PHASE – 2: Ice Craft
*Whistle blew* we all marched out to see the Instructor waiting to awaken us on walking on the glacier. It was time we learnt some ice craft. With snow shoes & our crampons on our backs, we marched our way through the moraine filled glacier to reach for the first class on ice. We were briefed about the types of ice, anchors & equipment used on ice while climbing a mountain. I saw a cloud floating above & their began my reverie. I could escape anything! *Smirking* It’s not as bad to be an escapist until what you were being taught was asked of you to be performed as well. I made some vain attempts at climbing with my crampons on a small mounted patch of ice, but to no avail!
The thing about ice is that it demands attention; it comes with a fear of slipping inadvertently. We slipped all the way until we reached the Base Camp – from ice to muddy patches of moraine. The first day went almost in a wink of an eye as my rope mate & I were so unsettled at the thought of Ice craft. The sunlight at the base camp brought some relief & soon after lunch we took our second theory lecture at our ‘Mountain PVR’; the Shepherd hut so to say. We were informed of an hour long free time in the evenings, where one could either read or play. I chose the latter, for I had enough adventure for the day!
Perched on a boulder I had hardly opened a page of my book, when the girls, asked me for a game of ice & water. (As if we did not had enough of it!:P) But it was such filler amidst the harsh weather. The days followed with the same routine by walking up to the glacier absorbing all the (-) ve ions. With a session on Mountain Manner, we were formally baptised into Mountaineering. Followed by lectures on glacier & its formation & cold illness, which the days on snow, were precisely to get us to! With sessions on anchoring & belaying on ice coming to an end, a lecture on avalanche was rightly timed for our time in snow!
It’s funny how a miniscule thing as ice in your refrigerator could be such a grave impediment for a mountaineer. Ice craft taught me humility. Crushing the ice with our crampons, learning to balance our bodies. Ice teaches you control. Technically, flinging your ice axe on to the ice, while thrusting your shoes to balance at the same time, is all about the art of coordination & timing. The revelations about ice had not even seeped in, when it snowed at our Base camp resulting in instructors, welcoming the students for Snow Craft.
Phase 3: Snow Craft
So now we were made to walk on knee deep snow, almost a blinding white all around & a chilly weather. Using toe kicking & side stepping techniques of walking on snow we were initially taught just how to put one’s foothold on snow. And it is a technique indeed, because with 2 Kgs of weight of our snow shoes, I felt fatigue in the simple act of raising one leg & shaking off the other from the snow. Anchoring on snow required a snow stick, dead man & dead boy… and boy we were dead already by simply walking on snow! 😛 The methods of belaying on snow were basic yet crucial for a mountaineer. Then came glissading & self – arrest techniques like edged position with your ice axe. The following day we were taught about Crevasse Rescue techniques & the practical demonstration of the same was conducted.
During this extensive training, we also celebrated the festival of Diwali. The festival of lights & this got me to writing, while the batch mates revelled in bonfire & crackers. That night something struck me & I poured a musing;
“When the lights are off,
There might be flashes of dark.
Sometimes, darkness brings out virtue you see,
Sunlight might be just another deal.
But sunsets I see bring a lot of zeal.
Let them illuminate your life,
As you set up & stride.
Let it bring you up-close –
To a truth foretold
Let it harness your soul
Until your eyes close!”
So the Ice & Snow sessions were followed by mountain hazard lectures, leading us to the final 4 days of our stay on the glacier. The training scheduled for these days were – Map Reading & mountain terminology. Basic first aid was a physical demonstration class, with all of us holding our breath, in case a friend needs a rescue! From our lecturer 😛 Our Vice Principal, was our lecturer for the First Aid session & a stern army man indeed, he taught us about HAPO, HACO (Fellow batch mates would know it by heart by now!), CPR & all about the HAPO bag. These sessions in the outdoors however, made a medical emergency seem graver than ever. One felt the responsibility towards fellow mountaineers & people at large.
The following day we were made to do a practical of map reading, with each rope competing with the other. This was followed by a rope & knot test in the afternoon. Panicky as I was, the knots seemed more confusing as we drew closer to our test! And as luck would have it, we were being timed for every knot they asked us to make. Had it not been for the time pressure! Laughing it out by the day light, I realised how crucial is time in matters of mountaineering, for even one wrong safety knot, could lead to a disaster. So presence of mind & decisiveness is vital in matters of mountaineering.
Today, as the sunset we started our preparation for the written test the following day. It was a test of techniques more than simply being a question paper. This was also one of the finest venues for a test that I have ever appeared for. THE OUTDOORS!!
Right after the test we were asked to get our rucksacks & prepare for the Height Gain to 15,000 ft. Today the Batch had to summit up to 15,000 ft with some load on our rucksacks. The initial walk was jittery enough to ascend a vertical hill. No way was I looking down & with the aid of our ropemates we crossed all barriers & continued our steady uphill ascend. Soon the climb got strenuous when I called it a day for myself! Perched at 14,500 ft I applauded myself with 3 Buddhist Chants on top of that ridge, overlooking the expansive Himalayas. The only second time that I felt epiphany ever since my first climb in 2016.
This height gain was a wonderful Climb – the one within & without! The people you embraced as a part of this climb & the nature you absorbed within. That is Epiphany, reminding me of the song – “Climb”:
“There is always gonna be another mountain,
I’m always gonna wanna make it move,
Always gonna be an uphill battle,
Sometimes, I’m gonna have to lose.
Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side.
It’s THE CLIMB.”
I had my own redemption. I had just gained control. I had victory, even if I could only reach 14, 500 ft. I was happy at 50 students successfully climbing up to 15,000 ft…winning over themselves. We belonged to the mountain & this is how we became mountains.
This last day at the Base Camp just got more surreal with as if we all found our lost stars in the sky that night. The night was about happy – packing up from the base Camp. The next day was about winding our way down to the Tel camp just in one day – 15 Kms with 20 kg rucksack, we started at 7.00 am & ended at 2.30 pm. Dumping our bags & our bodies we chomped on food & just took good rest! Building a fire today was our task for the day, preparing for our royal exit from this wilderness. We all gathered looking deep into the embers of fire flickering around. For the first time, we were all in ONE MOMENT! 116 Students living the moment of their own personal victories., words, memories & happy assurances.
It was time we move on to a very new phase. The time of our lives which had changed us & our perspectives about ourselves. Reliving a starry night above, we woke with a lark to embrace our homecoming! The return journey, back to where it all started. As we got to the road head at Sukhi village, the hustle bustle of the road clashed with our mountain souls! We nonetheless embraced it. Balance as we learnt is a part of life. One must cherish everything. And here we were at our N.I.M Campus, retuning to Civilization. Coming home to ourselves. Renewed selves.
It was almost enticing to come to that campus & live a relaxed routine. We just woke on the last two days to cherish the closure of this breath-taking journey in the outdoors. We prepared ourselves for the Grand ceremony of being pinned as Mountaineers. But deep within I felt not like a mountaineer, but a mountain. The ceremony brought us all agog & with a Group Picture of Batch – 255 we framed our mountain memories right there on our faces! Last evening was a night of cultural show, put up by our own batch mates.
The sun which rose on the following day was not only of a new day but of a newly renewed self. Today’s sun was rising from the back of a young mountain. This was my journey of Becoming A Mountain”.