 40 deg C and we were camped in midst of snow. At night the temp climbed down to subzero. The huge variation was having a toll on my body.

The food was restricted to a soup and rice. Tea was sugared with Sweetex tablets.

Budhi and I went back to Base for a load ferry through a snow drizzle. Budhi felt that I was strong enough to attempt a smaller peak, in given conditions, probably Bhagirathi-2. Mt. Kedarnath was not an easy target.

The snow cover was a big hurdle to our plan of climbing Kedarnath peak. We held a council of war to decide on the fate of the expedition. The gully that led to upper slopes was avalanche prone. The Kedar Dome ridge was not easy either as it was an easy slope that sheltered more snow. Anand decided that Pravin and he would try to attempt Kedar Dome. The idea of climbing Kedarnath was dismissed.

I was shaken by this decision as Anand swapped his leather shoes with my Double layer Koflach. I was one of the stronger members, but least experienced and the call made by the leader was correct.
The Australian team Campsite- Kedar Dome-East Ridge

The Attempt

Anand and Pravin left Advance base. They traversed the glacier and set up Camp1 at the base of the Kedardome Ridge. They tried to get higher on the ridge but were forced to retreat due to Thigh deep snow. The snow would get soggy after noon.

Two days later as they arrived the Advance base, we saw our friends had a high sun burn.

The very next day, I helped Anand to ferry wind up Camp1 and retreat from the mountain.
Through the retreat, the crossing of the Bhagirathi below Gomukh (Snout) at 2PM was a thrill. Ice cold waters gushing, and thigh deep.

All expeditions in the season except peaks lower than 20000’ were failures in that season.

Anand had tall plans for next year and Pravin and he went for Recee of Mt Nilkanth in Badrinath. He also bought some used equipment from the ITBP team attempting Mt Chaukhamba.

Girish and I returned via Mussourie to return the pair of Size 12 Boots to the Austrian gentleman.

The team re-grouped at Delhi in the midst of a heat wave. Soon after the expedition Anand and Pravin got married.

Though the expedition did not provide me a climbing role, I learned a lot.

As a junior member, I yielded to the experience of the leader without fuss. The leader listened to the opinion of the NIM principal and did not put his life or that of the team in danger.

The leader perhaps had set a very high goal without checking the feasibility. A higher goal may not be reachable but it prepares the team to strive for beyond limit.

The expedition was supported only by one cook. No High altitude porters were used. It was hence, pure adventure and exploration.

The expedition had a very low budget. The experience helped us decide higher priority to invest on basic climbing gear.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

100% Alpine style

My part time studies had slowed down my Climbing. I was looking forward to the completion with a lot of eagerness as I longed to plan expeditions again.

Unfortunately, something gained and something lost is the rule of the world.
My climbing circle dwindled. My close friends had married and settled down.
I realized; I was a lone bachelor. My mind went back to crazy ideas. Could I climb a smaller peak solo?

I recollected an account of a climber from Calcutta. He had soloed Mt. Kedar Dome (22440’) mountain in Gangotri Glacier. This was an inspiration. Someone had paved the path for me. It could be done. Would my parents agree?

Even if I traveled light, Pitching a triangular tent by myself in high wind could be a problem. Tinned food/ Noodles. Gas canisters or Solid fuel?

What were the risks? Storms? Avalanches? Crevasses? I thought; I would turn back when I saw too much risk.

Much to my surprise, I found that I was not alone. A Doctor from Pune had a similar plan. We had a brief talk and I told him my plan. As I had been on the mountain I gave him some idea of the lay of the land and possible camping sites.
The Doctor had planned to leave earlier and we could not match each other’s time frame.

The knowledge that another person also thought this peak feasible, only made the resolve, stronger.

Shrikant, my batchmate suggested that I could take a person to basecamp. He knew a mutual friend who would be interested. I was OK to add another person as long as he was not a burden.
Vid was known to me as a Violinist. In the hostel, I played harmonica in the same music circle.
I had no idea of his recent crazy pursuits, which was solo cycling Pune-Goa.
I am against taking a person without any mountain climbing experience to Himalayas, yet in this case I made an exception.
I talked with Vid and made sure, that he understood that he accompanied me only till base.

We were not taking any porters with us.
This was my first expedition, where I would need to carry a 25Kg sack, on the way up the mountain.
The first day was make or break.

As we reached Gangotri, I was surprised to see the Doctor in the market. Was all not well?
He had an interesting story. There was a silver jubilee expedition on Kedar Dome. The mountain was sealed by a high authority. Loads were ferried to the Glacier using Helicopters.

They had asked the Doctor to beat off the mountain. He the tried another route on the face on the right of the ridge and finally gave up. I remembered the face. It was certainly not good, for Solo.

I hoped the team got down the mountain and let me climb it. I had a story in my mind. A reconnaissance expedition for Mt Kedarnath. I was here to take photographs to plan a future expedition. For studying the Kedarnath face, I needed to get on the ridge.

We trekked to Bhujbasa and pitched the tent. There was a canteen and we did not need to cook. Vidyanand was in a good form. I was happy that I tied up with a strong guy for this venture.


We climbed up the Gangotri glacier and traversed to Tapovan. The slope to Lower Tapovan got me panting. I was back to the place after around 6 years. It was a lot better than the knee deep snow clad landscape in May 86. I had chosen the post monsoon season and the weather was outstanding.

There was a small hut that rose from a debris of rocks. An Old Sadhwi came out and offered us some rice as Prasaad. I was enjoying all the extra food that I was getting as we carried very few rations.
Vid asked her for Yoghurt. It then struck me that he was completely out of place. He had no idea about the Altitude. We were at more than 14000 feet. The land was barren. Milk was almost a day away.

I remembered it was another 1-2 hr walk to Higher Tapovan. We moved slowly to cover the distance. Bhagirathi Trio shone on the left across the right bank of the Gangotri Glacier.
Soon we saw Khada Patthar. A huge Boulder usually used to set a kitchen tent.

There was a village of tents. A banner fluttered in the wind, claimed,  they were from West Bengal.
It was noon. The team invited us to their mess tent for tea. I was surprised to see, the youngest member of the team was a 5 year old. The team gave us a warm welcome and I have no words to express the treatment they bestowed on us. The team was awed by the fact that we were just two and had carried huge load without porters.

Over the talk, I mentioned about the reconnaissance for Mt Kedarnath face. And that I would get back fast, as we had less rations.
The Bengalis mentioned that they could not move to higher camp.
The peak was occupied by a high authority and they were not allowing any trespassing.
They invited us for dinner. I believe that they did not completely buy our story and perhaps had a very good idea about the real motive.

As we walked to our tent I mentioned to Vid, that it sealed out chance of attempting the peak completely. The West Bengal expedition had a legal permit. Yet they were stuck at base.  I remembered Shashank’s fate.

Could we go for another peak? I remembered a slide show from 1985 about a small peak, Thelu.
It seemed to be a lot easier than Kedar dome, but the challenge was a completely unknown and ambiguous terrain. It would be close to an exploration based on 6 year old slide show.
It seemed equally challenging to me, though it was only 19700’ high. The terrain might be easier than Kedar Dome. Perhaps, I could allow Vid to a higher camp.

Day 3-

We set camp in Lower Tapovan, as we had a day to spare. We decided to explore the Shivling glacier for the day. Get as far as we could. This would help us acclimatize. Climb high and sleep low.

I had a small sack with a water bottle and a camera. I scampered up the moraine and after few hours, I was close to the Shivling Rock buttress. I saw few people move on the rock on fixed ropes.

Exploration is fascinating. Every turn opens a new arena, at times beyond the imagination. I like reading Topographic sheets. As the peaks and ridges unfold before me , I check how close the scene is to what I imagined from the map reading.

I was deeply interested to see the other side of Shivling ; whether there could be a route to Kirti glacier.
I found that it was not an easy one. There was a barricade that seemed to be 19000ft high connecting Shivling and Meru north peak, definitely not for a layman.

I took snaps of the entire ridge and the summits of Shivling. I was surprised to see two light skinned people emerge from behind the morraine. They looked very tired. I handed my Water bottle. I was at the Meru Advance base camp.

They were Italians and had tried attempting Meru 3. They showed me their route and mentioned it was pretty loose scramble to the top of the ridge. They did not go for the summit. I felt they had done the crux of the climb.

Vid and I walked back with them to Tapovan. I was impressed by what a pair of climbers can do.  Reminded me of Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker.

I longed for the next day to start. There was a 3rd valley to explore. I was content that I was burning myself for something equal to Kedardome climb and penetrate unknown glaciers.

Day 4:

The traverse of the glacier was easy. I knew that we had to cross the Raktavarna Hollow. But as we got to this place, we found ourself in a glacial waste that was cone shaped. There was a stream that went into this cone. After searching for a long time we did not see any way to cross the cone. Then I noticed a Cairn that was down the hollow. It looked impossible to get to the cairn. Another cairn was at the opposite edge of the hollow.

I asked Vid to stay as I descended the hollow. The rocks were scattered over Ice and I started slipping down towards the hole. I could not do much as I caused the landslide. Luckily the slide stopped. I asked Vid to start his descent. It must have taken a lot of courage on his part as he had never done anything so risky.
As he reached me, I started off to climb the hollow to get to the other side. The scramble was tough as the sack was very heavy. There was good motivation to succeed; we could not afford to end in a gaping icy hole.

As we reached the other side, we saw a very easy path skirting up the moraine.
We had taken a wrong route. The glacial movement had caused boulder with the cairn to sink into the funnel.

After climbing the grassy meadows, we reached Thelu base camp. There were few tents and the expedition was from around Pune. They must have gone for the summit.
As we cooked our dinner, the team arrived. The ascent was successful. I was surprised to see rock pitons and snow stakes. They mentioned that they chose a route up the rock wall that went straight to the summit.
My intent was to take an easy route, from the Col between Sudarshan and Thelu.

Vid was suffering from nausea. He was not fit enough to travel for next day. I mentioned my plan. If he did not recover the next day, I would not establish the next camp, but aim directly for the summit.

We escaped a mishap as the Solid fuel can caught fire inside the tent. I quickly shoved it outside the tent and smothered the flames. We could not afford to lose fuel nor the tent.

Day 5:

It was a long haul up the boulders and sharp debris to Camp 1. We camped close to the glacier. The night was uneventful as the sky was clear. It was cold.
Vid was at 17000’ and this was his personal height gain record.

Day 6:
Vid was going to accompany to the summit. I was OK as long as he kept his pace close to mine. I could not afford to delay the climb and Vid was not a climber. The plan was to solo and I intended to stick to it.

Vid was struggling with his crampons. The gap between him and me grew as I got closer to the Thelu col.

I left the water bottle for Vid and started cramponing up the slope. There was no sense of fear. Soon I was at the top of the ridge. It looked almost half a km long and there was a cornice on the right side.

The view from the ridge was amazing.  I could see all the mountains I had been with all these years. After climbing up the ridge at one juncture there was a wide cornice. I was on top and there was a risk to walk along the cornice. A drop of almost 4000 feet on the right. I photographed the panorama.

 I could see Vid in the Glacier waving at me. I waved back and started down the slope.

I could sense Vid’s disappointment as I got down. He was glad that I reached near top. Felt that I could have waited and we could have climbed it together.
The descent was fast. We did not venture into the Raktavarna hollow as we found the easy route.

The expedition had gone well without any mishaps / injuries. Though I had a bad sunburn in just a week I was proud of what we achieved in a small time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Casual affair- Mount Thelu

During a trip to Japan, I met a sales guy who was keen on climbing. He had climbed the Half Dome in Yosemite . The guy’s Kindergarten kid was also good at Bouldering. I explained through my interpreter that I was a keen climber few years ago but not so keen anymore.

After my comeback to Pune after the 3 week travel, a lot changed for me.

I received a promotion. The catch was that I was given a completely new team. My old responsibilities had been distributed to others and I had to define a goal for a new team that was for a product new to them.

The task was ambiguous and we struggled to find a good approach towards customer centric software testing. I was unsure of the future. Would I be able to steer the team in the right direction?

They were novices for my product, skilled at something else. Worse, they had a good market value for their experience and there was a high attrition risk.

What does a human do in a different environment? He tries to Acclimatize!

Had I become too used to comfort? Was I as good a climber, as before? 9 years had passed.

I began to think seriously. If I cannot adjust myself to my capability 9 years ago, was it right expecting a new team to adjust to something entirely different?

Ila was ok with the idea of me going on a trek with a porter.

I desperately felt the need to prove myself again. The call of the mountains was indeed getting strong.

In the worst case scenario, I would fail to climb. Perhaps I should engage a High Altitude Porter to assist me, the climb may be easier.

I talked about my idea with my colleague, Mangesh. He connected me with a Sherpa in Uttarkashi.
I mentioned my plan, gave a brief history of my experience and that I had not climbed for 9 years.

Mangesh mentioned that the guy was reliable and could take any person who could walk long distances, to a summit.
I started my 7 km run. It was already May and I had less than a month to prepare.

Uttarkashi was well connected and making a phone call was so easy. I planned my entire expedition in 2 days. My equipment was being arranged at Uttarkashi.


I carried my packed rucksack to work and at noon took the Delhi flight. At around 4PM I was in Delhi. I took the bus to Rishikesh and reached there at 1AM. I was carrying lot of cash. But who would try to rob a guy carrying a huge sack and an army kitbag on his neck. I set an alarm for 6AM and dozed off.


Early morning, I hired a jeep to Gangotri. During the journey, I found that the soles of my climbing boots were coming off at places. I bought some adhesive and hoped they would last the trek in the moraine. As soon as we reached Uttarkashi and I went to the agent. A team of 4 porters was waiting for me. I was irritated. I had booked only one guy. These porters had 5 kitbags. I was sure I did not need all the stuff. I started pulling out unnecessary stuff.

Quickly calculated the dues and paid them in advance. (Lesser cash to handle that way.)

I had only 5 thousand Rupees and a Return ticket from Delhi to Pune. My credit card was of no use till Rishikesh.
There were a lot of snow stakes, Dead men, Ice pitons which I knew for sure were useless on the peak (Mt Thelu).

The cook said to me, “ Sahib. Never underestimate a mountain. Anything can happen.”

I decided to give in to the more experienced porter and took the gear.

I mentioned that my flight return date was fixed. If we did not climb the mountain in the fixed period, I was going to return empty handed.

It also meant that if the weather turned bad for a day, I had only one more day to spare in the mountains.

From my past expeditions, I had known that my body adapted quickly to high altitude without acclimatization, if it were a short climb.
On longer climbs of more than 30 days, there was always a small period where my performance went down, to pick up again for a longer expedition. I hoped I could fool my body by a fast ascent.

I had planned a very short trip not sure of the success. It did not matter.
All I wanted is to find my current worth.

We reached Gangotri at nightfall. We settled in a small hotel overlooking the Gangotri falls. The porters smoked in the room and I went out for a fresh breath. I felt that I was where I belonged. The pine forests. Smell of Turpentine. The hustle bustle of the Pilgrims. I had been to Gangotri many times.

I missed my friends. I remembered the Satopanth expedition (May 1998), when I decided to retire from climbing. Yet, here I was.
A bit luxurious expedition for one person.

In the moonlight, the upper slopes of Mount Sudarshan shone.
Well everything was in its place, but was I still the same?

I wanted to use this expedition to find peace and perhaps re-discover the lost myself. I had crossed forty years of age.

The lone trek to Bhojbasa (12000’) had gone well. I had never walked so fast. The porters were a good 2 hours behind me with their heavy load. I had around 15 kg of load, which, I felt the necessary burden for acclimatization.

 The sun set behind Shivling and I was soon bitterly cold in the wind. The porters were not seen. My tent was with them. I pulled over my Joe Brown Goretex top. I spent my time outside, lazing in the sun, trying to get aquainted to the cold and the altitude.

Late in the evening the porters arrived with the gear. We quickly pitched the tent. I emptied the rucksack and pulled out ‘ Rebecca’ for reading.
The cook brought hot tea to my tent. I had never been served this way in the mountains.

I recalled the old expeditions when we used to take turns at the stove to melt ice and make tea. It was so much easier with porters. It was ending out to be a perfect vacation.

The light rain was soaking my tent. I was happy that I had dug a gutter around the tent.

The tent was old and soon the outer sagged and started wetting the tent inner.

I desperately tried to create runnels of water to the door. Tried to keep the sleeping bag dry.. The affair lasted for an hour and then, it got very cold.

I gave up on Rebecca as the night closed in.

The dinner of Soya and Potato curry and chapatis was gorgeous. I remembered that in the Himalayas, I had never slept peacefully.
I had always shared my tent with one or other friend.

Being alone, I had to find work for myself, as I had all the time in the world.

I lit a candle in my mug and went back to the book.


Gomukh was an easy stroll. As we climbed up the Glacial debris, I noticed that the Snout of the glacier had Longitudinal crevasses. Was the glacier dying fast? I recalled my early expeditions the crevasses near the snout were transverse.

We climbed up the loose scree near Raktavarna Hollow.

The hollow is a huge hole in the glacier and the Raktavarna stream vanishes into this gaping hole.

The porters were carrying heavy loads and the cursed a lot.
The land had changed a lot and it was a very risky climb.

As if it was not enough, a Mountain goat started a small landslide above us.

Soon, we cleared the loose scree slopes and walked into the green meadow like slopes.

Clouds gathered in. Through the mist, I heard someone holler. A small guy was waving his hands. My High Altitude porter, Vishnu.

Vishnu was back from an expedition from Nandanvan and had come to accompany me on my climb. We had a quick hand shake. He asked me about Mangesh. The common acquaintance helped to develop a better relationship.

The altitude had started affecting my pace. We were at around 15000 feet.

I walked slow and steady with the porters ahead of me. Through the mist I saw the moraine from the left . The Thelu stream was close and the base camp was at the junction of the two streams. The wind howled and Vishnu lent me his parka and got back to the task of errecting the tents.

It was afternoon, but the clouds gathered and the sun dimmed. I crawled into my tent. The porter brought me tea and Noodles. I lazed in my tent, reading the book.

A Himalayan Chough entertained me as I threw bits of my Biscuit.

As the clouds vanished I pulled out my video and shot the panaroma. Took some snaps of the basecamp as well.

Vishnu had considered the next day as rest day, probably to help me settle at the altitude.

I was keen to cover more ground and finish the expedition as fast as I could.

We talked it over and I stuck to my decision.
The night was pretty cold, a good sign that we were blessed by clear weather.

Day 5:

The cook and another porter helped me ferry my sack to Camp1. I was getting tired and I reluctantly handed them my sack.

I was no more the climber I was few years ago. The expedition was more of a photographic venture. After travelling through endless rubble of sharp rocks, Vishnu and I set Camp 1 at around 17000 feet. I could see the summit of Thelu and Sudarshan foreshortened. I thought it would be an easy scramble to the top.

However, things turned bad. The wind was high and it was carrying lot of clouds. A snow drizzle started and the barren rocky scape, devoid of vegetation, was covered with a white blanket.

I told Vishnu that if things turned worse we should get down the next day instead of going for the summit.

Vishnu was carrying some wooden sticks. He explained that the gas cylinder had leaked. I would have panicked at the situation but Vishnu was going ahead with his plan B. The Wood would last us for two meals.

Vishnu was not carrying his sleeping bag. He was dressed in his Goretex suit and was comfortable. I wondered how he could stay warm.

He narrated an incident an year ago where he had led a group of foreigners across the Pass to Kedarnath temple.

The weather had turned bad and the entire team had less food and fuel to make it across. Weather deteriorated further and there was causality due to hypothermia.
After wading in deep snow for two days, the rest of the team made it through to a army outpost. The experience had left a mark on Vishnu and he was a more matured climber. A survivor that I could count on.

Day 6:

The snowfall had stopped sometime at night. I crawled outside the tent for the call of nature.

The sun looked like a ball of fire through the clouds. Not a good sign. The weather could turn foul anytime.

I had a cup of tea and few biscuits. It was customary of me, to eat light before the climb.

Soon we started the glacier walk. The terrain seemed quite different since the last time I climbed Thelu. There was a huge hump and we crisscrossed up the slope.

There was a tongue of snow up the rock that would take us to the top of the ridge.

Vishnu pulled out the climbing rope. He mentioned that he had left his crampons at base.

I cursed silently.

The main reason of taking a Sherpa was that I could rope up with him and the climb would be more secure.

I decided that I would not rope up with a guy who was a risk.
The wall had thin film of smow and ice underneath. It would be disastrous for me to rope up with a guy who had no crampons.

We decided to climb solo. He was using a crack in the rock to climb up and I was on the snow gully. Mentally having him to climb with me was a big relief.

I could not have climbed this solo after all these years.

I must have climbed for an hour and then I looked down the glacial basin.

The world seemed to reel. I had no strength to go on. I sank to my knees Plunged my Axe shaft to secure my position. Vertigo! I was certainly out of touch.

I looked towards down at Vishnu.

“I cannot go on. I need to get back safe.”

“Sahib, just keep going to the right.”

I followed Vishnu and soon the slope eased out. I looked up.

It was a dream come true.

Soon, I was on the top ridge. Vishnu climbed up. The Thelu Summit was a gentle slope toward the left, Already covered by Clouds.

I quickly shot the 360 degrees panaroma. I mentioned to Vishnu that this was the crux. I wanted to focus on a safe descent. The Summit walk was simple but time taking. I remembered my family. Would they be happy for me?

I took a last look at Mount Matri and the twins. There was quite a history there. I saw the Hump where we had camped.

Towering high on my right was Mount Sudershan. The mist did not allow me to see more.

I descended the snow slope carefully. I did not even take a risk to descend with side kick. I front pointed the entire slope till I felt safe. My toes ached.

Once we were back in the basin, Vishnu started off in a fast descent.

I rolled on at my speed. We collapsed the tent, wound up Camp 1 and started a descent to base camp.

It was quite a white out. I could not see Vishnu. There were boulders all over. Few were human shaped.

Anyways, I was in this gully for the second time. I could not miss my way. I crossed the stream. The water had risen and I could clear it with few jumps. The boulders had verglass.

The maze was lifting. I saw the tents at Base camp. The cook welcomed me with a glass of tea and Onion Pakoras. I looked around. The veil lifted I could see Mount Shivling.

I had a severe cough. I retired in my Dome tent into my sleeping bag.

This was the most wonderful expedition I ever did. I had climbed a mountain 19700ft high in just 6 days. Simple plan and Sherpa support. Yet the crux was soloed.

I felt good about myself. Mountaineering is all about feeling good!

The mountain had allowed me to barely finish the climb.
If the white out was an hour before, I would not have pursued the climb.

The journey back home was rapid. I reached Delhi in two days. I caught a taxi to the airport and flew back to Pune a day earlier than planned.

Life @ 40 is not bad at all!.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Apprenticeship

Compared to Port Blair Pune was no fun. There were cousins who bettered at studies. I struggled. 
Dry life, no adventure.Heavy traffic. 
Once I was almost run over by a truck. A month of bed rest and my studies slipped again.
Cycling in the Andamans was lot easier than Pune.

I didn’t make real friends outside school. The change was major from a cosmopolitan atmosphere to a conservative one. I was unable to join groups. Cynicism was high in air. I was slow to grasp the typical Puneri style. I had not known my caste till 8th grade. It seemed pretty important to some people.

Drawing was an important subject at 8th grade. I was unable to convince my parents that Drawing homework was equally important. The drawings were never completed in time, if at all they were , a hurried mess. The rest of the drawing book went into making paper planes.
For most of the drawing lessons, I was punished for incomplete work.
I hated the topics that we were asked to paint. I rebelled at the thought of someone dictating me on a subject to draw.
During the last semester, I produced a new drawing book with the last assignment on the first page of the book., with an excuse that the earlier book was lost.
The drawing teacher had asked for an ad. of tinned fish food.
I knew that I would be asked to leave the class. Instead, the teacher said,
“ This is good work. Why do you not pay attention to your sketches?”
This was the first good remark I heard at school after ages. Yet, I was aware of other students who were really good at art.
I liked Geometry.

I was moved from central School to a local school. I relaxed; as study was lot easier.
I had been accustomed to make and lose friends, all my life.
The new school had many groups and I was an outsider. In a week I managed to find a group of open minded guys like my older school.

In 10th grade I tried my best. I got a higher score; exceeded the expectations at home.
I was still unable to get an admission in local colleges. Luckily a school that relied on IQ test over the regular marks absorbed me as a student.
I could see students with lower marks get admissions to colleges through “contacts”. I had none and I hated the thought of using a influence.

En parallel, I gave an interview at a Automobile company for technical apprenticeship.

 My parents strongly supported my decision. My prime reason was to earn money, secure a job and with the time left over to develop hobbies.
Few friends felt that it was a really bad decision.

On 11th sept ‘81, I walked out of the house with bare essentials to earn my living at the age of 16.
I was not alone. We were a pack of 117 of, scrutinized and selected from a humongous crowd.
I had absolutely no idea, what went on in this engineering industry. The campus was enormous and had a bus service between the blocks.

As I put on the green workshop attire, it dangled on my frail body. There was a lot of “room for improvement”. I would get leaves as per industry standard. My weekend shifted to Thursday.

I had no college life. I had chosen to be a Technical worker and it was a tough call.

Three months flew fast. Very casual ragging by seniors and I lost my airs about myself. I was just a part of the hostel team. I was getting fluent in Harmonica. Sometimes, the seniors used to ask me to play few tunes and I escaped the more intense ragging.

The Hostel was indeed a fine place, well maintained by the apprentices. There were more unpleasant tasks like cleaning the toilets, verandas. If one lives he ought to clean the mess.

I joined the National Cadet corps, which was a good way to get Military training. The parades were twice a week and I was exempt from workshop duties. I was surprised; many Instructors hated NCC guys. My Drawing teacher ragged and humiliated me for some unknown reason and NCC lay at the bottom of it.

I liked the kind of knowledge the Parade gave me. I was a good shot at 25 meters range with a .303 rifle. The best was dismantling and cleaning the rifle post shooting. I later learned to dismantle the sten gun and a Light machine gun.

One of the training instructors at the Technical school started an adventure club. He eliminated all NCC cadets who applied. This was a turning point for me and many others.
The adventure activities included Cycling, trekking and long runs. This triggered other activities from the NCC boys.

The hostel wall was made of reconstructed stone. Prasad and I took turns at ‘Chimney climbing’ to the 1st floor. Chimney climbs were less risky as we could jam ourselves against the opposite wall. As we gained more strength and courage, we graduated to the flat vertical wall.
Prasad set a taller record by climbing to the second floor. He was determined to beat his record.

These climbs were a night sport, to avoid the Rector.
One such night, I was halfway up flat wall. Few friends were watching the climb from 2nd floor and one guy was on watch, to raise an alarm.
I inched my way to the second floor and started the traverse to enter the chimney portion. ‘Rector’, The Alarm guy yelled. The fear of expulsion from training division. I jumped and landed like a cat in the soil below. No harm done. I was almost breathless as I climbed the stairs to mark my presence at the night roll call.

The Cricket star, Sunil Gavaskar was at the Hostel after a heroic tour at West Indies. The entire building was empty. Cricket did not interest me and I was engrossed in the 3rd escape of ‘Papillon’.

The daily routine was well set. At 5.30pm I got to the hostel after work and immediately rushed to the swimming tank. Few guys were training for Industrial competitions and I tried to watch and learn. I pursued swimming and it improved my stamina.

Bruce Lee was a favorite figure at the hostel. But soon after the ‘36th Chamber of Shaolin’ was screened, our dormitory turned into a martial arts center. Bruce Lee was regarded as the “real” action hero. One of the bookworms was trying to learn the Karate moves by reading a book. There was another serious guy who was into Boxing. He introduced skipping. A Wrestler from Kohlapur mimicked the Shaolin monk by carrying two Buckets of water, arms parallel to the ground.

The Dormitory was full of fun. At any juncture one of the ten was active in some crazy pursuits to liven up the room. The seniors did the rest of livening in the pre roll call Rag session. Ragging was strictly prohibited and the few cases found were quickly settled through mutual agreement.

Unfortunately most of the activities were based on Physical strength that I lacked.

The Stipend earnings were saved and I had sufficient to spend on the basic needs ie. food and transport.

The group of 4 NCC cadets started a thought. Bike: Pune-Mumbai. I started biking at weekends for workout. Bruce Lee ignited a spark so intense that I once pedaled carrying my friend on my bike for 18 km after watching the “Fist of Fury”.

With everything as per plan, the 4 set off for Mumbai during the Diwali vacations.

Pedal Pushers

After the shift the boys pulled out their bicycles. We sneaked out of the hostel keeping an eye on the Rector’s office and casually pedaling out of the hostel gate. Each bike had a small sack with food, water and clothes.

It was 4.30PM, thirty minutes delay from the planned departure.
Nigdi passed and they were climbed the slope to Dehu road.  We took a halt at Talegaon for a brief rest. We passed Vadgaon, cut through Kamshet and reached Lonavla. One of the bikes had a puncture that was set right. We dined at a cheap place and discussed further plan. It was 9PM and the food made me lethargic.
I wanted to give up and sleep the night but the group spirit was high. It flashed to me that I could not give up now. I would not be able to save face at the hostel.

None of the bikes had torches, as the team sped biking down the ghat slopes, brakes squeaking. At Rajmachi point the police stopped us.
We mentioned that we were going to a village at the bottom of the ghat and the police were satisfied.

The slope was steep and the breaks juddered in attempt to reduce the speed. I found that a better way to reduce speed was to jam my heel into the rear wheel. We soon reached the bottom of the ghat. The bikes were very basic, without gears. Moonlight helped to light the way; so did the huge laden trucks that shone the headlights. I was feeling very tired and we had to stop every 5 km for a rest. The drone of the trucks occupied my mind and he kept pushing on with the rest.

The lights of Panvel were a treat. We decided to rest our aching limbs. I had a saddle sore and was barely able to walk to the Bus station.
It was 4AM and there were announcements of buses ready to depart. We shared some biscuits and decided to sleep for an hour.
Sleep would not come easily as the cacophony of the passengers never ended. Bombay was not far from here and the destination could be reached by noon next day.

In the morning light the 4 mounted on their bikes. The sores brought me back to reality. We passed the Vashi toll bridge. No toll for cycles. Maruti cars zoomed past and I wondered if I would ever get rich enough to afford a car. I dreamed of driving one to Bombay.

My friends parted earlier and I pedaled on till Dadar. I had a story to narrate but wasn’t sure of the reaction.

My first large adventure ended. I had a bath and tried to sleep. The sores and body pain only reminded me of the huge effort.  The pain became a distant illusion.