My neck hardly had any space to move and look around. It had got hemmed in by a bulky rucksack I was carrying on my back and whose top portion was slightly higher than that of my head. With hands holding the ice axe and crampons on my snow boots kicking front pointed steps in the snow, I really did not want to bother myself with anything more than looking ahead to the climber above me and following his route up the steep couloir that would take us to the top of the pass. Twenty steps, stop, breathe, gather your thoughts, twenty steps, stop… I was trying to maintain a rhythm while climbing up the slope. But we were already 14000 feet above sea level and lack of oxygen in the air was making its presence felt. I was trying to complete a set of twenty steps but always ended up giving up after twelve or fifteen. I cursed my insufficient fitness. Leaning down on the ice axe, which I had planted in the snow to use it as an anchor, I tried to calm down my chaos filled mind with the exquisite panorama I could look at through the gap in my feet. The view, when seen that way was upside down, but every time I looked at it, it brought along some amount of peace with it. It was easy to forget about everything and just keep marveling at the natural magic around you. The rumbling of the rocks and ice blocks tumbling down from an ice fall some safe distance away made for a constant background sound. The activity in the ice fall was so constant that it had almost become part of the rhythm.
My reverie was broken by a loud shout from Kunal, who was climbing ahead of me. It took me some seconds to realize that it was a warning about some rocks falling down from top towards us. I tried to remember the instructions given to me by Kunal and the guide, on what to do when caught in exactly such a situation. Alas, it was too late till their words came back to me. By then, I had already committed to the wrong action. As soon as I had realized that some rocks were going to be rolling down on the slope on which we were standing, I had ducked down in a cuckoo like position, trying to reduce my size and holding my hands above my neck to protect my exposed neck from rockfall. I had completely forgotten the very first step of this exercise, that of first determining the direction of the rockfall and then moving or hiding around accordingly. In my haste and panic, I had looked over that tip and had consequently got hit by a snow boulder which grazed my snow boot with such force that I was sure my shin bone would seriously have got damaged, had it unfortunately come in the way of the boulder, instead of my shoe. I was lucky to escape without an accident. Lesson was learnt and I had resumed climbing.
For the last five days, my life had revolved around six things-namely, pitching the tent, putting a brew on the stove, packing the rucksack, putting on the gear, panting while walking uphill and trying in vain to find a flat surface on the tent floor at night in an intention to catch a sound sleep. There was lots of free time between afternoon and evening and that was spent in looking around and soaking in the view. By day 3, I had begun to memorize the contours of the region surrounding me. We had trekked from Dhundi to Beas Kund and set up our campsite some way above that. The trek route had been scenic, with gushing waters, green trees and snow caped mountains all around us. The Seven Sisters, an aptly called chain of mountain peaks was lining one side of the route. Some way ahead in the same line, lay the highest peak of Dhauladhar ranges and it was this mountain that we had intended to climb. Soon enough in the trek, the mountain had turned kind enough to part its veil of clouds and let us have a clear view of its three fanged peak. The clouds had taken over after a few minutes, as if the show had ended and curtains had fallen over the stage. We had then taken to contend our sights with other beautiful mountains on the other side of the route. Friendship, Shitidhatr, Ladakhi- they all stood erect to complete a three-quarter of the circle around the route, leaving the path along the Beas river to follow, if one wished to access the interiors.
The trek has been a total six days of toil. But it was a fulfilling, satisfying and enriching sort of toil. I had mostly spent my time enjoying the experience, taking in the beauty around me and trying to stretch my limits and that had turned out to be loads of fun. On day five, after the rockfall, five hours of hard work on the snow gully and the realization that I was not fast enough to be continuing like that, we had opted for safety over anything else and had aborted the climb to retrace our steps down the mountain. And still, I had not felt a single emotion of sadness or loss for not being able to stand on the top.
For the first time in my life, I had realized, that it is good to have a good end to a journey; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
PHOTO COURTESY:Our guide Inder Thakur from Manali
Expedition Organiser : Geck & Co
Expedition Leader: Kunal Bedarkar