Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Summit Day

I have sceneries in my head, but no words to describe them. I have memories of places, but each time I immerse myself in them, something is different about them; something has changed. I remember shivering while feeling the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I remember being nervous with a little voice at the back of my head telling me that I’m not worthy enough. I remember being tired and taking deep breaths, imagining all the Oxygen going to my muscles to allow them to breathe, giving me the strength to keep moving forward. I remember feeling like giving up. I remember not giving up.

I remember all these things, but I’m frustrated because I can’t remember the right combination of words to use to help you relive my experience. While writing this, I thought about throwing my laptop at the wall in frustration, but then I remembered that I don’t have enough money for another laptop. So now here I am, sitting in a sunny lawn scanning a couple of pictures and a 4-page journal entry, trying to figure out how and what to tell you about the last day of my expedition to Jagatsukh peak- the day I summited. Maybe I should drink some coffee before beginning.

______________

It was a cold morning at our camp in Tainta, which lay sandwiched between the bases of Jagatsukh Peak and Deo Tibba (among others) on one side, and a freezing cold stream on the other side. We emerged from our tents at 3 am to be greeted by complete darkness and a cloudless sky covered in stars. In the distance, Jagatsukh Peak towered above us, its snow eerily emanating a soft glow. There was a light of anticipation in everybody’s eyes. As I took a good look at the peak that we would be summiting, I respected and at the same time was intimidated by its sheer size and by how small I was in comparison to it.

img_0576

Tainta in the daytime. The rightmost peak covered in snow is Jagatsukh Peak.

After a breakfast of boiled eggs, porridge and maggi, we headed out towards the peak. By now, it was about 4:15 am. The trail towards the base of the peak wound through and above several vehicle sized rocks. After approximately 1.5 hours of manoeuvring through this rocky terrain, we finally reached the snow on the base of Jagatsukh Peak. I was already burnt out, but we weren’t even halfway there. As we fastened our crampons (spikes that one fixes onto the soles of shoes) onto our snow boots, one person in our group went scouting for a nice big rock to take a dump behind. Good, that would give me some time to catch my breath. Once he had successfully executed the task at hand, we divided ourselves into two groups and roped ourselves up to each other.

img_0570

A closer view of Jagatsukh Peak. The summit is hidden behind the clouds.

dsc_0456

A couple of minutes after roping up at the base of Jagatsukh Peak

Snow is a very unforgiving terrain, especially when you have to scale a snowy slope that is at an incline of 60 degrees. Each step on such a snowy incline is tiring because you have to lean forward, jam the toe spikes of your crampon into the slope and pull your body up with the help of an ice axe. If any of your bodyweight gets transferred from your toes to your heels, then the snow under your feet dislodges and you slide down a couple of steps, thereby wasting precious energy just to regain your earlier footing. Needless to say, this happened to me several times. As a result, I unloaded the full extent of my vocabulary of abuses (English and Hindi) onto the slope. The slope probably didn’t like that.

dsc_0473

An incredibly unfriendly slope with a 60 degree incline. Photo clicked by Tejas Luthra.

This tussle with the snowy slopes of Jagatsukh Peak would continue for the next 6 hours, following which the summit finally came into view. By this time, I felt destroyed. I ditched my rucksack on the slope because of how much it was weighing me down. With the help of a couple of tugs of the rope that I was connected to and some motivation from Mohit, who was behind me, I slowly but surely ploughed on.

23a161a3-a9cf-4382-a0d1-44ae0f9ec043

Me (the guy with the green bottle) after ditching my rucksack. Photo clicked by Mohit Oberoi

dsc_0489

So close yet so far

At approximately 11:30am, we finally set foot on the summit of Jagatsukh Peak. Our guides, after jumping around like mad goats in excitement, gave us some prashad and conducted a mini-pooja at the summit, something that is customary. As I sat on the 5300m high summit of the peak with a semi-frozen butt, I felt relieved that I’d made it this far and proud too; this was after all the first time that I’d summited a peak. We weren’t yet done for the day though.

img_0567

Acting cool and all after summiting

img_0566

The view from the summit

img_0565

The view to the right of the summit

After resting for 15 minutes on the summit, we started to make our way back down. Descent can be a real bitch. By this time, the sun was out and the snow was soft, meaning that while descending, it’s quite easy for the snow to give way and for you to start sliding down the slope. In my destroyed state, I slipped and slid down quite frequently. With the help of my ice axe and our guide however, I successfully made it all the way down without sliding into a rock. It felt real good to be terra firma in one piece.

dsc_0503

The beginning of the descent

dsc_0377

This one always reminds me of how small and insignificant we actually are. Photo clicked by Saleem Zaheer from base camp while we were descending.

After a grueling 11 hours of walking, climbing and descending, we finally made it back to camp at about 3:45pm. I went straight to my tent and passed out for 4 hours while the rest of the seasoned climbers in my group celebrated by eating momos and playing atlas and chess. This was the only time in my entire life that I have taken a raincheck from a momo eating session, but I have no complaints on that front.

All in all, I’m happy to end this series of blogs by saying that this expedition was a great success.

dsc_0417

*says in Borat voice* Great success!

Have something you want to say? Share it in the comments below!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 4

Getting used to something. What does that even mean?

Getting used to drinking alcohol means being able to drink more than you could earlier without falling flat on your face. Getting used to emotional pain means maybe becoming more callous in the long run or even learning to ignore the fact that you do have emotions swimming within you. Or maybe you just learn to live with it. The point is, that getting used to different things has different effects on us. Every day, we get used to something new and it is these small things that change us in ways we perhaps don’t yet fully understand. It could be as small a thing as getting used to waking up early in the morning or even getting used to walking down stairs in a particular rhythmic manner.

When you’re in the mountains, you’ve got to give your body time to get used to the high altitude, the thinner air and the lesser amount of Oxygen that your lungs are receiving. They call it acclimatisation. It is for this reason that on Day 4 of our expedition to Jagatsukh peak, we went on an acclimatisation trek to Chandrataal Lake.

IMG_0545

And so it began

Chandrataal Lake is a frozen lake that is 15,500 feet high. That’s a whole 2,000 feet higher than our base camp at Tainta, where we had spent the night. Needless to say, the climbing and walking each day was getting harder and harder. The highest point that I’ve ever ascended till on foot was Kala Patthar in 2017, which is at a height of 18,513 feet. In spite of the fact that the hike to Chandrataal Lake is 3,000 feet lower than Kala Patthar, the ascent to Chandrataal itself was more intense and tiring.

IMG_0550

On the way up

After quite a bit of manoeuvring through the loose rocks that populated the last leg of the hike, we had to scale a short vertical rock wall before climbing a little more to reach Chandrataal Lake.

IMG_0559

The way up

Being up at Chandrataal Lake was surreal. There was complete silence, not even the sound of air. It felt like a divine spot. Over there, the rest of the world did not matter. It was just me, the cold, the group that I was in and my heartbeat. It was as if nothing else ever existed.

IMG_0553

Chandrataal Lake

IMG_0556

View of Tainta in the distance

Since this was an acclimatisation trek, we ultimately had to make our way back down to Tainta. For me, this was the scary part. As somebody who has a fear of heights and vast open spaces because of how insignificant and small they make me feel, this particular descent had me drowning in feelings of uncertainty and unease. The fact that the path back down was steep and full of loose rocks made matters worse. But all that aside, the unease and fear finally dissipated when we reached Tainta, where my feet were once again Terra Firma.

After reaching camp, we tested out our crampons and then called it an early night. At 2:30am, we would awaken once more to do what we had come all this way to do- summit Jagatsukh Peak.

IMG_0537

Jagatsukh Peak

Stay tuned for the final blog in this series- the one covering the summit of Jagatsukh Peak!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 3

Being sensitive. I used to think that being sensitive means being overly emotional or ‘extra’ about everything. This has changed. Now I think that being sensitive means being aware. It means being so aware that even a droplet falling onto a blade of grass is a sonic boom.

When I go out into nature, into the embrace of something wilder than can be found in our cities, something about me is different. I feel a heightened level of sensitivity. All of a sudden, I’m more aware of myself and of my surroundings- my breath, my heartbeat and the crunching of pebbles under my feet.

Perhaps it is the pursuit of this heightened state that leaves me wanting to go back to the mountains, in spite of the fact that the climbing bit is quite a struggle.

Day 3 of our expedition saw us leave Seri and move onwards to our destination for the day- Tainta, which would also serve as the base camp for our summit attempt on day 5. Ascending from Seri to Tainta was tough. The overall ascent for the day was approximately 1,000 feet (305 meters). We began with a steep incline up the face of a mountain overlooking day 2’s camp.  The goats scattered across the meadows of Seri soon became specks. My heart pumped, my lungs heaved and my mind thought about lunch.

IMG_0514

Getting there

Soon, we reached the top. It was like an idyllic and untouched land shrouded in the coolness and moisture of clouds. The walking for the day however, was not yet over. We were yet to cross two freezing cold streams barefoot before we could make it to camp.

IMG_0527

After the ascent

IMG_0526

Wading through the freezing cold stream

Tainta is at the base of a series of snow-capped peaks, including Deo Tibba (6001m), Jagatsukh (5300m) and a couple of other peaks that I don’t know the names of. The only way forward from Tainta, is up into the snow.

IMG_0538

Jagatsukh Peak (to the extreme right), as seen from camp

IMG_0536

Views from camp. Deo Tibba is covered by the glare of the sun.

Jagatsukh would have to wait for another day as we set up camp at Tainta and prepared for the night. The rest of the day was spent in sleeping, playing chess, drinking soup and playing Atlas. As evening neared, it got cold and we were hit with a hailstorm.

IMG_0531

After the storm

As the sun’s light slowly disappeared and the stars started to come out, I realised that the next 2 days were going to be much harder than the previous 2 ones.

“This is exactly what I came for,” I thought to myself as I gazed at the intimidating silhouette of Jagatsukh peak in the darkness. Soon, our group would conquer this beast.

In the next entry of this series, I’ll be covering our acclimatisation hike to Chandrataal lake, which is 15,500 feet (4,724m) high. Stay tuned for Day 4!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 2

Memories are the threads of the cosmos. What ties me to my yesterdays, my last years, my ten years ago aren’t my experiences, but my memories of my experiences. If with the dawn of each new day our memories of yesterday were to go up in smoke, would we be able change over time? Or would the times merely change while we remain exactly where we were when we were thrown into this world?

IMG_0504.png

Introspecting while waiting for a cloud to hit camp.

Our destination for day 2 was this place called Seri, which is about 400 metres higher than Panduropa, our campsite for day 1. After a night of constantly waking up because of the loud sounds of horses and mules munching on grass right outside our tent (those hungry bastards), we left Panduropa at about 8:30am. The beginning portion of day 2’s trail involved ascending through a slightly steep stampede of rocks. Within the first 15 minutes, I was already panting. Eventually, the ascent levelled out and the rocks cleared into a meadow within which several cricket stadiums can fit. We set up camp at the extreme end of this meadow and close to the foot of a mountain that we would have to work our way through the next day.

DSC_0176.jpg

View of a meadow in Seri once the ascent levelled out. Photo credits- Tejas Luthra.

Before making it to camp though, we had to take off our hiking boots and wade through the calf level waters of a freezing cold stream. Those cold waters knocked the air right out of my lungs.

IMG_0477.png

Iqbal crossing the stream that lay in our path

Although it was only day 2, I was already feeling the difference between this expedition and Everest Base Camp, which I went for in 2017. This was the kind of terrain and altitude that I only started to see 4 days into the trail at Everest Base Camp (EBC). Moreover, on the trail to EBC, there were always people around us and small lodges and stuff. Over here, it was just us, our tents and the supplies that we carried along with us on mules.

IMG_0509.png

Camp for day 2

Although Everest Base Camp is at a higher altitude, this particular trail was harder and more intense. That was definitely something that I didn’t foresee, because I always thought that higher the trail, the harder the climb.

As I sat in my tent writing this entry in my journal, small droplets of moisture pitter-pattered on my tent’s roof. In the distance, a waterfall sang its perpetual lullaby and my sleeping bag invited me into its warm embrace. The mules that came along with us were on the other end of the meadow. Good, at least I wouldn’t hear them munching on grass tonight.

IMG_0451

Inside my tent. It’s quite orderly, isn’t it?

On day 3, our journey would take us to Tainta, the base camp of both Jagatsukh peak and Deo Tibba, a 6001m giant. Stay tuned for the next entry!

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 1

There was a road. It twisted and twirled and then it disappeared.

Then there was an Alpine forest and towards the clouds we neared.

Soon the clouds seemed closer and the forest farther,

Until the trees vanished and the terrain became harsher.

________________________________________________________

dd140c0d-8be9-401d-ad62-31b4d22898a4

Climbing mountains is hard.

You’ve got to keep climbing until you feel like giving up, but you can’t because the trail goes on regardless of how you feel.

You can’t bathe up there because the facilities that allow you to do so soon disappear. If you want to take a shit, you’ve got to find a nice rock to crouch behind. If it’s too cold outside your tent, then you save the shit for some other time. The list goes on.

Why do I still feel like going back then?

I feel that through the course of our lives, we are often presented with experiences that help us to shape our personalities. While facing these experiences, we shed the unnecessary parts of our personalities and are left with those that’ll help us to keep moving forward. Our experiences convert us from rugged stones to finely cut diamonds. After all this shedding, we finally catch a glimpse of what lies at the centre of who we truly are; we finally get closer to becoming our true selves.

Time and again, I have found that spending time in the mountains has enriched me in ways that nothing else can, and it is due to this that I’m always ready to go back.

It’s in this backdrop that I began my attempt to summit Jagatsukh Peak, a 5300m mountain in Kullu Valley.

IMG_0538

A picture of Jagatsukh Peak (to the right) and its neighbouring mountains. The summit is the triangular rock at the extreme right of the picture.

We started at about 8am from Naggar, a town that’s pretty close to Manali. After an hour-long jeep ride that involved traversing a road with approximately 45 hair pin bends (I didn’t count, they were numbered), we finally reached the road’s end. It’s from here that the actual trekking began.

DSC_0034

Ready to rock and roll. From left to right- Iqbal, Abhimanyu, one of our guides, Saleem, Me, Tejas, The other Iqbal (crouching on the floor), Ali, Farid and Mohit.

Most of the trek involved going through pristine alpine forests until we got closer and closer to the clouds. Soon, the trees disappeared.

Our destination for the day was a place called Chikka. Having made good time however, we carried on and instead set up camp at a meadow that was approximately 3700m high.

Believe me when I say this- that campsite was unreal. To our left was a massive rock that could have easily been 12 stories high. To our right and at a slightly lower elevation, a river.

On this meadow, several horses and donkey’s grazed on what could possibly be the greenest grass that I have ever seen. There were however occasional spots of brown in the grass, which was basically the shit of all those horses and donkeys.

IMG_0421

Through the forest. This was the easy part.

IMG_0438

Camp.

IMG_0436

The massive rock towering over the left side of our camp.

For me, this first day was like a slightly firm tap on my head. While it was the easiest part of the trail, it was still harder than I thought it would be. Additionally, a little altitude sickness did kick in because of the elevation gain from Naggar. It was pretty mild however and rather than making me feel nauseous, it made me feel a bit like I’m in a dream.

DSC_0044

“There’s more? Fuck!”

After reaching, we pitched our tents and chilled for a bit before calling it a day.

The climb had begun and I was pumped.

_____________

Stay tuned for day 2 of my Jagatsukh expedition!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Beginning of The Trail (Kathmandu-Phakding )

“For every unhappiness, there is an equal and opposite happiness.”

To be able to attain one state, you must expose yourself to its opposite.

Is that why some people choose to expose themselves to the harshest conditions possible? Do they venture into the depths of nature’s most powerful forces so that the chaos outside enables them to find peace on the inside?

I don’t mean to sound unnecessarily profound, but these were my exact thoughts as our miniature plane passed by the colossal peaks of the Himalayas. As the plane fluttered in the breeze like a butterfly’s wing, I thought of all the people who attempted to summit these peaks, wondering what their true intentions were.

IMG_2764

___________

The trail to Everest Base Camp (EBC), or as a great man (me) would call it later, ‘the trail to the snake’s head’, begins at a place known as Lukla. I met the group that I would be trekking with in Kathmandu and from there we flew on a 14-seater plane to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla. Incidentally, this airport is fondly referred to by many as the world’s most dangerous airport, since its sloping runway literally ends on a cliff.

 

IMG_2766

Tenzing-Hillary airport at Lukla

 

I’ll be honest here, that plane ride gave me one hell of an adrenaline rush. When we were approaching the cliff on which the runway was, I was already saying my prayers. I was also parallelly thinking about what I would be having for breakfast (strange how that works).

After landing, we had a quick breakfast and began our trek. Lukla is at an elevation of 2,860m and our destination for the day was a place known as Phakding, which is 2,610m high. Although Phakding is technically lower than Lukla, we still had to cross quite a few uphill stretches before descending. Being no stranger to trekking in the mountains, I really enjoyed this day.

One thing that really struck me when I was on the trail was how simple things were. If you want to reach your destination, you follow the trail. If you feel thirsty, you stop and drink. If you feel hungry, you stop and snack. If your skin burns, you apply sunscreen. Everything was in black and white and there was no grey area- we all knew what we had to do. The lives that we lead today, however, are not as simple as that. We’ve complicated things so much for ourselves that we now literally live in a grey area, where a lot of things aren’t clearly defined. Whether this is a good thing or not, I’m still not yet fully sure of.

On the way to Phakding, we crossed several suspension bridges, Buddhist prayer wheels and even some bars. Our meals for the day consisted of a Nepalese version of dal and rice since they are easy to digest and give you the energy that you need. While walking, I took the time to get to know a little bit about our 2 Sherpa guides. They had ferried groups from Lukla to EBC and back countless times by now. This trail was their life.

 

IMG_2786

The bridge to another world

 

We were also joined by John, a 40 something American guy who was heading to EBC to try and summit Mt. Everest. He had some nice stories to tell, especially the one about his colleague whose father was in the Italian Mafia. That made me think of lasagne.

 

IMG_2767

Our group (from L to R): Sumeet, Nandita, Pallavi, Ajay, Simrat, John, Me and Aditya

 

By the evening, we finally reached Sunrise Lodge in Phakding. It was a small lodge that provided us with the most basic of amenities.

Our arrival in Phakding marked the end of our first day. For me, it would also mark the last time that I would have a bath for the next 9 days. At this point, it may also interest you to know that I did not carry a deodorant with me.

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Prequel To Everest Base Camp

“I don’t think I should be drinking right now.”

Seeing that this was the last of that quarter of Old Monk rum, I guess that it was a little late to be stumbling upon obvious universal truths.

It was March in Bombay and exactly one and a half months prior to my Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. I had a torn hamstring from a careless session of High-Intensity Interval Training, and walking felt as difficult as explaining my life plans to a person who is fast asleep. Thank god for physiotherapists and muscle relaxant sprays.

_____________________________________

Ever since I was a young boy with a massive jooda (hairball) on my head, I’ve always felt the need to physically exert myself and push my body to new limits, simply because it eased my mind a bit and filled me with a sense of achievement. My decision to ditch a Eurotrip and go for a challenging 15-day trek to Nepal was probably a direct result of this, but it’s much deeper than just that.

I’ve always looked at adversity as something that is physical, a force that you must use your brute strength and willpower to overcome. You may disagree with me on this point, but this is how I see the world.

After getting caught up in the daily rut of working late nights and missing my early morning workouts, I found my life lacking the adversities that I craved; I wanted to be more than just a working professional, I wanted to do something that made me feel alive. It was perhaps perfect timing then when I found out about a trek to Everest Base Camp that Ankur Bahl and his wife, Sangeeta Bahl were organizing (incidentally, Ankur Bahl had summited Mt Everest a couple of months prior to this). It took a little thinking, but I knew that this trek was exactly what I needed.

IMG_2929

 

Preparing Myself For Everest Base Camp

Preparing for EBC was no easy task, especially keeping in mind that I’d torn my hamstring and had a bit of difficulty walking. But that wasn’t all, I had to also ensure that I had all the necessary gear that I needed for the trek. I needed a plan.

For me, it was simple- do whatever you have to in order to prepare your body for the shock that you are about to put it into. This meant going for several physiotherapy sessions a week to help my hamstring heal and rehabilitate, as well as increase my protein intake to as much as I could, sometimes even opting for a plate of fried chicken liver for dinner (I don’t and never have believed in taking protein shakes- but that’s for another time). Once I was up for it, I started climbing stairs with a backpack full of bricks every night before sleeping to prepare myself for the ascent that lay ahead. I also had to ensure that my BMI (Body Mass Index) was not above 25 and that my lipid profile seemed sound, and obviously, not drink or smoke at all.

15 days prior to the trek, I gave my body strength by gourmandising on all the food that I could get my hands on, while at the same time doing a lot of cardio. Much of my cardio came from doing a lot of walking and climbing stairs. By this time, I could climb approximately 90­­ storeys at one go.

In my opinion, this was the relatively easy part. The hard part was acquiring all the gear that I would need. Thankfully, Impact Mountaineering (the mountaineering tour group started by Sangeeta and Ankur) gave me a comprehensive list of everything that I would need. You can find the list down here.

Gear 1Gear 2

At this point, I must admit that without my sister and my mom, I would have never been able to acquire all the items on this list. Their proactivity and nagging is what really helped me to achieve this particular goal.

Thankfully, figuring out where to stay and getting a tour guide and everything wasn’t something that I had to be even a little worried about, as Impact Mountaineering had that sorted, right down to the daily itinerary. It’s for this reason that I would highly recommend going with a tour group if you plan on embarking on such a trek.

You can check Impact Mountaineering out here.

 

Documentation Required and The Total Cost Of The Trip

To be able to go for this trek, you would need a Visa to Nepal (It’s Visa on arrival for Indians), a permission to enter the region that EBC is in (you have to pay extra for this), a health certificate, and of course, flight tickets (don’t attempt walking to Nepal).

Impact Mountaineering sorted all this out for me and the total cost for everything (including lodging and meals at the lodges) was about 1.35 lakhs. I spent an additional number of Gs on the gear.

 

In the end, everything finally came together- my gear, most of the torn muscle fibres in my hamstring and my leave from work.

Early in the morning on the 17th of April, I made my way to the airport for what would be a very fine adversity indeed.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments