My Himalayan sojourn, about which I am thinking of writing volumes in this post, began with an intention and purpose completely different from what it actually ended up to be. On second guessing, may be the purpose was same but the mean to its end was radically different. The purpose essentially was spending a length of time in the mountains, specifically the Himalaya. The difference was the fact that I initially intended to spend that time on a 20-day exploratory expedition, but it rather ended up being a 26-day basic mountaineering course at Manali, followed by a 8-day expedition with Bhramanti. Do note that not I am not saying that not being able to spend the mountain time in the planned manner did not mean I was disappointed; rather it was quite a serendipitous venture.
Looking back, once everything is over and done with, it always feels great to bask in the nostalgic warmth of the seeding bits of the journey that has already unfolded. This journey is no different and so here it goes ..
It all began in an online conversation with Kaivalya, a veteran rock climber and mountaineering enthusiast from Mumbai, then an online acquaintance and now a good friend. Kaivalya had been to the Himalayas at least half a dozen times before and was planning for his next outing. I still find it surprising that based on just a few online conversations he would have invited me to join his team on his next expedition. Usually any expedition is quite a time consuming and expensive affair with lot of sweat and blood going in to it. And even more intriguing is the fact that even with so much going into its preparatory and planning stages, how fragile and prone to failures it can be. And more often than not, it is the team chemistry and subjective mishaps that are at the root of the failure than real unavoidable objectives causes. Despite him being well aware of this fact, it was very surprising for me to be invited on this expedition by Kaivalya, primarily because he hardly knew me when he put forth the invitation then!
I was very much excited for my first Himalayan expedition. I began by doing an inventory check of all the gear that I had and all the gear that I needed for the expedition. Scourging the Internet for online deals on gear is a time consuming yet very enjoyable affair. Ice axes, crampons, mountaineering boots, warm layers, and so on – the list seemed endless and very expensive. The check list was long, however over the period of new few months I could tick a lot of them off the list. I seemed to be very well prepared – at least gear wise.
While the gear was being taken care off, I also had to ensure that I have the ability to last and make proper use of the gear at high altitudes and in demanding conditions. I had been doing a lot gym climbing, which helped my climbing skills and local muscular endurance, but almost nothing for my overall aerobic fitness and endurance. And I was well aware of this fact.
To this effect, I started training, at first unplanned and unmeasured and later due to some dedicated reading in a very planned and meticulous manner. Living in the plains did not allow me easy access to hills and hence training to be in Himalaya-fit shape was the only option. I followed Steve House’s training methods and would recommend his book to every serious Alpinist looking to improve their performance and push their limits.
While I was training and collecting the required gear, I was very well aware that a small change in my academic schedule and commitments would mean that all my Himalayan dreams would go for a toss and I would be just pulling on plastics the next summer. Much like the weather window on some seriously high peaks, I had a very narrow window to fit my schedules without disturbing my academic and family commitments. I prayed and hoped. Albeit, due to some reasons the expedition dates had to be rescheduled and all my plans were in serious jeopardy of never making it past the pen and paper stage!
I had to send time in the mountains and when I realized that the expedition dates would be in conflict with my schedules, I started looking for alternatives. The basic mountaineering course came up as a very viable alternative. However, the two of the three reputed institutes, NIM (Uttarkashi) and HMI (Darjeeling) did not offer the course in the month of July and so the only remaining option for me was to register with ABVIMAS, Manali, which I did. However, missing out on the expedition left me slightly disappointed then.
But luck was on my side. Another iteration to the expedition schedule due to some unforeseen reason gave me a chance to be a part of the expedition for a few days – a week to be precise. I grabbed the chance with both arms and it seemed as if I could have the cake and eat it too. The plan was to join the expedition team at the base camp after completing my basic course and attempt at least one peak before I had to leave the mountains. Since, I would have already spend more than a couple of weeks in the mountains as a part of my basic mountaineering course, I would be adequately acclimatized and fit enough to join the team and attempt scaling the peak directly. The plan seemed very much feasible.
So, I came to India all eager and enthusiastic for my Himalayan sojourn. I spent some quality time with my family while being very much focused on the mountains. I was very much aware the basic course itself would leave my body in a tired and battered state and that a 6000-meter peak immediately after the course will be relatively demanding. Yet, riding on the back of my training and will, I thought I was in good shape and was confident, yet not complacent. With all the things leading up to this point, I left for Manali for my basic mountaineering course.
The course at ABVIMAS is a 26-day affair and enlisting the details of it commands a separate blog post of its own, which I am not planning to write. However, to summarize it in a few words, the course introduced us to the basics of mountaineering and taught us some vital skills in three domains – rock craft, snow craft and ice craft. Besides these three skills, it also covered a wide gamut of topics including first aid, mountain sickness, survival, mountain safety, etc. The course is definitely a good introduction into mountaineering and promises to be an interesting experience for everyone who enjoys being in nature. You can find more information about the course on ABVIMAS website.
Following the completion of the basic course, I set off on the much awaited expedition. Our base camp was to be at Killing Sarai and we were to explore a few peaks in the Lahaul region of Himachal Pradesh. Without getting into too much details about the expedition, I would give you the facts that matter -
The team managed to summit three peaks, two virgin peaks and Mt. Yunam successfully, a first in the history of Bhramanti. Kudos!
- 5975m (Virgin) on 31-jul (Rohan, Prashant)
- 5920m (Virgin) on 3-aug (Kaivalya, Rajan)
- Base camp for the two virgin peaks was at 4640m
- Advanced base camp for the two peaks was common and was at 4960m
- Camp 1 of 5975m was at 5430m
- Camp 1 of 5920 was at 5275m
- Mt. Yunam (6130m) on 7-aug (Ravi, Rajan)
- Advanced base camp of Yunam was at 4960m
- Camp 1 of Mt. Yunam was at 5260m
I would also like to note that the expedition would not have been successful the way it was without the competent services of the support team including the porters, guides and the cooking staff. I would specifically like to mention the names of Bhola Thakur (Shikhar Par), Diler Kapur (Cook), Pyare ji (Guide) and Gyani ji (Guide).