Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When I discovered a new style of climbing

In the beginning of the great Himalayan climbs there was the ‘siege ‘ style that was more like a jamboree headed by a sahib of British or European origin, followed by a staggering number of porters, orderlies, factotums, carrying even more staggering number and volume of scientific and exploratory equipment. They were mostly unsure of what they intended or what the specific objective of it all was; if there was one. The idea of actually standing astride a lofty summit was primarily secondary since exploration and opening up the area and filling up the blank spaces in the maps were more in the order of the day. Few intrepid climbs were done nevertheless by such swashbuckling leaders like Shipton, Smyth et al. With the end of the European exploration and British dominance of the Himalaya post Indian independence, the next few decade unfurled the siege style to its utmost glory and evolutionary developments till one day two fine men from the Alps came and introduced ‘Alpine’ style into the grand arena of Himalayan and trans-Himalayan Ranges. Suddenly, light and lightning-fast ascents became the fad as more people poured in from all over the world. Carrying all that one can in one’s backpack without any external support from the Sherpa or porters beyond the Base Camp gained prominence.

Much before the Himalayan onslaught by the western conquistadors the art of climbing was being evolved and perfected in the European Alps of France, Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland and to an extent in UK as well where people were taking the art of ‘hill walking’ to all new heights and connotation. Alpine climbs did not involve the magnitude, complexity or physical rigors of Himalaya but they required entirely different set of climbing styles and being near civilization did not need the dependence on any support team, who would not eventually climb the mountain. The minimalistic style came into being. The big walls of rock or ice encouraged climbers to climb in pairs or solo, with or without top ropes, free, or using only a bivouac device. Then someone thought of ‘on-sight’ style; which primarily means that you climb a mountain or a face or a route just by looking at it on first sight, without any previous plan, knowledge or beta about it. For example you are walking towards your intended face and en route you suddenly come across something that looks interesting but of which you had no previous knowledge and on the spot you decide to attempt it, then that’s on-sight.

Along with the different styles and development of equipment and techniques, climbers too added to their bulk, endurance, strength, gymnastic abilities, suicidal predilections, etc and eventually to lighten themselves begin to shed their clothes – first the upper torso coverings and then the lower ones too. This obviously meant that these climbers were never going to go up in altitude only in attitude on massive rock and artificial walls. Women followed men in this arena soon and we now have superbly crafted women climbers wearing less than a ‘Sports Illustrated’ model climbing such high standards that even the male spectator has absolutely no time or inclination to check out the gender of the climber. At the extreme end of this spectrum we now do have nude climbers too. So this is an established style as well. Imagine a climber wearing only a harness and rope, climbing boots along with crampons and a pair of ice axes and nothing else, going up a sheer face of ice in what they now call 5 point climbing. All these styles have many proponents and none of them are a big deal anymore, but among all of these defined and delineated styles, the one which I find most mindboggling and one that I am yet to try on a big rock wall is the one where you simply go up on a near vertical face solo without any belay or safety device. You don’t use self-belay or arrest and in fact you don’t even carry a rack, nothing at all; only your limbs, your strength and your wit. Quite a few of my friends are master of this style, which comes nearest to being suicidal perhaps since there’s absolutely no room for failure or mistake. Once you leave the ground, you better top out.

After spending 79.12% of my lifespan in the vertical arena around the globe I had pretty much lead myself to believe that I had seen it all and there wasn’t any new climbing style left for me to view or experience till I self-devised (necessity being the mother of invention) one during my recent outing into the Himalaya where all I had hoped to do was a simple silly solo traverse through some of the little known valleys and green meadows. For the want of imagination, vocabulary and thawing of my perpetually frozen brain I would like to label this style as ‘mad style’ of climbing. Here’s the story in a big nutshell.

Never before have I been so utterly and inappropriately prepared for a climb of a Himalayan peak since in this trip I had absolutely no intention to climb anything besides some passes above 17,000 ft. Besides the usual assortments in my backpack, the only equipment and clothing I carried with me that could be used to ice climb were: pair of Grivel G12 crampons, pair of OR gaiters, pair of Lekir ski poles, pair of DMM 12” runners, pair of open gate BD karabiners, one MH goretex shell jacket, Julbo micro pore glasses and my ever faithful companion the 12 function Swiss knife. As you can see I had two very vital objects missing: ice axes and ice climbing boots, besides of course a climbing partner (but that’s something I have often done without). The peak in question is a modest Himalayan giant rearing at around 6600 m by the name of Manirang standing precisely between the district boundaries between Kinnaur and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. I didn’t know much about the peak since it never was my intention except that it would fall close to my intended trekking trail as I would cross over from Kinnaur to Spiti. All I knew that it had been climbed several times in the past and it posed only moderate technicalities in terms of ice and rock but it had bad weather reputation since it divided two major climatologically different zones of Himalaya. Other than this all I had to rely upon was a Survey of India map that showed me the exact contours, gradients of the climb.

To begin with after I took off on my own into the Ropa Valley towards the high and difficult Manirang Pass (which lay at the base of the peak), very soon characteristically and typically I lost my way into the thick jungle; normally I would have loved to get and be lost and just patter on but this time I had a severe deadline to return to and even more severe urge to accomplish what I had set my heart upon. For some reason this time I really wished to succeed and on the second day of my being ‘lost’ I had made up my mind to attempt Manirang peak itself, or at least find out in the process if it can be done in such a way (mad style). So I retrace my path back into the last village I had come across and inquire if there’s anyone who would or could show me the way.

World is full of gullible people and if you try hard enough you would find one who would believe (even if not in entirety) in your dream and would even be willing to aid you in realizing it. So I finally find a man who very reluctantly agrees to come a part of the way, I of course do not tell him that I intend to climb the peak. He offers to take me till the base of the pass and then return. As I readily agree to an astronomical sum as his wage I had no idea what we two would soon find ourselves into.

The journey starts innocuously enough – two fools (one willing and knowing, the other willing and not knowing) bent double under heavy packs – we walk along the gorge and rushing frothing waters and head off into the same jungle where I had earlier lost my way. Every apple orchard we passed through, we cleaned some of the trees for sure and soon I hate the sight of any redder, delicious juicy apples. At our camp site we meet a shepherd and his sheep sniff around and poke inside our sacks and tent. He strongly advocates that we do not proceed further on our route as it had been completely devastated by recent rain and landslides. He cautions that even the shepherds had not ventured any further in the current year. But then listening to someone other than my own mind is totally alien to me, so next morning, after some hearty persuasion, I start off into the unknown with my guide taking up the rear. The trail takes us straight atop a steep ridge, which we finally surmount after an hour of brisk climb and we make tea at a derelict hut of some shepherd from the past. The scenery ahead looks simply magical. Column after column of green hills lay towards our intended horizon. They were steep for sure but nowhere frightening as the shepherd had cautioned. And topping out at the horizon were the lower reaches and the tumbling glaciers of the peak I intended to attempt. Such magnificent views of nature in its starkest facet is sure to gladden any grieving heart and soon my companion and I break into a rustic song even as we sip tea and frolic in the halcyon breeze. Soon we come to a point that looks virtually impossible to cross.

The faint trail simply disappears into a massive landslide that had virtually scooped up half of the mountain face. The landslide stretched right from the top till the bottom that fell away vertically all the way down to the frothing gorge around a thousand meter below. The mud was dry and solid, caked smooth and there was no purchase of any kind anywhere. It spanned around 20 meters of horizontal ground, beyond which the faint trail could be seen again. Without an ice axe or anything sharp, we had no means to cut steps on the dry mud. None of us knew the ancient art of levitation and it seems that my expedition would come to a premature halt barely 48 hrs from when it started. We both scratch our heads and xxxxx for want of anything better and look up and down and at the bright sun and the blue skies and the opposite distant hill dotted with white sheep and an emerald lake. We could go back and try to find another way but my companion assured me that the only other way in would be for us to go down and wade the gorge, which would certainly drown us both. Like I always say, there are moments in life when the best option is not to have one; and this is one such occasion. I explain my plan to my guide, who almost swoons, but the poor guy finally resigns to his fate (or to his fee perhaps).

My plan is simple for which I have Newton to thank – for it relied on gravitational pull. Being perpetually in nature I have realized that it is pointless to defy or to deny the forces of nature or going against them, like the wind, gravity, weather, etc. Rather than trying to oppose them we must go with them and harness their strength to our advantage (which in my case is to stay alive). May be the mind thinks differently above 14,000 ft, but to me it appeared perfectly logical and sane that all I needed to do to cross the landslide patch was to climb up considerably on this side and then run down diagonally across so that even as gravity is pulling me down towards the gorge below I would be able to leave the slide area around the place where the trail starts on the other side. I worked out some trigonometry and decided that to run diagonally down across a horizontal distance of 20 mtr and to emerge at the same level, provided my speed is around 15 km/h, I needed to climb up around 30 mtr on this side. Later, on returning home when I worked out the actual calculation I realized that I was way off the mark, but thank god that no such uncertainty came into my mind when I was up there. The only certainty I had at that moment was that if my calculation was wrong or my speed any less than within few seconds of my taking off I would be reduced to a ball of dust that gravity would pull down with increasing speed and soon I would be flying off into oblivion. Surprisingly, at that point of time, the option of giving up on the trek and going back did not even appear to me as an option. What egged me on was the fact that my guide kind of believed in me. Like they say, if one proposes and another agrees then it’s a sound deal; no matter what.

I strap my sack tightly to my body and climb up, from there aim for the trail on the other side, look up and send a prayer to someone who might be free at the moment and take off. My shoes slip and slide, vertically there’s nothing to support my weight, I am virtually running on emptiness with a huge void beneath. I run, I skid, I begin to fall, but I keep running keeping my sight fixed to the exit point. I dig the edge of my shoes as much as I can into the solid hard unyielding mud and keep going. The breeze catches me and I stop breathing. I am responsible for whatever I do, for whatever happens to me so I cannot blame anyone for the inglorious end that beckons me, hovers around me. My ear buzzes and my heart leaps in fright.

Suddenly I am on the other side, still sliding, falling, totally out of balance and I roll on the green grass grabbing on to anything that my fingers can clutch and I come to a stop. I have made it, I am across, I am laughing like crazy, I can’t believe it. With that I also knew I had crossed the point of no return. After much coaxing I could get my companion up on the other side. Then I took out my crampons and went back up without the load of my pack and made some cursory steps on the mud for my guide to follow. Soon we were on our way and we feel that all our troubles are over – and predictably how utterly wrong we were. The same day we cross three more such landslide zones, and applying my earlier theory to the perfection I waltzed across each succeeding one with more confidence than the previous one. My guide had by now got convinced that he was with a complete maniac who had Devil’s luck and as long as he stuck behind him, he would be all right. Though often he mentioned his wife and children with a longing as if he won’t be seeing them again.

What made the journey worse was the rain that soon caught up with us. Often mists prevented us from seeing vital features needed to cross over dangerous sections; which was a good thing in retrospective. That night we sheltered beneath a boulder outcrop, beneath which my tent barely fitted. We managed to keep the rain off us somehow but I wondered as I closed my eyes that night, what our fate would be if the boulder above us-currently a roof-would collapse and unearth due to the wet mud and crush us to smithereens beneath its towering weight.

Next day we continue further, climbing, descending, running, escaping, enjoying, laughing and lot of worrying across the majestic and pristine landscape. Just before we reach the one major river crossing on the trail, we had to negotiate a very steep, slippery descent over which my right knee came into real trouble. I couldn’t simply let go like my guide, since if I did I doubted if I would be able to brake with my wobbling, ACL torn knee, which would mean broken bones. So I down climbed sideways painfully keeping my weight on the pair of ski poles and keeping my eyes towards the horizon where the peak of my intent loomed larger and larger each passing hour.

Finally we reached the river, which was by then a swollen, frothing and raging body of furious water. We walked up and down considerable length of it but found no possible point to cross. We were only two people and we were exhausted after a long day and the water could easily wash us away. Though we tried at one point, going barely few meters inside when I pulled back. It was far too dangerous. If death came suddenly in the mountains then I was and am ok with it but I seriously decry the practice of stepping into the jaws of certain death. We decide to spend the night on this side and cross very early next morning when the levels would be lower; though the water would be near freezing. Soon my yellow tent came up on the sandy bank over boulders and we had a fire going of dry woods. Dinner followed and we slept soundly lulled and rocked by the roar of the river flowing by barely few feet away. I hoped like hell that it did not flood at night.

Next morning I wake up well before the first light and go out into the darkness to check the water level. It is considerably down, but as fast and ferocious as the previous evening. We decide to forego the morning tea and quickly break camp. By the time we are packed, it is lit up enough for us to decide on a crossing point. We sling our shoes around our neck, throw whatever else we can across the river and strip down to our underwear. I have mentally blocked the freezing cold out of my body and my guide shivered uncontrollably. We hold hand and step into the torrent. Soon we are across after some real struggle with the water. We quickly build a fire with dry twigs and get some warmth in our limbs. I make tea on my gas burner, shielded from the breeze by some rocks.

From there we climb into an ancient land with massive rocks and boulders hanging and jutting out of the steep slopes ready to crash down at any instant. We go forward and eventually get across the gorge on ice sheets formed atop the rushing water. At one point the ice sheet had completely collapsed and we again had to wade through the water much to our peril. From there we climb and rush across collapsing mud and rubbles where one minor slip would hurtle us back into the water and to certain grave. Then rain started afresh and once again we take shelter beneath a tiny rock roof huddling and holding on to the wet rocky face lest we slip and fall off the edge into the gorge far below. By now my guide has sworn at least a hundred times that he would never again venture on this trail no matter how much someone offered him. He muttered prayers and offerings to his local gods to deliver him out of his present troubles. We finally overcome all odds and step on some amount of broad bank along the stream. From there another hour of back breaking and foot-slipping scramble across some really steep and broken ground takes us to the so called bottom of the climb towards the base of Manirang Pass (which would be my base for the climb).

The night is hauntingly beautiful with thick mist swirling from all sides, obfuscating the full moon that barely reach us and I expect to see a ghoul materialize any minute from the darkness surrounding our tent. My guide kept on muttering evil-warding chants even as we cooked and made some wheat breads on a broken tin plate and wet slab rock. We could well be the last two human beings on some unknown planet. We sleep fitfully, the cold breeze rattling our tent all night.

Next morning we start off by climbing straight up into the rock ribs cascading steeply off the slopes before stepping on to hard ice beneath which a stream gurgled purposefully. We steadily gained height and as the valley below us fell away the snow covered summits rose majestically into the rising sun. I keep to the ice fall while my guide scrambles to the rock and scree after a while. He finds the ice too unnerving. Soon snow dust fill up the air and shortly thereafter it starts falling like a thick white blanket. We both put on our shell jacket and continue climbing silently. I still stick to the steepening ice slopes while my guide kept to the moraines. We both don’t talk, reserving our energies for the way ahead. Finally we converge on a steep ice face far above the glacier below. Ahead of us lay a considerable traverse across deepening snow. I gingerly step across, planting my feet strongly into the snow and finding some purchase. The snowfall is so deep and fast and infuriated that I can’t see the bottom of the yawning slope to my left. All I can make out is that the slope is very seriously steep and the fresh snow is making it very slippery over old hard ice and I simply could not afford to slip and fall and neither could my guide.

I proceed gingerly one step at a time, the void to my left side constantly pulling me to its depth. Suddenly, without warning, my companion skid and slip and fall. As I watch him slide away from my stance helplessly I know that if he can’t stop himself he would soon be history. The snow had by now become a pandemonium and a raging blizzard. Miraculously he brakes himself and came to a halt around 10 mtr vertically and little more horizontally from where I stood. His face had ashened and he knew that he could start sliding any moment again and then disappear forever. He shivered in cold and fear and he looks up at me pleadingly. He can’t move, I can’t ask him to come up. While I watch the drama I am acutely aware of my precarious position. With my heavy sack now heavier under the debris of falling snow constantly pulling me away from the slope. I quickly take off my sack without any delay and strap on my crampons on to the trekking shoes. The moment I heard the reassuring click of my crampons go in its place I know that no one will die and we had averted our present predicament. With crampons on I simply leap down to my friend and with a sling around his waist I pull him up to my level and then lead him out of the traverse.

The white out condition is complete by now. We can see absolutely nothing and the blizzard is now like a hurricane unleashed by some devilish force bent on uprooting or burying us completely. We know that there’s no other human being around for at least three days walk in any direction. My friend begins to panic while I collapse on the snow to get my breath back. We are already at 5400 m and should ideally see the pass but we see nothing. My companion declares that we were destined to die and lay buried under deep snow like an old man few years back who had died on a similar day. I assure him that the only thing that may die that day would be his fear. Through a brief lull in weather he suddenly spies the pass marking cairns straight ahead and up from where we rested and he cries out in joy though voices his concern of how on earth we would reach the pass. There’s a steep ice slope rising out like a serpent’s hood to the pass that I ruled out since my companion would certainly slip on it. The only other way is to climb high above the moraine and then when level with the pass, traverse to the ice slope. We do the same and soon enough we are on the pass.

The pass is a narrow dome of hard ice with numerous cairns strewn around haphazardly. We are now at the crossroad between two deep and narrow valleys like a tunnel and the wind nearly uproots me off my feet. I cling on desperately to a large rock while my friend collapse on ground and refuses to stand up into the onslaught. I look up into the white madness towards my intended track to the summit of a mountain I had never seen before and of which I could not even see the leading ridge. I was roughly 1000 m below the summit that now stood somewhere high up within the raging whiteness. Even to me it looked completely insane that I would actually go up and vanish into the storm without any gear and barely any food and for me to return alive I had to touch the summit or wherever I reached and be back to my friend within the next three days. I had no clue what lay above or ahead. Nothing was visible beyond a hundred meter of where I stood in any direction. With every meter gained above the cold, the ferocity of the blizzard and the snow conditions would only worsen and the blizzard did not show any signs of relenting in any conceivable future. My immediate dilemma though was how can I let go off the boulder that I clawed into and go up unsupported since I felt that the wind will simply carry me off into oblivion the moment I let go of my anchor.

I turned around and screamed my decision to my guide and he nearly had a heart seizure. He thought I was joking and started laughing like a demented. I took him behind a large rock where we huddled for warmth, out of the main force of the blizzard and took stock of our possessions and food. I pleaded with him to go down on the other side (Spiti side) and wait for me at the base of the pass for three days. If I didn’t return he should go down to the nearest village and seek help; which if he manages to get is good enough and if he doesn’t is good enough too. I hand him over most of the food and gas and also our solitary tent, which should see him through any kind of weather for four days. As an afterthought I also hand him my Nikon D90 camera and lenses. For me to have even an outside chance of making this climb and survive I had to be light. He refuses to leave me and begs me to go down with him. I tell him that my mind is made up and up is where I am going. I see him off till the steep slope on the other side and soon see him going down, slipping and sliding on the snowy ground. Shortly he is gulped up by the swirling storm and I return to the shelter of the rock all alone. I am finally on my own with my mountain with nothing and no one else in between.

I empty my sack and proceed to reduce my weight to the barest minimum. When I do this kind of exercise, I follow a very easy rule – I discard anything and everything that is not going to save my life, or whose absence wouldn’t kill me. So out goes my entire toilet kit, all my writing material, sleeping bag, all my extra clothing that were not on my person save two pairs of dry socks, the top lid of my sack, all the tags from all my clothes, the extra length of my hiking shoelaces, my whistle, one extra blade of my Swiss knife, one cooking pot, my reading glasses, etc all of which I bundle inside a cloth bag and deposit it under the rock. If I return I would retrieve them. Now I am left with a really light sack that contains one gas canister plus burner, three packets of instant noodle (one per day), two packet of glucose biscuits, one half of a TP roll, a water bottle, a small length of rope, the two pairs of dry socks carefully wrapped within two layers of plastic, one light weight Rab down jacket and my OR bivvy sack. Rest everything is on my person. I look around for reassurance that I am indeed doing the right thing – but there’s no one or nothing to offer me any advice or retribution. I am on my own. I decide finally that in this world and certainly in my vertical world there’s nothing intrinsically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s the final outcome that would decide either way. I can never pre-empt if I am doing the right or wrong. If I lived it is right, if I don’t even then it may be right. I tighten my shell jacket and take off into the tearing blizzard.

But for the atrocious weather, at that altitude (5600 m) it is easy to maintain an ascent rate of 200 m per hour and with my well acclimatized body I should be able to reach almost within touching distance to the summit by night fall. It is just after two in the afternoon, though the sky remains dark and ominous. My only reference is my contour map since I have absolutely no previous knowledge of the mountain. My feet sinks in the snow and slides as I crunch my way up on a ridge that should take me to the right direction. The ridge eventually broadens and becomes mysterious and confusing. The narrow contour lines on map now translate into a vast arena of seracs and ice falls and ice formations that appear more of a maze.

My only aim is to keep walking in the right direction and gain altitude with every step. Sooner or later I have to reach the summit that way. The going is hard and I am nearly blind in both eyes. I keep taking off my Julbo glasses and have to blow on them to get the ice off; I wonder if a climbing glass can be designed with heater and wipers. My fingers are numb since my globes are soaking and stiff and totally covered beneath a thick layer of ice. My feet is cold and wet too though I don’t feel so. The gaiters are fighting a lost battle with the deepening snow. Snow has gone inside my jacket and into my back through my cap. My normal hiking trousers are stiff and blanketed with heavy snow as well. From afar I could well be mistaken for a small emaciated Yeti. I walk like Michelin Man. Step by step I gain altitude. Every cell of my body cries for relief and I shut the pain out mentally. It’s my mountain, my friend to whom I must pay a visit, so what if he is bit difficult and upset today. I always follow my instincts and they don’t tell me that I am not welcome. Despite my sorry state I feel fine, at home, at peace, at par with everything around and confident in my goal.

By six, night had fallen though the storm hadn’t abated even a bit and I had gained only half way to the summit and I had no idea if I was going in the right direction. I looked for some sort of shelter on the steep slope and realized there were none. I estimated my position on the map though I could be far from my estimate as I had nothing to refer to, and realized I had to dig in the snow for a hole and get my bivvy fit in somehow. The snow cave had to be dug with my hands as I didn’t have a shovel so it took close to two hours and by then I was certain that both my hands were well frost bitten and that I am going to lose few fingers if not all. Somehow I unfurl and spread the bivvy sack and just snuggle inside. I put on every layer of clothes I have and an additional pair of socks. I feel completely naked and frozen. The temperature dips to 24 deg C below zero. I beat my palms and toes with my ski poles to get them going and to thaw them into some action. My palms feel like solid bricks without any sensation.

I dig another hole close by and get my burner going, which only flickers alive after I have wasted nearly dozen matchsticks. Source of fire is precious so I need to be careful with my matchsticks. My frozen fingers are not the best way to hold the matchstick but I dare not take off my gloves in the cold. Thankfully I am now on the lee side hence the blizzard doesn’t seem so menacing any more. Slowly the snow melt and I watch the colour of the flame that is going to tell me if I am running out of gas. I fill in my first cup and simply upturn the boiling water down my throat. It must have scalded the inside of my mouth but I am beyond any physical pain or sensation. I brew tea and follow it up with a packet of biscuit. I am famished beyond words but I don’t feel hungry. I loathe noodles and I have nothing else to eat. I hold my bare hands over the flame but nothing happens, no warmth creeps in, soon I smell burning flesh and realize that my palm is on fire. I douse them in the falling snow and apply some cream and then put on my gloves. This is bad. My hands have lost all sensation as the nerve endings have frozen. I was totally not prepared for such a climb; I did not have the equipment or clothing for this. My mind urges me to hurry and descend and get the blood supply going into my extremities and digits soon else frost bite and amputation seems inevitable. I wonder and ponder and look for answers in the menacing darkness.

The night passes on with my stomach rumbling for food, my body crying for warmth and my heart pleading with the sun and weather God. Dawn dawned with no visible change either to the elements or to my predicaments. My bivvy sack is buried under tonnes of snow and I have to push hard and literally lift a small snow mountain from my chest to exit the sack. I don’t feel fear or worry; I am far too numb to react. Only my mind keeps repeating, ‘go down, go down, go down.’ I tell my mind to shut up and brew a cup of tea. My fingers are solid stumps of dead flesh. I bite into my fingers and then bent them so that they can pick up stuff and light the matches. I dare not bite too hard lest I tear off one of the fingers into my mouth.

Through the night my feet is swollen and now feel miserably painful within my shoes. I dare not check my toes and feet. I stand up and feel afloat since I can’t feel anything beneath my knees. I force one packet of noodles down my revolting throat and take up the pack. I had to summit today and then go down. I check the map and take bearing with my ever trustworthy life saving device – Suunto Vector climbing watch. I climb up the face digging deep with my ski poles for some purchase and placement. My crampons keep my feet from sliding. Without an ice axe I have no ways of pulling myself up steep faces or very hard ice. I keep my Swiss knife around my neck with its large blade ready to jam if needed.

Every step I know could be my last, one slip, one wave of wind, one tiny mistake could hurtle me instantly into the land of no return. Still I feel great, welcome and happy and contented. My entire life now focuses on my each step, the next step, the only step that matters. My mind swirls headily into the white whirlpool and I enjoy the nerve wrecking focus needed to stay alive. Soon I hit the summit ridge and it is thin enough for me to know that I wouldn’t lose my way after all. There is no other way to go on such a thin crest of ice. There’s only one way down from where I came and only one way to go that is up, any other way meant an abominable fall and disappearance like Houdini. The conical summit looks near but I know better. I keep climbing and getting closer step by step. My mind is in a tearing hurry but I walk like a tortoise. And then I am there, the summit cone. I am washed with relief rather than joy, with exhaustion rather than exuberance. There’s absolutely nothing for me to see anywhere, anything in any direction. It’s all white and maddening and as elusive as before.

I feel numb in mind, body, soul and spirit. I find no reason for me to be where I am and no logic why I felt that uncontrollable urge to reach where I now stood. At the moment we gain what we desire, we lose it. The desire is gone as it has no further reason to be exist. Fulfilment of one desire conceives the next one and that’s how our life remains dynamic. I immediately think of my next climb, another mountain, another trail. Suddenly I realize that I still have to go down. I say my prayers, leave few biscuits at the summit as reverence and retrace my path before the fresh snow wiped it away. I get down to the pass, retrieve my bag and go down to meet my friend. When I reach him it is well near midnight and I scare the ghost out of him. We laugh, we roll and we can’t stop jabbering. Finally I manage to eat something he cooks and wriggle into the sleeping bag for a blissful night of comfort interrupted with dreams of doom.

Where would I go next!


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  3. Some adventure Satya, you are quite a story teller.

  4. I wish these climbs of yours were fictitious and not real.

  5. I have doubt on this way of climbing.