Success Lies In Courage – My Experience Of Mountaineering
There is something humbling about the mighty mountains. Maybe it’s their tall and grandiose appearance or the initial intimidation when you cast your eyes on it. But ultimately, the most humbling part is the sense of accomplishment that you get after climbing one. Mountaineering is centuries-old human endeavour to scale mighty peaks. It involves hiking, climbing, or just simply walking, on hilly or mountainous ground, with the help of technical equipment and support. It is regarded as a sport in its own right, known to build a person’s character.
I consider myself fortunate enough to have got this opportunity to attend the BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE at the Asia’s best mountaineering institute: the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), located in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand.
Excited and anxious, I read articles and blog posts and watched youtube videos of the previous trainees at NIM and to know more about the BMC and realised that it wasn’t going to be easy and that I needed to train myself. I began to jog regularly, started long-distance running, skipping and walking for long distances with a load of about 10 kgs, and also practiced Yoga regularly. I was determined to complete this course successfully.
When I reached the lush-green campus of NIM, I met other trainees who had also come for the course and the best part was to meet people of varied age groups, hailing from different parts of the country. I was appointed as the Quartermaster for the course. My basic duties were to check the quality and quantity of food being served to us time to time and cater to the suggestions/complaints (if any) of the trainees and to distribute the prescribed ration given for all the trainees during our trek to the mountains and in the days we spent in the mountains.
For the first day of our training, we all went for a run downhill and regular PT session. It was the best jog I had ever had in such green and refreshing surroundings. We were then divided into our ropes (groups) for the next 28 days. Initially the entire batch is divided into ropes of 6 or 7 trainees in each rope and with one of them selected as a rope leader. Each person has to serve as rope leader for 4 days and then transfer the baton to the next member and this continues till the end. The basic purpose of this practice is to develop leadership skills.
The whole course was divided into three parts viz., Rock craft which happens in Tekhla, Ice and Snow craft which happens in higher camps at an altitude of roughly 11,500 ft and 13,500 ft respectively. The following day was our orientation, including an opening address, administrative talk, campus visit, issue of mountaineering equipment, lecture and a movie on mountaineering. We then went for a walk in the hills, carrying the equipment issued to us.
After a few days of theoretical learning, the real excitement began. We were introduced to sports climbing on outdoor and indoor walls. It required arm strength and stamina to reach the top. Following this day, our days were packed with activities, lectures, documentaries and movies related to mountaineering.
The next five days were scheduled for Rock Craft at Tekhla, NIM’s Rock Climbing area. In these five days, we learnt all about bouldering, rock climbing, anchoring and belaying, long pitch and chimney climbing. Every morning, we would trek for 11 km till Tekhla, with our equipment loaded in our rucksack weighing about 10-12 kgs, and the instructors motivated us throughout. We took 3 hours to trek there at first, but as the days progressed, we managed to reach there within 2.5 hours.
Then, the rock climbing sessions started with a lecture, demonstration and then practice. After our day’s training at Tekhla, we would return to NIM in order to continue with the rest of the day’s schedule.
After 8 days, we headed for further training to the Base Camp. On reaching Bhuki, we took our rucksacks, now weighing about 18 kgs with equipment and belongings and had to halt at 2 camps en route to reach the Base camp. The camps were Tel Camp and Gujjar Hut, and I had heard that the trek to Tel Camp would be the most difficult. Even the instructors said that “Tel Camp pahunchne mein sabka tel nikal jata hai.”
It was a steep uphill 3 hours trek till Tel Camp. The day was bright and sunny. With limited access to water, we were all extremely tired after walking for a while. After 2 hours of walking, we found the only water spring during the trek and drank water like we had never seen any before. We then refilled our bottles and moved ahead, only stopping to eat lunch. I could hear people ask the instructors, “How much more time to reach?” and they would always reply with the same answer every time “hardly any distance left… only 20 more minutes.” Those 20 minutes seemed like hours. Finally, we saw the camp, and despite our exhaustion, we were all happy to reach there.
Our first day camping out, we pitched our tents and I had distributed the ration for the next 3 days, and this ration distribution repeated until we reached the mountains. The ration included biscuits, chocolates, protein bars and dry-fruits.
Upon reaching the camp, we pitched our tents, had lunch and in the evening went for an acclimatisation hill walk. By 7 pm, it had become pitch dark and we could see a couple of Flying Foxes giving us company as we had dinner. The feeling that we were now away from civilisation made me more eager to ascend further up.
The next day, we left for Gujjar Hut, which was an 8 hours trek, uphill-downhill climbs and the route was extremely beautiful as we walked past numerous waterfalls and streams but it rained throughout, so we covered ourselves with our ponchos and barsatis, which made our hike difficult. The rain made the path slippery and we had to be careful and follow each other’s footsteps.
After every hour of trekking, we took 5-10 mins to rest. We put our backpacks down, rested, drank water, relieved ourselves, have a quick snack and sometimes massaged each other’s shoulders as they ached with the weight of the bags. This gave us instant energy! The 10 minutes given to us was like heaven and we motivated each other to keep moving forward, until we finally reached a point where we could see green fields and the snow line in the backdrop ahead of us!
Gujjar Hut wasn’t too far away now, and we could see the valley surrounded by Rhododendron bushes and the grasslands abundant with Buttercups and Marsh Marigolds. From that very moment, I just couldn’t stop saying “wow” and captured all the beauty I could with my camera. In the evening we went for an acclimatisation walk till Khera Tal. The walk was again mesmerising with beautiful meadows all around. Gujjar Hut was the most beautiful camp we stayed at and I wished I could stay there forever.
The next morning we left for Base Camp where we had to be for the Ice Craft and Snow Craft training. The trek was 2 hours long, and it was a clear and sunny day. As we approached the camp, the snow-covered peaks became more visible. The instructors told us about the peaks and mountain ranges around Gujjar Hut and Base Camp namely Rakhwa Top, Macha Dhar, Choro Ki Dhar, Mt. Jaonli, DKD II, etc.
We then trekked 2 hours everyday to Dokriani Bamak glacier for the Ice Craft sessions. As we had to walk over moraines to get to the Glacier we kept our helmets on for safety. We wore our huge heavy Koflach boots and crampons and learnt all about ascending, descending, anchoring, belaying, rappelling, fixed rope techniques, jumaring, crevasse crossing, crevasse rescue etc. with the help of an ice axe and ice pitons. The Ice Axe is said to be the third leg of a mountaineer. The weather constantly changed, and it became chilly and cloudy and even with our gloves and waterproof outers, our hands would go numb while we climbed. Ice Craft was very challenging as we could see the glacier melting and we always had to watch out from the rocks falling from the ice slopes. But I personally liked the ice craft training a lot.
Every time we reached our camp, the humble mess staff would always have our lunch ready. We never had to wait. Even at that height, they made sure that our taste buds were more than satisfied. In the evenings, we were given hot soup, which we all loved and tried to have a second helping. Post lunch, we had lectures, followed by a movie. We followed this schedule for a week.
We then moved further up to the Advance Base Camp, which took us 3 hours. The tree line had ended and ABC was surrounded by Mt. Jaonli and DKD II. We had white outs often and even experienced a hail storm once, which was amazing. We then began our Snow Craft sessions, which we all enjoyed a lot. It was pretty amazing and thrilling to practice on snow. We learnt ascending, descending, anchoring, belaying, self arrest, team arrest, glissading, etc. on the snow. Once these major crafts were done, we prepared for the last bit of our training; Height Gain.
A few days later, we were all set to leave for our height gain to Machhadhar peak at the height of 15,800 ft. We wore our snow boots, harnesses, self anchored our ice axe and left. As we walked ahead, slowly and steadily, we motivated each other and there was just one thing on my mind: to reach the top. We all began breathing heavily and our instructors kept motivating our rope. After crossing the ridge, we reached the top, and I felt immensely happy about being able to be there at that very moment and successfully climbing up the gruelling route. We congratulated each other for the accomplishment and it was a great feeling.
Upon returning to the Base Camp, we were welcomed by the mess staff, who offered us toffees and well wishes. How sweet of them!
Next day, we were heading back to reach Tel Camp without any breaks. The trek was 7 hours long , but all of us reached there on time. Next day we headed back to Bhukki and it took us 2 hours to reach Bhukki from Tel Camp. We finally saw the NIM bus waiting for us.
The next day we had our navigation exercise and then the written test. The navigation exercise was a tough lead for all of us, where we were given a map and compass and after locating our own position we had to pass three landmarks given on the map and finally reach the top. It was a combined effort of all the members as we had to work in teams. After about 2 hours uphill climbing, we finally made it to the top. Every day of the course was a lesson in humility in our own smallness in front of the mountains, and in the reverence and steadfastness required to overcome the challenges the mountain will throw at us.
There were many occasions when I felt it was beyond me to climb this rock, or run another mile, or summit this peak or wade through this fast flowing river. But I was almost always wrong. I did all of those things. I thought I couldn’t do it, but I did them anyway. That was the greatest lesson I learned during that course- ‘You are stronger than you think you are’ . The most memorable moment for me was to receive the coveted ‘Ice axe” badge from the principal of NIM, Col.Amit Bisht. The “Ice axe” badge is the sign of hardwork and determination that is presented to all trainees who successfully complete the course on the “Graduation Day”.
I am grateful to the entire staff of NIM – the instructors, porters, mess staff, and my batchmates. It would not have been possible without their constant support and encouragement. This has been an incredible journey and an enriching experience for me and I will remember every bit of it for the rest of my life!
The training was intense, gruelling and amazing. At the end, one learns that ones dormant strength and the threshold for growth, which transforms you into a much stronger and courageous person both physically and mentally! All the best to you, if you are planning to go for the course.
Prachi Bhatt is a volunteer at Voluntary Nature Conservancy (VNC) since past three years. She is a part of VNC’s Core Team and is currently heading the Content Department. A Governor Medalist, she was awarded Best Cadet at RDC in 2015 as well as 2019. She has been conferred with DG Commendation and has also represented India in Vietnam through YEP.