Thursday, May 9, 2013

Kamet



It was 7PM when the door bell rang.

“Prasad! Its good to see you. What is up?”
“ Let’s go to Sinhagad. I am carrying two hammocks.”, chirped Prasad. “Its fun to do something unplanned.”

I was surprised as Prasad, never divulges the full intent in first talk. He had a grand plan.
“ Do you have a good torch?”
I fished out one from my drawer.

“ But I haven’t eaten anything.”
Prasad, “Let’s eat at some place on the route and then climb.”

Over a Mutton Biryani, Prasad started to divulge the plan.

Then Prasad began, “You remember the Khan kada wall. Sanjay and Surendra have put a bolting station.”

I knew that they had opened a new route, but I had yet to see where the hammocks would come in. 
Prasad explained, “We shall descend the wall from the top. At 70-80 feet from the top of the cliff, there is a bolt station. We shall clip the hammocks to the bolts crawl inside and go to sleep.”

I marveled at the idea. Firstly it meant rappelling the face in total darkness. Swinging and attaching the hammocks to the bolts and spending a cold night with around ~80+ feet below us.
It was a crazy idea, but expected, from my old friend. Though we always talked about our expeditions and climbs, we had not ever climbed together. He had drifted away with a group of excellent climbers and had bagged many peaks such as first ascents of Mt Matri and Mt Panwali Dwar. He and Surendra had narrowly escaped an avalanche on Mt Shivling.

      We biked to Sinhagad. Prasad climbed to the top of the cliff with the gear and started the descnt. I was guiding him with my torch. With couple of swings he setup the first hammock and then the second one. I tied the torch to the end of the rope as he pulled it to his hammock.
I started my descent. I wore a Jummar for self anchor and the seat harness. The plan was to keep hooked to the top rope and wear the harnesses throughout the night. The Hammock had a tightly closed lip and I shoved my Leg inside to open it wider. I snuggled in and soon found the discomfort. My shoulders were crunched inside the boat shaped canvas against the rock wall.
Prasad was smiling at me from the other hammock. He was in a very jolly mood. I decided to digest the situation for the night. I remembered that I had decided to have a pee, but had forgotten in a hurry. I buried the thought. It was 9PM. We started singing in chorus and soon I forgot the drop underneath. We started talking about our old treks, laughing at the crazy situations we had been.

“Prasad! How about some music?”
“ You carried a tape recorder? That’s great!”

I pulled out a cassette from my knapsack and the night went alive with the music, with choral support from Prasad and me.

It was almost 1AM when  a booze party picked up in a shed near the carpark area. Booze is prohibited on the fort and we decided to have fun. I shone my torch on to the group. The people were very surprised to see the light from middle of the cliff but could not make out the hammocks.
At 3AM, to make things challenging, Mother Nature decided to provide a cold shower. We were clamped to the face but we had a tiny protection from the overhang above. Drenched and unable to move in the hammocks we waited for the first ray of the sun.
      We rappelled down after removing the hammocks and the gear. It was a great night. My fear for the face was killed.

      Prasad asked, “Would you be willing to join the Kamet Expedition? Let’s go for the meeting and you can decide. Balya has agreed to lead.”
I thought about the circumstances. This was a siege style expedition contrary to my experience. I would be a misfit in the team. But I had the opportunity to climb with Good climbers from Mumbai and Pune. I would also get a chance to be with my hostel mates, Surendra and Moreshwar. I did not see any chances of teaming with alpine style climbers. I had run out of choices and this was a good offer.

      Kamet experience would be the closest to a mountain of  8000 mt and I decided to waive aside my scruples for Siege style climbing.


      The team for Mt Kamet was being formed and I was invited for the discussions. The budget was 7 lakhs and the leader was trying to seek ways of funding the expedition.
The route proposed on the unclimbed east face of the mountain could raise the funds. During the discussions I often had the feeling that I was tied up with climbers who had an excellent record of climbs. I was aware that I would end up supporting the climb.
      On personal front, I was facing challenges and the unpleasant task of interviewing a suitable wife for an “Arranged Marriage”. Thinking about Kamet kept me busy. I applied for a 2 month leave and my company sanctioned half of the leave. The R and D director was appreciative and he arranged for a replacement for my job while I would be away.
      I was doing 7km hill runs on regular basis and my stamina improved. The responsibility of the paperwork and accounts for the expedition was assigned to me. I have been a lousy bookkeeper. At first the thought of handling someone’s money put me under tremendous pressure. Balya was pursuing creation of a short video on the expedition and the filming also cost money. The preparation for the expedition was started 6 months upfront.
I received the letter from Defence about the Inner line permit. The peak shares a border with Tibet, China. One 50mm camera with a film role was allowed. The role would be developed by the Military and then handed over.
      The team was almost final. Balya was the leader and Prasad was the deputy leader.
Fund raising was the biggest challenge and all of us tried different options. Unfortunately very few worked.

I had a Hell of a time!

I have often looked at mountain climbing as a personal initiative. If I need to climb, I should raise funds to support my climb. My goal, as profound as my wealth..
Larger expeditions often had a mechanism in place for fund raising.
Our expeditions were done at a pittance of a normal Siege strategy expedition.
I recalled, we spent 25,000/- Rs for 6 members on Mt Matri in 1987, where-as, a normal expedition budget was around Rs 1, 50,000/-. The load that we carried to the mountain was also sizably less, almost Alpine style; this dictated the number of porters. The larger the expedition, larger the propaganda, for the same mountain!

      Perhaps, it is the way I was groomed, that I hated fund raising. Due to my individualistic approach begging for sponsorship to laymen did not suit me.  “Why should anyone care, if I went for climbing a mountain; moreover give me funds to appreciate my purely selfish motive i.e to know my potential.”

      The rationale does not apply to another sport for eg. Cricket. Abundance of wealth and fame, spectators and recognition that follows especially in India, which share 2500 km of Himalaya as a boundary with other countries. We should have had better climbers than other places. The Sportsmen claim, "Climbing is not a sport!"

If there is a gentleman’s game, its Mountain climbing .. few other adventure sports..Not Cricket.

Climbers, I believe, do it with lesser of above ‘spoils’ at a much higher risk.
There is no one to cheer. A higher possibility, that these gentlemen do it for themselves.
Well..perhaps, for recognition that will come eventually with time but no immediate gain than the satisfied self.  It takes almost a week or two to reach a location, from where the climber can convey his success to his relatives and friends, if he may.

      The thought was imbibed in my mind and the core factor that attracted me to this “sport” was adventure, uncertainty and do-it-for yourself motto.
I had lesser importance for success. I could easily be successful on easier peaks.
(Was'nt our 3 man Rudugaira climb, almost a picnic? Well..for the same mountain there have been frostbite cases and even 1 death.) My actions followed in every venture I took up, well, almost.. .. the Kamet East face expedition.
The unclimbed east face of Kamet was indeed a tall challenge, though the attempt would be siege style. 

My first fund raising experience was a hell.
I went against all I stood for as I approached a company that built packaging products.
I was introduced to a family, when the proprietor was not at home and got an appointment.
When I sat on the couch, I saw a copy of Atlas shrugged in the bookcase and my fear increased.
It reminded me of the set of values, I set for myself in past and the pinch that I was going against them.

I went into the cabin, my anxiety was at peak. ‘As long as I believe in the cause, I should be able to speak’, I addressed to myself.

I sat opposite to him and handed him the copy of KEFE Brochure. As he read, I portrayed him as Ellis Wyatt. Every penny was hard earned.
      I stammered and started. “This is a Mumbai and Pune Expedition to the highest allowed for climbing mountain in Indian Himalayas. We propose to climb a very difficult route on the face.” I outlined with Avalanche hazard and briefed about the team, mentioning that this was the largest ever Indian attempt on a face of a renowned Indian mountain of 25000+ altitude.
The cost Rs. 7,00,000/.

      He showed some interest in food and equipment details. Then he looked into my eyes and said, “What is in it for me?”
This was the question I dreaded. He had nailed me on the spot and my thoughts ran back to “Atlas Shrugged”. It was such an easy question that I was ill prepared for.

I babbled .. “Perhaps we can add your company in the upcoming souvenir. It may make a lot of sense if I relate Mountain climbing and  packaging equipment..”

I knew, I was not being truthful to myself and I had lost.
Further, a more convincing person  would have got a larger cheque and I had blown an opportunity too.

He handed me a cheque of Rs 5000/- and said, “You got to be more convincing than that. Try my friend..” He gave me a telephone number of another industrialist
I walked out more relieved, than pleased with a question, Was the cheque given out of pity for my performance? I did not pursue with the “friend”.
I realized: if I take money, I am bound to show results.

      There is a need for propaganda mechanism that shows an event as success and takeaways for more common lot that feel some level of attachment to be committed to climbing.
It is always easier that I pay for myself, and be free to draw my line of return.
I had just become a failure in the game of propaganda.

  
The leader called for a 2 day camp to get our team to socialize. We chose a place called Kundeshwar. We camped under an overhang of a dried up waterfall. It had a soft sandy basin to lay our carry-mats. It was evening and we went for a hill run. Surendra and I kept pace, outdistancing the others.
Surendra made his point during the meeting. “It is pathetic to see the level of fitness when we are planning to attempt an unclimbed serious route.” Other climbers agreed and they promised to take training seriously.
Surendra advised me, “Try to do Hill repeats to improve on strength and stamina. Pick a 100 mts incline and repeat the run 20 times non-stop.”

I left early on the next day as I had to “see” a girl from out of station. 

As I hiked back to my motorcycle, I noticed the front tyre had a puncture. The nearest Puncture shop was a good 20 km away. I rode on the bike over the dirt path to the highway. It was a hot afternoon. I observed the worker dismantle the wheel and repair the puncture. 

I thought, “This guy works a lot. But his earnings are meager.” If I work as hard, it would make climbing a lot easier. The life in a design office was making me soft and I had to alter my routine to introduce physical training.

I rode back home and washed. It was just 30 mins before the visitors arrived.

The girl was accompanied by her sister and mother. Talking with girls made me uncomfortable but I was quite comfortable talking with her. She was well educated. My mom showed them my climbing album. I felt awkward but here was the time I should make my point.
I mentioned, “This is my hobby. I definitely intend to continue my passion after marriage. I do not plan to stay in India. I may migrate to Australia.” I thought, this should help them make up their mind.

      The day after the guests left, I was still unable to make up my mind. Marriage was a bond forever. Would it obstruct my climbing? I asked for one more “interview” just the two of us. I wanted to find out if she really understood what Mountaineering meant.

      The next day, I explained the details of my proposed expedition to Kamet. It was a serious climb and we had a very good team. I cannot marry till I get back. (At the back of mind, I thought, ‘God spare the girl if I am not back.” ; though I was confident of my return.) She listened to me, perhaps, also understood the passion for my sport. She had no objections.
The engagement ceremony was over in a couple of days and she went back to her town.

      I wrote her letters and once in a month calls from a telephone booth.  I did not like to spend too much money on the call as I was always unsure of what I should talk about. She ruled the conversation as often women do. I was as dry and uninterested as a man can be. My mind worked on my goal and the communication regarding the expedition and accounts.

      My training sessions now included hill repeats twice a week and heavy load ferries to Sinhagad. I ran on all days dry or rainy. In the evening, twice a week, I visited the office for ensuring the communications and checking accounts for the expedition.
She visited me in summer before we left for the expedition. I told her about the progress.
My team members had me on their radar and often picked on me for fun. Her vacation was over and she bid farewell. I mentioned that we would be back a week before marriage. I went to a famous tailor to get my suit stitched.

He asked, “ Do you have regular work outs? I ask because  you leave for the expedition for two months. If you do not maintain exercise, the suit may get too tight. “
I mentioned, “ On the contrary, I may lose weight.”
He laughed and said, “ I see no chance of that happening. You are already underweight.”

      A week before the departure, Juzer arrived from Dubai and handed me cash that would take care of the expedition expenses. I had seen him on my first expedition and he looked completely different now. He had crossed 40 and had put on weight.
A sponsor had arranged a light truck to be ship the entire food and equipment to Joshimath.
For three weeks we packed all food and gear into day wise kitbags. Each kit had list of contents and the camp for which it was intended.
     
      Few of the support team members went ahead to arrange the inner line permit and porters.
The rest of the team travelled Pune-Delhi. Two members departed to Uttarkashi to get the Climbing gear from Nehru institute of Mountaineering. I went on a hill run at Joshimath and was irritated by my performance. The run was slow and I was gasping in just a km.
The others were in a meeting when I joined. The ultra climbers were making suggestions on the east face route. Prasad called me aside and mentioned that I should focus on the support part. The team on the face needed a strong supply chain and I had the job to ensure. I was fine with my role as I was no match for their climbing skill.

      We left Joshimath for Malari the next day. I was glad to get my size 11 mountain shoes. We travelled on the top of the lorry. The road had lot of curves and I dug my fingers into the ropes that secured the load. There was a gorge on the left of the road. On the right was the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. We passed Lata Village and I saw Mt Dunagiri towering over us on the right.
I recollected the Joe Tasker book where I read had about his expedition to Dunagiri. Dunagiri (Dronagiri) has a mention in Ramayana as Lord Hanuman picked a Large scoop of the Mountain and flew to Lanka as it had a herb that could cure Laxmana.
      We reached Malari at evening. It was very cold I put on my Goretex Jacket. We were helped by our porter team to unload the gear in front of the school. We were to sleep inside the school. The cook prepared dinner for us and we counted and distributed the loads to the porters. We were to move a large part of the load using Mules. Each of us were to carry 15 kg of load during the approach march to get acclimatized.



      We walked a distance of 22 kms along the tiny road to Niti. At Ghamshali the permit was checked by the Border police. The path rose along steep flanks of the mountain above the stream.
Niti was a small village but just before Niti, I saw Bofors Guns aiming high above  the mountain range. We were in a sensitive area, very close to Tibet and all the checks made by the army made sense now. We tried to stay outside the room to adapt. The women in the village wore thick bangles of solid gold which gave away their real worth.
      I wondered about my real worth. Perhaps, I would not be able to afford such a treasure in my lifetime. Sheep herding brought in plenty of money. Also, this village in past may have flourished as an ancient trade route to Tibet. If the villagers could live a life without frills, they could invest in jewellery. But even with the riches they carried, the village folk were very humble and receptive.
      Hayatram, the religious head of the Niti village has a gorgeous looking daughter. My friends made a lot of fun on my part, thanks to my bachelorhood. Hayatram was courteous with me, as I carried the purse of the expedition. He was also to be our mail runner. He was supposed to carry mail and emergency rations once a week to the basecamp.
      The next day we got up early. I did not plan to trail behind the mules, as they freely littered the route and the flatulence gave me nausea especially in the rarefied atmosphere.

We walked along the Raikana stream. The rear end of our team was trying to cross the stream too low. We waited at a high point. There was some commotion down the stream and we heard the news later.
      Two of our porters went into deep waters and were swept off their feet by the turbulence. To escape, they quickly released the load on their back. We were now short of two loads. I was relieved that these were just food loads and not equipment and with god’s grace two men were saved. When all porters and mules arrived, we crossed the nallah. The Public works department was paid money for lowering a log bridge over the stream. The mules went further upstream for a shallow crossing.


      Vasudhara tal is a large glacial lake that feeds the Raikana stream. We set up the basecamp at Noon. A large 10 man tent was erected and we also arranged some place for Kitchen. We had purchased a goat from Hayatram, to provide us some meat for the expedition. It was tied to a boulder near the kitchen. The goat hardly moved, grazed or bleated. It was well aware of its future.

      The Base camp received plenty of sun, as it was quite away from the Purvi Kamet Glacier and its surrounding peaks. We could see the Tip of the summit pyramid of Mount Kamet behind a ridge. Beyond Vasudhara Tal, further north were the mountains along the border with Tibet. Over past few days I had made a new friend, Rajesh. I was carrying my rock shoes and the trade name of the shoe was “Kamet”. Together, we spent some time in bouldering.
The Three day walk and plenty of time outdoors had helped acclimatization. We spent a day at base for rest and sorting food and equipment.
      Balya was talking to the porters. I was impressed with his negotiation skills.
The porters mentioned that they would return from the snowline as they had no equipment to stay warm. Balya haggled. I was worried as the fund with me was depleting. On the other hand, it would be great to have porters shift the loads to Camp 3 at 18000 feet. It meant less load ferries and we could focus on climbing. Balya soon negotiated a good figure, he planned to retain 3 porters from Camp 2 to Camp 3 movement.

      The first load ferry to Camp 1 was over loose rocks and boulders. I was lagging behind, struggling to keep pace with the rest of the team. We established a site for camp 1. We cleared the rubble to make space for tents and kitchen before returning to base.
      We returned for the second ferry the very next day. At the start of the ferry, I had an excruciating pain in my right knee. I could barely walk. I waved to the rest of the team and mentioned that I could not go on. As they left me, tears burst in my eyes and I started crying. I could not go on with my hurt knee. My entire training for 6 months had gone waste.
I cried like a child, all the way till I reached base. I looked at Vasudhara Tal. The calm and peaceful waters soothed me and I decided not to make any quick decisions. I mentioned my state to Balya.
At noon, the guys were back from the load ferry.
Prasad said, “Let me have a look. It is just a bad sprain.”
I was in pits and I howled, “I am probably done with this climb. It is very painful and I do not think I will be able to climb.”
Prasad answered, “Oye Puttar! A lot worse things happen on mountains and people still climb peaks. Just shut up. I will give a good massage.”
Prasad did a thorough job with the massage. I wrapped the knee with a woolen stocking.
Our lead Porter Narayan mentioned, “Perhaps, it is because you have been wearing shorts for last 3 days. You should always cover the knees in cold climate.”
I realized my mistake. Narayan had been to the last camp on Kamet and a very experienced Sherpa.
      The next day, I was back in full swing. I even managed a better pace than others and climbed with the fastest porter. My good friend, Prasad, had healed me overnight. Prasad shifted to Camp1 with another climber. They were to proceed to open route to Camp2 while we moved from Base to Camp1.
      It was to be our last day at base camp and it would take us at least a month to get back. The goat was slaughtered and Balya got blood on his hands. The cold water around was the deep freeze for the meat.
     
      We had already erected the smaller tents at Camp 1 as there was no place for the large tent. Camp 1 got lesser sunshine as Bidhan parvat cast its shadow at early noon. Also the sun rise was quite late. I stretched out on the carrymat reading “Atlas Shrugged”. Two climbers from camp 1 had already moved to camp2. We would be ferrying loads to Camp2 for 2 days and move up on the 3rd. Our cook Bipin kept us well fed with Dal roti and rice meals. I never had a cook on my past expeditions and even a simple meal was a treat.




      When I started on my 1st ferry to camp 2, The Purvi Kamet glacier unfolded before me. I could not wait for my colleagues to join me. I was fast and preferred to maintain my pace as every mound on the moraine ridge exposed me to unknown terrain. Camp 2 was situated on the true left bank of the glacier. Mt Kamet was not yet visible but it was just around the shoulder of a ridge. We moved to camp2 in 2 days and the advance team had already left for Camp3. Camp 2 was a comfortable camp site. We had plenty of sunshine.
At noon, Narayan prepared a trap to catch a Chough. It was simple and effective. He balanced a large slab of rock on a tiny piece of wood like an inverted “V”. He placed few grains inside the “shelter” to lure the Himalayan Chough. He was awarded in just an hour as the bird shrieked. None of us wanted to eat Chough meat..A bird that looks a bit like a crow with yellow beak.
      A sponsor had handed us three large bags of dried Prawns. The prawns were wetted and fried and it tasted well with rice. Weather was not always pleasant and during snowfall we gathered for a game of cards called “German Rummy”.
Near the Camp2, another expedition had also placed a small camp. A Handicapped sadhu from Manali was attempting Mt. Kamet and there was a team from West Bengal. It was very inspiring as the Sadhu came down. The Weather being foul, the sherpas had been able to take him to the top of Mt Abi Gamin (The satellite peak of Kamet). He was pleased as he broke an earlier world record of the climb on Mt Nun. The Sadhu limped on one leg. He had a special crux made to travel over ice. I could see scars and cuts on him. His face battered but it beamed with a new confidence by having climbed over 24000 feet. We had arranged with the team so that we could use their ropes till we fixed ours and ferry their ropes down for them.

      We did two load ferries to Camp3. Mt Kamet east face bared itself for the first time. On the true right bank of the glacier stood the majestic Mt Mana. Near Camp3 was a crevasse field with one large crevasse that needed a bit of an effort to cross.

During the second ferry I was travelling back to camp-2 with two friends. We were close to camp2 and heard a big roar.
“Avalanche”!!
The 3 of us rushed to boulders on our left and crouched over. There was a whiff of strong wind. We stood as soon as it died. We were covered with powder snow from head to toes. There were ugly looking seracs at under the summit of Mana and could cause a block avalanche. We decided to be careful in future.


      Camp-3 for Kamet is at 18000ft. It serves as advance base for the movements up the mountain.  The entire team was together and we talked about the plans. Surprisingly for me, all the talk of climbing East face had died as soon as the “worthy climbers” actually saw the face. It looked very challenging rock and ice wall from 19000 feet to 25000 feet. I have never seen such a wall before. Balya decided to split the team. Morya, Makya and I would go on the east face for reconnaissance. The others would climb by the traditional route. Our 3 man team was on our own ie. No porters. Morya is a very good climber. He is also a close friend from my hostel days and I was well aware of his resolve. He had no plans to go on traditional route. He came to Kamet for a purpose and he was all for the east face. Any progress was good as it was a virgin face. At noon, we were having tea outside our tent and we heard of a large Snap. Morya switched on his camera. It was a Slab avalanche from Mana. We gazed at the  growing cloud. The Avalanche grew in size as it travelled down the rock and ice wall. We watched it go down the valley  on our ferry route from camp 2 to camp 3. Morya had a neat capture of the entire sequence. But something went wrong. The cloud in the valley stopped. The avalanche had choked the valley and now the powder whiff started coming upwards towards our tent. Morya dropped the camera. Both of us ran inside the tent and held the pole. The others held on the the guy ropes from outside. As the blow came, the entire 10 man tent shook like a sail full of wind. We held on till it died. Our guys outside were plastered with powder snow. I did not want to think of the situation if we were in the valley rather than up the valley. It was a matter of two days.

       The very next day, we left for reconnaissance, the traditional route team left for camp 4.
We walked a long way on the glacier. We set up camp closer to the face behind a wall of seracs. Soon, we found that it was the safest campsite, as the rest of the glacier was swept by small avalanches from Kamet. Small rocks came of the face ricocheted away from our tent. We also observed that on the left of the east face had a gentler slope that was snow and ice. This seemed a good ideal for an attempt and we decided to make a try the next day. From now on we were to cook our own food and we opened a packet of ready mix rice.
      Next day we started up a slope on the left towards the Mana. It was a maze of seracs and large crevasses. My Ski goggles allowed me super vision and I could make out the hidden snow filled crevasses with ease. We were carrying a rope and few ice and rock pittons. At the end of the crevasse field on the right Morya spotted a snow gully that looked as a gate way to the East face. He climbed up and placed ice and rock pitons as anchors. He continued till around 200 feet fixed the nylon rope and climbed down. As we returned to our Camp Moryaa stepped onto thin ice and landed in a pool of water. His climbing boot got soaked in icy water. After squeezing the water out, he put the boots again and we continued the descent.
Bipin had come up to our camp and he had some news. Camp 5 was established and the team was at Camp 6 (Meades col) They would be attempting the peak next day. Meanwhile Balya had asked us to get back to Camp3 for recuperation and get more equipment.

      We were back at base. Balya was watching the progress at Camp6. He sounded worried as he could not see anyone go for the summit. The weather seemed clear and perfect for summit attempt.  He asked me, “I want to send you with two porters to the traditional route. Are you fit to climb?”  I answered, “ I am perfectly fit. I want a clear target.”
Balya answered, “You should climb to Camp 5. Then climb Mty Abi Gamin and get back with the Kamet Summit team. If they have not climbed today, most likely they will make an attempt tomorrow. If they fail, we would at least succeed to climb Abi Gamin.”
Other climbers exchanged their warm clothes with me. I carried a Minolta SLR for photographs.
Narayan and Bipin were to accompany me. Narayan had already fixed rope from Camp 4 to Camp 5 and he had a hoarse cough. He did not want to go up again but he agreed with some reluctance. Bipin on the other hand was eager.

      We left for Camp 4 at day break. There was a small rock wall which had fixed rope. The wall ended in a snow gully. We had to move up fast as there was lot of rock fall. We reached a small ice field and camp 4 tent could be seen. We were at 21000 feet. I was glad as this was the highest point I had ever climbed. It was a bitterly cold night. Narayan and I were sharing a tent. Bipin was in another tent with the kitchen stuff.  We had a quick supper and we went to sleep.

      The Rock Band

      I got ready and wore the seat harness., clamped the Jummars and few carabiners. The ice axe was also looped with the harness. It was a 1500 feet high rock and ice wall that we were to traverse. We roped up and got close to a snow gully on the left of the wall. I had lot of trouble breathing and at one point I felt vomit in my throat.
I said, “ Narayan. I am not sure if I can climb fast. I don’t feel well.”
He answered, “Take it easy. We will go slowly.”

I tried to clear my nose. As soon as the phlegm cleared, my throat felt better and the breathing was back to normal. My pace improved and we climbed fast. The rock had fixed rope. I wondered if it could be climbed Alpine style. It was not a difficult grade but only the altitude that made it tough. We traversed towards a Snow slope on the right. Narayan and Bipin climbed to the top of the slope and I followed. As the snow had softened, I took lot of rests till I reached the Top Snow stake. I was at Camp 5(22500feet). I shoved my rucksack inside the tent.  The view outside the tent was splendid. I could see the giant peaks, Nanda Devi, Changabang clearly visible at a distance.
Mt Mana seemed at the same level as us. On right Rose the summit of Kamet. The slope from Camp5 to the meads col was easy with some crevasses. Three of us were to sleep in the same tent.  Bipin and I were very pleased as Abi Gamin was just a day away. We did not see anyone from the summit team. We slept early.

My first Lesson in DEALING WITH Ambiguity

      We left Camp 5 at around 5AM. We roped up and climb the snow slopes towards Camp6. Abi Gamin was around 1000 feet climb from Camp6 and we were climbing nonstop from Camp5. 


When we reached Camp6, we felt that the summit team would be working towards the summit. We called out to our mates. We were answered by a quick call from the Camp 6 tent. We were surprised and looked inside the tent.
Rajesh, Prasad and Patya were sitting inside. There seemed no plan to move.
Prasad asked, “ Did you get more supplies?” I was shocked by the question.  I told him my charter.i.e climb Abi Gamin and get back. We did not carry anything with us apart from Chocolates.
Prasad said, “ We have run out of food. I expected that someone will ferry food  to us.”
I did not see his point. I would not have expected anyone to pump food to Summit camp when the peak was a day away. The trio had already spent 2 nights at 23000 ft which was bad.
Rajesh said, “ We tried to get to the summit the day before. Prasad coughed blood and so we got back.”
I asked, “You did not try yesterday or today?”
Rajesh replied, “He is not better yet. So we did not attempt.”
Narayan looked at me and said, “Sahib. We are losing time. We should climb Abi Gamin and et back.” I had different thoughts.
I told Patya about my charter. “I should climb Abi Gamin and get back. But I am very fit to continue. I am sure to climb Kamet tomorrow. Since you have spent 3 nights at high altitude, you can climb Abi Gamin and return with the porters. I will stay with Prasad and Rajesh.”
I felt that Patya was the fitter of the lot and could climb and get down. I knew that Prasad would never give up despite the cough. But Prasad and I went a long time ago. If we were together we would climb Kamet with same zeal as old days.
Patya left with the others and climbed Abi Gamin. They were back in couple of hours and bid us farewell. I went out for the call of nature. Meade’s col over looks Tibet. It is similar to the South col and has a wind tunnel effect. I walked around the tent and tried to relieve. The wind was so fierce that everything dropped was blown off. I looked up to the summit of Kamet.
The top was just 2000 feet of easy climb. I felt that I should have gone to the summit on the same day rather than Abi Gamin..however my friends  had already faced the peak and returned.
I went back into the tent. This was the same tent that Johnny Dawes had presented me during Meru Expedition. It was able to resist the high winds of the Meade’s col. However, the tent was weighed down by all the Snow stakes and ice axes available. It shook like a plastic bubble.
We ate a bit of the chocolate bar. Around 6PM, the wind increased and we planned for the next day. Prasad said, “We should leave for summit by 5AM. So we should get ready by 3AM.” Prasad set the alarm clock for 3AM.
The night closed in. It was a miserable night and I realized what my friends had been through for 3 nights. The entire tent shook as the wind raped it from all sides. Our condensation froze on the fabric and showered snow on us. I did not get a wink of sleep.
Soon it was 3AM. The wind was rising. Three of us huddled together in a two man tent. The Alarm went on.. None of us could find the clock and we let it ring till it stopped. I peered outside the tent into the darkness and it seemed that hell broke loose. I went back and said, “If we go out firstly we would freeze. Secondly, as soon as we leave the tent it will be blown off. We must wait till dawn.”
The two hours of waiting did not change the situation. It was like a storm without clouds or rain. We were on the shoulder of Kamet and just the head remained. But the shoulder seemed intolerant of us. Inside the tent it felt like a giant was slapping the tent  from outside. “If this does not stop we must climb down.,” I said.
We had to wait for a ray of sunshine and slight reduction in wind speed. It happened at 7 AM.
Prasad and I got out. Rajesh stayed inside to weigh the tent. Together, we removed the tent pegs and stakes and collapsed the tent as Rajesh snuggled out. We quickly wrapped the tent and got it into a sack. We share loads among ourselves, roped up and started the descent to camp 5.
Miraculously at camp 5 there was no sign of wind. In an hurry we forgot to collapse the Camp5 tent.
I slid down the line from Camp5 to camp 4. Prasad and Rajesh were together but we were not roped to each other. The descent on the rock wall was fast. Later I descended from Camp4 to the glacier. I walked to camp3 and the team mates were already waiting outside with water. I met Balya and said, “We could not do the climb. It was a wind that we could not withstand.”
He mentioned, “We thought that you reached the summit and succeeded. It has been a perfect day.”
I looked up to Mead’s col. It was hard to believe. There was no sign of the wind. No snow plumes. “Who will believe our story?”
Balya asked, “Patya. Can you go to camp 5 and remove the ropes and get back Camp 4 tent? Two porters will accompany you.”
Patya Agreed. Then Balya asked me, “We are going to wind up the expedition soon. Juzer and you should go down as advance team.”

      Juzer and I started our travel from Camp3 to Camp1. The glacier had become wedged dur to the slab avalanche and the ice cut through my sneakers. It was a long journey through the moraine deposits and I lost my orientation at times. At noon we were back at Camp 1. The larger part of the expedition had ended for me. My Beard and moustaches had grown as I peeked into a powder case mirror. My nose had blackened due to a heavy sunburn.

      The entire team was back the next day as we travelled to base. Patya mentioned that after he climbed to Camp5 he was surprised to see the entire tent savagely ripped to pieces. Indeed the winds had taken the last of their claim from the expedition. The decision to retreat was so far the best decision I took in my life. A part of me wished that I should have stayed on my course and climbed Mt Abi Gamin. It was a cheap and easy climb and I was sticking to the orders of my leader. Yet it would also have hounded me for the rest of my life to give up Kamet so easily. I was better off with a tough experience rather, than an easy win.

      Hayatram had carried Rakshi (which is distilled from Chang “rice beer”).
Balya opened the detested task of Root cause analysis for the failure. Prasad received some sarcasm as the Climbing leader.  But everyone agreed that the venom should be spit right at the end of the expedition and it should never play into our life or future expeditions. We lit a camp fire and drank Rakshi. (Rakshi is drunk neat.) I was sipping from Makya’s glass as I had lost mine.
I said to Makya, “Shmells like furnishure polishh, also no kick.” He smiled.
One more sip and I suddenly got a kick and my head swam. I turned to Makya, but he was nowhere in sight. A guy was already in dancing mood and we joined with our songs. Past hatchets were buried and Vasudhara kund was to witness the friendly return.

      A day’s travel brought us to Niti. A goat was bought from a shepherd was slaughtered by Hayatram. Prasad was keen to witness the slaughter but I stuck to my glass of Chang in my lonely world. Soon Prasad was back giving  me the details.
“They have a different way to kill the goat. They claim its painless. Hayat Slit the abdomen, pulled the heart and chopped it off.”
“ Prasad..Please spare me the details,” I said, disgusted
“ And you know what. They don’t waste the blood. They fry it in oil to serve the granules with drink. I didn’t try it but they say it is tasty.”
I had enough. I ate my share of neat meat in curry, with no thought to our conversation.

In a day we reached Malari. Narayan wanted to take us to his village, which is at outskirts of Nandadevi Sanctuary and everyone was eager. We travelled by a truck and got down at the village fork. It was a 1000 feet climb to the village. The location was beautiful. On the right side of the gorge was a waterfall that fell over a cliff. It seemed like a 1000 feet. I thought, “ Isn’t this the tallest waterfall in India?” The villagers were poor but every villager escorted us to their place to have a glass of Chang. My mouth tasted sour after receiving too many.
Balya was bargaining for an old woollen carpet. I was trying to keep track of my accounts. He did not have much left. So we passed a hat and soon some personal money flowed in which could complete the expedition.
      Uttarakhand was a dicey topic to talk about. The Mountain people wanted to separate from the plains. Joshimath was under curfew and so were many other villages till Rushikesh.
Balya arranged for a truck that was to fetch goods from Rushikesh for the Indo Tibet Border police. We would be safe inside the truck.
We travelled through the day and night and reached Rushikesh and Dehradun border at dawn.
I woke up at the sound of commotion. The Police had blown whistle. The truck came to a dead  stop. Balya was in the front cabin. He showed the police our permit to the mountains. The Chief was not satisfied and asked him to climb down. The Driver obeyed. Balya did not budge.The Police beat the poor guy for a long time. If anyone of us would get down, we would share the fate. Later the police released the guy and he climbed on the truck weeping. He pushed the accelerator till we were across the border. He parked the vehicle. We pulled out the first aid box and treated him. He mentioned that it was normal behavior of the Plains police to the people in the hills. I could sense the hatred that brewed within Uttarakhand. Our driver worked for ITBP yet he was not spared!
      We got to Delhi and caught the train to Pune. The funds had completely depleted. I had spent around 5 lakhs and I could not trace account for 500 Rs but had receipts for rest. It was a good job as a startup accountant. Yet we did not have enough to pay our meals on train, so we switched to Banana diet. The train stopped at Ahmednagar. Morya’s father in law handed over some eatables to the team, a warm reception indeed. Soon the train arrived at Pune station. We got off and there was a surprise waiting for us. The Doordarshan TV team aimed cameras at us as we got down. I immediately looked down at my ragged shoes and my thumb poked out of a hole.
      I was back at work after two months. During this long stay in the mountains I had forgotten some day to day procedural tasks at work. But at least I was able to keep the promised date of marriage by arriving a week in advance. There were plenty of things that could have worked against the date most importantly the Summit camp storm or the Uttarakhand Curfew.

      I went to my tailor to collect the marriage suit. The suit was ready. When I tried it out the tailor could not believe his eyes. It was loose from all sides. The trousers dropped. The coat dangled on my shoulders. The most famous tailor in Pune was in disbelief at the botched job.
      I said, “You asked me if I intend to keep up with exercise. I did exactly that.” I pitied him for what he considered as an exercise. 

I never felt more fit in my life.