I met Sanjay while training for Stok Kangri two years ago. He trains on the same hill, where I go for a run as a part of my routine. He is a good friend, a good
climber, and a doctor by profession.
Dr. Sanjay Vaid
When we met, he mentioned having planned a climb to Chamsher Kangri in the Leh region. When we met in Sept of that year,
he said, he had gone with a group of 4 – 5 people, out of which only he and his wife could summit the 6622m mountain. At that time, I thought – that’s too high
for me, but I will attempt it someday!
After progressively gaining altitude in my previous climbs (Stok, B-II), I thought of giving Chamsher a shot this year. Unlike last two climbs, this year, I decided to go all by myself, along with a guy from Leh, whom I would hire to guide me,as I didn’t know the area well.
1st view of Chamsher Kangri - The Left Peak
As usual, the training started, and when the time came to decide the dates on which I would be planning this expedition, I was out of choice. The trek with family was planned, and the date for joining back at work was fixed. Along with this, my wife insisted that I plan the expedition before the trek, and not after it, as it becomes very difficult to completely “disconnect” with the family and enter into a “solo” mode, when the expedition starts.
Usually treks and expeditions in the Ladakh region are planned in the July – August period (when snow has melted, horses can graze on grass, weather is warmer and the whole infrastructure swings into action), but due to my profession, there was no way I was going to get vacation in those months. So, with whatever contacts I had, and whosoever I knew in that region, I planned for the expedition, and took the flight from Pune to Leh on the 18th of May,2014. The discomfort of sitting through the night on Delhi airport was too much,but there was no alternative, as Leh has limited flights. The immensely scarce reclining seats were all occupied, but I managed to grab a regular seat. This was all due to the fact that Leh airport is a defense airport, and the inbound and outbound flights are restricted. A strong filter coffee from Vaango proved to be a good kick-start for the next 1-hr flight from Delhi to Leh. Within half-an-hour of taking off, the plane was above a magnificent picturesque white carpet of 5 and 6000 m snow clad peaks.
The sun had just risen, and the glistening snow on those mountains made the entire view almost dream-like. The route which an airplane takes is over Zanskar valley, which is the reason you see all the beautiful peaks below you. Far away, I could spot the massive conglomeration of K-2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrums in Pakistan, and wondered asto when Indian climbers would get permissions to go and climb those beautiful mountains.
The flight landed at 6:30 am, and I immediately recognized the familiar Stok Kangri,
Stok Kangri from Airplane
and memories of the expedition rushed to my mind. A quick ride to Changspa Road, and I was in the same homestay where I and Om were put up during the Stok expedition. I could feel the chill in the air, as I had come from a place which was 35 deg C, and 1840 ft, to a place which was at 5 deg C and an elevation of 11,560 ft above sea level within a span of 8 hours (this was quite a jump!). I went ahead and greeted the folks at Mr. Dorje’s place, who all had helped me during the Stok climb, and topped it up with a nice breakfast at the nearby Wonderland restaurant – Spanish omelette with toast and black coffee.The rest of the day was spent discussing plans with Vijay, roaming the market,climbing both up to the old and new palace, along with the monastery – whichover looks the market, and feasting on Mutton momos and Shahi Paneer and Roti.
The rude shock of the day came while having dinner, I got a call from Vijay and he wanted me to come and meet him urgently. When I walked into Vijay’s office, he told me that IMF (Indian Mountaineering Federation), a Delhi based government agency had issued a notice to its Leh branch that permissions for any peaks are not to be issued, except for Stok Kangri. Vijay was equally shocked to hearthis as the notice had arrived a week ago, and it had not been circulated among the agencies / outfits in Leg that organize treks and expeditions.
This made Vijay go into a jugaad-mode, which means – to get things done through contacts.He called up his friends in both ITBP and the Indian Army. They both confirmed that there was no such order from the defence side, and it was due to some other reason that the IMF in Delhi had issued the notice. We all decided to go ahead with the plan to climb Chamsher and Lungser Kangri, but a plan-B was made– to go and climb Mentok Kangri, if the Army post at Peldo sends us back. Mentok range is on the other side of Tso Moriri, and had we been told to execute plan B, it would have been very difficult, as the distance from Peldoto Korzog is quite a lot. At 10 pm on the 19th May, I saw an order issued by the DC (District collector) that all ILP (Inner Line Permits) for Indian nationals had been cancelled, i.e. they are no longer required and the places one could go included Tso Moriri! That was enough for me to tell Vijay to go ahead with plan A – Chamsher and Lungser Kangri.
We departed from Leh at around 11 am, after collecting the last remaining things like Chicken and eggs. We also took a liter of petrol, just in case we may have to use my stove. A huge festival was due in July, called KalChakra Puja, for which the preparations had started in full swing. For this, the route towards Manali was diverted through inner roads. Getting stuck in a traffic jam was followed by a smooth ride on the Leh– Manali highway. On the highway, we passed through the highly photographed Thiksay monastery, the heavily fortified Karu military station, village Lekhli at 11,500 feet, the hot water springs at Chumathang.
Karu military base
Chumathang is where I had my lunch, as the driver and everybody else had had their lunch at Upshi. Upshiis where the road takes a diversion from the Manali highway and goes towards Tso Moriri. What everybody ate was called “mix”, as it w
as a mix of Thukpa, momos and a few pieces of meat. On the route, there was a place called Keshar,which was a village of almost 20 – 25 huts, but the interesting thing was that it had an STD – ISD booth, and along with that it had an ATM of the State Bankof India! It was amazing to see such a small place in the middle of now herewith a bank ATM! Hats off to SBI. Passing through these lovely villages, we reached Mahe Bridge, where we had to show our papers to the authorities. Mahe bridge is the junction from where we no longer follow the Indus, but we take a diversion in a valley leading to Tso Moriri
. On the way, there was a village called Sumdo, which had a primary school for kids in that region. After Sumdo,we crossed a pass called Lapchang-La, which according to the driver was at an altitude of about 5000 m.
The road descends into the Tso Moriri area from here.Before hitting Tso Moriri, we crossed another small lake, which was partially frozen. The lake, with the barren landscape everywhere, along with blue sky makes you feel as if you are on a different planet altogether.
Lake in middle
Clouds keep on moving and the sun constantly gets blocked and unblocked. Around the lake,there about 2 – 3 settlements of nomadic tribes, which are always on the go.
Monastery at Keshar
From this area, we could get a view of the
Mentok and Tso Moriri
Mentok range, which adorns the west bankof Tso Moriri, all covered in snow. Here is where I got to witness the true power of the Mahindra Scorpio, which can pretty much go anywhere.
After the drop off
The driver left the main road, and for about half an hour, we were just going ahead on a dirt track, full speed.
Any other SUV would’ve had a tough time, but not this one. After about half an hour, we reached a junction, from where the road bifurcates to Peldo and Korzog. The road to Peldo was so well paved and maintained that it was ironical, considering the road we had just travelled on.
1st view of Chamsher Kangri - The Left Peak
It was just like aroad in the US, to closer to home – in Gujarat!
Spectacular Sky and Mountains
The driver told us that the contract for this road was given to a private party and they have done a marvelous job! After about 20 minutes on this superb road, we were stopped by an Indian Army guard at a small Army camp. We were all scared if he would let us pass (due to the unavailability of permission). But, he peeped inside the car, and (probably) saw all Indian nationals, and let us pass. Now, in this confusion, we missed the dirt track that goes up to the campsite of Kyurchu.
Blue and Brown
Wecould have gone up there straight away, or could have camped nearby – at the Peldo campsite. But, we just zoomed past the guard, and started looking for a site to camp near the lake.
Restaurant @ Chumathang
It had to be near the lake, as there was no water anywhere, and this lake being a fresh water lake – it would solve all our water problems. When we found a spot where the car could go, we stopped, unloaded everything, and pitched the tents.
I paid the driver, and he left for Leh. Now,it was just the two of us – me and Tergaiz, in the middle of nowhere.
Don't be a Gama
We told the driver to tell the Army guard that is the horseman comes with his horses the next day – tell him to come further, towards where we were camped.
Entrance to the valley leading to Korzog
It was so windy here that it took us some time to erect his tent. Tergaiz prepared tea, which refreshed both of us immensely. His next question was – “what should I make for dinner? Is Chicken and Rice fine for you?” With memories of really bad food in my previous year’s B-II expedition (except after we reached Uttarkashi), I couldn’t help but get pleasantly surprised at this honest question from him. I readily agreed, he gladly prepared and we had a hearty meal of chicken and rice. The wind outside was howling like crazy, and I thought – is this is the case at 4200 m, then what would be the situation at 6000m?
Campsite - Zoomed up
I shuddered at the mere thought of it, which was broken by Tergaiz when he told me – “Now, you go and rest in your tent. I will rest here.” It was somewhat surprising but he said he is comfortable in the kitchen tent and he won’t sleep in my tent. That is when I realized that he was purely viewing meas a client, and I should have my privacy. Apart from the single night that I had spent after summiting Stok, I had never really slept by myself in this tent. Somehow, it felt strange – but I accepted his decision, and went to “my”tent. At night, I had a headache – a severe one. So much, that I couldn’t go to sleep. In such situations – when you are in the mountains, and that too alone,you automatically start analyzing what your body is trying to tell you. This is indeed a good habit, but the problem with humans is that they start over-analyzing.
Campsite besides Tso Moriri
I started running every single detail in my mind – did I have enough water? Did I eat enough? Was I feeling nauseated? Was I getting hallucinated? Did I come to this altitude in a very short span? Should I have spent some more days in Leh? And so on and so forth...It was late at night,when I realized that I couldn't sleep was when I got out of the sleeping bag,opened up my backpack and popped an Ibuprofen. The winds outside were crazy, enough to wake you up, but we both dozed off, with an expectation of the horseman and horses arriving the next day, when we could move to the next camp.
Thehorses still had not arrived!
Over breakfast, we both discussed that somebody will have to go and check on the horseman. I was fine with going and checking,but Tergaiz volunteered to go, while I can start packing my stuff, as we were supposed to leave as soon as the horses arrive, and we were supposed to go to the next camp –Kyurchu.
While Tergaiz was walking towards the army campsite, a3-toner (army vehicle) came his way, and he got a lift, which proved beneficial.
View from High Point
While Tergaiz was gone, I packed everything up and even packed up the tent fly.
View from the tent
I kept the tent as it is, just in case we plan to spend another day and night here. After about half an hour of doing nothing – I decided to turn this situation into an opportunity.
I decided to do some height gain. With abar of snickers, a bottle of water and my camera, I took off. Not sure of how high to go, I spotted a feature, and decided to climb up till there. It took me about 1 hour 45 minutes to go and come back. The view from there was indeed amazing, with the entire half-frozen Tso Moriri lake visible, with the daunting Mentok range standing guard at its back. The entire range was lit up with bright sunlight and the thin sheet of ice on the lake was glistening at certain places. Criss-crossed were lines of blue, indicating that the ice is melting,and within a month or so – it will be all blue.
After a few panoramic shots, I spotted a place from where we could attempt both Chamsher and Lungser Kangri. Little
Peaks in Spiti Valley
did I know that the entire plan was going to change in the coming days.I made it a point to finish the water and the chocolate bar before starting to descend to the campsite. At around 11:30 the horseman arrived with his horses.He told us that it took him long, as the actual campsite of Peldo is much closer to the army campsite, and further up from there is Kyurchu. So, after a quick lunch which was given to him, we started walking to Kyurchu. A part of the walk was on the road, and within about 2 hours or so, we reached Kyurchu. Hot soup in a flask was given, and it was a good warm boost for all of us, as the wind had picked up. From a wind’s perspective, it was no different than Peldo. It was so windy (again) that we had a hard time erecting both the tents. Somehow we managed, and Tergaiz made hot coffee. After the coffee was time for a packed lunch which Tergaiz had prepared for all of us – one boiled egg and one boiled potato, with salt for taste. This along with a few slices of bread, along with the coffee was indeed heavenly. But amidst all of this, there was one thing that was constantly nagging me – a terrible headache. And, it used to again take me into a spiral of thoughts – am I not acclimatizing? Am I drinking enough fluids? Am I eatingwell? Am I going too fast? What else should I be doing, that I may not bedoing? These, with a host of other questions plagued my mind, and I began tothink whether I will be able to make it or not.
Campsite at Kyurchu
Tergaiz wanted to sleep for a while, and he suggested I do the same. This was something that struck me as an odd thing – he always used to take a nap in the afternoon– after having climbed up to the camp. Whatever knowledge I had – I knew one is never supposed to get into the tent as soon as you reach a camp. Rather, one should always be outside, so that the body adjusts to the climate and it acclimatizes.There have been numerous incidents that I know of, where people have reached a higher altitude, and as soon as the campsite was set up – have gone straight into the sleeping bags and dozed off, only to wake up with a terrible headache,loss of appetite and a nauseating feeling! I guess it was fine with him, as he was from this region, and he didn’t get affected by this. To avoid all of this,I decided against going into the tent and looked around for what options I had.
View from Kyurchu
In such a place, where the only two people who accompany you are asleep, all you have for company are the horses, the marmots running around, wild asses that you occasionally see – which are pretty elusive, barren but beautiful mountains, clear blue sky and the massive lake, which is waiting to come out of freeze-hibernation. So, the best thing to do was – to spot another feature, and decide to go climb up to that point, and descend back. It would help kill time,as well as help the body acclimatize. So, I set off – this time with only a bottle of water, as I didn’t feel like carrying my camera. For some reason and to my own surprise, a feeling of loneliness started creeping inside my mind. I fended it off, but it kept on coming. On the way up, I started singing songs I knew, to avoid the feeling of being lonely in this vast stretch of land. The songs did their part of transporting me (psychologically) to my family, my loved ones, my home, my friends, and to places where I was surrounded by people. It is at times that you realize the importance of people around you,and the times when you take them for granted.
I started for the height gain, and within about 2 hours, I was back to the campsite. The headache had still not stopped, and it had started worrying me. I drank lots of water, peed like crazy, ate properly – but still there was no sign of the thumping in my head stopping. It is in the mountains that you tend to get emotional when you are not well, and there is nobody to buck you up. I told Tergaiz and the horseman about the headache, as I considered it to be the most apt thing to do. The horseman listened to me very carefully, and his eyes spoke – well, if he has a headache at 4500m, then how in hell is he going to climb a 6622m mountain? Tergaiz told me to take a pill, which I was dead against, but still I had done it last night. I immediately rushed out of the kitchen tent, from the warmth to the icy cold winds, from a secure place with people in it – into a barren place with nobody for miles together. I tried to avoid the headache and tried to focus my mind, but the problem was – there was nothing to focus on. My mind and my heart were telling me the same thing – Ineeded somebody to talk to, with whom I can discuss how I was feeling, and how can I go about it. I remembered a statement Tergaiz made in the Peldo camp –“You should have come with somebody. Even if it is not a big group, you at least have somebody to talk to.” I had shrugged off this statement of his in the most unapologetic manner, and today, I remembered it. I wondered who is going to come and talk to me here – in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden,in that tree-less, barren landscape, I suddenly felt very lonely. The throbbing headache wouldn’t stop, the fierce winds wouldn’t stop, I didn’t want to go inside the tent, the horseman barely knew 5 words of Hindi, and Tergaiz was busy cooking for “his client”.
A plethora of faces and people started coming up in front of me. I knew these were all mind games, but people like Manasi, Yuvaan, Baba, Mumma, Kelkar Kaka,Rohini Atya were the first ones that I wanted to reach out to. This was followed by people with whom I had shared fond memories in the mountains,people who know and who can understand what it means to feel like this in the mountains when you are all by yourself – Bobby, Rakya, Ajya, Amya, even Om and Ravi, with whom I had wandered in the mountains in the last 2 years. Images of when Ravi broke down at Nandanvan came to my mind. He was seriously unwell, and the physical condition was seriously affecting his psychology. Fortunately, we both had each other to talk to. Later during his return trek to Bhojwas, he hadDharam’s company, whom he hugged and slept when both of them bivouced under a huge boulder between Nandanvan and Bhojwas. At higher camps, I found company infriends like Prashant, Sandy and (B-II) Nishant. But,at that moment, with the never-ending headache (which was actually not a very big thing), standing in front of my tent in Kyurchu, there was nobody I could have a word with, nobody I could share my feelings with, nobody who could just pat my back and assure me that – everything will be fine.
Horses at campsite
And, that was one of those rare
Tergaiz coming up
moments in my life, when I felt very very lonely, and I couldn’t do anything about it. At all. Almost on the verge of a breakdown, with eyes welled up, and almost beginning to flow down my cheeks, I regained my composure, and told myself – this is something that you have chosen. Nobody told you to come to this place by yourself. So, there is absolutely no need to cry over a decision YOU have made, for yourself, as crying is not going to change anything whatsoever! I rushed back in the kitchen tent, and deliberately started chatting with Tergaiz.
The conversations ranged over as diverse topics as possible.It started with his family, his wife who works the fields he owns, while he works as a guide with people coming to visit Ladakh. It went on to his four sons out of which 1 stays with him, to Chaddar trek in Zanskar region, how the new road (Darcha – Padum – Nimmo) is going to benefit the Zanskaris, and how the Chaddar trek is going to go for a toss when the road gets built. He told me about building and owning a hotel in his village, and which all treks are the best in his region. We spoke about the Kargil – Padum trek, Korzog – Kibbertrek, Markha valley trek and the conversation drifted to Nun – Kum, how technical is it, how foreigners came and did the expedition in a traditional style as opposed to alpine style. He didn’t quite understand that, and this is where I explained to him the two types of climbing styles. He told me how a team of French mountaineers had come in the dead of winter, and had camped near Tso Kar, for finding out trek routes as well as for testing some high end Cannon equipment. Then, the conversation drifted to Uttarakhand (Garhwal andKumaon), and I was able to participate instead of being just a mute listener.We spoke of how the route to Gaumukh is pretty, and how beyond Gaumukh, there are no trees. He had been to Tapowan and had stayed with a French lady for a month, and he told me one thing – the level of oxygen in air over there is much more than what is seen in the Ladakh region. This is just due to the sheer amount of trees that adorn the landscape there, as opposed to the barren landscape one sees in Ladakh. I couldn’t agree more with the fact as I had gone from al altitude of Haridwar to an altitude of Nandanvan within 2 days, and still was fine, but here – I had a terrible headache at 4500m. Tergaiz asked me f I had taken any medicine, and I should take one, if the headache persisted. Itold Tergaiz that instead of moving up to the next camp the following day, it would be better to just stick around at this campsite, and just go for a height gain. We kept the option of moving to the next camp open, if my headache subsided by the morning. He agreed to it, as it would be difficult if this persisted at the next campsite as well – then we would have to wind up the entire expedition! I didn’t know that staying at Kyurchu for another night was going to cost me heavily, as the weather took a bad turn the next day, and we were stuck. I ate the stew that he prepared (Local preparation), and went to my tent. Once inside the tent – the lonely feeling crept up again. This time, I fended it off, and slid inside the sleeping bag. Two hours passed by and the headache had not subsided. Two things were happening – I was feeling cold, and there were rocks below the tent which were hurting me! I was resisting getting out of the sleeping bag, to reach out to the medicines. But, after while, I got into a rapid action mode, got out of the sleeping bag, wore the upper and lower mid-layers to stop my shivering, wore 2 more pairs of woollen socks, popped a brufen (for the headache), and completely changed the direction in which I was sleeping, to avoid the rocks hurting me from behind. As soon as I got into the sleeping bag, I started praying, and before I knew, I was fast asleep. In my sleep, I vividly remember my mother and sister having come to talk to me. Whatwe spoke, I don’t remember – but I do remember talking to them.
With Tso Moriri behind me
6am – Tergaiz zipped open my tent door and gave me a mug of hot tea and asked me whether I was OK. I sipped on the tea and realized that my headache was gone. After a quick breakfast of omelette – bread, we set out to reach Camp 2. Reaching the campsite and coming back by 4 – 5 pm was what Tergaiz had planned. We took our packed lunch with us, and started off with a good pace. Instead of going all the way to Camp 3 location, at one of the breaks we took, this conversation ensued:
Tergaiz– It’s beautiful weather, isn’t it?
Me– Yeah, not even a single cloud in sight. Best day to go up to camp 2 and back.This way, I will get a good acclimatization hike done.
Tergaiz– You tell me, do you only want to go to Camp 2 and back? I will come with youall the way to the summit if you say, and then we could return back. It will belate, but it could be done. It’s up to you .
We were sitting at around 5500m and I must say – it was indeed a nice proposition and I was tempted. I let my mind overrule my heart, and declined the offer by saying – let’s not take any chances. I am here only for height gain, so that it will help me tomorrow. To this, his reply was – he doesn’t feel the need to come with me all the way up. He told me to go all the way up to the second cairn that was visible, and he would take a nap there. So, off I went – with my bottle and my camera, and I was back to his location within an hour’s time. We took another break – where we had hot tomato soup and some dry fruits, and we started back to the campsite. We were at the campsite at 11:45 am, just short of 5 hours as we had started at 7 am.
We spotted a few marmots on the way down,nibbling at something. Tergaiz opened up the Joshi sweets box and I made him taste the delicacies of Maharashtra. This was followed by hot strong coffee,and an add on was Yak meat. I tasted it and kind of liked it, which Tergaiz took very seriously. From then on – anything he prepared – had Yak meat in it. After the Yak-maggi, both of us again got engaged in a conversation.
He told me aboutthe benefits and disadvantaged of article 370, which is applied to the state ofJ&K in India, how Ladakh scouts were forcibly directed to hire Muslims, and how they turned traitors during the Kargil war (this still remains a secret till date), how the BJP winner (who won by only 36 votes), has had a glorious political past and how Tergaiz and his friends has campaigned for him by trekking over high mountain passes to reach out to people from distant villages, how Israelis drive around on a bike in Leh, his interesting episodes of how he spent 15 days with a Swiss lady, who was a medical doctor, in a single man tent, how and why Leh is demanding a Union Territory (UT) status,how Chinese military walked in all of the 19 km inside Ladakh region, how loss of connectivity forces Zanskaris to lead a difficult life, how the Darcha –Padum – Nimmo raod was given a thumbs-up by Mr. Nitin Gadkari, who was going to become the transport minister in the newly formed Modi government, how the UPA (earlier regimes) did not do anything for this road in the last 10 years, and how strategically important this road is for the military, how many types (and nationalities) of females he has slept with – who were good and who were bad,their peculiar traits, how one of the richest men of Leh was denied permission to enter the premises of Apollo hospital (because he was in his traditional dress), and how a Himachali driver had broken the record of Leh – Manali drive in a staggering 11 hours! All this while, he was constantly playing with twothings that was giving him a hard time – the weight of the pressure cooker wasn’t the correct one, and the fuel tank of the stove had a leak (hole) in it.He tried using plastic, band-aid, and finally a combination of above two, along with melted Lifebuoy (soap) as the glue was able to seal the hole in the tank. Then,he used a piece of carrot as the counterweight for the cooker. The carrot acted well.
Army camp at Peldo
I was reminded of how the safety valve of a cooker broke and all the rice had literally “flown up” with pressure and stuck to the ceiling, when Mr. Mahadik had come to stay with us in College Station. The problem with thecarrot was – a small part of it went inside the pressure release port.
Tasting Yak Meat for the 1st Time
Tergaiz started using a matchstick to remove it. I was scared – if the matchstick broke, we were screwed! Big time! But, he managed to take it out. Then, he started using a brinjal (eggplant) as a counterweight. After some time, the pressurized steam would create a pathway for itself, and start going through the brinjal. Tergaiz would then puncture it at a different location. This went on, till the steam had created a path for itself, and all the punctures were connected from inside. I remembered that the previous day, the valve in the manual pump of the stove – broke! He got the valve out, and tried to repair it.However, there was a small gap which was hard to fill, as we didn’t have a washer of “exactly” that diameter and thickness.
So, Tergaiz did the most unimaginable thing – he peeled an onion, and took the 1st layer of the onion to make a temporary makeshift washer, and pushed it in the valve assembly.
It worked like magic, as the pumping resumed again. There was also this bottle of jam, which once opened, was not getting closed. So, he hammered the lid around the edges in such a way that it started working fine.
Now, that is whom I call an “actual” engineer, not ones like us who merely take degrees and call ourselves engineers. Our discussions further led to him telling me the origins of the massively popular movie – 3 idiots. There is a Ladakhi guy called Sonam Wangchuk, who did engineering for the heck of it (to procure a degree), but ran an NGO in Leh where he used to teach the basic principles of science and engineering to kids in a very simple manner. The average percentage of a student in Leh increase substantially, as he was getting their foundations strong. He went ahead started telling the DC (District Collector) that the education policies needed to be amended.
Eggplant (Brinjal) acting as a counter-weight for the pressure cooker
The administration got fed up of him,and declared him a Chinese spy, to finally oust him out of Leh. He further went to Nepal, and successfully runs the same NGO over there. Tergaiz told me how a fight between bodyguards of Kareena Kapoor and his friends led to Saif Ali Khan(both leading bollywood actors) intervening and it is after that their courtship started. Also, there was the funny incident when Shah Rukh Khan(another successful actor) was left in the middle of the market by the taxi driver whom he ordered to come down and remove the heap of cow dung lying on the road, so that he could get out of the taxi! After listening to all these funny and extremely entertaining incidents, I retired to my tent, anticipating what the next day brings in for me.
The day started with the usual tea, and breakfast followed. All of us got ready to move to the next camp – the summit camp!
Summit Campsite Before Snowfall
As I knew the route from the previous day’s height gain, I left early, with my pack on my back. Tergaiz and the horseman came and caught up with me around 2 hours later, when I stopped at the ridge where I had planned of going the previous day. The sun had practically gone with the overcast sky and wind had picked up so badly that on the ridge, Ifelt like I was being thrown away by the wind. And, with the wind, the wind-chill factor took the temperature down with it. After finishing the ridge,Tergaiz and the horseman readily agreed that the temperature certainly was in the range of -1 or -2 degree C. None of us had the gadgets to measure the actual temperature, and I trusted the locals,but it was indeed frikkin’ cold! A break behind a huge boulder, and we were off towards the campsite. Like the previous locations, we had a tough time setting up the camp, with winds blowing at high speeds. We made sure that the fly for the tent is properly pegged so that it doesn’t flutter the entire night.
Campsite after Snowfall
Sitting n the kitchen tent, sipping on hot tea, with the overcast sky, we were wondering if we could attempt the summit the next day. Tergaiz was a little hesitant, and we both decided that we will take a call in the morning, i.e. at around 3 am – whether to go for it or not. Meanwhile, the wind outside had gotten converted into a heavy snowfall. The horseman was getting nervous, as he had planned that the horses would survive one day on the grass that was present at the campsite.
Me and Tergaiz, just before the start of the summit attempt
He had planned their feed accordingly. He said that if the snow doesn’t stop, then he will have to feed them half of what their actual quota is, and that is dangerous for their survival. He showed me their feed,and told me to pray for the snow to stop.
I got a little nervous myself – if the snow doesn’t stop, then we don’t have the number of days that we had planned. The expedition is going to get cut short by about 4 more days.
I prayed that the snow stops, but there were no signs of it subsiding. It just went ona nd on. I took a few photos and felt sorry for the horses that were kept shivering outside.
Going to myy tent
Flakes of snow covered their entire bodies, and they probably were getting scared by seeing the grass disappearing beneath the white blanket! Tea was followed by dinner which was followed by running to the tent to doze off, ready for the summit attempt the next day, early morning.
I was woken up by some kind of weird snoring noises outside.
Just before the col finishing up
They were not snoring noises but the sufferings of the horses standing in the biting cold. The snow was probably making the weather unbearable for them, even though they had a heavy coating of fur on their bodies. These noises were followed by noises of the horseman, with him talking as well as shouting to them. I felt bad for the horses, but could hardly do anything. I had worn all my layers (for the 1sttime on any expedition) and was buried inside the sleeping bag, and still was feeling a bit cold. So, I couldn’t imagine what the horses must’ve gone through. The weather had taken turned for the worse, and it had gotten veryc old inside the tent as well. Around 3 am in the morning, Tergaiz woke up for the summit attempt, and looked out of his tent – and saw clouds everywhere.Although the snow had stopped, but it was extremely cloudy, and he decided against going for the summit. Fast forward a couple of hours and he wakes me up at 6:30 am, telling me – its bright and sunny outside, and we have to go for the summit!
Mentok Range, with Fresh Powder
I got out of the tent, with my first step on fresh, clean sun-reflecting snow. I told him that it was not a good time to go for the summit, as it would be 8 by the time we leave. But, we faced a very odd logistical situation that day. The heavy snowfall had nullified the chances of the horses grazing on the grass,and as told to us by the horse owner – there was sufficient feed for them. He gave us a shock by saying that he had gotten up at night, when the horses were making noises, and he noticed that two of the four horses had started bleeding from their noses, due to the extreme cold. In case they die, he will have a heavy financial loss, which would be nothing compared to what I was paying him.So, he decided to go down to Camp 1, and take the horses with him.
Looking towards Chamsher Kangri Climb
With such a situation at hand, and Tergaiz telling me that the weather is unpredictable,today was the ONLY day we probably could take a summit attempt. He also assured me of one thing – he said – Sir, you walked pretty fast the last few days. Your speed matched ours, so don’t worry. We will summit and we will be back at the campsite by 2 pm, max. I felt so bad that, due to the weather and logistical problems, I was almost getting cornered into accepting the compromising situation of attempting a 6622 m high Himalayan peak in broad daylight – I mean, who leaves for the summit at 8!? Realizing that there was nothing we could do about it, I accepted the proposal and we started for the summit at 8 am in the morning. It was decided that the horseman will take the horses to camp 1. And, he will take the extra stuff (kitchen tent, stove, kerosene, and extra food) with them. While coming to Peldo, we had filled 1 litre bottle with petrol, which could be used for my MSR stove, in case of emergency. And, here we were – an emergency had come. There was no way that the horses could comeback to get the stuff from the summit camp, and there was absolutely no way that we could carry it down. We were left with no option but to agree with the horse owner, and make do with my tent, my stove, 1 litre petrol (which could last for a max of 2 days), and our personal gear. We clicked a few pics, and started for the summit.
The vast expanse that was entirely brown a day ago, had changed into a blanket of white, without even a single feature being spared. As I started walking towards the col in front of me, I saw the kitchen tent getting dismantled, the luggage being packed, it being loaded on the horses, and eventually, after about an hour or so, I saw the horseman walking away from the campsite, all horses loaded with our stuff. Our home for the night was all by itself, yellow in colour, all zipped up so that the snow doesn’t enter it, if it snows.
Clouds started coming in
The tent got smaller and smaller by the hour, and after a while, it disappeared in the while ocean in front of me. There was no way to find out its location. I took a few photos of the beautiful view around, and the lake, which seemed to have merged with the white surroundings. Then, I gave the camera away to Tergaiz,who was ahead of me. After climbing up the col in front of our campsite, we hada solid climb ahead of us – which looked like a ridge, but wasn’t technical atall. The gradual climb was exhausting as the snow had made the already loose rocks all the more slippery. Tergaiz waited for me to come and catch him, and asked me – you were so fast yesterday, what happened today? Snow, it’s the snow– I replied. And, had it been ONLY snow, I would’ve been fine with it, but a combination of fresh snow and rocks is a very bad combination. Your foot tends to slip all the time, no matter how firm and confidently you place it.
After we topped the ridge I was a bit tired. And, I was shocked to see how much more climbing was left. There was a straight walk – about 2 football fields long,then a climb down, and then the summit ridge started, which was interspersed with a glacier. We took a break for some chocolate and water, along with some dry fruits. The tedious straight walk and the climb-down was fine, but my speed further slowed down, when we approached the summit ridge. Tergaiz was in front,and he took a few photos while I was climbing.
After negotiating two football fields
I started climbing the summit ridge, and just before the glacier hit – this was about 100 m below the summit,Tergaiz asked me for the time.
I checked, and we both were scared and aghast to see the watch yelling 3 pm at us! Tergaiz said – with this speed, it will be 6 before you reach the summit, and it will probably be midnight for us to reach the summit camp. I must say – the thought itself was scary, but I was sure of one thing – it certainly “won’t” take me 3 more hours to go the remaining 100 m!
I disagreed with him, and told him to just “finish off” what we have come for. He was up for it, but he warned me about the weather – if we hit bad weather, and get caught in a whiteout at this altitude, it could be dangerousand fatal! I thought for a while, and took one of the most difficult calls I have ever taken in my life – I agreed to return back.
The weather was fine, Iwas fine, but it was 3 pm in the day, and that certainly is NOT a good time to be this high on a mountain – be it in any part of the world! In that moment – I felt sad and happy at the same time.
Sad because I was giving up on what I had trained rigorously for, the past few months. And, happy because I could see myself having that strength to be able to take that decision, when it is very easy to stupidly thrust forward – achieve the goal – and get stuck in bad weather – and then pray to god to send you back safely so that you can see your family again. Why not – avoid those circumstances of getting stuck, and go back right now! My family was waiting for me, and they certainly would not like to have me back with some severe repercussions like blacked-out toes and fingers or worse than that – on the death bed.
I turned my back to the mountain, promising myself to return back – to finish off those remaining 100 m. The return journey started, and along with it – tripping and slipping on the loose rock also started. Instead of the route we took while climbing up, we took a detour from another valley, which would take us to our camp. Tergaiz told me that he would go ahead and make tea / coffee so that when I return, a hot drink will be ready.
In that vast maze of snow, rock and ice, I inched slowly, towards my camp.
The sky was as bright as ever, and the snow was fresh. I slipped and fell at least 5 times, and was told by Tergaiz that he himself slipped about 4 times! I couldn’t understand whether route we took for climbing up was tougher or the one we were descending was. After about 4 hours, the sun had set, and I was in the area where the tent was supposed to be. I started walking towards the place where the tent was supposed to be. And, all of a sudden a chill ran through myspine.
I could not see the tent anywhere! At first, I thought it was due to the exhaustion that I was not able to think squarely and locate the tent. I stopped,thought for a minute, as to where did we start the climb, where were we camped,what did we see from the campsite (both at the back and the sides), and I was pretty sure that I knew where the tent was supposed to be. And, it was not there. I searched for about half an hour, before I thought of the last thing to do – something that my dear friend told me – to keep a whistle at hand, so that I could blow the whistle to get Tergaiz’s attention, wherever he was. I shouted out his name a few times before going the whistle – route. And, I could see a small figure (despite the darkness enveloping us) waving his hands at a distance.
The next thing I remember was – snuggling into the sleeping bag, all tired and exhausted. Tergaiz offered me a cup of soupy noodles, which I declined, andjust dozed off, only to wake up at about 11 pm to drink a cup of coffee. Nextday – amidst all the beautiful scenery,
we hiked all the way down to camp 1 and departed for Leh.
On the way back, I was thinking of reasons why the expedition failed. Here are a few ones:
1 – It was pre-season. Nobody attempts this peak in this season. Somehow, one horse owner agreed to help;everybody else declined. He had agreed under an assumption that the horses would graze on the grass up there, but snowfall completely “whitewashed” his assumption.
Back to Camp 1
2 – The place is so remote that even if I would’ve told him to go and get two more horses or more feed, it was not possible. Korzog, his village on the other side of the lake was 35 km away.
Chamsher - in Snow
3 – The snowfall reduced my pace,and the overcast sky on the summit morning deceived us.
4 – We were left with only sufficient fuel to stick around for 1 more day. But, the day after the summit attempt, in the morning – Tergaiz told me – Looking at you, I don’t you will be able to take another summit attempt. So, we packed up and left.
5 – Last, but not the least – had I had somebody with me as company, we would have motivated each other to finish off those remaining 100 m, or we certainly would have attempted a second time. A good climbing partner, with a positive attitude was dearly missed.
It was very cold
The valley from where we descended
Dr.Sanjay Vaid, Again.
A few days later, while running on the usual trail, I met Sanjay. Before I could give him a summary of what all happened in 5 minutes – he told me something I was shocked to hear. He said, during his expedition, one by one – the number of people coming to the kitchen tent to eat, dropped steadily. Teammates were falling sick every day, he had a headache every day, and he was self-analyzing his situation, his body condition like he has never done before. And, despite being in a group, he had never been so psychologically disturbed –
in his life.There was something strange about that place.
Well,strange or not – it was indeed a beautiful area, and the beautiful area did deny me a summit. And made me learn a thing or two about myself. That’s all I know.
Superbly narrated,Samarth as usual...! Just reading your notes and seeing your pictures takes me back to that beautiful, magical addictive yet treacherously hostile place on this earth called Ladakh.All those who have been specifically to this region will surely identify and empathize with your physical and emotional experiences..
Just a few personal thoughts..since I've been there..
1. As the genuine passionate climber that you are..I am sure you consider this 'unfinished business' (which no doubt you will finish someday). For me ( as I mentioned to you the other day)..you have summited the top of Chamser..because I know exactly the ridge where you made the call..all that you ran out of.. was time / a fellow climber and nothing else.
2. You followed the spirit and golden rules of climbing..made a difficult call but it was the BEST call you could have made for your family,friends and well wishers !
3. I believe you have raised the bar for mental and physical toughness for yourself, not just by a few,but by several notches in this climb.This is bound to help you in your many more future climbs..
More strength to you buddy..!
I think you can certainly see the difference in the terrain / weather, as compared to when you climbed this.
Thanks for the kind words. I know, it was tough to take that call the other day, but I guess the mountains are there to stay - if you are alive - you can go again!
Your help in planning this is highly appreciated! Hope to do some climbing together someday. Otherwise, our training ground is always there, for us to catch up on.
What an extraordinary barren looking area! I have been further to the west in the Himachel Pradesh and was struck by the arid desert like terrain north of the Rhotang Pass - but where you were looks like a bit of the Sahara desert, transplanted to the north pole!
I am amazed that you reached about 6500m on such a tight timeline. Am I right in thinking you went that high, just 5 days out from Ley? I'm not surprised you had a headache at 4200-4500m! And you were very wise not to spend that 1st night at 5500m, when you did your acclimatisation trip up there - and instead spent a further night at 4500m before moving up. I try and keep to the rule of raising sleeping altitude by no more than the average of 300-500m per day. But I have broken the rule often enough to be intimately familiar with that headache as you described it - like having your head squeezed in a vice!
Yes, the barren landscape can take your breath away, but at the same time - make you feel very lonely and vulnerable (all the more if you are all by yourself!).
And you are correct - I did this height gain within a span of about 4 days, which is quite fast. Actually, the funny part was - my headache was OK by the day, but at night - it used to start, and worsen. Back home, when I told a couple of friends, they said - it might just be because of the extreme cold, and not because of the fast height-gain. Anyhow, it was a good learning experience for me. I will probably have to return back to finish off those remaining 100 m.
Thanks for taking the time to write this up, I really enjoyed the read.
It's a hard lesson to learn, isn't it, that 'success' in alpine climbing and mountaineering needs to be "making good decisions in difficult situations"; rather than success = summit. I find this particularly the case for guided / organised trips. You gave it a great effort, and made the right decision - that's success.
Thanks again for the write-up. I look forward to climbing in your beautiful country in the near future!
We all know, wandering in the mountains - and moreover climbing involves taking tough decisions. Also, as it is very rightly said - "Summit is optional, coming back is mandatory". I was aware of all these (theoretically), however it becomes tough to actually pick it up from a theoretical level, and implement it out there. But Yes - sitting in the confines of my home, pondering over the decision that was made - I do realize that it was indeed a correct one.
Thanks for a pat on the back from your side. You should come to climb in India - its very pretty up there. Trust me.