Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Advance Mountaineering Course

First All women summit of Rudragaira!

Rudragaira peak - 5219 M (19091 feet)


Course at: Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi.
Course sponsor : T.V.Ramprasadh
Northface Backpack : Nita and Girish
High altitude Black diamond gloves: Raghunandan Mudre
Air tickets: Shreesha Kadambi
Best wishes: Family and friends
• Thanks for my son Vishnu for wishing me silently to get out of the house
Rope Instructor : Raju Sahi
Other Instructors : Girish Rana Koti, Dasharath, Mastaan Bhandari
Guest Instructor: Sujai from Hyderabad
Inspiration: Chewang Norbu (C sir) – My god in mountaineering!
Advance course trainees: 19
Basic course trainees: 54
Aim: To learn advance mountaineering techniques and summit Gangotri -3 (6557 M).. But due to bad weather, location was changed to Rudragaira peak. 5819 M. Summited Rudragaira peak; Coordinates: 30°55'56"N - 78°49'57"E.- 19091 ft. This is on record – First all women ascent to Rudragaira peak on 17th June 2010 !!!!
Photos : Archana Thakur, Krithika Bharadwaj

"The bizarre trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don't dare, they're crazy because they do. These people tend to enjoy life to the fullest, laugh the hardest, travel the most, and work the least."Lisa Morgan

( But I don’t agree with the last one..work the least )

Well, a month after completing the basic course, I got an offer to join an expedition to Kamet, 2nd highest peak in India. I sent my profile and as I was gearing up for it, I got a letter from N I M too regarding the admission for Advance mountaineering course. My confused mind finally decided to upgrade skills in mountaineering and I enrolled for the advanced course at N I M again, after going through all necessary medical checkups. I had 4 months to prepare.

In the mean time, I went for a 2 day trek with CTC to Kodaikanal and had a bad knee problem. So, I changed my training accordingly. I decided not to go for jogging this time. Instead, I started with 3 days a week of Yoga, 2 to 3 days a week - cycling, and 3 days a week weight training. Everything was going smooth. I was happy with my training schedule until one day….. I thought..”hey Indira, u r doing good so far..just take one week break and relax..” So, after 2 – 3 days, I thought, anyway I am relaxing. So, why not go for a good massage and then relax.

So here I was at Sanjeevanam, a Kerala based Ayurvedic massage centre. Got a good synchronized massage with a strange mix of some Gingely oil and lavender oil....lol...
If I mention this to any Ayurvedic doctor, they will have a good laugh I guess.

God knows what this strange mix did to me. Firstly, it was hot summer, secondly, I decide to get a hot oil massage and third but not the least I decide to get a steam bath!. I did.. Result was I felt dizzy and soon was on the floor. My hands started getting stiffer and stiffer. Slowly I could feel abdomen muscles and heart muscle getting stiff. My speech went slur. All I could remember was to give them my husband’s number and call him immediately. Poor Ram was there in half hour. Still my hands were stiff. Doctor didn’t know what to do. I just got into my car and Ram drove me to the nearest hospital where I got treated in emergency ward. Neck X ray, brain scan, Blood test,….everything was done. All seem to be fine and normal. But what went wrong?!.. Neck X ray suggested that I have degeneration in C5- C6. Doctor advised that I should not carry weights any more. I need 2 months of rest from all activities!.. So, I decided to cancel the advanced course this time and took good rest for few days. But deep inside, I really wanted to know the reason for my muscle stiffness. Hence, I decided to meet my good old Doctor Kannan, a well known sports physiotherapist. As I kept narrating the symptoms, he told me it’s nothing serious. It is a severe de-hydration problem!. I was bit relieved. He told me to undergo few days of physiotherapy and rehabilitation and I will be all set to go for the course. My whole body felt so sore. Right from neck, shoulder, lower back, hip muscles, hamstring,…lol… But after ten sessions with him, all seemed to be fine and I started packing. This time, I was not that keen. I don’t know why. I kept telling Ram..”hey..please tell me not to go and I will stay back”! ..ha ha;) But Ram insisted that I should do the course; that will make him proud!; and of course he will get one more month of Freedom!!

Finally, I left on 24th May from Bangalore to New Delhi. Stayed at my dear friend Madhura in New Delhi and enjoyed her wonderful hospitality. On 25th, I along with Archana and others took Mussorie Express to Hrishikesh and a taxi to Uttarkashi. We reached NIM around 2.30 in the noon on 26th of May. We kept our bags in our rooms that were allotted to us and went to have tea. It was so nice to see some really super fit girls. My heart sank.”Indira, fatty..look! ..How much these girls have trained and come. You think you will be able to do the course..” I just wanted to get back to Chennai. But somehow consoled myself telling” ok..fine..I am going to take each session as it comes. I am not going to think of tomorrow at all”. I started to live in the present totally. As I walked across the campus, I read beautiful lines: “We always over estimate the strength of others and under estimate ours”.. I got some courage and decided, I will do the course and I can.

There was not much difference in basic and advance training except that it was more technical. Lot of importance was given on overall fitness, strengthening of shoulders, aid climbing, Jumaring in overhanging rocks, use of Chest Croll, Double ice axe climbing on vertical glaciers, use of mini traction while traversing, crevasse crossing, etc., Weather and First aid was studied in depth. Introduction to GPS was given. It was quite exhaustive. But fun too. Our main project was to do an Expedition planning which was fun and we had a written test too at the end of the course.

Initially, we spent first four days in Tekhla, rock climbing area learning advance techniques in rock climbing - we learnt Bouldering, Aid climbing using Etrier; Rappelling; Belaying; use of Friend/ Chock/ Jumar in vertical climbing, overhanging rocks; Use of short slings and long slings in absence of other equipments; ….

Next 18 days was in Gangotri area – Rudragaira Glacier learning Ice and Snow craft.

The Expedition/ training :

Day 1, 2, 3 – Left Uttarkashi; 5 hours drive; reached the camp at Gangotri, 3080 M. Acclimatization…visiting temple at Gangotri….. shopping.

Day ,4, 5, 6 – Killing.., steep ascent with 20 kilos of load on our backs; Avalanche prone area; slippery trails; height gain was a little too much for the first day – 3010m to 4280m; Many fell sick and at least 20 trainees got back due to AMS(acute mountain sickness) and HAPO too (High altitude pulmonary oedema). This was our intermediate camp; we could see the peak Jogin; Heavy snow fall up to 2 feet; Our move to base camp was halted; Whole night kept ourselves busy cleaning the tent so that snow doesn’t accumulate;

Day 7 – Load ferrying to base camp..4280 M

Day 8 – March to base camp; pitched tents; lectures on weather, first aid; etc …..could hear Avalanche happening nearby!

Day 9,10, 11– Training on the glacier wall – revision of basic techniques, Aid climbing, two piton base climbing, tip toe climbing + climbing using double ice axe..; lectures and demonstrations; work on expedition planning project;

Day 12, 13 – Snow craft – Toe kicking, Side stepping, heel kicking; Glissading; Different types of belaying; Ice axe retrieval; Crevasse crossing; Rescue techniques in crevasse using C pulley and Z pulley; detecting avalanche prone area; lecture on avalanche rescue using DTS;

Day 14 – March to Summit camp 4920 M.. Load was bit less; But few parts were very steep; bad weather made it difficult too. One mess tent, 5 three men tent were pitched along with 3 more tents for instructors. Amidst cold wind & bad weather, the best moments were having tea and snacks inside mess tent along with all instructors. Each group had to cook Maggie (training to cook in high altitude). One had a lovely 360 deg view of mountains Manda1, Manda 2, Brighupanth, Jogin on one side and on the other side, we saw Gangotri massif shining gold in the sunset time;

Day 15 – 17th June 2010…3.30am – Had porridge; quickly got ready for the D day! – The Summit day!.. The Summit of Rudragaira peak..5819 M; First group left at 4. They opened the route. We, the second group left half hour later; quite windy; temp sub zero; 2 to 5 feet of snow; 7 layered clothing – 3 T shirts, 1 sweater; 1 light jacket; 1 feather jacket; 1 wind proof jacket and trouser; gaiters, snow boots were on; helmet + all technical gears including ice axe and rope, which are the life line of a mountaineer and of course packed breakfast; one litre of electrol…

Few fit ones marching ahead; few found it difficult to breathe and were slow.. heavy snow; steep climb – almost 70 degree gradient. At patches, the steps made on snow by the first batch of trainees were very large and short people found difficult to climb; difficult to break it and make new steps; for sometime we used the fixed rope climbing technique. We could hear girls panting and exhausted… 2 to 3 gave up. The first batch summitted, clicked photos with the Indian flag and began descent. The second batch were trying hard fighting bad weather which crept in. The last stretch was the killer; few of us left our back pack at a safe place and started our final leg. I was dehydrated but held my water bottle tight and kept moving at a snail’s pace. Weather turned bad; white out for a short while. We could hear instructors shouting… “move back”. But few of us didn’t want to give it up; we didn’t know when we were going to come back to the Himalayas again. Even if we do, whether we would summit any peaks?? We motivated each other and… Finally we made it around 9.25 AM !!!!; click.. click.. click in all angles with Indian flag!!; what a proud moment it was!!
"Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb." — Greg Child.

Hardly 5 minutes on the top of the peak and we started descending down; As I kept walking down the snow peak , I realized, it was never ending..1 hour; 2 hours...3 hours….shucks!! – Did we climb so high!? ..It never felt that way!!!...exhausted……
"Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory." — Ed Viesturs.

Hmm..I landed finally in summit camp to a wonderful applause by other friends/ instructors – grabbed 4 mugs of juice and picked up my back pack and started towards base camp!!!...It was a total 13 hour non stop hike from Summit camp to summit and back to Base camp. I was totally drained when I reached the base camp; But what a welcome for us at the Base camp, from the basic course trainees and all other instructors; kitchen staff and porters; Grand welcome!!!!!!!!; lot of cheers, hand shakes… I was overwhelmed. I cried hugging my instructor….It was a wonderful feeling;
"What is hard to endure is sweet to remember" …isn’t it?!

Day 16 – Navigation test using GPS, winding up of base camp… packing backpacks to move back to Gangotri.

Day 17 – Nonstop march towards Gangotri camp; it took us 6 hours to reach, followed by lunch and feed back session.

Day 18 – Back to N I M, Uttarkashi….written test…valedictory function practice….relaxing…

The weather was quite pleasant when we got back… no more sweaters! Skin was tanned a lot ! Lips were bad too….could not eat anything spicy. Some had chill blains, injury to toes and fingers due to exposure to extreme cold. By God’s grace, I came back with surprising fitness; my knee was in perfect shape and so as my back and neck. Later in the day, we had to clean and return all our equipments. We then got busy with the graduation ceremony rehearsals and finally on 22nd June, the stage was ready for us to receive the Badge from our chief guest Chandraprabha Aitwal!! She was the lady who had inspired me to do the mountaineering course and to receive the badge from her was such an honor. We had tea and a photo session with her.

In the evening we had cultural programs planned. I took two hours to get ready..make up; costume…I performed for ten minutes. It was very satisfying as it was the least that I could give for my Instructors; Principal; Chandra didi and Chewang sir. Later we had a lovely dinner with the chief guests, packed our backpacks, cleaned our rooms and slept.

Next day, by 6 AM we were ready to leave after bidding good bye to all our friends, instructors and it was sad to take leave of C sir, my inspiration!. C sir, a very humble gentleman; a true mountaineer; a great teacher; a great human being, who every mountaineer should meet!

Back in Chennai..I have LAS…low altitude sickness..ha ha!!!..lazy to wake up; boring to cook; brushing/bathing everyday! …indulging in varieties of food; chatting online;…not fit for city life anymore!!....Now, waiting for the certificate and depending on the grade, I will plan for the next course..ha ha… na..na..no way..! … This is how I am feeling at present.. After few weeks, who knows what’s in store for me?. I may be back in mountains!!!! "The Himalayas are heaven for the hardcore trekkers"

"To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits."
— Sir. Francis Younghusband.


  1. gr8888888888888888888888888888. proud to be ur frnd. keep reaching heights in life

  2. What can I say? You were always an inspiration to me :-))))))))))))))))))))))

  3. congratsssssss akka.keep it up.proud of u.

  4. i admire your guts and determination ! way to go !... your sponsor, ram !

  5. wowwwww.... What a great feeling!!! I envy U Indira... proud to be your dosth!!! Keep reaching great heights...

  6. You rock.... so does your son (literally)...


  7. Kudos Indira. In retrospect, I really wish I had joined you last year for the basic course and this time for the advanced. Well.. never say never...

  8. WOW. Awesome! I can only hope to do similar stuff some day. :)

  9. What a wonderful write up Indira: Thank you for this.

  10. Just fantastic Indira! Very inspirational. Would like to see more photos and discuss about the course on my return to Chennai.

  11. Hi akka, it is soo inspiring to see your passion for the mountains! It makes me want to explore and visit the Himalayas too...which I will someday...
    -- Shruti

  12. rocking the rock climbing....superb. makes me proud to have even known you as a women, and even more proud for the biking...

  13. You are really so inspiring and tempting me to do a Himalayan trek .

  14. Awesome Indira.. You truly are an inspiration.. Hope Ram and Vishnu got the break they wanted.

  15. Hello Ma'am! Remember we met at the Nala Camp on your way back??? Well, me and 2 of my teammates summited Rudragaira on 22 June at 1pm. We had a tough descent with a snowstorm coming up and getting electrical shocks from our ice axes! Abandoned equipment and fled and retrieved it the next day! Glad to see your lovely post... I will be uploading my post on this climb a bit later (too lazy with LAS, as you've so aptly put it!) Take care and have greater climbs! :)

  16. Hi Indira!!!!!

    Lovely blog...walked down the days we spent in the mountains! Miss them more than anything....Hoping to get back soon...will you join me???

    Love you!

    P.S.:Congratulations Mr.Menon on the summit!

  17. Hi Indra,
    feel really proud, not just for your climbing skills, but for living life to the fullest.
    S Anwar

  18. Hi....great going....even i recently completed a Basic Mountaineering Course from ABVIMAS...before doing the Advanced course, i was hoping to do some expeditions....can you suggest me how to go about it?how did u get the offer for the expedition to kamet? thanks....


  19. Hey I am from Hyderabad and joining NIM Basic course looking forward to all this, nice blog.

  20. Hii.....it was great reading ur experience. I have too completed my AMC this year and facing the same problem of LAS hahahaa......!

  21. hello... nice read.
    Can u pls tell which is the quickest way to send a letter to NIM, speed pos,t Normal post, or courier?

  22. Tooooooo Goood!
    You are an inspiration, Indira!

    I completed my basic course around 10 yrs ago and yet planning for an advance course. But now I will go for it for sure!

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