04 Sep 13 – As is usual for me at altitude, I had not had much sleep. Kevin and I woke up to a nice and sunny morning. We had to pick up the LO after breakfast; Wg Cdr Sridharan, a gentleman ex-officer from the IAF. I had met with him in Chennai a couple of months earlier and was glad he was our LO. I also had to accompany Kevin to the Hospital sometime after picking the LO, since he had a condition to be taken care of. Something known as Haemochromotosis. Sam and I picked Sridharan from the airport, dropped him at the hotel and then took Kevin to the hospital. Kevins condition required him to donate some blood which worked out pretty well since one of the BRO (Border Road Organisation) labourers was involved in a mishap and was in need of blood. The doc advised me that Kevin would be alright for the duration of the expedition and also advised me to bring him some juice. I obliged. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful except that it was Wg Co Sridharans birthday and he had invited the team over for a drink that evening. He had also invited Sonam Wangyal, a renowned climber that evening. I had a few things to take care of that afternoon; especially had to do a final check on the logistics, equipments and rations. Sam had even managed to arrange for radios, but was not sure about how powerful they were. I advised him to load it up just in case. I was at the hotel by 6 in the evening, just in time for the get together. It was beer for the boys and Coke for me. Mr. Wangyal was there too. He has a tendency to be loud and bombastic and has an opinion on most matters. He did have a few words of wisdom for us and especially warned us about how cold it was going to be upwards of Tongol. Of course his remark about the temperatures was pertinent to me because I was testing out a crazy layering system which had no down insulation in the list, for reasons best known to me. I decided to continue with my test though.
09 Sep 13 – Sunny day. Kevin seemed pumped about the climb to camp 1. The idea was to drop some load and be back by evening, but a trip to Camp1, with load, was crucial in helping us acclimatise. Sridharan was going to escort us till the Ice Wall, across the glacier, just above ABC. He was in two minds about moving with us to Camp1. Nima had implied subtly the previous night that it would be better if Sridharan stayed at base to liaise for help or logistics in case we ran against a wall. We had about 8 to 10 Kilos in our packs, mostly fuel, food and personal equipment which we wouldn’t need between BC and Camp1. We were off right after breakfast. Kevin and I were right behind Nima and Pemba. Abhijit, Nabarun and Sridharan were not far behind. We quickly changed into our climbing boots and wore the harness. Sridharan had brought his kit too but changed his mind at the last moment. So it was Nima and Pemba in front followed by Kevin and I. Nabarun and Abhijit also were not far behind on the line. The initial part of the fixed line was a low angle ascent of between 40 and 50 degrees. About 15 minutes into the ice fall, there was a bulge about 20m high where the route was steepest at 80degrees. But beyond the bulge it was a pretty straightforward ascent for the next 20 or so minutes. I was using CAMP C12’s while Kevin was using his Cyborgs. Even though the C12’s are meant for general mountaineering and can handle Ice Falls to an extent, according to the CAMP catalog, I had a couple of skids. Of course I was secure and nothing untoward happened, I was more wary for rest of the day, and very deliberate. Once at the top of the ice fall, we had to hike up a very low gradient terrain full of crevasses. Fortunately most of them were very visible and we were able to squirm past them. After a hike of about 10 or so minutes, we had to traverse left and then continue a low angle ascent for about 15 minutes to reach a glacial plateau. This plateau is about 4 km long and gives the first view of Nun. Nima and Pemba, who were here the day before, had set up our tents in the middle of this plateau, right next to the army camp. We hung around for about half an hour at Camp1 before commencing our climb down to base. Nabarun and Abhijit had not made it to the campsite until then. They had followed the wrong trail perhaps. We were hoping to meet with them somewhere near the beginning of the plateau, but they were not there. So I sent Nima and Pemba to look for Nabarun and Abhijit while Kevin and I stayed at the top of the descent. They were not too far from where we were apparently. Nima had the wise head to advise them to drop the stuff where he met them. He was obviously of the opinion that the stuff could be transported on our next visit to Camp1. Navoy was with us too; he had not climbed or descended an ice fall before and had no issues ascending with a Jumar, but he had troubles descending. I gave him a quick lesson on figure of 8 descent and he took to it like a charm. It took us well under an hour to descend the Ice fall and we quickly changed our boots. We dumped the climbing boots and harness at a safe spot under some rocks and began our climb down to the base via ABC. Sidar and Sumpa were waiting for us with some hot tea and biscuits. Quite refreshing to be honest, considering I am not a tea drinker. In the evening I met with the leader of the Army Expedition to check for the possibilities of helping each other out. The idea was to share their equipment and in return we would help them fix the route. He seemed ok with the idea, but needed to check with the Polish contingent, which he did and affirmed that we could help each other out for the duration of the expedition. Of course, this meant that we didn’t have to ferry the fixed ropes (about 1.4 Km of it) to the higher camps; a savings of tons of effort and at least a hundred man hours. I think that very thought gave me a good sleep that night. Since the number of ferries were now reduced from 4 to the 1 that we already performed earlier in the day, Nima and I agreed that the team could rest the following day and establish Camp1 the day after, while Pemba and Him would accompany the army team to Camp1 the following day. Overall, it was a very fruitful day for us.
Camp1 was at 5400m and we had lost about a 100m while traversing the ice field to get to the bottom of the feature on which camp 2 was perched. Camp2 was at 6200m, so we had about 900m to gain. A tall task considering we were still at the base of the feature and by now it had begun to come down heavily. The first 100m were not so steep. About 40 degrees I’d say. This is the point where Nima and Pemba had deposited their crampons a few days back. We wore our crampons and continued the ascent. A couple of hundred meters more and the terrain was a lot steeper. It was not quite ice, but ankle deep powder. Of course there was a lot of old snow/ice under the powder, so we had a good base under the fresh powder to progress upwards. By now it was beating down hard. I could see Kevin and Nima about 50m above me while Nabarun and Abhijit were about a hundred meters beneath me. Since the route was fixed, I decided to catch up with Kevin and Nima and help them establish the camp, instead of staying with Nabarun and Abhijit. Camp2 hardly had any place to camp and we needed place for at least 2 tents. So we had to level the place first and then pitch the tents. The more people we had working in order to level the spot, the better. That, and the fact that the route to camp 2 was fixed, were reasons for me to move on confidently. At that point, I honestly believed that the team was safe, even though we were sparsed over 150m vertically. I continued ascending the slope which by now was about 65-70 degrees. About 3 o’clock, I noticed Nima and Pemba (who were in front of Kevin) had stopped climbing. Nima was bent. The precipitation was really heavy and by now the winds were really gusty. We were on an exposed slope so we were feeling the cold, and so was Nima was my assumption. I think he didn’t move for about 10 minutes, which gave me time to close in on them. I did wait for a few minutes to check on Nabarun and Abhijit. After about 5 minutes, I saw Abhijits green skiing jacket, and thought it safe to continue. After about half an hour Nima made another halt. Although they were about 30 odd meters above me, I could sense Kevin getting restless. It was clearly evident. It was almost as if he was saying, “common Nima, just move on”. But it was that kind of a day and that kind of weather. If Nima was making a halt, it clearly meant that the conditions were harsh. Nimas halt meant that I could catch up with them in about 5 minutes. First thing Kevin asked me was If I was ok. I said NO. I was really cold and shaking. I didn’t tell Kevin at the moment but a couple of my fingers were feeling weird and my ribs were aching. Of course there was nothing he could do at that point in time, so I didn’t see the point in telling him and we just continued climbing. In about half an hour we reached a rocky outcrop. 10 meters of ascent around this outcrop got us to the top of the feature. We were at Camp2. Just in time. We could see the sun setting in the west and the winds coming hard at us and the snowfall too, which had waned a little bit. Nabarun and Abhijit were not expected for at least an hour. I was basing that on their rate of ascent. My ribs were aching and I was shivering excessively. We were using our axes to dig out the snow and our boots to level the camping spot. We did that for a few minutes and then pitched the tents. No food, no water. Just out of our shell layers and into the sleeping bags. That’s what we did. I did have a chocolate and some water though. I had lost a lot of heat and despite being dry and n the sleeping bag for half an hour, I was still shivering. I had asked Nima to look down the line to see if Nabarun and Abhijit were anywhere close. Kevin had nothing to eat and was asleep in about 5 minutes. Its amazing he has the ability to do that. Kevin asked me about the Nabarun and Abhijit and all I could say was they haven’t made it yet. Just as we were speaking about them, Nima was at our tent and said that the winds and spindrift were making it hard for him to climb down, but he did see headlamps not too far away, and assumed that both Nabarun and Abhijit would soon ascend the fixed line. It was quite late and dark by then. I guess we made it to camp 2 by 1700 and it took us about half an hour to level the ground and establish camp 2. It had been a couple of hours since then and NOW I WAS GETTING WORRIED. Kevin told me that he felt like he heard footsteps going past our tent. I was not so sure. I think he had heard the outer tent wall flapping. He was pretty sure he had heard footsteps. I waited for some time hoping that if Kevin was right, either Nabarun or Abhijit would come into our tent. There was silence in Nimas tent, and since we were a bit opposed in our outlook about establishing camp2 that day, I thought it best to leave him alone for some time. The last time I checked, Abhijit was 100m behind (vertically) me on the fixed line. Even if they did take a break for half an hour (which in that harsh weather was highly unlikely) they should have been here by now, even if I catered for their slow rate of ascent. I expressed my concern to Kevin. The first thing he said was that he would come with me to look for Nabarun and Abhijit. I thanked him and asked him to wait for a few minutes. I went out of the tent and had to literally scream in the direction of Nima and Pembas tent; because of the howling winds and spindrift. Pemba did respond. I told him about Nabarun and Abhijit (not that they didn’t know, because one of those guys was to sleep in their tent). He told me that they would be fine and make it to the camp soon. I straightaway said NO they are not fine and that they should have been here by now. I told Pemba that at least one of us needed to go down to look for them. I told him about my condition and that even if I went down I would be of no help to them. Pemba had known about my condition since we arrived at camp 2. He asked me stay in the tent with Kevin. He said that him and Nima would go down to look for Abhijit and Nabarun. Kevin asked me to pass his boots and I told him about Pembas decision to go down with Nima (Pemba and I were speaking in Hindi and Kevin doesn’t speak Hindi). I asked him to stay in the tent. Apart from Pemba and Nima going down, another reason I wanted him to stay in the tent was that he was relatively stronger than the rest of us and relatively injury free. Relatively is the key word, because all of us had suffered some form of cold injury or were showing signs of AMS or Oedema. So if we continued further, Kevin had the best chance of making it to the summit. I was not so sure I would be able to continue. As far as I was concerned, that night I truly felt like that was the end of the expedition for me. Pemba asked me to stay in the tent, but I was not going in so fast. I stayed there and kept yelling Nabaruns and Abhijits name, hoping that they would respond if they had made it to the vicinity of the camp. There was no response. In about 10 minutes Pemba and Nima were out of their tent. I was feeling sorry for Nima, because I knew he was not feeling too good. Once they were on their way, I went inside the tent. Kevin and I spoke about the state of affairs for a few minutes. I wasn’t feeling too good about how things turned out that day. Kevin assured me that the decision to move to camp 2 that day was a good one and that it was not my fault that Nabarun and Abhijit didn’t make in time. All I could tell him was that if something went wrong, I couldn’t tell their parents that their sons were too slow and hence it was not my fault.
Around noon, Nima brought us some food; well, boil in the bag stuff really. We had the fuel and burner, so boiling some water was not a concern. I took over the kitchen duties. The meal was refreshing. I felt a lot strengthened after the meal. After lunch, I went to meet with Abhijit, but he was fast asleep. Pemba told me that Abhijit was feeling much better and I thought it was best if he got some rest. So I hung around for a while. The mountains around us, Nun behind us and Camp1 in the distance were all covered. A few mountains were visible through the clouds. There was no snow fall at that moment, but the winds were strong and chilly. After a few minutes I went inside the tent and Kevin spoke with me about the course of action. Of course when we were speaking, he had assumed that I was spent by now. He advised me that Pemba should escort Nabarun and I could escort Abhijit to Camp1 and then to base while he could carry on to Camp3 and beyond with Nima. I advised him straightaway that I was going further to camp3 and see how things pan out there. I suggested that Abhijit was good enough to go down to base on his own while Pemba could escort Nabarun. Of course the three of them would be together so with Pemba around, both Nabarun and Abhijit were quite safe. Kevin was both surprised and glad that I had decided to continue. He expressed concern over my toes and fingers and I told him that I will not be a burden to either him or Nima. If at any point I felt like I couldn’t continue, I would return to the base camp. Of course Camp2 to base camp was a really long hike/descent, and quite risky if one had to embark on such a long arduous task alone. What would be even worse was a descent from Camp3 to Base camp because getting to camp3 to camp2 involved a long circuitous 2 hour descent and a 100m climb too. But I brushed aside all his concerns confidently. I had been in situations where I have trekked, climbed, descended alone; so getting back to base camp from camp2 or even camp3 was no big deal. Of course we were having this conversation based on a hypothetical scenario where I was not able to carry on with the rest of the team (basically Kevin himself and Nima). In all probability we were gonna be together for the rest of the expedition. Or so we assumed.
17 Sep 13. Kevin was up really early. It was sunny by 0700. Camp1 was visible and we could see a train of dots between camp1 and the feature on which we were camping. We had no doubt it was the members of the Indo-Polish army expedition. We started packing up. Pemba was to escort Nabarun and Abhijit to Camp1 and if possible to Base. We had instructed Pemba to leave the tent at Camp1 as it is, in case we needed to descend in case of an emergency.
I was told that Nabarun had second degree frost bite and needed immediate medical attention. Sridhar was kind enough to accompany Nabarun and Abhijit to Tongol and further to Kargil. From there Nabarun and Abhijit would carry on to Leh and onwards to Delhi, while Sridhar would return to Tongol and wait for us at the tourist guest house. Pemba also went to the Bombay camp; half of them had stayed at the base camp while the rest were at camp1, whom we had passed by sometime earlier in the day. I just needed to check on the radio with the summit team if Kevin and Nima were ok there was no response from the army. So we returned to our camp; after dinner I played some music on my phone for a couple of hours and fell asleep sometime past midnight.
24 Sep 13. We woke up early. There was no hot water; well it was lukewarm at best. More on the colder side. Both Kevin and I were in and out of the shower in a jiffy and all set to leave after breakfast. Sridhar was ready too. Dorje and our vehicle were at the Hotel by 8. I asked Dorje to convey my regards to Sam before driving to the airport. At the airport we met with the army boys. We spoke for about half an hour before we had got our bags checked in. The flight was pretty uneventful too, except I got a horrible seat by the emergency exit near the port wing. Apparently, one is not supposed to hear music while seated there. Ridiculous.