Since my college days, which was not long ago I’d always been a mountain person. Anytime a trip was on the cards, it had to be some place in the mountains for me. A trek in the Himalayas was always the most obvious choice for me. We all have our own quirks, our own reasons, our own affinities for certain people and places. Yes we all know that mountains are beautiful, places we fantasize and romanticize. Although there is way more to the mountains, way more than what we can ever decipher! Probably this small thought, instills in me a lust called curiosity.
And probably this curiosity is what has been driving me ever since. I feel going to pristine natural places triggers an atavistic lure, you want to know the secrets of the woods, the mountains, you want to decode the whispers of the wind, the babbling of the brooks. When you face the extremities of nature, you develop veneration for the Earth, for the people who have seen it through without the facilities of the modern world, the explorers, the conquerors.
My First Peak
So now that you know about my mountain bug, I’ll mention the fact that I had been on a considerable number of treks in the Himalayas since college days. Most of them were not even successfully completed. If there were degrees of amateur, I was the amateur-est.’ My pre trip planning was funny and stupid. Just a sanguine person, emanating positive vibes. “We’ll do it.” was the motto. Although that was the past, post college I started mountaineering in a rather professional way. Perks of being a part of an adventure travel company.
When will I summit my first peak? Which will be my first peak? A thought that had always been at the back of my mind since childhood. Most of my college lectures were spent reading books on mountain expeditions and a few years later I was inside the book, writing my own pages. It was the month of May, this year – 2017. The peak was Junar Gali, Uttarakhand. At above 18,000 feet it was a majestic structure preceding some crazy stories as it was on the same route as that of Roopkund Lake (read full story).
A Roller Coaster
Having earlier been on alpine style treks I was accustomed to the initial few days of walking. I was in good shape before the trek and the only thing I was thinking off was the high altitude. Never having crossed the 15000 feet mark before this. Anyways it was just a thing in the future, I was not paying much attention to it. I’d read a lot about how anyone can get affected by high altitudes. Its not a matter of fitness and even the best climbers have fell sick at altitudes that one would not call extreme. So knowing that I can’t do much about it, I just carried a pill for altitude sickness and set forth.
To give a better picture it was a peak for beginners. Level being moderately difficult. Acclimatization was needed but not for as long periods as one would expect on 20000+ peaks. It was a 10 day journey. The first few days of the expedition were my favorite, they usually are always so. You get to walk amidst really beautiful places and things can be done leisurely. P.S leisurely here is a relative term in comparison to climbing peaks, the trekking bit is no child’s play either.
70 Kms in all. Varying altitudes and terrain, rains and hail. It all looks pretty in pictures but trust me, when it pours down heavily or for that matter if it hails a campsite high in the Himalayas is not the place to be. Having encountered some scary incidents in the past, I am never really at peace when it is precipitating. There was rain on 3 days and a good amount. The rain at lower stretches usually implies snowfall higher up. And that was exactly the case, our destination and the last bit to it was packed in snow. There were days when we had to pitch tents while it hailed / snowed heavily. Using gloves slows you down a lot, so at times we did it with bare hands.
Advanced Camp & Altitude Sickness
The advanced camp at Baguabasa (the tiger’s abode) was at 15000 feet. I would say it was definitely not the best place to be in that weather. It was at the edge of cliff and on the other side was a mountain mostly packed with boulders on its slopes. With all the snow and winds, that view didn’t really help my cause.
We didn’t have to spend much time at that place though. Not even a night. Although I was climbing my first peak, it ought not be as simple as the treks I had done before. These were the thoughts in my head at the advanced base camp. That particular day it snowed a lot. After having pitched the tents in the white I entered the kitchen for a light snack. Inside there was smoke from the lanterns and the gas stove itself. I felt a bit funny. It started with a difficulty in breathing, a very minute one. Eventually I was feeling claustrophobic inside.
I went outside nauseated, with a head heavier than I could ever imagine it to be. My vision was not 100%, I don’t how else to put it. I felt that I would puke any moment but I could not after having tried for ten long minutes. Altitude sickness, yes it had hit me, had hit me hard. It was at around 6 in the evening, I was at unease. I was switching between my tent to the kitchen, taking short walks hoping I would walk it off. Nothing helped, ironically the entire setting of the place at that moment was ethereal. When you’re at that altitude in all that snow, the concept of nights is sort of different. It is not as dark as you expect it to be, it is brighter starrier affair.
Unsuccessful in combating altitude sickness even after having taken a pill, I went to my tent finally. After one long hour of struggling in my sleeping bag I crashed.
Summiting My First Peak
We had to set forth for the summit at 3 AM in the morning. Yes, usually all summits begin at that odd hour. I woke up feeling better. The views were just stunning. No matter how I felt, I reminded myself of my purpose of the trip. I had to be at the top of that peak, my first peak.
After having a quick breakfast and wearing our gear we set forth in the lights of our headlamp. Everything was ever so still, ever so silent and ever so beautiful. Well versed with the extremities I’d call those views as a ‘beautifully muted form of savagery.’
The final ascend was something I would never forget. The sun was breaking through, the snow was reflecting light. It was literally shining bright, each step made me out of breath. Although it was the hardest it brought out the best. I felt the determination within myself, I knew I was doing it, I knew there was no stopping, I was finally summiting my first peak.
The last bit involved crossing a crevice, which was the single scariest bit of the route. We carefully saw it through and summited Junar Gali, becoming the first ones to do so in that particular season.
I’d never felt so special, so proud, so humbled, so scared, so free ever in my life. Being at the top was magical, I could see higher peaks from upfront. Knowing what it takes to climb a peak and seeing those higher peaks provoked respect for the place, the people who had been set foot there and a sense of inspiration. Anything can be achieved in life if we have the will, the vision and respect for our surroundings.