"Jaun Ekdacha Karun Taak"winter attempt with him last November. It felt bad to know that my buddy wasn’t able to come and join me this time, but I was fortunate enough to have a bunch of people give me company. This “bunch” included friends from all over the place, and my wife, and my climbing partner, Rakesh were part of it as well. One of the best parts was that my climbing partner, Vinod Mahadik from India had come to attempt the peak with me. It is with him that I started venturing into these activities. I still remember, as a part of NCC, he invited all the cadets to come and try rappelling with him, as he had a rope with him, to test on a 35-feet rock patch just behind his home in Pune, India. Only one person out of 30 responded, me. And that was the friendship that led to us to climb our first summit together, Durg Lingana in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India, as well as our first Himalayan peak together, Mt. Thelu.
Not a "Climbing-Only" TripTo classify this trip to the Rockies as solely a “non-climbing” trip, I planned some scenic outings to go along with the climb as well. The drama around Manasi’s lost bag ended, and we headed to Basalt, CO for a night’s halt on the 1st of September. As we had quite a few first-timers amongst us, I decided to do an acclimatization hike before attempting Elbert on Sunday, the 3rd. Careful toggling between an easy, medium and a difficult hike, and post-Rakya’s opinion; I selected the “difficult” hike. This hike included witnessing one of the most photographed places in the US and THE MOST photographed place in the state of Colorado (at least that’s what they say on the internet). We drove from Basalt, CO to just a bit north of Aspen, and turned right towards the Maroon Bells. Yeah, that’s the place we visited. The maroon bells are two peaks, North Maroon and South Maroon (both 14-ers) and relatively difficult to climb. The mesmerizing view of Maroon Bells and its reflection in the lake in front of it was breathtakingly beautiful. The hike we did was called “Buckskin Pass” Hike, and which started from where the bus dropped us off. The hike was splendid, with only 5 out of 10 making it to the pass.
By the time we returned back from the “practice hike”, the terminology had changed from a “practice hike”, to a “serious” one. We hogged on the burgers from McDonald’s like a pack of hungry wolves, and started our drive to the highest town in the entire Unites States. After having lost our way once, and witnessing one of the most spectacular sights from that spot, we hit the road again to go to Leadville, CO. The spectacular sight looked like a UFO. I thought, it was nothing but our tired minds playing games with us, but, a harder look helped us learn that it essentially was moonlight shining through two holes in the cloud-covered sky and shining on one of the twin-lakes near Mt. Elbert. Believe me, the sight gave me a surreal feeling, which was hard to grasp. Hit the road towards Leadville, to find out at the hotel that the heaters were not working in any of these rooms. Being as tired as we were, just dozed off to sleep, dreaming about the Elbert attempt the next day.
Beautiful Weather's SupportNow, the previous night of the climb, is NEVER a sound sleep, be it your first climb, highest climb, or a major climb in the Himalayas. In fact, I will say that one doesn’t even need an alarm to wake up at ridiculously early hours, when you attempt.
By the time we reached the trail head, and started climbing, it was already 7:15 am. Now, that was a little bit of a stretch, considering the fact that I wanted everybody to start climbing at around 4 am. Slowly, everybody was climbing at their own pace. Some fast and furious, some slow and steady. That day was supposed to be a very good weather day, so I saw people climbing, even as late as 3 and 4 pm. I had to kick the notion of “getting off the mountain, and below the treeline before noon” out of my head. I and Kedar were together, all the time, till we took our first break at treeline. A couple of sips of water from the hydration pack helped wash down the two bars we munched on. Kedar left ahead of me, as I had to attend to Nature’s call.
From the treeline, one sees “a” summit, which is not “the” summit. Now, this itself is far away, with the climb beyond the treeline being extremely windy. After a while, I catch up with Kedar to learn that his knee is hurting badly, and his pace slowed down because of that. After trying to push him a bit, at the base of the first false summit, he gave up. So, I was all by myself, sometimes taking inspiration from the dogs which were passing me, for the summit, sometimes thinking about how a mom-and-son pair can just run up the mountain, as if they are happily running on a paved road. I pause, look down, and feel happy to see Kedar giving it another shot.
“I know you feel like dying here, but it’s just another ten minutes from here” came to me as encouraging words from a girl descending Elbert, when we crossed on the first false summit. It was different issue that “ten minutes” actually meant “forty minutes”. After 2 calls from Madhura to let me know that she is turning back with Leena, I reach the summit at exactly 11:25 am. The regular photo sessions follow, but one surprising thing was when I stood with the Indian flag, below the American flag, I could see lots of people taking my photo, which, in a way made me feel good about flaunting the Tricolor along with the American flag. At about noon, Rakesh and Mahadik made their way up to the summit. it was great to stand on the summit with fellow climbing partners, with whom I can say, that I started my climbing. After signing the summit-log, we started back and met Pittya and Soniya on the way. Pittya was almost half an hour away from the summit, and Soniya was forty five minutes away. Mahadik was descending very slowly because his shoe was hurting him. So, we told him to accompany Soniya and pittya, on their return from the summit. Descending being much more tiring than climbing up, me and Rakya had got fed up of looking at descents, but eventually, we got to the parking lot, after 11 hours, i.e. at 6 pm, approximately. One interesting incident on our way back was when I and Rakya encountered a couple at the base of the first false summit; the dude had a Dasani bottle in his hand, and the gal had a bottle tucked in her short, at the back of it. This was at around the base of the first false summit. Fast forward through our descent – towards the end, this couple crosses us again, on the way out of the mountain. Our conversation:
Me: “Wow” did you guys make it to the top?
The Girl: Yeah, we did.
Me: Just tell me one thing – Where are you from – Colorado or California?
The Girl: Colorado.
Me: That explains it all. It doesn’t help being from Houston or Cleveland.
All in all, I felt a little embarrassed to see how fast and easily people can climb a mountain. But, at the same time, I was happy that I did it too, with a bunch of people. And, because it was my second attempt on it, it felt good, like you feel after wrapping up an unfinished affair. Well, I called up my friend, and said, “Karun alo ekdacha” which means, “I bagged it, finally!”