With every passing phase of the day, with my nausea on rise, my enthusiasm was going down but I knew it was just temporary. I was sitting in the bus from Haridwar bound towards Joshimath. It was an arduous 12 hour long journey. My trek to Pangarchulla was to begin the day after next day which gave me one more day before trek starts. So, next morning, I went to Auli via ropeway. It is a pristine place known for skiing tournaments. It was very silent with hardly a few tourists to be seen here and there. The place is filled with trees of Oak, Maples, Deodar amongst others. I particularly loved colourful Maple trees. Nanda devi peak is clearly visible from here. Night of that day, I met with my trek team and then day was called off with a briefing session.
Day 1 of trek.
After a short car ride, we stared our trek by 10:30 from Dhak village. Initially we were walking on kutcha road, not particularly giving the feel of trek but that of walk. Then, we stepped on the mountain. For more than half of the distance today, we found very small villages here and there on hill tops. At one place, there was a small automatic mill, being run with the pressure of water. Giving the feel of electricity generation in movie Swades. The trail was a little steep, but then I had been on plains for more than a year, it was supposed to feel steep on day 1. One noteworthy thing about the place is the abundance of nuts and it’s trees. Many of us collected nuts fallen on the ground. Walking slowly, we finally left civilization behind and now all we had was the team and Himalayas. This is what I had been waiting for since the day I left home for trek. By 2, we were at our camp site. It was surrounded with oak trees and ofcourse white peaks. After stretching session, we were free to explore the place and rest for the day.
Today we started by 9.55. Today was scenic and the trek was heartful. We walked amidst forest, mostly were deodar trees today. The calmness of trees, the touch of cold wind touching my body felt as if it was whispering. The freshness was so obvious, one does not need to stop to feel it. The freshness is all over there, the untouched part of nature felt pure and I felt pure breathing in that air. Among many other physical benefits of trek, one which I love the most is when walking uphill, our body demands more oxygen and we breathe heavily, all the Pure air rushes in our lungs. A deep breath could be felt with the chill running through on our nostrils. After about an hour, now we encountered snow. Today’s trek was not tiring at all, enjoying the view and walk, I did not realize when we reached our camp site.
The first view of the site was mesmerising. I had been in snow, I had been in jungle previously. But the combination of greenery of trees and whiteness of snow is a combination incomparable to any other I have seen. Hathi peak, Godha peak, Dronagiri peak are among the ones which can be seen from today’s camp site. We setup our own tents today. The day was to be closed early today since next day is our summit and we’d be beginning late night. We got gaiters, helmet and spikes to assist us walking in hard snow.
By 3AM, we were in our getup, turned on our headlamps, and started walking underneath the cloudy sky. Right from the beginning, we encountered snow. After some time, we started breathing heavily but all through the trek I had one thing clearly in my mind, breathing heavy doesn’t mean getting tired. Heavy breathing is just a process which is bound to happen with body demanding more oxygen and thinner air available to breath. After around 1:30 hours, we reached the structure known as temple, although it is not a regular temple. It was a very tiny structure. This temple, lying on the Lord Curzon trail, is the separation point for Kuari pass and Pangarchulla peak. By this place, our team of 12 had reduced to 8.
As is the thumb rule when on mountains, we had a turnaround time – reaching the base of Mini Pangarchulla by 7. With our team’s good efforts, when we were getting the hint that sun is about to remove the darkness, by6:30, we were there. But one more decision was pending which would decide our course for rest of the day. Ideally, mini base onwards, route is all boulders till Pangarchulla in summer, or in winters, it is all covered in snow so much that we need not worry about what lies beneath the snow. But this time, there was little snow, which was covering gaps in between boulders (kind of mini version of crevasse). This makes climb more difficult than it normally is. Our trek leaders put everything clearly in front us and asked for our opinion. The options being – we should either summit mini Pangarchulla or if we want we can walk in the boulders and see for ourselves if we can move ahead. The Last decision was that 2 of our teammates will summit mini and rest 6 of us will walk the boulder path towards main summit. Thus by 6:55, 2 teams were on their respective ways. The team for summit will be knowing after many hours what they had decided for and what lay ahead.
I was walking on the boulders now. Initially I was being cautious watching my every step, and to be true a little afraid of falling. I was reminding myself of the similar course on Friendship peak and how I was jumping like a monkey there, from one rock to another, confidently. At times, I was being harsh on myself for not being able to trust my capabilities. Many a times, I did jump over rocks like a pro, but slippery nature of rocks due to little snow kept arousing suspicion of my jump. So, where I could, I jumped unafraid and I enjoyed that part I was feeling light when I was jumping freely, both physically and mentally. It must have been a very little while ago when we started our boulder way, I turned back, looked here and there and suddenly I saw the other team had already reached mini summit. We had already been climbing for an hour now which seemed like a few minutes to me. We removed our spikes now since they were not of help now. Infact, they were making it difficult to hold on the rock.
At places, rocks were a bit distant which mandated stepping foot on the snow below. And this was The riskiest part since we did not know if it was firm or if it was a gap in between. And if gap, how deep it ran. Almost all of us fell into it one time or other. Once stuck in it, we had to put lower body strength to not just take our leg out but to push it on an elevated level(on another rock).
For long, rocks were placed on a horizontal level. The bigger part was yet to come. Now we had to cross the same boulders but now in vertical manner. We had actually entered Rock climbing. I’ll definitely call it a level higher than trekking. Amidst all this, summit was playing. As it always appear, the nearer we went to it, the farther it was getting. But that’s the beauty of climbing – chasing our goal. The trail was truly giving me chills, I was getting the challenge and adventure I had come for. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. During the end, I had lost all faith on my legs and I was using all 4 - both hands to support and legs to jump. Crawling wouldn’t be a wrong word here for my movement. This made it all the more fun for me. I didn’t come here for a cake walk. By 12:08, I finally reached the summit. Turnaround time for summit is 12 in normal conditions – all boulders or all snow. But whole team being there by 12:15 was a wonderful achievement by our team. Reaching there I realized the very basic human emotion. It was the challenging trail and the chase which satisfied my adventurous self. Stepping on the summit, I joined my hands in devotion, thanked the mountain for welcoming me. A photo shoot and by 12:30 we were to began the next 60% of our journey.
In mountain expedition, descent is what is more challenging and demanding. And so was the case here also. We simply couldn’t jump on rocks now. We were crossing them, sitting, taking support of our hands. Where required almost crossing over a boulder as if doing a monkey bar with our feet hardly touching the snow lying in the gap beneath. If ascend required lower body strength, upper body strength was to be put to test now. Our trek lead opened a new path in the hope to reduce crossing the boulders. This move will prove to be more adventurous in the coming hours. There were bigger boulders, farther distant from one another. And the last stretch was real adventure. The rocks were big and pointed, no space to even sit. We now wanted to cross the boulders by sundown which we successfully achieved.
And now it was all snow, knee deep snow. At places it even went to waist deep. Our shoes were all wet now, I could feel my wet toes underneath. It was dark, we entered forest. Seeing tree line gave me hope that camp site must not be very far away. But by 9, I got to know that we were lost, even though our guide kept saying otherwise. Now was the time for uncalled and unexpected adventure. Guide left to check out the way and we were to sit in that forest in that chilled weather, unallowed to sleep. It turned out to be survival night. Cold feet and low temperature was testing our patience. We tried to burn fire using wood, tried to look for rocks to ignite fire, but all efforts in vain. This gave me a lesson to keep match sticks with me next time. By 10:30 our helping team arrived with warm water and few things to eat. But all we were looking for was to reach camp site. Finally, the day was to come to end. By 11:30 I was in my tent. It had been a long 21:30 hour climb – the highest for me so far but indeed a memorable and the most adventurous one.