Experiential

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

Neeti Singhal

Last updated: 29-10-2021

The sun was finally out. I had been waiting for it for hours; in fact, from the very minute we made our way out of our tents into the cold, crisp night of 29th August at 12 AM sharp – the turn of a new day – our summit night. I had been counting minutes for the sun to wake. If my previous expeditions were any indication, the light should have slowly started peeling off the night as early as 4 AM – making the sharp ridges of the peaks slowly appear. But it didn’t. With the cold clawing at me, as its nails dug deep through my skin right down to my bones, clutching at them; the soft flushes of otherwise harmless snow, because of the violent winds, were hitting me in my face like iron pellets. I placed one foot in front of the other, pushing my body against the throes of icy winds, all the while waiting for the warm sunshine to kiss my forehead.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

Finally, after 6 demanding hours of walking on uneven ground alternating between patches of soft snow and hard ice, the sun was on its way to work. Did it have a late morning or is this usually when it is supposed to check in here in this part of the world, I wondered. Anyway, by now, we had crossed over the uneven patches and were walking the smooth slopes of the mountain. The light finally revealed the glorious landscape for our viewing – white as pearls and smooth as melting butter, the near straight slopes of the mountain looked fragile and destructible – like you could blow the mountain out of its existence. Deceptive in its looks, it could, in fact, break you in half. Such a magical balance of delicacy and strength. The mountain’s greasy, 80-degree gradients were anything but friable. But the warmth of the light which finally made it to this curve of the earth renewed my energy - it felt like I was getting hugged by a 1000 little lambs. My weariness dissipated with the night – the icicles that had formed on the hood of my down jacket, obstructing my view, slowly melted away into the light. The mountain looked glorious – the freshly falling snow glittering in the first rays of the sun. When it finally did come fully out, the sun had ripped part of the cloudy sky wide open and burnt it to a bright orange. It looked like paradise, if there was any!  

 

What are we made for?

I spend my days in the city feeling like I am strapped into a straitjacket – held captive – not sure by who and for what. Confused as to why I can’t find joy in the everyday – it seems to come to people around me so easy – this whole ‘living’ thing! The world seems so at ease with existence and all the predictable delights with a designer life scripted by someone generations ago which each of us is supposed to follow because that’s what evolution demands – this is what is convention’s want. We have all somehow silently consented to it, signed the dotted line and now we must comply. Why don’t I fit in - find pleasure where everyone else does? I don’t know.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

I look at my life in the third person – like watching my body walk around the narrow lanes closed off on both sides by long, brick walls – blinders on, keep the pace, don’t break the line – walk, walk, walk. I don’t know why we exist. I don’t know how our lives are any different from the pigs in a slaughter house in their last moments, being pushed down the green mile to meet their eventual fate. All I know is that I am slowly disappearing.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

I guess we’ve trained ourselves over thousands of years, to embrace the human condition which is to say that we embrace pain and suffering. We forge meaning where there isn’t supposed to be any. Our existence is a state of armistice between us and the invisible forces - with us hiding behind our conveniences, dreaming about a sense of purpose, latching on to the first thing that comes along so we can scream, “This is what I am made for”. Numb but addicted to the grind!

 

The monkey on my back

I had just come back from my climb to Mt. Nun (7,135M) which was 24 days long and one of the most difficult things I had ever done – yet. Twenty-four days of living in extreme cold, twenty-four days of walking long distances in very difficult terrain, twenty-four days of being hyper aware. I haven’t been as tired as I was on this expedition ever in my life – especially on summit night. An hour into the climb and I was out of fuel – getting to the top and back, I discovered a new meaning of the word exhaustion. I felt drained and empty. Pains and aches all over my body. I remember wondering during the expedition, why do we do this to ourselves – where’s the joy in putting your body through so much stress? It’s painful, it’s unnecessary! Why does it still feel so good?

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

It is so extremely fascinating what our bodies are capable of – the things it can achieve even though this contraption of assembled parts seems so incredibly soft and fragile. It can carry you to a height of over 8000M with winds running at 40 kms per hour, walk the rope thousands of meters up in the air between two pinnacles on a full moon night, drive at the speed of 350 kms per hour. I think my draw to adventure sports or anything that continuously tests the body’s limits comes from this paradox of strength and frailty. Like all true relationships, ours with our bodies should also be about putting each other in difficult, uncomfortable situations, having each other’s backs and pushing each other up to explore the unexplored and be awed by the untapped potential in the process. To discover a new edge each time, I testify, is addictive!

 

Back to the beginning 

I carried the exhaustion from Mt. Nun, and all the pains and aches into the next few days with me. The after taste of the expedition, however – the views, the effort, the reward and reflection - my mind and my body were starting to crave for it. While my body was still recovering – trying to get its strength back – I was to leave for my next climb a week after I had come back. This time to Dzo Jongo (6250M). While the east face of this mountain is frequented, we were going to attempt to climb from the west. We didn’t know what it would be like, what challenges we would encounter, how the terrain was – whether we would need technical equipment or not, whether there were any open crevasses or any hidden ones – we were going into this one blind.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

With the fatigue refusing to leave my side, I’d thought I would be the slowest on the team – a weakling. I had spent the last week just laying in bed. I was going to jolt my body into extreme action right after this extreme slump. To get to the base of the mountain, we had to first go through Markha Valley. Now the thing about this desolate land is that it is a cauldron of extremes – extreme heat with no shelter, extreme rain with falling mountains, extremely long distances between camps and an extremely dry climate with very few pockets of clean water. It is an extremely beautiful but an extremely tiring trek. To my surprise, I was growing to enjoy the pain – learning to be hyper aware of it but not letting it come in the way – in fact facilitating my climb. The physical pain and the need to constantly be bodily aware was the only way, I realized, to get my mind to quiet down. I can see how this can very easily become an addiction.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

A different face

Since the west face of the mountain is not a popular route to climb, the base camp for this route was not a place anyone could give you a map to. We left for base camp at 09:30 AM from Nimaling – our last camp site on soft ground – it was all rocks from here on. We had no idea how long the route is and what we would find on the way. There was no way of preparing our mind – everything was to be a discovery. We walk straight for half an hour to take a blind turn that leads into the valley. From here we start to climb the rocky slopes to our right.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

The mountain full of scree and loose rocks is deceptive to say the least. Each time you reach the highest point in sight, you are introduced to another hump which you must climb in order to get to the new top. After five times of picking ourselves up again from what we thought might be the end, we finally see the base of this beautiful mountain. The mountain itself is a truly hidden gem, which doesn’t show itself to you until you have made it to the base camp. All through the 7 days of trying to get to it, there are no signs to assure you that Dzo Jongo isn’t a mythical unicorn. 

The trail from Nimaling to Dzo Jongo base camp, however, changes face and color with every new mountain top with magnificent views of the Himalayan range on all four sides – walls of big, brown mountains slowly rising all around you so high that you forget there could be an entire world hidden behind them. Dry, naked mountains full of rocks and boulders as big as dreams, adorned with tiny flowers shouldering the responsibility of adding to the color palette of the landscape along with the bright orange moss settled comfortable on the rocks.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

I think it’s a beautiful thing when your body completely takes over and walking becomes an automatic response, just so you don’t have to be conscious of it. When you reach that point, you can start to focus on the beauty surrounding you instead, notice the details in your environment, the subtle scents, the vibrations under your feet, the music in the air and the sway of the earth. From that point on, you start to appreciate the difficulty of the task and discover the value of extreme exhaustion. When you feel empty is when you are truly cleansed. I think I am hooked – to the whole shebang – pushing myself to the limit, making myself uncomfortable, sleeping in back-breaking positions, using up the last drop of energy in my cells and then some - the thrill, the danger, the fear – all of it. I want it because it is not a compulsion – no one forces us to climb mountains – it’s not a necessity. 

There is a sense of freedom in choosing your pain. There’s joy in choosing how you suffer. Letting go of the illusion of meaning and purpose can very easily become an obsessive compulsion.  

 

Summit day

It is now 8 in the morning. After half a dozen hours in bad weather, an 80-degree ice slope, a glorious sunrise and the last 200M of lugging our bodies up a fixed rope, we were finally on the true summit of the mountain which was a couple of boulders lying next to each other. Once there, the walls formed by the mountains around got shorter, and the world seemed to open up a bit to show me what lies beyond.

 

Battling Addiction on the Slopes of Dzo Jongo (West)

 

With the joy of exhaustion, I was looking at my life in first person. I had spent the last few hours with blinders on (to keep on the trail), keeping the pace (with my fellow climbers) and not breaking the line – walking, walking, walking. I didn’t know why we existed. I didn’t know how our lives were any different from our ancestors who were their primal selves and fought just to stay alive. All I knew was that I was slowly disappearing – and maybe that is what I am made for. 

Numb, I can sense the onset of an addiction. I can feel the bustling, childlike happiness making its way to me from over the vast, open horizon. 

Neeti Singhal

A psychologist, a developmental researcher, and a constant seeker of stories, Neeti is usually found Read more

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