Thursday, May 6, 2010

Advance Base Camp - Mountaineering course

( in continuation ......

3rd November. Load ferry day. That means, we ferry few loads to advance base camp and get back to base camp on the same day. On previous day, we packed all things required for ABC. Load was bit heavy. The march was bit tiring. It took 3 ½ hours to reach ABC. The route was slippery. Lot of ice formations on rocks made it little tricky to walk. The water here and there was frozen. The cold breeze made us bit difficult to breathe comfortably. Nose was leaking all the time. Tissues were never enough. Head scarf came in handy sometime to blow the nose and to wipe the sweat too!. We didn’t have any choice. Location where the advance camp was held was splendid. All around us were lovely snow peaks, glaciers, and beautiful ice formations. We all put our things in a store tent, had tea and clicked few pictures and came back to base camp after spending half an hour there.

In the mean time, four girls were called for a meeting with Vice principal and few instructors. I was called too!. Initially, I was taken aback! What would be the reason for this meeting?. Well.. I was the oldest student. I knew Tamil, Hindi, and English. So, they needed me there for translation! Also, I could bridge the gap between the girls and instructors. These four girls had fitness issue. They weren’t coping that well with the training and weather too. So, they had to be pulled out of the course. It was such a sad moment for these girls. They were all mentally quite tough. But physically they were unable to match the fitness level. It was such a difficult situation for me. I felt like sandwiched between them and instructors. They were asked to stay back at base camp and not proceed to advance camp. We all felt very sad to leave them and go. But we had no choice.

Next one week, we had to be in ABC for snow craft training. On 4th Nov, we all marched towards the ABC, which was at a height of 14800 ft. That days lecture was on snow craft which covered various topics- Types of snow, types of snow climbing, and different types of descending in the snow, snow anchoring, belaying, Glissading;.. I was so very tired that day. I slept through out the lecture! Thank god I was wearing dark sun glasses and lecturers could not see what me eyes were up to!.

Late in the evening, we had lovely sunset. The weather was pretty cold. The tent lights were on. As it became darker and darker, the view of the white tents lit with dim lights to the backdrop of the dark sky looked awesome. At nights, temperature went to -5, to -7degress centigrade. I could see the spilled tea getting frozen in seconds!! I didn’t want to come out of tent even for food. If I had food, then I didn’t want to wash the plates. If I washed it, then hands would go numb in seconds and had to be given warm water treatment immediately. I wore two more layers of t shirts to keep myself warm. For toilet, we had to glide down a little patch of snow and walk few steps behind the rocks! I wished for an attached bathroom in the tent!

Our training area at ABC was an hour trek from the camp. We had to wear those big heavy snow boots weighing around 3 kilos and walk!. We literally had to lift up our feet one after another and walk. Felt very weird! And awkward too! We all looked like one cartoon characters – small feet with huge boots! Hmm.. The trail was quite a trek I should say. Trekking on slippery boulders with those shoes was quite irritating. Before the training started, we had to put the crampons and gaiters. The training area didn’t have sufficient snow. It was dry snow which was totally unfit to get trained in snow craft. It seems hard snows are the best for training and that could be seen only during the month of May, June or so. With the available resources, we learnt the art of snow craft. Suzanne made us practice different types of snow climbing- toe kicking, side stepping, alternate leg kicking, fixed rope climbing. Heel kicking, …While descending, we use heel kicking technique. It felt like Charlie Chaplin hiking down with his stick!

Snow craft training was for two days. After morning sessions, we used to get back to the camp for lunch time. In between, we had rope knot test too. It was nice to see different groups spread all over practicing the knots seriously. Instructors were helping too. For the test, we were made to tie the given knots in ten seconds perfectly!!. If one got the knot, he / she would have forgotten to put the safety knot or one would have tied different knot altogether, or one would tie it loose.. Whatever the reason, many couldn’t do it properly. It was fun watching all doing it in ten seconds time!. Instructors seemed to be having great fun at our cost. I enjoyed it too!

Nov 6th was an important day of our training. Height gain day. We had to trek up to 16000 feet. To get A grade, one had to do this successfully. Early in the morning at 5.30, we all assembled with full gears on – right from helmet to snow boots. We had to wear crampons too. Initially, it was going smooth. I enjoyed walking on glacier with crampons on and holding ice axe. I was as usual slow and steady! We were told to walk in our pace and not wait for our team. As I kept going up slowly, I turned back and could not see Jothi and kamakshi. They had got back! Kamakshi pulse rate had dropped I heard and so she had to get back.. I didn’t see Avni too. I thought she might have gone back too! Archana and Mallika were almost coming along with me. That day duty rope had Mundiya (Sunil) and Gujju (Mihir). We three of us were climbing together talking and pushing ourselves slowly up. As long as I was on glacier, my speed was quite ok. But when once I got into the snow, Speed dropped down quite a lot. It was tough.

We had few breaks in between. When ever I saw group of people sitting in the far end, my heart would be bouncing with joy “Ha! Finally! That’s the end”. But when I reached there, It wasn’t!.. I could see people far away still climbing. Then I decided I would never look up again. I would watch only my steps and keep moving till the next break. There is a quote which I like to mention --

"It's always further than it looks.
It's always taller than it looks.
And it's always harder than it looks." = The 3 rules of mountaineering

Well the most difficult part was after a crevasse crossover. It was a dry snow with a depth of 2 to 3 feet. It was a 200 meter stretch I guess. Inclination of the slope was around 60 to 70 degree. Rope was fixed by the instructors. Carabineers were attached to the rope. I slowly started to climb. I kept one step but my foot got buried in the snow and I came down few steps back. Again and again I kept trying. Every step I used to keep, 2 steps I used to come down! I got so exhausted that half hour time. For the very first time, I cursed myself why I had to come and break my bones here. what for? To please whom?.. Then I remembered Arul’s message – “any time you feel like giving up and you cannot do any more, that’s the time, you should push yourself more and just do it”. Thankfully, I had Sunil and Gujju with me inspiring every minute. Mastaan sir was also there pepping me up now and then. Already, in my rope, two of them were made to leave the course. Four of us were left. In that Jothi and Kam had to get back to camp due to health reasons. I didn’t have any idea about Avni. At this stage, I strongly felt, I shouldn’t leave my rope instructor Suzanne down. Somehow, I pulled myself up and I made that stretch and I stopped there at the end!.. Wow!. What a lovely view all over! But my heart sank again when I saw the other people far away still hiking!!. Then I told myself,- “Common Indira, today is the last day. All these days you have done quite well. Give your best on this final day.You will do it”.. Like a tortoise, I slowly made my way to the top, where all of them had reached. We were there for half hour resting and had some snacks too. After sometime, I was glad to see one more person from my rope joining me! That was Avni!! Yeyyyyyyyyyyyy !! We hugged each other and said- We made it!!! …Well.. In mountains, there are only two grades- you can either do it or you can’t.

“Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top — it is the willpower that is the most important. This will power you cannot buy with money or be given by others. It raises from your heart ..” ----- Junko Tabei

After a while, we all started descending back. It was quite easy. One fourth of the way, we kept sliding down the snow. Then Glacier walks. Finally we were back in tents. I just crashed down in front of the tent for a while. I was dead. I had a quick nap. Put all my things for drying. Then after lunch, I was back on my feet again! I was ready for next session. That night was one of the best sleeps I had in these 4 weeks of training. I had a dream too!! After a long tiring day, I was all set to get back to base camp. But before leaving, we had to undergo Self arrest training in the snow. When one falls, how one can arrest oneself from falling using Ice axe is the self arrest technique. It was done both individually and in the group. It was fun. We were pushed down the slopes in different positions (Head down leg up; head up leg down, side rolling down,…) and arrest our fall immediately. Well, after this, we all got ready to leave for base camp. When we packed our back packs, our load suddenly seemed very heavy. This was because while coming to ABC, we had ferried loads in parts and now at once, we had to carry everything. Apart from our regular stuff, we had to carry Snow boot sand crampons too. I had an extra Rope too!.. That was the heaviest load that I ever carried. May be around 22- 24 kilos?! But fortunately, it was just 2 hrs trek to base camp and a bit of down hill too. I was on par with boys that day!. I carried that weight! I did it. I was very proud of it!!

After reaching BC, we had a map reading session with Suzane again and we were all set for Navigation test the next day! This was a team work basically. We were to find out three locations using three co ordinates that were given to us. It read – E 78, 46’ 28.125 secs,…and so on!!!! It felt like Greek and Latin to me. Seriously! Nothing went into my head. But my other team mates - Jo, Avni and Kam were smart at calculating these. They were at it immediately. Using calculators, they were able to identify the locations. Next step was to collect the form with our names on it and find these 3 locations and get it signed by the instructors who would be waiting for us at three given locations. We were given 3 hours to do this. Using the Map, we started our journey. Here I took the lead. I was quick on my feet in locating the 3 points and in 2 hrs 45 minutes; we were back after completing the mission successfully. It was a perfect team work. We were the last rope to get back as usual. We didn’t mind it at all. We were happy that we did it!

In the same noon, we had a written test on what all we had learnt in these 3 weeks. Many were reading their notes. Preparation was in full swing since one week!. I just rested a while. We all were made to sit in the open sky little away from each other. We were given the question paper. We had half hour time. I did it in ten minutes. There were no essay type questions. It was quite easy. We had to score minimum 40 out of 100 to get through. Then, we were given feed back form to fill up our views and comments on the course.

Later in the evening, we had to pack our bags again to trek back to NIM. All were in great mood. But we were little sad to bid good bye to the Base camp. It was a 16 km trek to Thel. Trail was steep, tricky, and slippery but it was very scenic through out. Dry leaves in various colors had fallen all over the place so much so that it covered the trail mark at few places. Whole Mountain was looking so pretty with colorful leaves. Water level in streams had increased too. I collected few interesting stones and bones on my way. It was late noon when we reached Thel. My upper back was killing. With a tablet, I managed the pain. That noon, we had surprise shower. We were all arrested in the tent! We had great time talking about our love lives, list of crushes, gossiping, … That was really hilarious. We laughed our hearts out. People from other tents were amused at out loud laughter. In the mean time, Mallika went out with her raincoat on and got us hot tea. We really missed bhajji’s that day.

Next day, we had a leisurely trek till Bhooki. I was asked to trek along with Bharathi who was moving slowly. I was fortunate as I could really trek leisurely talking to her, cracking jokes and enjoying the sceneries, …It was great to be back to civilization again. Glad to see our bus waiting for us. We drove back to NIM; rested a while; had lunch; had good hot shower; made phone calls home; spoke to loved ones; slept peacefully on our beds! doz z z z z z . Well. I share a secret here about hot shower! Lallu and Billu had got that electrical heating coil from Uttarkashi market which we immerse in water and heat it up. So using that coil, we all girls in our room had a luxury of having hot bath!

Back at NIM - Nov 14th was our Graduation ceremony, where we all receive the prestigious Ice axe badge for successfully completing the course. We had three more days to go for that. We were given rehearsals on where to stand, how to stand, in what order we stand for photographs, how to meet the chief guests, how to shake hands, how to receive the badge; singing of national anthem and so on… I realized that time that I was not only the oldest of all but also shortest!! Hmm.. But unfortunately, those who had not completed the course were not allowed to attend the graduation ceremony. That was quite sad. They should have been allowed to watch it at least.

In these three days time, one day we were taken to Uttarkashi market. We hogged on snacks- bhel, aloo tikki, dahi paapdi and what not!! I took Gujju, Avni and Suzanne to Chandra didi’s house. We had lovely Bhajjis and ginger tea there. Then we visited the Shiva temple. One more day, we had artificial wall climbing sessions. I was very tired. I didn’t take part in that. I had a welcome break that day for a change. It was just nice sitting and watching all of them. Later in the noon, we had to clean and return all the equipments that were given to us for the training purpose. Then, another day, we were taken for a day trek to Nagini taang. We had to trek almost 5000 ft in one day! It was such a steep climb. Fortunately, we didn’t have to carry any back pack except water bottle and lunch box. Each one of us was walking in different pace. For a long stretch, I was all alone listening to Suprabhaatam at 12 in the noon!, Tamil hits, Bhajagovindam, vishnusahasranamam,… I didn’t realize the stress of climbing at all. Nagini taang is a temple dedicated to snake goddess. It has 360 degree views of snow peaks all around! After spending some time there and after having lunch, we started descending. We were back at NIM by late evening. That night, we all civilians tried to practice the Defence style of marching to impress others while receiving the badges. But which we didn’t do finally! It was fun though.

Nov 14th! - Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Birthday. Kids of the campus were all dressed for a special function in their schools. We were all very busy packing our stuffs, preparing for our graduation ceremony and rehearsing for our cultural program. In the afternoon, we were given maroon colored NIM sweaters to be used for the ceremony and for photo session. We all assembled at 2.30 in the graduation ground wearing jeans and NIM sweater. The stage and the chairs were arranged well. Audiences were seated. Chief Guest arrived. We had a welcome speech, guest speech and then one by one our names were called. It was a moment of pride for each one of us when the guest pinned badges on. We deserved it!. We all sang national anthem together. Then, we went to pine ground for photo shoot. We had tea and snacks together. Everything was very well planned and executed with perfection in a typical Army style. We had an hour break before our cultural program started.

Well.. Preparing for the show was so much of fun. Especially the skit and the group dance! Every time, we were rehearsing the skit, it was getting funnier and funnier. We just had a broad idea what we were doing. Rests of the dialogues were all very spontaneous, which made us laugh through out the practice. It was about a boy who has got back from mountaineering course and how he is haunted by the training even in his dreams. The program started. Prarthana, Lalith and I sang the invocation on goddess Saraswathi; then we enacted the skit. People watching it and enacting it had a great fun through out; Later we had a song by Avni and a dance duet by twin sisters Tashi and Nunshi; Our group dance Mojahe mojha incorporating all movements from rock craft, ice and snow craft!; That was the ultimate fun! Then few boys sang papa kehte hei.. Later, we had local people singing and dancing to folk songs. After dinner, we saw Happy singh having a Bhangra session in the hostel. Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance that originates from Punjab. I also joined him in dancing. It was so fun dancing together. It felt so good in the company of these young girls and young boys. I never felt I was 40. My heart was like 20 still!

We packed and cleaned our rooms. Next day 4.30am, we woke up; had tea; we had last minute photo session in that dark morning! We had asked for a jeep to drop us to Haridwar. One by one every one left. Our gang was in one Jeep. We had nice Aloo paratha after few rounds of vomiting by Avni. The winding roads can make anyone sick. Then after having dinner at Haridwar, Avni left with her friends. Rest of us boarded a bus to Delhi. We reached Delhi at around 1 in the mid night. Archana and Jo went to their friend’s place. Lallu and I went with Kam to her place. It was 2.30am then. We had lovely pasta and tea made by her mom; saw wonderful paintings done by her mom; chatted for a while; It was time for me to leave to airport. Taxi had come by 6.30. After bidding good bye to lallu and Kam, I took my flight to Chennai. Back home sweet home!!

Back home, I am busy sharing my experience with my friends, uploading photographs, e - mailing friends,… wondering if I would go to Advance course if I get A grade! No. never!.. That’s enough. I just wanted to experience once how it feels to do a course. I did. I enjoyed. That’s it…My body as of now is feeling very weak. I am yet to recover from hard training that I underwent. I have not got time to rest even for a day after I have come back. I am having guests continuously one after the other. For once, I am feeling I have to be all alone for a week. Well. After a massage, it is better now. But tips of my fingers are turned pale white with less sensation. Finger tips and toe tips have gone so dry. Even after getting pedicure and manicure done, they still look awful.. Meanwhile, my friend Chaman told me how proud she is that I have done this course and that I should certainly do the advance course, then rescue operation course,… N o o o o . Not again.. But my mind changed already!!... YES… I am going for Advance course in May 2010.!!!!!!! So, I am busy preparing for it right now! LOL  That’s what the trekking does for all. Once you taste it, you never want to leave it.

This is my favorite quote:
"In a sense everything that is, exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of... something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness; a spirit that soars. So we climb... and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery." — Rob Parker.

" bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives."" — Jonathan Waterman

You are also welcome to this wonderful world of trekking and mountaineering !!

"Writing about climbing is boring. I would rather go climbing." — Chuck Pratt.


  1. Hi Indira,

    Enjoyed reading all your posts related to NIM. Very informative. Thanks for the detailed write up. Also, I found Suzanne's blog very interesting. While reading the blog, I found out that she passed away in a climbing accident in Alaska. I was very saddened by this even though I didn't know her. I thought I should let you know in case you didn't know. She lived a life that's my dream.


  2. Thanks for sharing !
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