Authentic Alpinism On Deo Tibba
The idea of climbing Deo Tibba came up at an exploratory trek to Animal Pass with friends. Once we crossed the pass, the way further on that route to Malana was blocked by a massive glacier full of open crevasses and with the added danger of rock fall from above. Looking the other way, we saw the glacier leading up to the back approach of Deo Tibba. We debated between both the routes but ultimately had to abandon both due to lack of gear. We returned the way we had come but my interest had been sufficiently piqued, it was as if we had knocked at the mountain’s door and it had said – come back next year. And thus began my tryst with Deo Tibba.
I had been wanting to do something more challenging in mountaineering and it was as if Deo Tibba surfaced on cue… Call it fate. Things just started flowing on their own once the decision to climb was made.
Planning an alpine expedition appears tougher than it actually is. It is probably easier to plan than a classic expedition which involves porters, horses, and extensive ration shopping. In contrast, an alpine expedition is just trying to see what is the minimum one can manage on… small steps at a time. My one personal advantage was in having amazingly helpful friends who pitched in whether it had to do with arranging gear, ration, transport, or just plain moral support. But I would reiterate – it’s not too difficult, one just needs to take the decision and not let the thought intimidate you. Once the first step is taken, as they say, the rest is history.
Day 1: Starting Out
Started the trek with a picture of all three of us looking all shiny. Will compare it with ourselves once the climb is finished to see the difference.
The first half hour of the trek always has the body mildly cursing itself for putting it through physical pain. Post that half hour the body starts to adjust and the mind reminds the body that this has happened before, many many times, and it’s not that bad after all.
What is a trek without rain! Got our first spell after 2 hours of walking (so much for praying to Nag Devta for good weather). Tyson remembered there was a cave a little ahead, so luckily found a place to sit it out and catch a snooze. Body finally getting warmed up and feeling good about the hike.
Camp at last, and just in time; the rain gods are threatening to open the heavens again.
Today we moved towards our base camp. Simple and short trek of just about 3 hours. Base camp is on a wide open flat land with the river running through it. Thanks to all the rain we’ve been getting the last few weeks, it was a marshy swamp and we had to hop, skip, and jump across the terrain to save our shoes. Our porter obviously didn’t appreciate the frugal diet we guys were on, and decided to leg it back as soon as we reached (didn’t even wait to have lunch – Maggi!!)
Once camp was set up, Tyson and I decided to visit a friend of his, a fellow guide, who had pitched tent with a group right on the other side of the field. Instead of negotiating the swamp again, we decided to go via the Mt side (taking the high road). It was like a mini teaser of what was to come because this route involved negotiating small waterfalls, patches of snow, and boulders.
Got treated to more tea and biscuits and was introduced to his friend – Harsh bhai – 28 summits of Deo Tibba and likely to cross 30 this year (phew!). Leaving them to chat, I decided to come back on my own, took a wrong track up the boulders and had to do some ungainly manoeuvres of sliding down slippery rocks on my ass to get to the correct route.
Back at camp, Anne, who had stayed back to nap, informed that she had been unable to do so thanks to the horses trying to constantly nibble at our ration and tents. Sunny soul as she ever is, she consoled herself with some wai-wai and pictures of horses next to the stream… The sun having just risen, had lit up the entire field.
Technology has invaded every part of our lives – we decided to watch Dangal in the evening (all hail the smart phone). We even had popcorn to set the mood. Who says you lack entertainment in the mountains! And to top it off, Tyson decided to treat us for dinner – tuna burgers! This is called camping in style, even in alpine mode.
Tomorrow is load ferry day. The burgers will be put to good use. Tyson might just have been fattening us up like the proverbial sheep!
Today was load ferry day and we were blessed with good weather. We ferried majority of our ration and gear to Chota Chandratal Camp. Thank God for the good weather because we started out with river crossing. Off came our trekking shoes and socks, pants were rolled up, and we plunged into freezing cold water. I have heard people say that this is supposed to be good therapy for the feet, but all I could think was that I hope the sensation comes back to my feet soon.
We continued our trek up a steep path with fairly heavy loads. The going was slow because the altitude was catching up. My first jolt came when we had to cross a few snow patches. Not having been on snow for more than a year, I was unsure and unstable. That was the clincher… Down I slipped. Luckily there was a rock about 10 feet below, which arrested my fall and at the same time gave me a nasty jolt and a black and blue patch on my left thigh. Somehow I clambered up, took a step up, and then slipped again on mud and slush. My poor pants had completely changed colour by this time. Anne came to my rescue and told me to go down and cross over from where there was no snow. I finally came out of the situation, more bruised in ego than body. Tyson was ahead and was grinning away to glory at our clumsiness. However, he did come down to guide us over the next snow patch so I couldn’t complain much.
We finally reached the top and started trekking down to the valley. Our tryst with cold water was not yet over since we had two more river crossings to negotiate. It was again time to test my snow climbing because after the river crossing we had to climb up steep snow fields. This time I was sensible enough to follow Tyson’s footsteps and also tread more confidently, with proper side edging. The gods were kind. I crossed the fields without any more sliding.
We deposited our load once we reached the top, made space for our camps for the next day (on slush and mud) and started back. This time Tyson took us via a different route to avoid the river crossings. The crossings were avoided but we had to deal with rock climbing instead. Anne decided to chuck it and crossed via the river; I decided to brave it, and with Tyson’s help managed to cross safely, yet again reminding myself how much I needed to improve my rock climbing skills.
Before descending down, we took a break. All of us took out our Mars bars and Anne named the rock we were sitting on as the Mars rock. Coming down was much more fun, because we skied/glissaded down the snow patches. Although we had avoided two river crossings, avoiding the third required a large detour, and since the sun was out we decided to brave it and crossed over to our tents. Tea and biscuits (undoubtedly my favourite part of the day) and Anne chose to nap, while Tyson and I decided to watch a movie, from lack of other options – Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
Today we set off for Camp 1 again, this time with bag and baggage. Since we had left most of our load yesterday at the camp, our bags were much lighter and the going faster. Today we decided to use a snow bridge to cross the river. It was a small detour, but the weather being cloudy, none of us were in the mood to step into freezing cold water. I was more confident walking on snow today, so we crossed over without any mishap.
Our first adventure came upon us when we crossed over into the valley on the other side. The weather became cloudier and just as we crossed the rocky patch from yesterday (which I again decided to brave with Tyson’s help), it started snowing. Luckily we found a cave nearby for shelter. What started as light snow became heavier and soon we were playing musical chairs under the cave in an attempt to avoid the water starting to drip in. Despite putting on extra layers, it became cold. Tyson started dancing around for some warmth. After more than an hour and a half (and with no food since we had left all our ration at Camp 1 the previous day), when we were chilled to the bone and tired of waiting, the snow gave way a little and we decided to move on. Luckily, it stopped snowing altogether and the sun came out a little, just enough to warm our cold hands and feet.
Our camp site was wet with snow and we spent another half hour trying to dry it with earth and clearing away rocks. Post the much awaited tea and biscuits, we decided to explore the area. Tyson showed us the way up and I got my first glimpse of the long gully (around 600-700m) to Duhangan Col, where the climbing was really going to start. I was nervous and at the same time eager to have a go at it and see if I was up to it after nearly a year’s break from snow and ice climbing.
On the way back to our tents, Tyson started pelting us with snow balls and he and I had a snow fight and a race back to camp. All this while Anne was laughing and shaking her head at our childishness. We decided to finish off the rest of the movie. Anne also joined us today and both of us shook our heads at how corny a movie Karan Johar could make. Dinner, and then a night of relaxed sleep. Tomorrow we wouldn’t be in a hurry to start off, it being acclimatization and training day in preparation of the climb up to Duhangan Col.
Today was the most adventurous day by far. It was training day, and we had decided to climb a gully which overlooked Chota Chandratal. Since this was training day, I lead the way. The beginning was not too bad, though I must admit my edging techniques did require practice. Soon the slope became steeper and we had to rope up. The ascent became even more steep and we had to start front pointing and using our ice axe. My respect for lead climbers doubled after today. From a technical point of view, it wouldn’t have been a very difficult climb, but towards the end I was so out of breath, thanks to the altitude and slope, that I had to literally count 10 steps at a time and then take a break. Embarrassingly enough, I slipped twice and my self-arrest techniques were not on their best display. I did 3 pitches with the rope and the final one was done by Tyson because he wanted to check for crevasses.
The weather started turning bad so we started back. Tyson removed the rope going down, while I was happy rappelling down after the exertion of the climb. The last one third of the slope, we skied and walked down… What fun! Just the icing on the cake we needed.
Back to the tent, to a well-deserved cup of tea and biscuits. Tyson has to be one of the most efficient guys I know. While Anne and I were still taking off our equipment and putting on some warm layers, Tyson had the tea all ready for us. During tea, somehow the conversation veered towards rescue systems, and out we went after tea to practice our C and Z pulley systems. Couldn’t do too much because it started to snow again (just when we had put our equipment out to dry!).
The best part of the day was yet to come. We decided to try out Pranav’s dehydrated food today – rice, dal and sabzi. And boy was it good. Tyson, who was reluctant to even try it earlier, had the expression of a little kid in a candy shop. The food smelled yum and tasted even better. After Maggi and packaged soup and pasta, this food was heaven sent and all three of us blessed Pranav heartily for it. What better way to end a good day and to prepare for tomorrow… Our push towards Camp 2, the summit camp.
Today was the day I had been looking forward to with anticipation and with a little bit of apprehension. It was not the summit push yet. We had to climb the gully to Duhangan Col – a steep climb on any day. And we had the additional burden of our heavy backpacks with all our gear, food, and tents. My apprehension was not so much in climbing it, but lead climbing it, with a 25 kg backpack pulling you down every step. The day started off cloudy as usual and we were wondering whether or not to attempt the gully today. Finally, Tyson made the call to start off (Anne and I were completely relying on his judgment, weather wise, during the whole climb).
We started around 9:30 am, Tyson taking the lead to the base of the gully. Even before hitting the gully we started feeling the weight and altitude. Anne and I had it easier since we were following Tyson’s footsteps, but he had a tough time, sometimes going thigh deep into the snow. During any break, all three of us would flop down on the snow, completely drained. It must have taken us around 2.5-3 hours to the base of the gully, the last part being extra tricky, as the slope became steeper and we had to negotiate a crevasse. At the base, on a rocky patch, we took a longish break to recoup strength for the big push up and to wear our crampons. We had kept three chocolates each for today – how and when they vanished down our throats, we didn’t even realize. We had started off on a bowl of muesli each, but that had long been digested in the trek to the gully. Before starting off, there was a minor incident with Tyson dropping his water bottle cap down the slope. He had to rope up and go down and retrieve it, in the process going neck deep into a crevasse. Thank God for the rope!
Once we started climbing the gully, I took the lead. Tyson was pretty tired after the trek to the gully. Plus, this is what I had come for! In all honesty, the gully was simpler than it looked from afar, technically speaking. It was steep, probably averaging 60 degrees, but the snow conditions were good for cramponing. The hard part was pushing through the physical exhaustion at that altitude. I started following a rhythm of 10 steps and a break. At some of the steeper portions even the 10 steps felt tough. The rhythm helped because then you stop focusing on everything else and just keep counting down. Felt like giving up the last 100 feet, especially because the slope kept getting steeper and in some portions the snow was so soft that the leg went in knee deep. Just the thought of this being my challenge to myself kept me going. It’s during climbs like these that you realize that physical and mental strength are equally important in a climb… The success of a climb depends upon them 50-50. Even the strongest person will feel exhausted. At such a time it’s your mental strength that keeps you going.
The gully took us over 2 hours to climb. I reached the top completely exhausted but super elated, having done what I had dreamt of. Anne and Tyson followed up shortly. Kudos to our tiny team, we didn’t have to rope up and climb. I opened the route but the others climbed up behind me without a fixed rope for security. Anne’s calf muscle had been acting up for the last two days; despite that she climbed without so much as a murmur, taking a break when the calf muscle made it difficult for her to take another step… Willpower! I could see that Anne and I had done well, since Tyson seemed happy with our performance and speed. He didn’t explicitly say so, but you could clearly see it on his face.
After a short break of about 15 minutes (during which we polished off the rest of our chocolates), we moved forward. We had crossed the major part of the climb, but we still had another 2-hour trek ahead of us before we hit camp. Tyson took lead again since I was too tired to continue. The slope was much more gradual now, but the snow was soft, making it more tiring to carve steps.
The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. Just the three of us, surrounded by fields of snow, peaks rising all around us. It was as if white blanket had carpeted the world. We finally reached camp at 4:30pm. A trek of 7 hours. It felt like we’d done a mini summit already. Dropping the heavy backpacks made you feel like you would fly off. Rest was not to be within our grasp yet. We had to beat down the snow and pitch tents, a process which took Anne and I half an hour to 45 minutes in our tired state. Tyson, efficient as always, was half way through pitching his tent in the time that Anne and I were still putting on layers and putting our wet things to dry. It must have been 5:30 – 6:00 pm by the time we pitched our tent, took our things out and changed out of our wet gear. In this time, Tyson had already melted enough ice for 2-3 bottles of water and made tea! Can’t even imagine what we would have done without him.
Although, as per weather prediction the ideal window for summit was tomorrow, we decided to take a rest day and push for summit day after that. All three of us had stretched ourselves in today’s climb (thanks to the 20-25 kg backpacks) and the summit push required 9 hours to the top. Starting again barely 10 hours after reaching camp (we would have left at 2 am for the push) could lead to injuries and lack of acclimatization at the least (our camp today was at 5150m), and having to turn back mid-way at worst. All three of us looked forward to sleeping without a predetermined wake up time.
Today was a luxury day. No wake up time and all the sleeping bag laziness we wanted. We got up around 7:30 am to a blazing sun… The first on the trip so far. We took our own sweet time getting up and getting ready, putting things out to dry, photographing the peaks in the glorious sunlight, and finally had tea and breakfast at 9:30 am. After that was another round of lazing around (I got time to get this journal up to date) and around 11:30 am Tyson and I decided to go for our acclimatization walk. Anne decided to stay in and give her calf muscles some rest. Tyson and I climbed up the gully we were going to take at night for the summit so that the going would be faster at night.
The sun was blazing down on us when we started, making it difficult to walk, but luckily it became a little cloudy after 10 minutes. Tyson and I took turns making steps up the gully. The high altitude made it difficult despite no load. After reaching halfway up, we decided to turn back so as not to strain ourselves much. Going down was a breeze as we both ran down the slope, our heels making deep grooves in the soft snow. At one point Tyson went nearly waist deep into the snow. It took us 50 minutes to climb up and only 3 to come down. And just in time too, because the sun blazed up again, making it difficult to even sit inside the tent.
Quirky as mountain weather is, in an hour and a half, just as we were having lunch (extra cheesy macaroni, not as yummy as it sounds), it started snowing heavily. At least 4-5 inches in a few hours. We blessed our lucky stars that we didn’t get this weather yesterday and snuggled into our sleeping bags for a nap before tea time. What bliss! We gathered in Tyson’s tent after getting up and continued our marathon eating session. I doubt any of us were hungry, but we felt the need to stock calories for tomorrow’s push and it was an outlet for our nervousness.
As night approached, all of us got excited and nervous for the push to the summit. My main concern was the weather and I was hoping the weather would continue to remain clear tomorrow. But I was also nervous about the climb. My old friend ‘doubt’ was raising its head again – asking whether I would be able to lead climb, especially on the ice walls. Tyson was probably the calmest, but given his superior technical skills and the fact that he had done Deo Tibba twice before this, why wouldn’t he be.
Dinner was what was left of Pranav’s dehydrated food. I was personally not at all hungry, but forced the food down for tomorrow. Our plan had been to sleep off by 7 pm, but whom were we kidding! It was 9 o’clock by the time we retired to our sleeping bags, with scant hope of a sound sleep. Stepping out of Tyson’s tent, we saw a beautiful and clear and starry night… Hopefully a positive omen!
Kept getting up at night to check the time, even though I was sleeping next to a human alarm clock (the woman can wake you up at any time you require and go right back to sleep as if she had never woken up!). Finally, at 12:30 am we all got up (Tyson later mentioned that he had just about managed to sleep around midnight when I shouted out to him). The first thing I did was to open the tent flap; a clear starry sky greeted me, finally lifting my spirits in 12 hours. I shouted out to both of them to get up and see the beauty awaiting us outside! We got ready and had breakfast (a small cup of muesli and oats). I was still burping my dinner but was ordered by Tyson to gulp the breakfast down quietly. Post breakfast we donned our gear and started off promptly at 2 am. Our steps from the previous day were good for about 500 meters post which they vanished into the fresh snow which had fallen the previous day… Damn!
I started with the lead. We had decided the previous day that all three of us would take turns opening the route, so that none would get too tired. The going was not easy because at least 4-5 inches of fresh snow had fallen the previous day. There were points where I went in knee deep and had to take a detour to keep moving up. My method was the same as when I opened the gully to Duhangan – count 10/15 steps, depending upon the snow condition, stop and take a breather, and then continue. Anne mentioned this later and I agreed – climbing is like meditation… Everything else is driven from your mind except the immediate present. The next step and then the next and then the next. There is so much mental and physical effort involved that there is no head space for any other thought. After 15-20 minutes Tyson took over and I thankfully went behind. I had never realized walking in someone else’s steps would be so blissful. When I thought Tyson was tiring I asked him to switch with Anne. We did this for about 3 sets until we reached the rock from where we had returned the previous day. We decided to take a break there. Tyson helped me find a place to sit over the rocks (I was not too confident about walking on rocks with crampons).
Anne was behind me and Tyson in front. Anne’s calf muscle started to act up again and she was debating returning back to camp (thoughtful as always she didn’t want to cause a problem for us later and hence was contemplating descending before things got too bad). Her hands were also freezing up adding to her worry. However, once Tyson helped her warm up she decided she’ll brave it out and continue. To ease her load we decided that Tyson and I would take turns opening the route and she would follow behind to give her calf some rest. The rest of the gully passed relatively uneventfully, with the occasional waist deep snow to give us grief.
We reached the top after approximately 2-2.5 hours and my heart did a mini celebration for having crossed the main impediment. That was when Tyson asked me to get ready to lead on the ice wall. My heart instantly sank with nervousness. Thanks to the snow, the ice was completely buried, but still the wall was steep, with a sharp fall into the valley below on the left side. If not for Tyson, I would probably have backed down. But his calm way of just handing me the lead, and the thought that he was the most competent person to have around in case of a fall, made me start upwards. As with any other thing, once I started I realized that facing your fear brings them down to size. It was not child’s play going up, but it was also not the monster I had made it out to be.
It took us 4-5 rope pitches to reach the top. I would lead, belay the others up, and then move up again. Ploughing through my fear and reaching the top definitely gave me a sense of achievement. The sun was coming up as I was climbing the wall, and the scenery was absolutely stunning – a 360-degree view of valley and mountains around us, shrouded in the morning mist. Tyson took the lead from the ice wall and another half hour to 45 minutes saw us reaching the flat area where people pitch Camp 2 sometimes. That was probably the first time all of us actually looked up and took a deep breath… Till then we were just looking down at the snow and the person’s steps ahead of us, mustering enough energy to take the next step. All three of us were stunned; we knew the weather was in our favour till then but hadn’t realize to what extent. The sun was just coming up above the mountains and the mist was dispersing, so the sky was tinged with red, orange, and pink.
There was Indrasan in all its majesty, just ahead of us. And right next to it, in touching distance, our own objective and purpose – Deo Tibba. All around us were the other peaks of the range, tinged with morning blue. And down in the distance we could see the Malana glacier and Animal Pass (where all this started for me). It was breathtaking. All of us dropped our bags to take a break, drink in the view, and feel the warm sun on our faces after the freezing cold night.
A half hour and many photographs later, we decided to move forward. Tyson’s shoe had started biting him so I took the lead again. We passed by the base of Deo Tibba and saw hard blue ice. This would have been a tough cookie to crack. I was getting tired and Tyson asked me if I wanted to switch, but I knew he was also tired, more so because of his shoe, so I told him that I would continue. The slope became steeper and the going slower as we reached the base of the second ice wall. Tyson would direct when he thought I was moving in the wrong direction, or if there was an easier path. As effortlessly and nonchalantly as all the previous times, he just asked me to continue leading up the wall! I didn’t even realize till about 10-15% of the way up that I was going to lead all the way.
Here, again, the ice was buried under snow… I was both relieved and disappointed (the latter for not being able to face this demon). The angle of the slope made the going very difficult. I had to front point twice on each step to cut through to the hard snow. I was starting to feel very exhausted now and every time I looked up it seemed the summit was not any nearer. After about 50% of the way up, my mental strength also gave way (physical had been exhausted a long time back). While a part of me wanted to continue to the summit, the other and now more dominant part told me that I had reached my limit. I exchanged with Tyson and he continued to lead… effortlessly as always.
After what seemed like an eternity we reached the top of the wall. I was expecting a shout and a celebration from Tyson but he just continued walking across the relatively flat snowfield. After what seemed like ages, but could have been half hour or a little more, when I was mentally preparing myself to keep walking on forever, he stopped suddenly, threw down his bag, smiled, and threw up both his hands. I think both Anne and I were too stunned to realize that we had finally reached. He was still about 15-20 steps ahead of me and I dragged myself there and hugged him. WE HAD FINALLY SUMMITED.
All three of us were exhausted and elated. Unfortunately there was part whiteout and we couldn’t see Indrasan ahead of us. Honestly speaking, it was almost like an anti-climax. We were there, but I was not sure how to feel. Somehow that feeling of pure and crazy joy was eluding me. I was happy, very happy, but not going crazy!
We decided to wait for the weather to clear before heading back. In the meantime, we took pictures of all the gear we had borrowed for the climb, on behalf of the people who had helped us – Ravi’s helmet, Aashima’s crampons, Indu’s snow shoes. They summited on behalf of all those people. Tyson took photos of his altimeter with us in the background, as proof, in case the weather didn’t clear. The weather would start to clear up, come tantalizingly near Indrasan, and then cloud up again. After nearly an hour, I told Tyson we should turn back. It had taken us 7 hours to reach the top at 9:00 am; it was after 10:00 am now and we had a good 3-4 hour climb down.
Tyson went to the edge of the snowfield as if to coax the clouds away from in front of Indrasan (or to avoid having to listen to me 🙂 ). Either way, it worked, and Indrasan started to come in view. We must have gotten a 10-minute window in which the clouds partially cleared. We snapped as many pictures as we could before it was hidden from our view again. Satisfied, we started to descend.
That’s when I realized that I was completely exhausted and drained. Tyson had asked me to start going down as he belayed me. I started, and realized that I just didn’t have the energy. I walked back up and told Anne to go down first and told Tyson that I was drained and would prefer to rappel down. He must have realized as much because whereas on other occasions he would have pushed me, this time he just agreed. As we descended I realized the extent of my exhaustion. It was like I was in a trance, and just following footsteps and orders… like a dream sequence where you know you are in a dream but unable to do anything to get out.
Mick Fowler and Victor Saunders on a fabled climb in Kishtwar.
All through the descent I walked between them… Tyson in front and Anne at the back. I don’t know how I would have been able to make it down without them. Even though we were descending, I kept stopping after 20-30 steps because I was so out of breath. Since we were roped up (crevasse area), those guys would also have to stop and that they did with great patience. Although Tyson was very patient, it still didn’t prevent him from making a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about NIM mountaineers :).
A reminder as to why most accidents happen in mountains on the descent. Never realized how important it is to conserve some energy for the way down until this climb.
Reaching camp was like salvation. I couldn’t wait to just rest and not have to walk. I think just the act of taking off gear and wet clothes took me an hour. We gathered in Tyson’s tent again, but none of us felt like eating. The entire way up the mountain we felt we had to sustain ourselves and eat. Now that the summit was done none of us could muster up appetite to eat Maggi or macaroni again. We had tea and biscuits and some namkeen and Tyson and I actually slept off like that. Both of us were too drained for more. Anne, the ever hungry girl, was shocked but couldn’t do much. She took solace in a cup of soup and followed suit.
None of us explicitly discussed getting up late but it had to happen. I had been acting ringmaster when it came to morning wake up calls but today even I couldn’t care less. I don’t think I have slept as well as I did last night. The lack of sleep the previous night, the exhaustion, the draining off of all that tension took its toll and I passed out as soon as I went into my sleeping bag. Same thing happened to Tyson, but poor Anne found a puddle under her part of the tent and kept tossing and turning to avoid it. The summit had taken all desire out of us to force-feed ourselves and we were still not hungry, despite skipping dinner (the importance of non-packaged edible goods has never hit us so hard). After a breakfast of Maggi, which we forced down our throats, we packed our tents and finally got ready for the descent.
Tyson lead till the top of Duhangan Col after which he gave me a naughty smile and asked me to get ready. I realized it was time to face my next round of fears… Closing the route down a gully. Tyson and Anne belayed/rappelled down and then asked me to come. My heart did a mini thump as I set off. Climbing down a 60 degree plus slope, though covered with snow, is twice as scary as climbing up where gravity is on your side. I was later told that it took me 20 minutes to do just a single pitch of rope… damn! At this rate it would take us forever to climb down. I decided to suck up my fears and plough ahead. Tyson pointed out where I could improve technically and the going became much easier. The time fell from 20 minutes to 15-10 and finally down to 7-8 minutes. Half way through I told Tyson that my arm was tired and asked if he could take over. He gave me a blank stare and asked me if that’s how I expected to become a good mountaineer (ouch!).
I was elated on reaching the end of the gully… My first step towards proper alpine and lead climbing (albeit a small one) was complete!
We were camping all the way down at Sehri today (no more camping on snow!), so after a short break we set off again. We met Harsh bhai’s expedition team at Chota Chandratal Camp (they were on their way to Deo Tibba) and stopped over. We got hot tea, shelter from the snow, and were treated as minor celebrities by his clients for summitting (so that’s how it feels!). We picked up the extra stuff (mostly ration and some clothes) we had left behind at our campsite and set off again, with loads now nearing 25kg. Going down was uneventful, though painful.
For lack of space, we were wearing our snow boots even over moraine. There was unlooked-for benefit in this; never realized you could double them up as river crossing boots. Crossed the three rivers with them with hardly any water seeping in.
Met two more camps with two more rounds of welcoming tea. Realized how lucky we were to have the valley completely to ourselves during the whole trip up. It added another dimension to the beauty of the mountains. Sehri at last, after 7 hours of walking in snow boots. And just in time… With the snow converting to rain at lower altitudes and speeding up in intensity. Last night of camping and sleeping in a tent. Much as I love the mountains, you can’t help but miss a soft warm bed!
Today was the last day of our trip and we couldn’t wait to get back (for the last few days all our conversations were around the food we wanted to eat when we went back down). All three of us decided to skip breakfast and head straight down. Our bags were now definitely 25kg plus, with the additional load of stuff left behind at Sehri added to it. It no longer fit in our bags and our bags looked more like coat hangers with snow boots, helmets, tents, and rope hanging all over them. After a final round of pictures with our coat hanger bags, we set off.
You could tell how eager Tyson was to get home from the way he shot off like a bullet. Anne and I were walking behind more slowly, but at some point I decided to risk going fast with the heavy load and started catching up with Tyson. That was probably where our team work broke down for the first time in our climb. Anne was struggling behind because of her calf and back to back expeditions and we should have slowed down for her. The inevitable happened… At one point Anne slipped on the moraine and got stuck. She called out to us but with the river rushing next to us and the distance we didn’t hear her. Luckily for us, a trekking group was going the other way and they helped her out. We came out of the incident unscathed but with a valuable lesson reiterated – team members should never be out of ear/eye shot especially in an alpine style climb and especially during the descent, where stamina and concentration have started to flag off.
It took us about 4-4.5 hours to finally reach the road head. It’s funny how you yearn for isolation but at the end of the climb the very symbol of civilization, a road, is the most welcome site of all. All of us were starving and the first thing we did was to attack food – samosas, followed by pizza and cake – what bliss after the bland taste of Maggi and macaroni. A much needed bath and then all of us collapsed on proper beds after 10 days… Only a trekker can understand the pure joy of sleeping on a warm bed after days of sleeping on mud and snow.
In summation, I would say that the expedition has been the most satisfying experience of my limited mountaineering foray. Technically, it was not a very difficult climb. Personally though, it was a very satisfying one. It was as if a step had finally been taken in the right direction. There is something about carrying your own food, equipment, and tent, without any support staff, which brings out the best in you. You start owning the expedition and your actions, like you have never before. There is also something about pushing yourself physically and mentally, beyond what you thought was possible, which makes the entire journey and the achievement that much sweeter. I think this is also the natural progression for anyone who is in this field. What’s the fun if you can’t challenge yourself, not for any external accolades, but for the sheer joy of knowing that you could do what you thought was formidable, that you could overcome your fears and stand that much taller. The surprise is not that we did it, but that so few have… Why?
Author: Medha Khanna
Medha is a fitness and sports enthusiast whose love for adventure and the outdoors led to her metamorphosis from an investment banker in London to a mountaineer and backpacker in the Himalayas. When not found in the mountains she is found 0m above sea level where organic farming and sea swimming keep her busy in Pondicherry.