September 16th Day – 9 High Camp
This was supposed to be a rest day. As was customary during this expedition, I had little to no sleep in the night just gone by. By now, Deepak and Nabarun could tell without looking at my face, that I was suffering AMS. Deepak even suggested that I skip the summit attempt. I ignored the advise. Deepak and Nabarun had developed some sort of a camaraderie by now and much to my dismay, they were actually competing during meals. “You had 8 chapatis, I had 9 – I win”; common guys give me a break.
Afternoon, the weather showed signs of deteriorating. Deepak and Nabarun, went to the top of the feature in front of our camp, to assess the route. The route was extremely challenging to say the least. They were back by 4 in the evening. Deepak was hoping that Nabarun or I would drop the summit bid. His argument was that we have one summit almost as high as Lungser under our belt, and that we had nothing to prove. I asserted that we made a plan to climb two mountains. We were going to stick to our plan. Nabarun maintained a neutral viewpoint. He had summitted Stok and Chumser and apparently was a very happy man. To make him comfortable, I told Deepak, that if the weather deteriorated, we wont even attempt the summit. I am certain, Deepak must have been calling on his ten million Gods to spoil the weather.
https://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/picasaweb.googleusercontent.com/slideshow.swf I went to bed by 7 with a headache and a bowel condition. I had not had a proper meal in the last 5 days. Chumser had taken a huge toll on me and by now I was actually beginning to hope that all this was over sooner than later.
September 17 – Day 10 Attempt Lungser
Really early day. We woke up by midnight. I woke Deepak by quarter past midnight. The sky was clear. I asked Deepak, if he wanted to stay back, and he said he wont if Nabarun and I were going. Him and Nabarun were wearing their hiking boots and they carried their Plastic boots till the snowline. I committed the greatest blunder of wearing the plastic boots right from the camp and paid dearly with compromised pace. The scree and moraines were just too much and at any point I was 5 to 15 minutes behind them. It was my fault, since Deepak had asked me to wear my approach boots till the snowline. I ignored his advice. I thought holding them back would be criminal, so I suggested to Deepak that He go on as fast as he could with Nabarun. I assured him that I would be safe and will follow them to the snowline and from there to the summit. He suggested that that was not going to happen. We go together or we dont go at all.
It took us close to 5 hours to climb and descend the feature between our camp and Lungser, cross the moraines leading to the base of Lungser and climb and descend numerous scree slopes. By the time we reached the base of Lungser and began to strap on our crampons to climb the snow/ice section, the weather began to deteriorate. We were already exhausted too. Deepak asked me if I wanted to abort the ascent. I suggested that we had covered the ugly rocky part and the snow and ice section were all that were between us and the summit. I think I was able to drive home the point. The visibility was about 50m. The initial ascent was straightforward. After about an hour, we began encountering the really steep sections on Lungser.
The major difference between Chumser and Lungser was that on the former we were always gaining altitude since the very beginning while on the latter, after 5 hours, we were at 6200 odd metres (only slightly higher than our high camp) with still about 450m to summit. By this time we had actually summitted Chumser, whereas we were just at the base of the snowline with well over 400m to the summit still to go. But we always knew that Lungser was not an easy peak to ascend, so no one was weeping yet. We climbed at least 3 steep sections. Deepak was leading, I was in the middle while Nabarun was on the trailing end. Deepak lost his foothold on a couple of occasions, and I just about managed to arrest the fall. It didnt deter us from continuing though. We took a break at a shoulder where the altimeter was reading 6350m. There was another steep section above this shoulder and this was probably the last really tough section before the summit. We were able to negotiate this obstacle without any serious concerns. From here our ascent was quite gradual for the next half hour. The last time Nabarun took a position fix, the altimeter reading was 6470m; the summit just 180m away. From this position we climbed for close to half hour and I reckon that would put us close to the 6550m mark and then the thing happened that would rend ones heart – whiteout. We had somehow managed to climb in adverse weather and in low visibility. But in a whiteout and close to zero visibility there was no way to go but either wait or climb down. Waiting was not an option since it was close to 1000 by now. Deepak asked me, if I wanted to abort the climb. With a heavy heart I asked him and Nabarun to call. They chose to return, and I think they made the right choice. The whiteout continued till we returned to the snowline about 90 minutes later and even then the mountain was not visible. Staying would have been a recipe for disaster, and I am glad I asked Deepak and Nabarun to call; I might have made the wrong choice. Down at the snowline; I was spent by now. Deepak and Nabarun tried to be patient with me, but I was too weak and too slow. We took a different route to our high camp and I tried to maintain pace with Deepak and Nabarun but I couldnt. I just let them disappear and made my own way to the camp. I was lost on a couple of occasions but used Lungser, Chumser and the feature between our high camp and Lungser as reference points to home in to the high camp. I was extremely slow and deliberate since I had very little strength left. I made it to the top of the feature by 1400 and could see the camp beneath me, the lake to my left, Chumser (one of its false summits) to my right and the mighty Lungser behind me. I hung around for a few minutes and began the descent to our camp. I was there in about 20 minutes. I was kind of cross with the two gentlemen for abandoning me, but to give them the benefit of the doubt, they assumed that I was a good enough navigator to get back to base; I take that as a compliment. 🙂
I went to my tent and decided to get some rest. I was in severe pain and had a slight temperature too. This was probably the worst expedition for me healthwise. There wasnt one day where I actually felt on top of my game. Around 4 in the evening the pony guy showed up. I was in my tent and could hear Deepak conversing with him. He should have come by 0800 the following day, but for some strange reason he decided to show up early. At 6 I decided to get something to eat. The dining tent was nice and warm. The pony guy was the latest addition to the list of gentlement affected by altitude. We gave him a dispirin and some garlic soup so he would feel better. Spare a thought for the poor beasts outside; It was getting extremely cold, ponies usually do not go this high. I only had a little custard for supper and went to bed in pain. I was only glad that we were returning to Churchu the following day. The greatest incentive was the summit of Chumser, while Lungser was a heartbreaker- so close.
September 18th – Day 11 Skurchyu
I did the most terrible thing. I actually refused to help Nabarun undo our tent. To be fair, I was just in no position. With my head pounding and body aching and little to no strength left, packing a tent was not even the last thing on my to do list. And I had more important things to worry about. With the terrible weakness, I had to figure out a way to stay on my feet with a pack on my back. The team managed to lose me again, or was it I who lagged. Common, we were going back down to the roadhead. I am sure considering my condition, the guys could have been slower. On the brightside (or was it) I was able to test my navigation skills. I had to hike to Churchu on my own and this time alone was well used thanking my Lord Jesus for the success on Chumser and almost making it to the top of Lungser.
I just fell on my belly to relax which is when I saw a vehicle approaching the campsite. The vehicle was to arrive the following day to pick us up. However, since Tenzin and Thundup had returned owing to AMS, Sam sent a vehicle to check on us. SInce the vehicle was here, we didnt see the point in camping at Churchu and decided to drive to Leh the same day. We packed up by 1500 and were on our way in a jiffy. I was extremely weak, hungry (for meat) and thirsty for Thums Up. Nabarun offered me some water, and I emphatically told him that the next thing I drink will be Thums Up or something similar (Coke may be) and the next thing I eat will be meat or chicken. We stopped over at Chumathang where I had my most cherished drink in the last two weeks, Coke and Limca and some terrible Haldirams Potato Wafers to go with it. Nabarun and Deepak were delighted to see a smile on my face. I could now go back to climb Lungser, thats how relieved I was after the drink.
At 8 we reached Upshi, where Nabarun and I had Chapathi with chicken while Deepak had vegetarian meals. Tashe our driver went to a neighbouring restaurant to have some Thukpa. After the meals, we continued towards Leh. We were there by nine. Rudra was there to receive us. We were shown to our room. Rudra told us that there was no hot water, but that was not going to stop me, I managed to clean up in the freezing cold water, while Nabarun wisely decided to wait till the morning. We stayed up till about 11, checking out the photographs and talking about our recent adventure. I had the most sound sleep in the last two weeks and even Nabaruns symphony couldnt take that away from me.
September 19th – Day 12 Leh
The headache was gone. I was recovering. I had the heaviest breakfast loaded with eggs. Scrambled eggs and masala omlette with toast and aloo paratha and mango juice. Thundup, Deepak and Sam had come to see us. Sam was extremely glad that the expedition was a success. Lungser was not exactly a blemish; but it was just unfortunate. At 6550m, the point from where we returned, we were still higher than most of the peaks in Ladakh. Besides at 6635m, the summit of Chumser was only 30m shorter than Lungser, and we had bagged that. These are some of the things we told ourselves. Perhaps Sam said the most practical thing, “Well you can come back and climb it again”. I said,”Perhaps. but it wont be too soon, it wont be the next peak I climb”.
Nabarun and I went to Sams office later in the day to settle the payment and collect some of the stuff that we had left in his office. We went around the town after that and returned for Lunch by 2. Chicken in spicy gravy with rice and chapathi. Nabarun had to receive his parents, so we agreed to meet at Sams office at about 4 in the evening. He needed the snaps to be sent to IMF. After sharing the photographs, we went back to exploring the town; who am I kidding, we went back to the Masjid to try the sheekh kababs. Deepak was with us too and I had even called John (with whom I climbed the Mentok range last year) to meet with us. He was glad to meet with me. He gave me the most bizarre news that he had decided to quit climbing. I told him that the news made me sad, since I was hoping to climb with him in the future. I however managed to get some contacts for some climbs that I am planning in the future.
We said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel. We had a very light supper and began packing our stuff. The following morning, Sam picked me from the hotel at about 0830 for the flight departing for Delhi at 1020. At the hotel, I thanked Nabarun for accompanying me on the climb. The drive to the airport was short. Sam and I shook hands and I told him that I was grateful for everything. We embraced at the airport before he drove away.