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.

Day-1
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.

Day2:

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.