Monday, July 3, 2017

The Summit day

This is the fourth and final part of this series of posts written on my Himalayan adventure.

Do read the first part here, the second part here, and the third part here, before you move ahead with this post.

It was finally the day we summit Pangarchulla. We already got to hear about the difficulty of the final summit day the evening before, and given that except for very few people, for most of the others, including me, this was a first trek, we were tensed like hell! We were worried about a whole host of things, including

  1. Would we be able to actually complete the trek? Was our fitness level good enough for it?
  2. Would we be able to keep ourselves hydrated throughout the trek? I had taken only 2 bottles of water, and there were no water spots during the trek. I am one who sweats like a pig! Leave it to me to sweat even in the coldest of weathers. This meant that I would need to have constant water to drink!
  3. What would we do to carry the bare essentials for the trek? Luckily, the wifey came up with a smart idea of using the sleeping bag covers as bags for the day!
  4. What would we do to eat? We had no lunch box! Luckily, the wifey knew that we would get food in aluminium foils, so that was taken care of. (I tell you, the advantage of having a full fledged trekker as a partner is truly golden!)
  5. Most important (and this was actually discussed at length that night)...... how would we be able to do potty so early in the morning? We had to leave the camp site by 4 AM, and that meant waking up latest by 3.30 AM. These are not normal waking up (and potty going) times!
After dinner that night, all of us quickly went to our tents and packed up for the next day.

We woke up the next morning to pitch blackness. It was 3 AM in the morning, after all. Midnight, for many of us. For others, it was normally time to sleep! We were so not used to waking up at this time. But then, this was no ordinary day for us. Like the saying goes.... NO PAIN, NO GAIN!

We quickly had our breakfast and tea, and at sharp 4.02 AM (or 4 AM Indian Standard Time), we were off! It was pitch black when we started, and were completely dependent on the guides to show us the way during this time. This went on for an hour, till we could just see the Sun just starting to show its presence over the Garhwal range. And boy! Was it a sight worth seeing!

This was at 5 AM. Clear skies, the rest of the day looked bright!
This was just the thing that was needed to take my mind from the hardships we were about to face the rest of the day. We soon (rather we thought soon) reached our first checkpoint, only to find out that we were supposed to reach that place about an hour earlier! It was time for the guides to take a tough call..... the people slowing the group would have to go on another route, or else the whole group would lose out on summit-ting the peak! A group of 7 people decided to go on another trek to Kuari Pass. 

And then there were 13.......

Once we started from the first checkpoint, the sun just started popping out, the rays shining over the Himalayas. It was a surreal sight, and I could have spent the whole time just staring at the sight!

The picture does not convey what we actually saw that morning. It was out of this world!
We were already behind schedule, and had a lot of catching up to do! The weather was holding up, with clear skies giving us hope that we would be able to reach the summit without many hiccups.

The immediate hour was spent navigating through grasslands. As the snow had already melted here, the ground was wet, which was giving us a bit of a hard time. But we continued onward, through the wet grass, with our focus solely on the path ahead. 

Soon, we saw snow on the ground. Which meant one thing. BRING ON THE CRAMPONS! The crampons had to be worn under the outsole of the shoe, and would give additional grip while walking on the snow. However, it did take some getting used to, as it required a different style of walking. It was easy enough walking in the snow, which is what the crampons were meant for, however there were some patches of grass and rock in between, and walking on them was like walking on a tightrope. One small step taken wrong, and you were bound to fall! Also, while walking on the snow, we had to make sure we were walking on the path already set, especially near the rocky patches. The snow was melting, and thus we had to tread very carefully through the snow, making sure not to step onto a soft patch and getting yourself stuck deep in snow!

The summit site was in close view now.......there was not much to go! Just another 3-4 hours of climbing! It looks like a long time now, but after 2.5 days of climbing, a mere 3-4 hours was nothing! And, seeing these views just kept me going!
The summit.....felt very close!

The other side.... what awesome views!
We had reached about 13000 feet now. With every step taken, I was getting tired. Water was also scarce, with all of us having to save it for the entire trip, as there was no other source of water available. The only thing keeping me going was the dry fruits that the wifey had carefully packed (oh man, what would I have done without her knowledge of going on previous treks and preparing everything beforehand!). Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the.......final stop before the home stretch! It was time to munch on our lunch that was given to us.

I just found the best place to sit down, and gladly munched on the food, as I was in need of energy for the final stretch! The only thing on my mind at that time was to get into my body as much nutrients as possible to be able to take me up. I was so engrossed in my food, that I missed out on what was an amazing, out of this world view of the Garhwal mountain range!


WHAAAAT? I MISSED SEEING THIS!!!!
Some of the others were already feeling a bit sick, the altitude was already getting to them. We were told to keep our heads covered the whole time so that the cold doesn't get to us. But even after taking all precautions, you could get sick. I was pleasantly surprised to see myself just hungry, and not suffering from any headache. The wifey, however, was starting to get the symptoms of Altitude sickness. And that was worrying me. She wanted to continue, and that meant having to go slow and steady to be with her the whole time. One guy decided enough was enough, and he would not be going ahead, and would stay here till we came back.

And then there were 12........

The home stretch of the climb was the hardest. Though it looked pretty simple from below (oh just one final stretch and we would be there! YAY!), only while climbing did I understand how tough it actually was. There were not one or two, but three steep, narrow climbing stretches before we reached the summit!

We were all smiles, but the path ahead was anything but easy!

At this stretch, we now became grouped into 2 groups (Actually 4, the zombie and one of the Pangarchulla babus were slow and were behind all of us, climbing at their own pace). The faster group of about 6 were ahead and zooming towards the summit. The rest of us, headed by the wifey, were the 'slow and steady wins the race' group, moving slowly towards the summit. The wifey was already feeling pukish by this time, and was slowing down after every 6-10 steps. This gave the rest of us the breathing space we needed to get our energy back! I gladly stayed at the end of this group, as this gave me the best chance of successfully summit-ting the climb. Ahead of me was the director of photography, and behind me was the Kashmiri Pangarchulla babu. The clouds had suddenly come out of nowhere, and it looked as though it would rain, or snow! The weather just changes all of a sudden, and you just don't know what to expect the next moment!

We had now reached the final climb. Only a few more meters to go! However, every step I took was taxing on my body, and my mind kept telling me to just give up! I was at that stage where I had to keep shouting at myself to move on, and it was mind over body.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I hear some music playing. Not just any music, but gym music. You know, the kind that you hear when you go to the gym to workout. The person behind me had saved the battery on his mobile to play this music at this time. I finally realized the effect that these songs has on you. Not that I am a gym goer or anything, but I had heard that the music gives you the Adrenalin you need to push yourself in the gym. Though I never did understand it when I went to the gym (which was almost never, but that is a different story), over here, right at the home stretch, when my whole body was just giving up, that music gave me the strength to push myself that little bit more. I finally appreciated the importance of Adrenalin and its effect on my body. Now it was only a question of reaching the top!

AND FINALLY WE REACHED! PANGARCHULLA SUMMIT-TED! TIME TO CELEBRATE! Or, according to the rest of us, sit and rest at the top, preparing ourselves for the descend.

Me at the top! So tired, and recuperating for the descend!

This is what we could see from the summit. The weather changed in a matter of minutes!

Well, we had reached the top, but now we could not stay there forever! The descend awaited us. And that scared the living hell out of me, for I have a fear of heights! The weather had worsened as well, and it looked as though it would snow anytime soon! Oh man, things were not getting any easier!

To add to all of the above, the descend was through the same narrow stretch we had come up through. That same stretch looked a whole lot more steep and tough while going down!

I don't know if you can see this, but this is steep!
There was a technique to moving down with the crampons, and it was very important that all of us learn that technique very fast, otherwise the downhill trek would not be much of a walk, rather a slide! And that is exactly what happened the first few steps I took. The snow was hard as well, and it took a toll on my bums! However, the guides were there to help us out when we fell, and soon we were able to walk down on the snow.

Once we knew the technique, it was really good fun walking down! I even got a bit adventurous, and converted a routine walk down the slope to a slide, after I slipped! It was good fun! What effect it would have on my body, I got to know only after the trek was over, but during that time, I had a blast!

The wifey, however, was suffering. She was not feeling well at all! She had already puked a couple of times, and was having a headache. She really needed some water! I gave her whatever I had with me, and one of the guides was kind enough to give her support while walking the way down. Now I had a long way to go..... and no water to drink!

After sometime, while going down, I saw someone ahead had stopped and was bending down, and looked in pain. On meeting the person, I found out that the momo zombie had also gotten a severe headache, and was finding it hard to walk! With the guides taking care of the others, there was no one to help her out! Having just seen the wifey going through the same thing, I decided that the best thing to do would be to atleast show her the way to the camp, and to help her out in case she needed anything. We stopped after almost every step, as she needed to catch some breath and just rest, the headache pounding her! Fortunately I knew, approximately, the route that we had taken, and so was able to guide her and myself to the safety of the camp.

Oh the feeling I had when I saw those tents.... those beautiful blue tents.....it was pure bliss! I reached back at the campsite at about 5 PM, more than 13 hours after starting the day. The wifey was already in the tent, sleeping and looking much better! All was well that ended well! We spent the rest of the day talking about all the incidents that happened during the day, and reminiscing on what was an awesome day overall!

The team!

The last day was just going down the path that we had climbed the first 2 days. It felt like a breeze in comparison to the summit day! by lunch time we were back at Joshimath, and we celebrated by buying ourselves a well deserved round of local beer! (Kotsberg, in case you are wondering. A search on Google and Google itself will ask you 'Did you mean Carlsberg?', say no, and you will get to see the awesome brand that is Kotsberg!)

And thus, the summit was complete! It felt like an achievement. All these years of a seemingly mundane life, and finally I can say that I have done something incredible! It may not be an Everest, but it sure was one for me! I really had a wonderful time, and we had a great group of people with us through the trek!

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