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A life long learner. The aim is to live with experiences not dreams.
7 months ago
In 1993 I went for my first mountaineering expedition in the Himalayas. We were total 8 members, 7 male and 1 female. We had selected Gangotri-1 (21500 ft) peak to climb, out of the three Gangotri groups of peaks. The expedition was planned in the month of May- June 1993, a time which is after the winter and before the rainfall.
I don’t remember the exact dates but in second half of May we left Kolkata by train to Haridwar and from there we went by bus to Uttarkashi. Here we purchased ration, fuel etc, hired guide and porters. We had our own climbing ropes and necessary equipment's required for the expedition. After 2 days halt here we went to Gangotri by bus which is the road head, after that it’s all on foot. We had a one day halt at Gangotri (10000 ft) which is required for acclimatization, distribution of load and offered our prayers for a successful expedition.
I don't have any pictures from the expedition. All the pictures here have been taken from internet to show something similar to the situation we faced.
Next day we left for the actual part of the expedition. As it was a self financed expedition so we had to carry heavy loads, to save on expenses on porters. After 3 days we reached the base camp of the peak which was about 16000 ft. Here again we were required to halt for acclimatization as we had gained quite a height in these 3 days. Also this day is required to redistribute the loads for further load ferry to higher camps. The general principle is to carry loads to the next higher camp, dump it there and return back to the lower camp, and the next day again go there and put up tents and stay. There were 3 camps required before the actual summit. So this way we reached the second camp, that is the camp below the summit camp.
Now we were 6 members in this camp-2 as 2 members along with 2 porters stayed back in base camp to send rations to higher camps as well as back up for rescue, if required.
It was bright and sunny at camp-2 (19000 ft). The previous day we had ferried load to this camp and today we came here for night halt. We were 6 members, one guide and 2 high altitude porters, total 9. From here only 3 members, 1 guide and 2 porters were to go to summit camp the next day.
We reached camp-2 at about 1300 hours, established our camp and planning for the next day. It is known in Himalayas that around afternoon the weather starts to pack up in the higher altitudes, so most of the movement is done from morning till afternoon. Then by evening it clears up. Also in those days there were no satellite phones (it’s not permitted even now for civilians) to get updates about weather conditions.
Around 1600 hours the weather started packing up; the only difference was that there were clear cut signs of a snow storm coming. By 1700 hours there was complete white out with high wind velocity and a terrible snow blizzard. We had 3 tents pitched for 9 people. So we had 3 tents with 3 people in each tent. We were expecting the storm to be over by next day morning and if required we would stay one more day here before moving ahead.
We had those small tents which would accommodate 3 people only. The snow started covering the tents and so we had to go out every 30 minutes to clear the snow so that the tent doesn’t collapse. The wind speed must have been about 90-100 kms per hour and when going out the visibility was almost zero. Also the camp site was in the funnel of the wind flow. The wind chill factor plummeted the temperature further down.
Now it was almost each tent had its own survival situation. 1 person was deputed every 30 minutes to clear the snow from the tent, repair the ropes and pegs which held the tents to the ground (snow). Ideally one person could stay out about 5 minutes outside due to the weather condition to avoid frost bite. If this drill is not done during snow storm then it is certain that the tent will collapse burying the climbers or it will rip apart. Also the snow cleared from the tent is piled up around th tent to reduce the ferocity of the wind hitting the tent. Each tent had a small covered window (about 6 inches by 6 inches) for ventilation purpose which has to be kept open slightly if the zip for entry to tent is fully closed. Snow started forcing its way through this ventilation and no amount of effort would fully close that window. The snow would start getting into the tent and damp our sleeping bags. So the condition inside the tent was also pathetic.
The person going out had to be tied with a rope on the waist and the rope was controlled from inside the tent so that the person doesn’t get disoriented outside. Even for peeing or going to another tent this system was used. Every 2 hours one person would go to another tent to check their condition.
The porters had cooked rice before the storm hit. So we brought the rice to out tents and ate it for the night. The whole night we followed this routine with no sleep. The condition was such and the sound of the wind and storm was such that no one could sleep. The cooked rice was a life saver that night.
Everyone was expecting that the weather would improve the next day. When the sunlight started showing up and the darkness ended we started peeping out of the tent to assess the situation. But the weather god had some other plans, it won’t relent so early.
The next day the same situation continued for the whole day and we had to follow the same routine. Due to the weather no cooking was possible the whole day so we had to eat the dry food which we carried. These dry foods are of an emergency nature and everyone carried small quantity of it. We did not know when the weather will improve so therefore we had to eat that in a very conservative manner so that it would last the whole situation even if it continues for 2 more days. The next difficulty was water. The first night we had some water in our water bottles, but now that too was finished and water was of paramount importance. Today we started squeezing snow to melt it and get some liquid water out of it and later on eat the snow to get some water out of it.
The whole day passed like this battling the nature to survive. The tent had to be secured because if it collapsed or got blown away then we would surely die of exposure, no doubt about it. Now night fell and the weather still won’t improve. We were extremely tired and required some sleep but that was not to be. Now the inside of the tent was also damp, our sleeping bags almost wet. We started rubbing each other’s feet with our hands to get some warmth. Lack of food, water and sleep was taking its toll on the cognitive thinking. Some even thought of going down in this weather which was sure shot a death march, but fortunately sanity prevailed.
Somehow the second night passed. Early morning with the first light we peeped out of the tent with only hope on our side. Now it looked as if the weather was in a mood to calm down which raised our spirit. By 0800 hrs the weather started clearing up and we could go out without the help of rope. By 1000 hrs the weather had almost cleared up and we enjoyed the sunshine.
The first thing we did was cook food and eat, melt water and drink. It was such a relief. The snow condition was not good and chances of avalanches were great so it was decided that we return back. So after having food we packed up the tents and all other equipment's and returned to base camp that day only. The people in base camp also had a terrible time and more ever they were worried about us as there was no way to attempt any rescue under such circumstances.
Anyway the first rule of the mountains is to be safe and everyone should return alive. Though the expedition was unsuccessful, but the experience was that of once in a life time. Every one of us stuck in the higher camps had this feeling at least once that this could end in a disaster. If it had continued for one more day then things would have been different.