Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Base Camp - Mountaineering course

(in continuation... http://indirakadambi.blogspot.com/2010/04/at-nehru-institute-of-mountaineering-n.html

Preparation for the Base camp slowly started. We were sent to Uttarkashi market to do last minute purchases. We all were very excited mainly to eat road side eateries. I just bought a pair of woolen cap to protect the head from cold and few Electrol packets which saves me from getting dehydrated. All of us had few snacks- pani puri, Bhel puri, and then I packed some Bananas, the instant energy booster for all my room mates... A day before we had to leave for Base camp, we all had to check our Snow boots and fitting of Crampons. All equipments had to be checked once again in case if any damage, we could exchange them. Backpacks were checked for Zips, Adjusting Belts… Each one of us were supposed to be paired with one another and known as buddies. We have to be there for each other at all times in the camp. Avni was my buddy.

While packing, we took few things that were in common – Toothpaste, sunscreen lotion, Moisturizing cream, Torch, Extra Batteries, .. We tried to reduce the weight as much as we can. Even 100 grams sometimes count in steep climbs. There was an order in which we had packed the rucksacks. First of all we had to put in a big Polythene cover like a lining inside the back pack in order to avoid the things getting wet due to rains. Then, the cover containing a pair of tracks, 3 T-shirts, few pairs of socks, undergarments, Sweater, 3 pair woolen gloves will go to the bottom; Then, wind - proof trousers; Feather jacket; Crampon bag; Inner cover of sleeping bag; Sleeping bag; Rock mittens; wind - proof jacket; Toilet kit; Medical kit; Tool kit; books and pens; Helmet; Seat harness; short sling; carabineers; Snow boots; Rope; Mess tin in the side pocket; Water bottle and tea cup on the other side pocket; Sleeping mat on one side and Ice axe had to be fixed outside the Backpack. Total weight would be around 22 kilos I guess!. My only worry again was about carrying the weight!.. Ayyo.. Thinking of that itself gave me lot of shoulder pains! ..lol.. Didn’t know how I was going to do it. But then in the evening, we got good news that girls need not carry ropes and snow boots!.. Yeeeyyyyyyy!!!… But on a second thought I wondered whether it was a good news or bad news. Good news is that we are not carrying that load but bad news is that we are not getting trained to carry loads. So, even without those two things, our bag weighed around 17 – 18 kilos easily. After completing the job of packing, we all had dinner. Few had showers as there won’t be any shower facility available for the next 18 days. Then the things that we didn’t need for Base camp were locked and kept in one room that was allotted for us. Later, we cleaned the rooms and slept.

Next morning 25th October, I as usual woke up first. Put on the chant OM that used to resonate in the room. Later, I woke up other girls. We got ready and all set to leave by 6.30am. Tea and Breakfast were served at 5.30am itself. Few packed their breakfast in the mess tin. I kept some fruits in the bag. All the bags were loaded on the top of the bus. I was quite excited but also tensed. There were two buses that took us to Bukki, 34 kms from Uttarkashi. Bukki is the starting point of our trek place. It was almost 2 hour journey. I was dressed in layers. I had worn two T- shirts and a jacket with a track pant. I slept for a while in the bus. In between there was a stop over for tea. After reaching Bhooki, we all assembled rope wise and with our backpacks, we started our trek towards the Base camp. Rope instructors followed the ropes they were in charge of. There were quite a number of porters who carried kitchen groceries, Gas cylinders, huge vessels, and other stuffs.

It takes two days to reach Base camp, which is at Dokariani Bhamak in Dingad valley. Bhamak means Glacier. In between there are two intermediate camps. First day’s camp was at Thel. It was 8 kms from Bhooki to Thel. Initially we hiked down and walked over an old Iron bridge across the river Bhagirathi. The water was very pure and was greenish blue in color. Then the real hike up the hill began. The trail was well marked and scenic. Our rope was as usual in the end. I had lot of energy. But my pace was slow. In fact the whole rope was slow. Compared to our trek to Tekhla, here the terrains were different; Backpack weighed much heavier. But Suzanne was very understanding and encouraging. Breathing had to be coordinated properly with every step we take. Few stretches were easy; few difficult; we had 3 breaks in between to sip some water and to have some snacks and fruits. That day I realized how tough a porter’s life is! What luxury we had in our family treks in Himalayas where porters carry all our stuffs. Bed tea is served inside the tent itself. Hmm.. My mind started to think - Why are you doing this Indira?. But I know God is preparing me for something. For what? I don’t know. From my past experiences, I have understood that what every pains I have gone through, while going through that pain at that moment is very difficult but at the end of it, there is some beautiful lesson that I would have learnt. So, even here, I know all these pains that I am undergoing will have something to do in some point in my life! We slowly marched inch by inch towards Thel. There was a Duty rope who was assigned to come at the end of all ropes everyday. They were there to help who ever needed any assistance. . That day’s Duty rope had Saurabh and Lalith along with 4 other members.

Saurabh and Lalith had become quite close to me. Saurabh is from Chandigarh. He is short; fair; well built; has green eyes; very charming indeed! He loves good food; good clothes; not to forget good looking girls too! It is nice to see his good collection of mountaineering accessories. He is a typical Virgo! His mannerisms reminded me so much of my little son Vishnu. Well.. Saurabh is a good Rock climber. He is trained at Chandigarh’s rock climbing institute. He is planning to Join Indian army. I call him Billu as he thought that I don’t pronounce his name properly! Lol..:)..We had become good Dosts!

Lalith is a short and real cute guy from Haryana; working in Indian Navy; based now in Vishakapattinam; He is a deep sea diver!; He is really fun to be with; Chatter box! Keeps making jokes; He calls me Mamma! I call him Lallu!. There ios so much of warmth and affection in him; So, with the company of Lallu, Billu and other girls, we slowly reached Thel camp around 2 pm I guess.

Thel in Hindi means oil. By the time we reached Thel camp, we really sweated out.. not water but oil!! Thel camp was at 8200 feet above sea level. Dense mixed forests of Deodar, Rhododendron, Oak, Pine, etc. provide an atmosphere of perfect peace and tranquility. By the time we reached, the tents were already pitched. Tea was served. The camp had a permanent kitchen block. We were then introduced to the Dining area and potty area followed by dos and don’ts. The toilet area for girls was a short walk crossing over a wooden log over a small stream. The place had a good collection of bones of different animals and birds scattered all over. It was quite scary to go there in the night. We always had to go with buddy friend. We had to take the ice axe with us, dig the pit and shit and cover it with the mud. It was a big process. So, anyone carrying ice axe and walking meant they are gone for a big Job!..lolJ Later, we put our backpacks inside the tent and ice axe outside the tent. Adjacent to our camp was a big tree under which was a small temple dedicated to Snake god. Closer to that tree, we had a lecture on First aid by our camp doctor Dr.Khan! He was also doing the basic course along with us. Before coming to NIM as doctor, He was posted in the border area to serve the army.. Well.. That day’s lecture was on how to acclimatize in higher altitude! The adaptation of human body to the new environment is called acclimatization. Anything above 7500 feet is called higher altitude.

There are few main principles in acclimatization. 1) Gradual Ascent: One should not trek beyond 2000 feet per day. 2) Work in higher altitude and sleep in lower altitude. 3) Drink lot of water to fight dehydration. Well.. Indian army says - one needs 6 days of acclimatization between 9000 to 12000 feet; 4 days between 12000 to 15000 feet; another 4 days between 15000 to 18000 feet. First few days, one has to take complete rest; next 2 days, walk on plain ground; next few days walk with load;

Medically, Right BP, good pulse rate, good appetite and good sleep are signs of good acclimatization. Everything is right with me except good sleep. It is really so long since I caught up with good sleep. But lack of sleep is not affecting my performance in any way. Hmm.. That night’s dinner was Roti, Dhal and Rice. Later, Anil and I being quarter masters took up the responsibility of distributing Ration for all the ropes tent by tent. Ration consisted of Biscuits, chocolates, Dry dates and few raisins. After little chatting, we all slept in our respective tents. There were two tents for girls – 8 in each. Another 8 or 9 tents for boys. That day, in our tent, all six from our rope was there in addition to Bharati and Anshu. Surprisingly that night’s sleep was the best one that I had so far!

Next day, after finishing our morning routine, at 6.30am, we marched towards our 2nd day’s camp to Gujjar hut. It was a 13 km trek. The route was superb. Very very scenic! Since it was autumn, Green leaves of the trees had turned to Yellow and few to Red. Brown, Orange… There was a lovely stream flowing by the side of our trail. Lovely maple, beautiful Pine and lot of other trees were a feast to the eyes. Unfortunately, it was not a flowering season. But still nature was awesome. March towards Gujjar hut had lot of steep climbs, very few flat trails and it was indeed a very long trek. At some points, I felt that the steep trails were never ending. The distance was almost double on the 2nd day. We had few stops for resting in between. At every stop, Lallu and Billu used to wait for me and welcome me with big applause. It seems they kept thinking of me while trekking –“ are yaar chal chal.. If Indira is doing this, we have to do it! “That was a boost for me to push myself more and more and do well. Trek was quite exhaustive. I was thinking when I would go and crash in the camp. We were always the last rope to reach the camp. Even if we were sent first, we would be the last to reach! One more guy Mihir, a 21 year old Gujju, tall and slim was trekking along with me for a while. He calls me Amma!. He is a Teacher by profession; Stays in Rajkot.; He is getting married on December 13th to Pooja. Reason for early marriage is that He had met with 3 major accidents and parents decided to marry him off!!!. He became a part of our gang too.

When we reached, few were already pitching their tents. We had to pitch ours too. First of all we have to look for the direction of the wind and accordingly adjust the door of the tent. Then the ground sheet had to be spread neatly on a flat ground. The Pegs are plugged in the ground. Top portion – Roof is put up with the help of a centre upright pole. The ropes that are attached to the Roof canvas are tied to the pegs tightly so that the roof is held tight. Then doors are fixed. The ground around the tent is dug up to 3 to 4 inches deep so that in case of rain, water doesn’t enter the tent. Ice Axe and Crampons are kept outside the tent so that in case of lightening, we would be safe. Shoes and socks are kept outside to maintain hygiene inside the tent.

After tent pitching, we had tea and started out for another short trek to the Lake Khera Taal near by!.. Shucks!.. I just wanted to rest .But .. Army rule! One can’t have a say. If you do, you will be marked! Anyway, tea gave me some energy and we all walked under the beautiful evening golden sunlight. Weather was lovely. Those golden rays of the sun on the white snow peaks glowed. I just could not take my eyes off that. At the lake, while Mastaan sir started a lecture on the lake and its significance in Hindu mythology, I was busy clicking the photographs of the lake, reflection of the lovely mountains in that lake… I only could hear Krishna, kaaliya,.. That’s it. I missed the whole story part. It was a bit dark. We stumbled here and there now and then and finally when we got back to our tents. We were briefed about next day’s plans. When we came to know that next days trek was only 3 kms and it was very simple, my happiness knew no bounds. I slept in peace !

After our regular morning routines, we headed towards Base camp. It was a very nice short trek. We could no more see any vegetation there. No trees, no plants. Just mountains all round. Base camp was at an altitude of 12400 ft above sea level. On one side, we could see Joanli peak and on other side we had Draupadi ka Dand -2. In between was the Dokriani Bamak, which is a well-developed medium sized glacier of the Bhagirathi basin. The glacier is formed by two cirques, originating at the northern slope of Draupadi Ka Danda and Jaonli Peak, 5,600 m and 6,000 m respectively. The glacier is 5-km long. The stream originating from the glacier’s melted water is called “Dingad”, which later joins many other snow/ice-melted streams and finally merges into Bhagirathi River near Bukki village. In this beautiful Dingad Valley, after having tea, we all rested a while outside the tent; clicked few photographs; pitched our tents quickly and settled down. We had to be at Base camp for a week.

There are 3 permanent structures built at Base camp – Kitchen; store room; lecture hall. Books and equipments are stored in store room. Lecture hall is for lectures and watching movies. Tents are pitched around these structures. There are separate tents for students, instructors, cooks, porters, and one for Doctor too. Every day we are given a particular time for visiting the doctor. Cold, knee and body pain were common problem. Well.. “Cold injuries” was the topic of the lecture that day. With every 1000 feet up in the mountain, temperature decreases. In cold temperatures, most common sickness is nausea, vomiting, cold, cough, swelling and head ache. In severe cold conditions, one may also have Chill blains, frost bite, trench foot and Hypothermia. The high altitude diseases also include Acute Mountain Sickness - AMS, High altitude cerebral edema -HACE and High altitude pulmonary edema – HAPE and high altitude systemic edema – HASE. In all these cases, first thing is to bring the patient to lower altitude and treat. In worst case, evacuate immediately by air to the nearby hospital. Apart from these, we also have radiation injuries caused by sun’s UV rays which in turn cause sun burn and snow blindness. As we all know prevention is better than cure. Adequate precautions in wearing proper clothing, carrying proper equipments, planning expeditions in right weather conditions, having good presence of mind and having a good team leader will lessen the problems to a large extent.” Never stop learning. Never stop listening” is a good saying!

Well. These are subjective Hazards. What about Objective mountain hazards? Floods, avalanches, land slide, crevasses, lightening,… It is maddening!. Hmm…So, after this session, we had dinner followed by a movie on Everest again!.. No way!. Think seriously. Is it worth being in mountains with so much of pain and so much of risks? Is it really worth?!...But one glance at these beautiful snow clad peaks around us are enough to invite us and bring us back into the mountains again and again!... we climb mountains not because we have to but we love to!!. So true! As Jawaharlal Nehru puts it – “The Himalayas are not only near to us but also very dear for they have always been part of our history and tradition, our thinking and our poetry, our worship and our devotion; According to our mythology, Himalayas are the abode of Gods! “

Hmm.. Temperature at Base camp in day time was 5 to 6 degree centigrade. At night, it goes below zero! I started wearing 4 layers of T shirts and a jacket, Feather jacket and a wind proof jacket too. Thermals are must. 2 pairs of socks - one thin and one woolen adorn my little feet. I had to go for a long walk to do my night duty behind the rocks! Like how dogs mark their boundary, we all had marked ours!.. lol... Wet tissues, soap strips and hand sanitizer come very handy at such times! It was very very cold! I got back into my tent and wished all good night and slowly slide down in my sleeping bag and doz z z zzz z .But I was not able to sleep. Cold was making me to pee often. At least 2 times, I had to wake up at night. Kamakshi was facing same problem. But her frequency was little worse than mine!.. Lol ..

Before I used to realize, 5am alarm used to ring! I used to wake up Avni. First thing Avni had to do was to wear her contact lens. Then, we used to go together and finish our morning jobs and have tea. It was difficult to brush teeth in that cold water. My hands used to become numb. I had to rush to the kitchen and keep my hand in front of the fire. After slowly warming up, I used to be ready for half an hour of PT along with all trainees. Yeshwanth, a student of MOI (method of instruction) course used to guide us in PT. Suzanne used to join too. Without PT, our bodies refused to move. PT was a must.

Our training area was at Dokiarani Bhamak, an hour and half trek from Base camp. Initially, the trail was plain and later it was full of big boulders. We literally had to keep jumping from one boulder to another and keep moving. There was also a stream flowing across the glacier. I guess, if once our feet are in that stream, feet would go numb in seconds. Well.. After reaching the training area, we all wore our snow boots and crampons and got ready for a lecture on Ice craft!. This week’s training was dedicated to Ice craft. Rock climbing is the primary skill that we learn in Mountaineering. Same principles are used in Ice craft and snow craft using Ice Axe and Ropes. In rock climbing, we use PA shoe, here we use snow boots and Crampons. Rock pitons are used in rock climbing and Ice pitons are used in Ice craft to fix ropes. But the feet take few hours of training to adapt itself to ice and snow surface. Rope and Ice axe are the lifeline of a mountaineer.

For working purposes, it is good to know that there are 3 principal varieties of Ice. First is blue ice or grainy ice. Most of glaciers are of this form. Hence they are also known as glacier ice. Secondly, Black Ice. Ice those are more or less continuous and mostly found in layers formed by freezing of water. They are old and hard ice. Thirdly, Snow Ice. These are formed by infiltration of water with snow and there by subsequent freezing. A large dry glacier is the best place to learn snow craft. A weeks practice devoted completely to Ice craft under a good trainer is good enough for all trainees intending to become a mountaineer. We were lucky to have Suzanne with us! She made sure that our basics were learnt very well. Tying snow boots and fitting crampons well to the boots in it was itself quite a circus! We learnt how to use ice axe in different positions in different gradients and climb on glacier. Initially, it felt really very awkward walking with that heavy snow boots. But with practice and experience, it felt natural. Proper clothing, Ice axe, Rope, Sun glasses, Helmet, Snow boots, Crampons and water proof gloves were a must in ice craft. We learnt the art of Belaying, anchoring, fixed rope climbing, Crevasse crossing, traversing, and rescuing technique if any one has fallen into crevasse.

Well, one day at noon, as the weather turned cloudy, we all headed back towards the base camp from our training area.. We were showered with snow flakes by the clouds above! Sky looked awesome. The brown ground and the bare brown hills suddenly appeared white in patches. In few minutes, Base camp looked like a fairy land. Whole ground turned to white. White tents on the white ground looked awesome. Trainees wearing colorful red and black feather jackets looked nice in the white background!. photo sessions had started in full swing. Few were looking at snow for the first time!

After a while, Grey clouds were suddenly turned golden by the golden rays of the sun. At one point of time, we could see the clouds in different shades - blue, grey, white, golden… In the next few minutes, dark clouds started settling down. Whole place turned dull and light dark. But hold on! As I turned my eyes to the peaks!!.. What a view! Every where it is dark, but only the top part of the peak is glowing white!! We could see the bright light of the moon shining on the snow peak of the mountains. The moon above those peaks looked gorgeous. This is where Cameras fail but God given gift – our Eyes only can capture this beautiful canvas painted by HIM!.. Oh god!.. This was worth all the pain we undergo in training!!

Hmm.. Our walk every day to the training area was quite a pain in the neck. But instructors used to fill us with lot of humorous lectures.. Well.. Lectures delivered in humorous way I should say! Lot of drama was added to make the demonstration funny. Especially the one rescuing from crevasse was quite a fun! Most lectures were in Hindi. Few could speak good English. Few were Hinglish ( English with Hindi accent)..That was very difficult for us to understand! In the meantime, few girls looked pretty down. They were home sick. Few were crying. They used the satellite phones to talk to their loved ones. Guess the price. Rs.90/- per minute!! If one is not enjoying the course, it can be very difficult to cope up mentally too. There were two boys and a girl, who had come from NCC, Tamilnadu. They were not instructed by their NCC officers that this was a mountaineering course!. They were here thinking that it was one of those camps where they meet lot of students from other states and they learn and exchange their culture through music, dance and drama!.. My god!. I wondered where is the connection between this and mountaineering? They had not even come prepared with right winter clothing. They had to buy everything before we started to the base camp! One boy took it well. Other one was in tears every other day. I had to keep advising him and encourage him to look at this as a blessing in disguise and enjoy the course. Another girl was mentally strong and took the challenges well but she was not physically fit enough to do the course.. Language was also a problem for them to understand any lectures or mingle with other trainees. I was a mediator many a times between them and their instructors. Suzanne used to tell- Indira , it is really nice that you have been a mother like for many here!

On 2nd or 3rd day at base camp, NIM’s Vice principal, Major Vishal Thaapa visited us. He is short, knowledgeable, and friendly and has quite an attitude too! He knows his subject in and out!....He gave us a lecture on weather and topographical map reading. Map reading was the only subject that I didn’t like. Rather it was difficult for me to understand. With little effort, I learnt how to find ones own position in the ground using the map, taking the readings of the forward and backward bearing. Conversion of latitude and longitude to inches, centimeters, all that just went above my head to the peaks and high above clouds!! Lol ... At least with help of Suzanne, I learnt reading and identifying contours, moraines, roads, rivers, lakes, glaciers, peaks,… Through out the lecture, I was wondering how come they are teaching us this old method of map reading. Now everyone uses GPS for treks and expeditions! Well, one cannot rely on GPS all the time!

Hmm.. Next lecture on weather included topics on temperature, effects of mountains on weather, winds, clouds and its types, weather forecast, weather hazards… If one has to listen to lectures after dinner, don’t ask what will be the result. Most of us were sleeping happily. Thank god it was not well lit. Or else if caught, we would have to run around the camp or hop like a frog! ..lolJ lecture on mountain terminology was bit boring. It was interesting to know about Glacier formations, its types and terminologies. Lecture on Avalanche by Suzanne was quite cute. Her hands were always on black board drawing the scenes!

One of those days in the base camp, all of us had one on one session with Suzanne. It was a feed back time. My overall progress was going good. She mentioned that my team work, attitude and leadership were excellent. I was also fairing good in the practical sessions. Only thing I needed to work was on strengthening of my arms and shoulders and also work on my pace during the marching session. I completely agreed with her.

Hmm.. Practical sessions were going on well. But since there was not enough snow, they decided that they will teach basic technique of snow craft at base camp itself. We had to imagine that we were in snow and do lot of drama .We learnt identifying Crevasses through probing method. Then, crossing crevasses using ladder and Ice axe and the best was traversing. A long rope was tied across a big crevasse. With the help of Jummar, pulleys and carabineers attached to the rope, we were supposed to cross over the crevasse. I could do only 60% to 70% of the length. The guys who were there on the other side belaying me had to pull me across the rest of the length. My shoulders were really paining. I had to take a pain killer for that. Rescuing people from crevasse using pulleys was interesting too. But what if the person fallen into the crevasse is much heavier than the one who is rescuing is the point!.. Well.. We may have to say then.... Helloooo!.. Meet you in heaven baby! Happy and safe journey!!. Boieeee !! ha ha...

Well, at base camp, there were lot of interesting things happening too..”Dho dhil milra e hei..magar chupuke chupuke…”.. It was not dho dhil but more dhils that were connecting with each other!! Well.. trying to connect with each other. Hmm.. Rather we were making it connect with each other. Whatever.. Pulling each other’s legs, passing silent messages, serious advising sessions, outpouring sessions,. thoda fight thoda pyar now and then along with learning rope knots and map reading from one another made our life at base camp all the more fun!. We all became a family! - A family united in the wilderness amidst mountains; sharing morning tea; dining together; working together; helping each other; sharing our joys and sorrows; planning our future expeditions; watching movie together; sleeping together; wow! - A picture perfect well knit family!! – That’s mountaineers family!!


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