CAMP III AND BEYOND
The snow stopped falling. As I opened the zip of my tent to have a view outside, the white sheet in front invited me out. All the foot marks, which we had made while establishing C III, just a few hours ago had been covered, leaving no sign of our trampling.
As I took my legs out of the oval opening of the tent and slid my heavy leather boots on, I could hear Yogi struggling with his tent zip, and soon his smiling face was there at the tent opening. Out of the tent, both of us tried to access the weather situation right in the softness of fresh snow. Looking at our camp, it appeared as if the tents had just grown out of the snow and had been ever existent there. Slowly Ranjit, Sandy, Susheel & Satyapal joined us.
A call from Fateh disrupted our discussion on the activities of Base camp. Yogi had been called to fetch some semi-solid snow from the weak portion of the glacier. Yogi picked up his Ice Axe & soon disappeared behind the ridge where our tents fluttered.
Yogi must have been halfway with the "Patila" of semi-solid snow that snow began to fall again. Slowly everyone headed for their respective tents. While the snow fell outside, Fateh & Ganthu kept stirring the noodles in the "Patila", kept on a stove in a deep pit, dug in the snow, just at the mouth of their tent. This was done with such an intention so as to cook food while sitting in the tent itself. Everyone had been tired by the second load ferry from C II to C III & as we were pitching the tents at an altitude of around 18,000 ft., it had started to snow. But everyone was happy that at least all load ferry's were over and what's left was the final push. But, it seems that God had different plans.
Sandy's joke made everybody laugh in respective tents. All the three tents were pitched in close proximity, so as to take food from Fateh's tent while sitting in the tent itself (just by extending our arms). Soon food was ready and Susheel extended our plates to Ganthu. In the time the plate was brought into the tent, some snowflakes had already fallen on the food, as if God was sprinkling some salt. Thus, lunch came to an end at about 4.00 P.M and everybody tumbled in respective sleeping bags.
Evening was as usual spent singing and laughing, totally undisturbed by the hostile atmosphere of the surroundings. After usual round of soup and dinner, everybody retired to bed.
Whole night snow fell. It was the responsibility of who so ever woke up in the night to get up and shake the tent. We woke up to falling snow as well, but the great spirit in our team saw each one out in zero visibility conditions. We had been in touch with our base and camp 1 team team through our wireless sets. At the scheduled time of 07.00 hrs & 17.00 hrs we used to open our sets, but the majestic wall of Mt. Hanuman Tibba prevented us to contact each other. The last communication we had was somewhere between C I and Tentu Pass. Hence, I suggested to take the wireless set to the edge of the south ridge of Mt. Hanuman Tibba and try to establish contact from there. Yogis also got eager to join while, everybody else preferred to rest.
Soon, after breakfast Fateh, Yogi & myself left for our destination. The visibility was very poor but we walked on following Fateh, who by now had become an oracle for us. At the stroke of each hour, we opened our sets only to hear the blank hiss, which by now had become too familiar. The going got tough & weather deteriorated further. The visibility came down to just a few feet, with the result it was getting difficult for me to see the person walking in front. Fateh called off the mission and unable to contact base even today, we started back to join the team for lunch.
It was not till we hit our tents that we realized of our arrival at C II. The return was much simpler, trailing our footprints all the way. Our shouts made the camp active once again and everybody gathered to know whether we had been able to establish contact with base or not? The snow had started falling again & we had lunch sitting right inside our tents. But with the lunch came alarming news that our ration was fast depleting. We had only 1 day more of complete ration.
In the evening Satyapal had a closed tent meeting with Fateh, Ganthu and Raju to decide how to tide over the crisis. With the strong wind blowing & snow falling, Satyapal emerged from the kitchen tent and entered into our tent, where all the other five of us were enjoying unaware of what was about to come.
Sitting in a two men tent Satyapal apprised us of the current situation and gave us two options:
1. All of us go back and abandon the expedition.
2. Any two of us go back (along with one guide) with the message send more food and if possible try to come back again. This way we would also be able to use the available quantity of food for longer period of time.
Everybody was taken aback by both the options. Nobody spoke for some time & glanced into the eyes of each other. Suddenly another option came up i.e. why not to wait for one day more & if weather doesn't improve by tomorrow, then any two persons could go. But seeing the ration level this suggestion was out rightly dismissed.
Satyapal asked for views on both the options. It was unanimously decided to dismiss the 1st option. The expedition will continue at any cost. The zeal and enthusiasm was still high in the team after number of days of load ferry & bad weather. It was the second option, which everybody wanted to avoid, but it was inevitable. Somebody had to go down, that was the leaders' decision.
Who would they be, whether me or him or him? The eyes scanned each other's fears & aspirations, which were quite easily being reflected on their faces. The silence was once again broken by a question of Satyapal, "Any volunteers"? This question, which I had heard since my childhood & to whose call I had always raised my hand, but today I felt my hands being chained by my mind. Perhaps the dream since my childhood of participating in a full-fledged expedition and reaching the summit was being reflected as a distant reality. Somehow, for a change, I sat quietly.
Kharb suddenly broke the silence and said, "It could be anybody but not Pavneesh and Yogi. They have been the fittest and seem to be the most promising to reach the summit". But Satyapal said," I think one of them should be Pavneesh, perhaps he could go down and come up again". But pat came Kharbs' reply," No! That can never be. In that case, I volunteer to go down". Everybody was taken aback. Indeed, nobody, least of all me expected Kharb to do that. His performance had been quite good.
But the statement had shaken us all. In gesture I communicated my disapproval to Kharb, but the smile of content spoke it all. "Who would be the other one," spoke Satyapal. Names of Susheel and Sandy came into discussion and soon Satyapal said, "Sandy, you will go with Kharb". Sandy like a true polished soldier accepted the decision and shook hands with Kharb. But the decision left all of us hurt and to top it all the fear of getting separated from two of our gems was more than little to swallow.
The plan of their departure was chalked out. The descent team comprising of Raju, Kharb and Sandy were to leave by 16.00 hrs so that they could reach C II by night. As a token of love, they left most of the food for us as we were to require it for longer period of time. We on the other hand gave some chocolates and dry fruits from our share to them, as there was no stove at C II to cook food on. We put the ready to eat food in a polythene bag and handed it over to them.
Soon, it was time for their departure. Everybody got out to see them off. But before they left their choicest equipment and personal wear was given to some of us for use. Their level of willingness to help us reach the summit was un-measurable. There they were 2 young men, who like me had dreamt of going to the summit but were turning back, not being sent back by any hazard or as a casualty. They are turning back just to make us reach the summit. Wouldn't this amount to be the highest degree of sacrifice? We helped Sandy & Kharb with their rucksacks. After setting the rucksacks on their shoulders, they turned & turned with a smile. Spontaneously, we embraced each other & when we broke our embrace, and saw into each other's face, there were tears! Yes, tears. These tears not only reflected the pain of separation but perhaps fear of never meeting each other again. I had never seen tears in Kharb's eyes but there he was with eyes full of water, ready to be frozen in our minds.
After meeting everybody & bidding farewell, the trio left. We walked with them, till the edge of the ridge where our C III was pitched. After another round of handshakes & embraces, they started off. We stood there as if our feet had frozen. Satyapal spoke to Yogi & me about the next plan. Listening to him my eyes were fixed at the trio descending at a great speed down the glacier. Soon, due to poor visibility I lost them in the fogginess.
We turned back for our tents having faced the chilled wind for quite some time without proper protection. It was on the way, while looking at the Mount H.T lost in between clouds I spoke these words:
"Hame Khinch kar ishq laya hai tera, tere dar pe hamne lagaya hai dera,
Hame Hoga Jab tak na dedar tera, yahi subah hogi, yahi sham hogi"
With heavy hearts we returned to our tents. Opening the flap of the tent, I pushed myself in, leaving the feet outside & Behold! What I saw? "Hey! They have left the chocolates & dry fruits. What will they eat for their dinner & breakfast?" Exclaimed everybody! Fateh, Ganthu were consulted & Satyapal gave orders to Yogi to hand over the material to them. "They wouldn't have gone too far", said Satyapal. Yogi tightened his shoelaces, wore gaiters, picked up his ice axe & left knowing little, how far the descent party may have gone.
It was getting late. Yogi had not turned up. Panic started to grip us. Satyapal & myself went to the end of the ridge to see any sign of Yogi coming. With visibility poor, it required the maximum level of gazing concentration in the whiteness of the environment to appreciate a living body from boulders.
Somewhere deep inside, we had started feeling the guilt of sending Yogi all alone. But to keep things cheerful, I started singing songs in the chill of the air.
It was quite after some time that we were able to appreciate somebody moving up the glacier & it wasn't long as compared to the time of wait when Yogi was there in front of us with his smiling face. "Where did you catch them?", asked Satyapal. "Right at the vertical Crevasse in the glacier", replied Yogi.
Fateh & Ganthu started preparation for dinner & rest four of us sat in one tent thinking about how far the descent party must have reached. By now Yogi had become the usual member to bring semi-solid snow from the weak part of the glacier. The wind had become more stronger & the fluttering of our tent made us think of our colleagues down the glacier.
It was after some time that, we realized the fluttering of our tent had shifted to the other side. Change of wind direction in mountains usually means change of weather. I hurriedly peeped out of my tent, lifting the tent flap & taking my mouth out of the oval gate & Behold! I could see blue sky intermittently here & there, through the clouds. I yelled & screened & out we came, making merry & realizing somewhere in our mind that perhaps, somehow, God has given his consent to scale Mt. H.T. after moments of Trial. Moreover, if appeared as if Yogi's words have come prophetic, which made us really think did he really meet Hanumanji & we inquired in detail about the whole incident again.
The weather condition was changing & changing very fast. The clouds were being torn apart by strong winds & being fled far away from our eyes. Never in my life had I seen such a dramatic change of weather in such a short period. All of us were out & enjoyed the Blue sky in contrast to the white bed sheet of snow. It was then we had the clearest view of the whole south face of Mt. Hanuman Tibba
We asked Fateh about the route & he showed us the two possible ways we could take. We discussed the pros & cons of both. One path was steeper, longer but safer, while the other path was shorter, but full of open crevasses. Even after an hour of discussion it was not decided which path to take tomorrow.
During dinner, it was decided to get up at three & leave C III by 4.00 A.M. Fateh, Yogi & myself were to form one rope while Ganthu, Susheel & Satyapal would from the other rope. The mission was to reach the top at its earliest before the mountain activity or weather deterioration starts i.e. before 11.00 AM.
Night at C III on that day was different. It was much colder, moreover even after repeated orders by my brain to sleep, I couldn't. Perhaps the excitement was taking its toll. In order to give my best performance on the most crucial day, I wanted to sleep but I couldn't. I don't remember when I slumbered, but the rattling of utensils and burning of stove waked me. Immediately everybody was up.
The level of enthusiasm was to be seen to be believed. Everyone was eager to get ready. But, due to very low temperature, everything was happening slowly. I had never seen such stiff shoes. I had to literally struggle to open their mouth wide to put my feet in. Wearing my shoes was perhaps the toughest job. Usually the snow under our feet used to give way, but today our feet remained above the surface itself rather than sinking in the snow.
At four everybody left the camp, in the brightness of the stars and tinniest little moon. The light coming from it was being reflected by the snow all around and thus, there was appreciable visibility. I had never seen such a clear sky with the stars almost within my reach, to which Yogi added," perhaps we can get one down from the top". I turned back and saw our camp just before we went down the ridge. It looked beautiful in the night.
As it had been during our movement from Transit camp to C III, today also Fateh, Yogi and myself were just one after the other. Our pace was exactly the same. We walked on, negotiating ups and downs of glacier and we soon hit the base of the South face of Mt. Hanuman Tibba. We turned back to have a look at the second party but saw them way back.
It was here, Fateh asked me, which way, Dr. Sahib? Discussion started. But, I came out with logic. Our aim is to reach the summit & we have to reach summit for the sake of Ranjit & Sandy. And to do that we have limited time say till 11.00 A.M. If we go by the shorter crevasse route, then there are chances of getting trapped at one place, and our chances of reaching the top may become bleak. But, if we take the steeper, longer route, we are sure that such geographical difficulties would not be there & I was confident of our speed at any degree of elevation. We planned to return by the crevassed route.
Fateh took the route for the edge of the South face of Mt. H.T. We reached a place having some boulders & sat down to rest. The second party was looking like tiny ants inching up the way. We had some dry fruits. Fateh took out the rope & all of us roped up with Fateh in lead, Yogi as the middleman & myself being the end man.
The next destination was going up a gully which ended in an Ice wall, then to turn right just before the Ice wall & finally climb up from there to reach the left Shoulder of Mt. H.T. We started for our way up. The going started getting tough. The sun had been out. The temp had started rising and snow had started getting flabbier. We pushed on, gasping for breath in between. But, what was remarkable was that never did Yogi or myself asked Fateh to stop. We were prepared to stop only when Fateh stopped & never on our own. That's been one of the reasons for our good speed. The ice wall in front gave us a frightening look. It had icicles hanging out & the whole scenario gave this impression that this whole ice wall was going to crumble in a sec & crush us down.
Just before, we could touch the ice wall, we took the right wall of the gully & started climbing it. It was quite steep & we walked up in 'Z' manner. Once reaching the top, we sat on a few boulders & felt the direct rays of sun which by now had become fully bright.
Everybody imagines place with snow & ice to be very cold but here we were right inside an oven. I had become totally wet with sweat. All three of us took off our woolen pullovers but left our windcheater on. We drank little bit of water as well. I switched on my wireless here & behold, I was catching whole of Haryana. Stations of Haryana on each of the channels. I again sent some exploratory calls for our Base party but nobody came in. We listened to what is happening in Haryana & started wearing our Crampons, because, the snow by now had become totally flabby and soft.
In the hurry to leave the camp, we had left our anti U.V face creams in our tents & here, we were facing the brunt of the sun. I had started to feel the sun cause burning sensation in my face. But there was nothing I could do.
Our next destination was to reach the Dome, from my earlier talks & readings I had come to know of the importance of the Dome. Many teams had been able to reach dome, but turned back from there due to sheer vertical climb of about 400 feet after that. In my heart, I had the desire to reach the Dome & judge for myself.
The climb was steep & with the weather really hot, we were sweating & panting but walking & walking till Fateh stopped. After a little breather we continued and it was about 8.00 AM when we reached the Dome, we didn't believe that we had reached Dome so early. Fateh was more than delighted from our performance & embraced us, perhaps he knew that the summit was within our reach today.
I immediately opened the wireless set & again sent exploratory calls, only to get no response. We savored a complete tin of orange juice between us and ate some dry fruits.
In front of my eyes stood a sheer wall of 400-ft of Mt. H.T. The sight shook me & immediately made me realize why many teams make a retreat from here. Fateh again cited an example of a Japanese women expedition, who called off their mission from here.
While munching some biscuits & eyes fixed on the wall, I was thinking how would I do it. I started to chalk out the route. Only to be disturbed by Fateh call 'Move'. The Beas kund side was full of clouds but all the clouds were far below us. The result was that, we couldn't look at our base camp. And we knew that it is not going to take long till the clouds are going to reach us as well. (The Second team was nowhere in sight).
We started for the final assault. Fateh started climbing using front pointing till the rope, which attached him to Yogi, permitted him. Then Yogi went up followed by me. We made our base in the snow & stood erect till Fateh & Yogi climbed up. While moving up, Fateh used to belay yogi & when I moved up Yogi used to belay me. Both Yogi & me used to be in anchored state, once Fateh moved. Like a Caterpillar we inched on. I took a look from in-between my feet & realized what a tumble from here, could mean. The crevasses down below looked as if they were waiting for us by keeping their mouth wide open.
Each time I thumped by feet to make base for standing and dug my ice axe deep to anchor, the anxious wait for Fateh & Yogi to reach for their respective places began. And sometimes the area where my feet camped started getting weak with the result I had to dig my front tooth of the crampons deeper & harder in the snow.
Lifting my head up saw the progress of Fateh & Yogi, & could many a times see Fateh progressing right through Yogi's legs. Slowly, the angle began to decrease & there it was the ultimate destination. The place for which we had roamed in the summer heat of plains to gather funds, exercised regularly for more than five months & the place which meant so much not only from our personal point from the point of our University.
We let Fateh lead us to the top & reached summit at 9.25 A.M. We hoisted the flag of our University and Youth Hostel Association of India & offered Prayers. As we embraced each other tears rolled out from our eyes.
The "Prayas" had been successful.