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After mostly climbing (and skiing) solo for the better part of the last 2 years, Kevin and I decided to climb something together. After Nun, we considered a number of objectives including Reo, Satopanth and Sasser, but we finally agreed on Kun. Initially, it was just Kevin and I, who were part of the team. We didn’t get our preferred July-Aug window from the IMF so we settled for the only available slot, i.e. June-July. The peak was booked almost a year in advance. About 5 or 6 months before the expedition, Samarth, a good friend, expressed interest in the project. I was apprehensive initially but agreed once we discussed his training regimen and his background in the Himalayas. Samarth also suggested that one of his close friends V might be interested in the expedition. I was not sure about a fourth member in the team; like they say, “three is a crowd”. But Samarth suggested that his friend won’t be a burden and will not affect the balance of the team adversely. Hesitantly, I agreed, but requested Samarth to keep me posted about V’s preparations and his own progress.
By the end of February, Samarth had to drop out of the expedition because of his Doctoral preoccupations. V decided to continue with his preps for the expedition. We were told by IMF that the pre expedition briefing would be held on the 22nd of June, which meant that we would most probably drive to the road head on the 24thor 25th. Apart from training rigorously for the big mountain, I had also planned to do some solo climbing in order to acclimatise well before the expedition. (click here for more on the solo trip) So I was in Leh by the 11th of June; I drove with my friend Tsering to Shan Sumdo on the 13th and trekked to Nimaling over the next two days. I tried to climb in the area for the next few days. I was back to Leh from the mountains on the 20th, having had some good exposure to high altitudes. I had attempted Dzo Jongo and an unnamed peak but had to return empty handed because of adverse weather. Nevertheless, I had been able to trek to the base camp via very high passes with a very heavy pack and was also able to attempt both Dzo Jongo and the Unnamed Peak from the same base. Unfortunately, both attempts were cut short by deep
powder and snow storms. I still took some positives from that solo trip, in that I was able to acclimatise at close to 18000 ft with heavy loads. The biggest gain for me from the solo outing was that I met with Ben and Petra, a German – Hungarian couple, doing the Merkha valley trek. They became very good friends and after returning to Leh from the solo trip, we hung out often. I showed them around Leh town and we ate at my favourite restaurants. It was good fun.
22 June 2015
I had to fly out of Leh on the morning of 22nd in order to be at the IMF by 2, for the briefing. I met Kevin and Sridhar, our LO, at the IMF. The briefing was short and crisp. Since Sridhar was to depart from Terminal D while Kevin and I were to fly out of T3, we agreed to meet in Leh the following day instead of the airport in Delhi. Besides, Sridhar was staying at the IMF dorm while Kevin had invited me to stay at his hotel in Paharganj for the night. We rode a rickshaw to Connaught Place where we had lunch at a nice restaurant; Kevin had a truck load of beer. The place was a little too loud for my liking but I never complain as long as the food is good. After lunch, we went to Adventure18 and Adventure Point, both on Benito Juarez Road. Around 7 we decided to go back to the hotel. But I had promised Kevin that drinks that night were on me. So, we had a drink at a bar near our Hotel; technically Kevin had a couple of beers, I just had Lime Soda. Around 10 we went back to the hotel and agreed to meet in the lobby at 3 the next morning. We had an early morning flight and T3 is a huge terminal, so we didn’t wanna take any chances.
I only slept around midnight, so I didn’t sleep much, and all the climbing in the last two weeks had made me a little sore, so I felt terrible getting out of bed. After a quick shower, I met with Kevin in the Lobby. We settled the bills and then arrived at the airport just in time, but not without a little misadventure. The stupid Rickshaw guy decided not to inform us that Rickshaws were not allowed right up to the terminal. He thought to enlighten us about this little inconvenience only at the Airport Shuttle point. What a scamster. Fortunately, we got the airport shuttle just in time and made it to the terminal. All my gear was in Leh with Ben and Petra, so we split Kevin’s gear (he was carrying 38 kilos, and he had 5 kilos at the hotel – Phew) to avoid excess baggage penalty. At the boarding gate we came across a bunch of school kids who I suspected were from Singapore. At Nimaling, Asta and Marty had mentioned that they were gonna escort a bunch of school kids to do the Merkha Valley Trek. Incidentally I was seated next to one of those kids. He confirmed that him and his friends were from Singapore and were indeed scheduled to do the Merkha Valley Trek.
23 June 2015
We arrived at Leh around 7. Sridhar had arrived before us and was waiting for us at the terminal, while Sam was out at the Taxi Stand to drop us at the hotel. From the Hotel I went to meet Ben and Petra, to check on them and of course to pick my gear as well. We agreed to meet for lunch and then I went back to the hotel. I was really exhausted because of the back to back to flights over the last two days, so a nap seemed like in order. Ben and Petra showed up around 1. We had lunch at Gezmos and then strolled around the market place for a while. Sam and the rest of the support staff sorted out the rations and equipment for the climb.
The rest of the day was very uneventful. V and I had agreed to meet as soon as I was back from the briefing, but his phone was not reachable the whole day. I figured he was not back from his trip to Pangong; He was with his wife and 3 year old daughter, driving around Ladakh. It must have been fun.
The following day we went to the Old market. I needed a shave before going to the mountains and I also had some of Kevin’s and my own stuff which needed repairs. The repairs and sundry were sorted out by noon. I was expecting to meet Ben and Petra in the evening, so lunch was at the Hotel where we were staying. I also had a word with Sam and Mingma (a good friend and a guide) and sort of scurried through our tentative plan for Kun once again. We were to drive out of Leh around 6 the next morning. The journey from Leh to Gulmatonga is usually covered in two days with a night halt at Kargil. But I decided to reach Gulmatonga in one day, which would allow us one extra day on the mountain. I am usually pretty fast on the mountain, but we needed as many days as possible in order to cater for possible bad weather days and to maximise our summit chances. Sridhar, had his doubts about us being able to make it to Gulmatonga in a day, but Kevin and I were intent on doing it in one instead of two days and brushed aside every thought suggesting otherwise. We met with Ben and Petra in the evening. V had also made it back to Leh by then. I met his missus and beautiful little daughter. I slept quite late that night since I went to meet V at his guest house to check his apparel and gear. I also had to pick a shovel from a friend because we didn’t have one, and would need one to dig out camping spots on the mountain, because all three camps above base would be on ice. It was 10 by the time I got to the room; I stuffed my pack and hit the sack. I slept quite late that night; not the best idea considering we had to start quite early the next morning; there was a very long bus ride ahead of us.
25 June 2015
We woke up around 5. My hopes for Kun were destroyed even before I had a chance to realise them. I was in a rush to get ready and get out of the room. In the rush I stubbed the little toe of my left foot against the furniture. My toe nail was broken and there was thick blood oozing out of the toe. I was appalled by the accident. It was totally avoidable but I was just too flimsy and careless; so I said to myself, did I just stub my toe or did I stub my chances of even attempting the peak, let alone succeeding. The moment I stubbed my toe, noticed the broken nail and saw the blood, I figured it was curtains for me. I cleaned up the wound with some dettol and went for a shower. By the time I got out, Kevin was gone. I was a little befuddled by his behaviour. I didn’t expect him to help me, or dress my wound, or carry my gear; but the man could have said a few words like “it will be ok” or some non sense along those lines. I didn’t make much of it, but for the next few hours I avoided talking to him. I dressed the wound with some Betadiene and limped to the lobby with my gear. After a few minutes, the pain began to increase. I had this stinging sensation when the top of the toe would touch the shoe upper. Oh it was definitely over for me, I said to myself. Sam was there to see us off. We hugged and he whispered in my ear to be careful. Around 6 we began driving. I was just down. I was in no mood to do this. I just got rid of my shoes and kept my feet elevated so the pain would subside. It helped a bit.
It was quite overcast that day and there were occasional showers. I am usually pretty resilient, so I thought, perhaps I might not make it to the summit, but I could give it my best shot. I am not one of those pumped up hot heads. For me it has to be method with madness. So for a very long time, I sat there in the bus trying to chalk out my game plan. The idea was to find a doctor and get some meds and a proper dressing, keep minimal weight on the left foot and avoid contact with the shoe upper. I thought I could visit a doctor in Kargil but Sridhar suggested that we could get help from an army unit about 4 hours from Leh. The downside of the plan was that I was to move with Mingma to the base camp the following day. Well a great man once said that each day has enough troubles of its own. So I thought it wise not to worry about the hike to base camp just yet. Around 11, we reached the army unit. The Medical Officer in charge was Capt Tiwari. He inquired about the pain, nature of wound and so on. He gave me some pain killers and dressed the wound. I asked him for some anti biotics, but he said that the disinfectants were good enough to avoid any infections. He did advise me to avoid physical exertion. I just smiled.
Soon we were on our way to Kargil in order to drop off some documents at the collectors and commissioner’s office. We had lunch at Sankho. We also picked some sundries from the small town and some fresh chicken too. It was overcast and bitterly cold. Kevin tried to start some sort of a conversation during lunch and I didn’t see the point in holding a grudge. The roads were literally nonexistent after Panikhar. We reached Tongol around half past 4 where we ran into an Indo- Bangladeshi team attempting Nun. They were to move to the base camp that day but stayed back because of the rains. I myself was split between moving to the base and staying at Gulmatonga the following day. Mingma was suggesting that we all stay at the road head for a day. I told him that I will take a call once we reach the road head. We reached the village around half past six. It was past twilight and by the time we pitched our tents it was quite dark. There were a couple of Porters there and I asked them to come visit us the next morning with their leader. Dorje the cook prepared some delicious chicken curry and rice and vegetables. It was pretty good. Around 9 the boys were in the tent. V was bunking with Sridhar while I was to be with Kevin in the other tent. Mingma and his help, Dawa were in the third tent while Dorje and his help Tenzin were gonna sleep in the mess tent. I didn’t go the tent after dinner. I hung around for a while to have a chat with Mingma. Mingma was a bit concerned because of my limp. I confessed to him that the pain was what I needed to be concerned about. While I was changing the dressing on the wound, I told Mingma that I was sticking to the original decision. I told him that the following day him and I would move to base camp while the rest of the team would stay back and get some rest. Then on the 27th when the rest of the team moved to the base, Mingma and I could do a load ferry to camp 1 and do a bit of reconnaissance of the route ahead of camp 1. It was quite ambitious considering my condition; but in my mind, I didn’t think I would go past camp 1 in any case, so this bit of effort would in a way be my contribution to the team’s effort in case Kevin and/or V made it to the summit. But that was still some distance away, for the moment we had our job cut out for us; it was to move to the base camp ahead of the team.
26 June 2015
I woke up around 7. I had the most wonderful sleep. I think it was the pain killer which kind of sedated me. That and the fact that I hadn’t slept quite well after the solo trip and then I went to the IMF briefing; early morning flights back to back and the stupid Delhi heat and the long arduous bus ride to the road head; a terrible combination. Well I wasn’t complaining that day because I slept quite well. I noticed that a couple of porters had arrived. I inquired about the leader and he told me that they would arrive a little later. I advised Mingma that we must get ready in any case. Mingma was a little apprehensive about moving to the base, but I assured him that I would be alright. We altered the plan a little. We thought if we had many porters at the road head, we could take half the load with us; the porters could return to the road head from the base that night and then Kevin and Dawa could bring the remaining half with the same porters the next day. There was no sign of the porters till 10. I was beginning to get a little concerned, but got ready and hung around. The views all around Gulmatonga were fabulous. The village is on a lush green pasture surrounded by beautiful pinnacles. I was wearing Dorjes sandal on my left foot to keep the toe from rubbing against the shoe upper. Mingma was not sure if it was a good idea since we would have to be walking on top of a terminal moraine, which meant climbing and traversing rocks, boulders, ice and scree. I still thought it was worth a shot, I put my left shoe in my pack just in case things went bad.
The porters showed up around 11. We picked up most of the rations, spare tents, anchors and other central equipment. Kevin was in charge while I was gone, so I advised him to move to the base camp the following day since the porters were to return back to the road head after dropping our stuff at the base camp. The porters were a little dodgy about making it to the base camp. I was stern about reaching the base camp and asked them not to touch the loads if they weren’t sure. I was deadly serious about making it to the base camp since I wanted to do a ferry to camp 1 and a recce of the area. I told the leader of the porters that if they were not sure about dropping the loads at the base camp then the whole team could move the next day because camping short of base that day made no sense. The porters said that they would drop the loads at the base, but I was not very convinced by the sound of their tone. I did stress on the fact that it was paramount for us to make it to the base camp that day. They agreed to do it. I started ahead of the others because of my handicap. The porters were still packing and strapping the loads while I started hiking towards the base camp. I looked like the stupidest hiker ever with a sandal on one foot and a shoe on the other. Mingma caught up with me in about half an hour. The first hour, may be 90 minutes were along a river bed. Easy hike. The gradient began to increase after that and the terrain was a lot more difficult. After two hours there were rocks and stones and scree on the trail. Around two and a half hours from the road head we hit the moraine. My feet began to freeze especially the left foot. I forgot the number of times we had to hike on dirty ice and on scree; cold, wet foot with pebbles in the footwear? Not the best feeling when you’re hiking. About 4 hours into the hike the porters started grumbling about how late it would be for them to get back to the road head if they dropped the loads at the base camp. I sternly told them that I was having none of that non sense. It was their fault they arrived late for work. Dropping us short of base served no purpose. I kept walking and stayed with Mingma right in the front just to send a message to the porters that we were very serious about going to the base camp.
Around 5, the porters gathered on a flat point and started talking among themselves. Mingma and I had to go back and ask them what was wrong. They said that they were not going any further. I was furious. Mingma tried to mediate and told me that yelling at them was not a very good idea since we had the remaining half of our stuff at the road head. I tried to talk the porters in to continuing but they would not budge. I was enraged by their behaviour, but things were out of my hands now. I called the leader aside and chalked out a backup plan. I asked him and his boys to start early from the road head and collect the load from our camping spot on their way up. Mingma and I decided that we could start for the base really early and then after a light snack we could carry on to camp 1 with some light loads and be back at the base by evening; by then the rest of the team would be at the base. It was going to be a very long day but that was the best we could do under the circumstances. I got a position fix and we were at about 4300m. The porters agreed to the plan; Mingma and I pitched the tent and got in our sacks after a cup of tea. We had dinner at around 6. I was surprised how cold it was. We were camped on rock and it was still so cold. I was concerned how cold it might be at the higher camps. I think one of the reasons it was really cold was because we were camped in an area close to two glaciers; really big glaciers; that and the fact that it was very windy. Good thing I had my toasty Cumulus sleeping bag. Mingma and I had nice long chat about the plan of action for the next day. We agree to be out of the campsite by 7 the next morning and reach the base before 10 hopefully. He also showed me pictures of his expedition to Sasser and Everest; fascinating stuff. It was good that he and I were bonding before we got into the serious sections of the climb.
27 Jun 2015
We overslept. I woke up around 7 and Mingma must have woken up only slightly earlier than I. We had some tea and then noodles for breakfast and then rushed out of the tent to be on our way. We packed the tent and were on our way by 8. I opted not to wear the sandal. It was a little uncomfortable in the beginning but I got used to the pain in a while. Besides I was much more comfortable hiking on ice and moraine with a pair of shoes than one; my feet were also not as cold as the day before. We hardly stopped for a break and kept hiking because we were really focused about getting to the base as early as possible and then carry on to camp 1 from there. About 65 minutes into the trail Mingma noticed a pen sort of formation about 50 meters higher than where we were. We were pretty sure that wasn’t the base camp but we both agreed that we might get good views from there. Mingma and I had never been to Kun before so we were just speculating about where the base camp could be. So we thought that a view from a high point would be really useful. We climbed to the Pen and as suspected, we were able to spot the base camp. There were two places to camp and we chose to camp at the higher of the two spots. We climbed down to the base camp from the Pen in 15 minutes. It was quarter to 10 by the time we got to the base camp; Pretty swift for two lazy duds who overslept earlier that morning. We had a quick snack and then began to get ready for the hike to camp 1; Get ready because the route from base camp to camp 1 was all on ice; deep ice. We wore our tights and shells and packed some gear that we could carry to camp 1. When we were gearing up, I realised that my boots were at the campsite where we slept the night before. I just couldn’t believe I made such a rookie mistake. Mingma asked me to stay back but I was not having any of that. I told him I would come with him as high as I could in my hiking boots. We weren’t carrying extremely heavy loads, so I didn’t think we would sink very deep in the snow. We started hiking around half past 10. The snow was a little crusty initially but after an hour it began to get slushy and our feet began to sink in the snow. The water resistance on my shoes began to wear off after a while and I could feel the wetness seeping in. The base camp was at 4500m and we were at 5000m by half past noon. Around 1 we were at an altitude of 5200m. The snow was just too deep beyond that point and my feet were just frozen. I couldn’t even move let alone climb any further. Lesson learnt – Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. MIngma suggested that the campsite was not too
high from where we were; so he asked me to rush to the base and thaw my feet while he would dump the gear at camp 1 and be back soon. It was a good plan. Heck, it was the only plan at that moment. The winds were unforgiving and it was extremely cold and I had to get my feet out of snow and inside a sleeping bag at the earliest. I must admit that an hour on the downhill and I was feeling much warmer. I reached the base camp in about 70 minutes. The boys were there. Kevin and Sridhar were there to receive me. V was not to be seen. Sridhar told me that he was fine; slow – but fine. I had some tea and got into a pair of warm socks. I would have loved to get into my sleeping bag, but hung around to have a chat with the guys, just to lift their spirits. Mingma was back at base by 2.
V arrived at the base at close to 5 in the evening. He seemed exhausted from the long hike, I brought him some tea. Later that evening Mingma told me that he was a little concerned about the route ahead of camp 1. We agreed to discuss that over the next few days when we dropped loads at camp 1. Kevin and Mingma were pleased with my effort especially because of the resilience I demonstrated despite the handicap. I told Kevin that it was probably curtains for me but that I would do my best to help stock up camp 1 to make sure that the expedition was a success. He was a little disappointed to hear me say that. I assured him that if my pain subsides and if the wound heals even slightly, I would do my best to move along with them; but at that moment in time I was not thinking beyond camp 1. We had just rice and lentils and fried vegetables for lunch that day. But dinner was fabulous. We had fried chicken with rice and vegetables and roti. We ate well cause we had a big day to follow. V didn’t look the part, so I suggested he rest at the base camp the following day.
28 June 2015
I was up by 5. Since Mingma and I had already been to camp 1 the day before, we both agreed that an early morning start was paramount in order to avoid the slushy snow by mid day. After a light breakfast we started out towards camp1 more or less around 6. I started first and then Kevin followed by Mingma and Dawa. All of us had loads. Mingma and Dawa were carrying a few rolls of fixed rope. Kevin and I were carrying a lot of fuel and anchors. I was in the front in the beginning but about a couple of hours later we had to wait for Kevin because we were approaching crevassed terrain and it wasn’t safe to tread alone. We made it to camp 1 by quarter past 10. Mingma and I decided on the route to camp 2. We decided on two options; a climb to rabbit rock and then climb the ridge from there to the plateau which would lead to camp 2. There was also a wall quite steep varying between 55 – 75 degrees; very steep for comfort but it was the least risky if one had the skill and endurance to get on top of it. Least risky because there was no crevasse risk except places close to the base of the wall and because of its steepness, the wall also didn’t pose any risk of avalanche. The only question was whether V and Kevin would be able to measure up to the challenge. Kevin was a known entity and I was pretty confident that he would be able to up his game. V was the unknown entity since I haven’t ever climbed with him. But we had a few days to figure out the team composition for the ascent above camp 1. We had a drink and headed back to base. We were back at base camp by Half past 11. A pretty good effort overall. We spent the rest of the day relaxing. Kevin wanted to do another load drop the following day, but I advised him against it. We had decided to Move to camp 1 on the morning after the following day and in my opinion a day’s rest would have done Kevin a lot of good. We had quite a few difficult days ahead of us and food and rest at the base camp was something we would miss dearly once we were on the mountain. I did think that V could come along with us to camp 1. Sridhar also wanted to come along with us. Since I wasn’t sure about V’s endurance levels, I suggested that he just carry some of his personal equipment instead of any communal/central equipment. That way, even if he wasn’t able to make it to camp 1 on time, we would not have to carry any communal gear back to the base.
29 June 2015
Mingma, Dawa and I were off to a flying start. V told me that he would follow us with Sridhar. I didn’t think it was a good idea lagging behind from the beginning. Plus since they were probably slower than the rest, they should have ideally started early. But I didn’t want to start the day on a negative note, so I left it to the individual. Kevin was still in his tent when we started. I started climbing about 20 minutes before Mingma and Dawa. Somewhere along the route I veered off the track and before I realised I was on a steeper, longer more difficult route. I noticed Mingma and Dawa behind me to my left waving at me, but I was too far ahead to return from there. I oriented myself and fixed my position with respect to camp 1 and continued on a heading towards camp1 instead of heading back to the track. The three of us made it to camp 1 at about the same time. Mingma grinned and said that if had stuck to the track I might have been there half an hour earlier. I just nodded and said that I made a stupid mistake and that next time I would be careful.
We hung around for a drink and then pretty much jogged back to the base camp. We were there by 11. Up and down in 5 hours. A slightly better effort than the day before. On our way back, we noticed Sridhar and V. They were not even past the half way mark. Since the weather was packing up, I didn’t think it was safe for them to continue to camp 1. I advised Sridhar and V to return to base from that spot. V insisted that he wanted to continue to camp 1 on his own. I had to refuse because the weather was deteriorating and he was just at the half way mark and the terrain was much steeper after the half way mark, so it would take him even longer to cover the remaining half. He seemed to be able to comprehend what I was suggesting and requested me to let him continue hiking on the trail for another 10 minutes. I couldn’t say no to that. I told him that when he sees Sridhar turn around, he should also turn around. He agreed. I was not too concerned about Sridhar since he was present there in the capacity of a Liaison Officer and so making to camp 1 or not made no difference to him.
We lazed around camp the rest of the day. Kevin and I were airing out our sleeping bags and apparel since we had planned to shift base to camp 1. We had originally planned 4 load ferries, but I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to drop almost all our required equipment at camp 1 in two drops. SO we were left with only our personal gear and some sundries that need to be ferried and that could very well be done the day we moved to camp 1. Frankly, because we were so busy the last few days, I totally forgot about my broken toe nail. I used to feel the pain only in the afternoons when I would get out of the climbing boots. Since I was considering moving to camp 1, I told Kevin that may be I wasn’t gonna rule myself out just as yet. That afternoon a big herd of sheep passed us by. They were herded by 5 Kashmiris who were on their way to Gulmatonga and the neighbouring villages to find pastures for the sheep. One of the herdsmen had a 2 day old lamb. Kevin and I played with the little thing for a few minutes. It was the cutest thing ever. I was really happy that things were on track thus far, but my joy was short lived. That evening the weather packed up. There was a whiteout all around base camp. Around 6 that evening there was some light precipitation. There was light drizzle followed by light to moderate snowfall. Kevin asked me if it was a concern. I assured him that we were still on track. We saved a day on our way to the road head, another day on our way to the base camp and we did the load ferries in 3 (including the move to camp the following day or the day after) as opposed to 4. So we had a few days to spare. Mingma asked me for the course of action for the next day. I suggested that we take a call at 5 the next morning. If there was any sort of precipitation, we would hang around the base camp till 9. If it was still coming down at 9 then we would call it off and treat the day as a rest day; which Mingma, Dawa and I deserved in any case.
30 June 2015
I woke up at around half past 4. I called out to Kevin from within the tent and told him that I was gonna delay the decision till about 9. Although I had an idea that we wouldn’t be moving to camp 1 that day since the precipitation was quite intense that morning, it made sense to keep our options open. Tenzin brought us some tea at around 6. I got out of the tent at 7 and went to the kitchen tent to meet with the boys. It was still snowing and the boys looked comfortable in the kitchen. I didn’t want to spoil the mood, so I asked the boys to relax. Mingma and I agreed that we would establish camp 1 the next day. Both Mingma and I had been exerting ourselves for the last 4 days and perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. After breakfast we just sat in the kitchen tent talking about all sorts of stuff mostly peaks and girls and peaks and girls and ….. Did I mention peaks and girls?
V and I had a little chat that afternoon. He didn’t quite look the part so I just inquired about his welfare. Perhaps something was going on in his head or he was in a bad mood or something; whatever the reasons, he took a crack at me. Although I was tempted to respond likewise, I backed out because that seemed like the respectable thing to do and I didn’t want to dignify his behaviour by reacting in response to his shocking behaviour. Can’t blame a leader for checking on the welfare of the team, I mean all I asked was if he was alright; just like I would ask anyone who didn’t look like he was on top of the world. Fortunately, we were able to sort things out by evening. I was wise enough to avoid talking about the incident earlier and just spoke about the plan to ascend the mountain and about the move to camp 1 the following day. Because he had been slow thus far, I told V to give his personal gear to Dawa to be ferried to camp 1 the following day. So he was only gonna carry his sleeping bag, a jacket, toiletries and sundry. I was hoping that this would ensure that V would be able to move swiftly between base camp and camp 1 the next day. We had planned to move out of base camp as early as possible the following day.
1 July 2015
V and I woke up around the same time. I called on Kevin from my tent to make sure he was up as well. I
was ready and out of the tent by 5. The skies were clear, so Kevin and I were on our way by half past 5. I asked V to get out of base camp as soon as possible to avoid getting stuck in the slush later in the day. Mingma and Dawa were about half an hour behind us. Sridhar was also planning to come to camp 1, but he was gonna return to base the same day. Kevin and I were very swift for the initial part of the climb till about 5000m. After that he lagged behind a bit; he was still swift but a little behind. I made it to camp 1 in about 2 hours 50 minutes while Kevin made it in 3 hours and a half. It was great fun; at so many places we were literally running or jogging up hill. I was exhausted but elated. Since I was the first to reach the campsite, I felt responsible to pitch the tent. Kevin arrived after a while and then Mingma and then Sridhar. I asked Dawa to stay with V so he wasn’t as swift as he usually is. I could tell from his body language that he wasn’t too thrilled about the job I assigned him; to stay with V during the move to camp 1. He did it anyway because him and Mingma have always been nice to me. I was pleased that Sridhar at his age was able to make it to camp 1 in 5 hours and 20 minutes. We took some snaps and then continued setting up the camp site. After pitching up the tents, Mingma and I got busy with looping up the snow stakes for the technical sections of the mountains. It had been 6 hours since we left the base camp and over three hours since I reached camp 1. I was beginning to feel a little concerned about V and Dawa. A few minutes later I noticed Dawa in the distance. V was still not to be seen. Kevin thought that may be V turned back with Sridhar, but when Dawa reached the campsite, he said that V would make it eventually. I thanked him for the effort and made him some juice. Around noon the weather packed up all of a sudden and in 5 minutes the clear skies were covered by dense white clouds. There was a heavy snowfall in the next 5 minutes. It had now been close to 7 hours since Dawa and V left base camp. With zero visibility conditions I was worried about how V would home in to camp 1. Yes the logical thing to do would be to follow the tracks; the problem was that the visibility was so bad that I wasn’t able to see my feet, let alone the track. So I figured V would face the same problem.I told Mingma and Dawa that I was going to look for V. Dawa insisted that he would come along with me. We had to climb down for about 15 – 20 minutes. V was headed in a slightly different direction. Once we tracked him, I took his pack and asked Dawa to stay with him till they reached the camp. I was frozen by the time I got back to the camp. I put V’s stuff in Kevin’s tent, emptied his sack and laid out his mattress and sleeping bag. I got inside the other tent that I was gonna share with Mingma and Dawa and tried to make myself warm. It was well over 7 hours by the time V made it to the campsite. He looked exhausted, so in the evening during supper I asked V if he wanted to come along with the rest of the team to ferry the load to camp 2 the following day or if he wished to take a day off. He opted to relax the next day. Although now I was pretty upbeat about going beyond camp 1, I was a little sceptical about V in case we chose to do the wall as opposed to the route from behind rabbit rock. That night, Mingma and I agreed to start the ascent to camp 2 at about 5 the next morning.
2 & 3 July 2015
The next two days we moved stuff between camp 1 and 2. One the 2nd, we set out towards rabbit rock at about 5 in the morning. It was excruciatingly cold and slightly windy. We were at the rabbit rock by quarter past 6. The news was not so good. The whole terrain beyond rabbit rock was heavily crevassed and was leading to a 40-50 degree climb where it seemed like an avalanche was waiting to happen. I looked at Mingma and we agreed right away that the only way that was safe to get to camp 2 was the wall to the right of Rabbit Rock. So we continued climbing a bit and then traversed to the right. It was a steepish traverse but we were able to negotiate it safely and were at the base of the wall by 7. It seemed like we wasted 2 hours but at least we had eliminated the easier but riskier route. The wall was a lot more challenging and a lot steeper but there were a lot fewer objective hazards compared to the other route. Mingma opened the route while I belayed him. After the first two pitches, Dawa took over the belaying duties while Kevin and I were climbing together. We had fixed about 400-450 m till noon when Kevin and I were beginning to feel fatigued and exhausted. The problem was that returning from there would affect us adversely since we were carrying stuff that needed to be dumped at camp 2. Kevin suggested that he didn’t wanna be spent on a load ferry and we hadn’t even made it to camp2 yet. I agreed with him. I asked Mingma if we could share Kevin’s load. Dawa took a coil of rope that Kevin was carrying and I took the tent that he was carrying. I decided to carry on with Mingma while Kevin decided to descend a couple of hundred meters and wait on a ledge. Mingma and Dawa continued fixing the route ahead while I climbed till about 6000m. Mingma was slightly higher than I was and shouted that we were hardly 100 odd meters short of the top of the wall. He suggested that I keep company while he lay out the last bit of fixed line. We climbed down together. It was about half past 2 by the time we reached our tents at camp 1. Kevin seemed a little dejected with the day’s proceedings but I cheered him with a simple reasoning that when we actually move to camp 2, we would be rested and would start much earlier in the morning and we wouldn’t have to worry about climbing down the same day. So we would make it to camp 2 in very good time. I also reminded him that we spent 2 hours getting to and away from the rabbit rock which we would not be doing on the day when we move to camp 2.
We had some Tang and some snacks. A little later we had some tea and then lunch. We had an early dinner. Mingma suggested that the following day Him and Dawa would do a recce around camp 2, so the rest of us could relax at camp 1. After dinner, Mingma and I discussed V’s position. Mingma strongly felt that V would struggle on the wall. The rabbit rock route itself was quite challenging and much more demanding compared to the route between the base camp and camp 1. The wall was a totally different league compared to the rabbit rock route. Our reasoning was that if V was struggling on a 30 – 45 degree slope – with a light pack and at a lower altitude (between base camp and camp 1), the he might most likely get himself into trouble on a steep 60-75+ degree wall, with a heavy pack and at a much higher altitude. Asking Dawa to keep him company between base camp and camp 1 was one thing, but asking him to stay with V on that wall would be unfair and would be risking two lives. The next day after Mingma and Dawa came back from their recce trip, I made them some juice and during lunch we discussed the V subject. We decided that we would clear the camp between 3 and 4 the next day. V agreed to hike to the base camp. We slept quite early that night.
4 & 5 July 2015
I was up at about 2. I called for Kevin from the tent and he was up in a jiffy. Kevin was in our tent for some
tea. We were geared up for the climb by 3. Mingma and Dawa were hanging around to make sure that V was on his way to the base camp at first light. The climb from Camp 1 to the base of the wall was not very steep; may be 45 degrees at the steepest part of the terrain. The base of the wall was about 150 meters higher than the campsite. We were wearing our crampons from the moment we departed from camp 1. We reached the base of the wall by 4. I thought it was pretty swift considering we had a pack full of our personal stuff and some food. Kevin was gonna climb with his Ascender while I was gonna climb with a pair of Ice Axes. Since I needed some tension on the line, I asked Kevin to follow me. I would lead and wait for Kevin at every anchor point. This was a very swift and regimented way of climbing. Surprisingly, we were gaining altitude at a much swifter rate than the day before last when we opened the route to camp 2. From the base of the wall to the ledge where Kevin waited for me, the last time we ascended the wall, was a good 350 meter climb which we were able to negotiate in under 3 hours. We reached the ledge around 6. Both Kevin and I were exhausted and shivering. It was bitterly cold and very windy; and when it’s close to 6000m, the wind chill is that much more adverse. Fortunately, we could see the yellow horizon in the distance and that was the only comfort for us on that wall; a comfort from the knowledge that the sun would take away our woes in a short while. In the mean time Kevin and I took a short break on the ledge. We had a drink, which is to say, I had Gatorade, and some chocolate. After the break, we were frozen and had to climb 15 minutes before feeling the circulation in our digits. The section after the break was a lot steeper than the lower section. I was pretty sure V would have struggled on the wall, even more so with a pack.
At least two pitches on the wall were close to 70 may be 75 degrees. It was great fun ascending that wall. After the 5900 m mark, we were climbing 20 – 30 m at a time. I would lead and then wait for Kevin to catch up. My toes were frozen, the pack felt kind of heavy and the wind in our faces sent shivers through our bodies. We were breathing hard with every step, so climbing 20 – 30 meters on a steep wall felt like doing a 6 minute mile over and over. We reached the last pitch at 6100+ m around quarter past 8. Mingma was not far beneath us, so Kevin suggested that we wait for him. Mingma was with us in 5 minutes. Dawa was still about 50+ meters away from us, so we continued to ascend the last pitch which wasn’t very steep and not so long either. We reached the top of the wall around quarter to 9 and had a drink while Dawa caught up with us. We were ecstatic. The GPS showed us an altitude of 6101m and camp 2 was pretty much at the same altitude. We shook hands, embraced each other and then started the hike to camp 2. We were there by 10 past 9, which means we climbed from camp 1 to camp 2 in just over 6 hours. I thought it was a brilliant effort because we were not rushing things, climbing at an easy pace and in my case I was waiting for Kevin at a number of places. We set up the camp site and pitched the tent. The first thing we did inside the tent was that we took a nap. All 4 of us. I had bit of a headache when I woke up, but I wasn’t too concerned about it. It was due to exposure to contrasting temperatures; extremely cold temps in windy conditions early in the morning and then it was quite warm and bright after 8. I was ok by that evening after I had had enough fluids and lunch.
The views all around camp 2 were fabulous. We were pitched right in the middle of an expansive ice plateau surrounded by high peaks such as Pinnacle, White Needle and Kun. An important piece of information: Kun is not visible until one gets to the top of the wall that leads to camp 2. Beyond the plateau on the west and on the south were hundreds of big mountains. Kevin and Mingma noticed a humongous mountain towards west. We were not sure which peak it was, but when we returned to base after our effort, Sridhar told us that it was Nanga Parbat. Of course there were so many other beautiful mountains, we just couldn’t get enough of looking at those beautiful peaks. We could stand there for days together and ogle at those mountains and we still wouldn’t have enough time to look at those peaks or appreciate them. That afternoon, after lunch, we sorted out the few rope lengths that we had left because we had to move those to camp 3 the following day. It was great fun at camp 2; All 4 of us were in the same tent cause we had marked Kevin’s Terra Nova as an emergency standby. During meals or snacks I would play music on my phone while we would sip tea or coffee or soup with biscuits or chocolates. All this at 6100m and we had one more higher camp to look forward to. One couldn’t blame me for assuming that mountaineers have all the fun on the planet. Mingma and Dawa woke up quite early that morning. I woke up at around 3, but Mingma advised me to stay with Kevin because he thought there was not much work to be done that day. They were on their way by half past 3 and were back by 11. Mingma told me that a short section had to be pitched just short of camp 3 and that camp 3 was at a tricky position on a col like feature from where one ridge leads to Kun and the other, to Pinnacle. I was excited about moving to camp 3 the next day. We got a lot of rest on the 5th, ate well and kept hydrating ourselves. We went to bed quite early that night in order to be up and on our way by 3 AM the following day.
6 July 2015
We were up by 2. Kevin and I were on our way by 3. It was bloody cold. We were roped up. We were using this heavy climbing rope from the times of Sir Edmond Hillary. We needed just a few meters to rope up and rest was coiled up and ended up hanging across my torso for the length of the hike from camp 2 to the east face of Kun that would lead us to camp 3. The bloody thing was heavy and made me very uncomfortable cause I had a stuffed pack as well. I had a feeling that camp 3 was at an altitude of 6500 or so, so the vertical distance to be gained that day was not much; the crux that day was this long arduous hike at 6100+ meters across a snow plateau at 3 in the morning. Kevin and I must have hardly stopped may be three or four times during the hike across the plateau, but never for more than a minute, because it was extremely cold and we would just freeze whenever we were not moving. Also I chose to carry my down jacket in my pack rather than wear it because I feel restricted during hikes and climbs with the down jacket on. Kevin did point out that I almost lost a couple of fingers on Nun because of the cold and that I should wear the down jacket. I assured Kevin that even though I was cold, I had it under control and that the three layers, i.e. tights, soft-shell and hard-shell were efficient enough to keep the wind out of the system and allowed me a lot of freedom to work, hike, climb etc. The reason we used to climb or hike early in the morning was so that we could stay on top of the snow; because the afternoon slush from the previous day would freeze up and become crusty overnight. Our efforts were rewarded every single day except on the day we moved to camp 3. Yes the surface was crusty, but our boots would still sink in deep snow like a lump of iron. It was so irritating. Kevin struggled more than me because he is much bigger and heavier; but he did exceptionally well to maintain a brisk pace despite the stupid conditions.
We would keep walking and the mountain would hardly appear any closer. Distances on the mountains are so deceiving. By the time we reached the base of the east face, it was about half past 5. We wore our crampons and began the final assault- the ascent to camp 3 from the base of the east face. The initial part of the climb was a traverse across the face for about half an hour. After the traverse we had to climb a few steep sections on the face in order to reach close to camp 3. We took some pictures at the bottom of the last pitch just short of camp 3. By the time we reached camp 3, it was almost 8. We were exhausted and yet we had the most important job of preparing a camping spot because there was hardly any space on the slope to pitch a tent. We dug and stomped on the snow to prepare a spot as flat as possible. We had very little space to play with but we managed to prepare a level sort of spot in about half an hour. I had a severe headache so once we pitched the tent; I just got in and tried to get some sleep. Kevin also slept. We had some Tang a little later. Mingma also made some tea for all of us. Around 10, Mingma and Dawa went slightly higher to do some recce and to open a couple of pitches, but the weather was bad, so they came back in a couple of hours. I made some lunch for Kevin and I while Mingma and Dawa were out, but they were back not after long, so I made some juice Tang for them and a little later some tea as well. For the rest of the day we stayed in the tent chatting and eating and discussing the summit attempt. We agreed that Kevin and I would start climbing around 2 in the morning which meant that we would wake up quite early; close to 1 even. Mingma suggested that he would start climbing with Dawa at around 3 AM because he seemed pretty confident that he would catch up with us in a couple of hours. We had an early dinner that night and hit the sack by 6. None of us spoke much that night. I don’t know about others but the reason I couldn’t sleep was because I was a little anxious and was trying to psyche myself for the climb the next day.
7 July 2015
I was up by half past 12. It takes me a long time to gear up in really cold conditions so I wanted to wake up early and gear up in my own time to be able to start climbing by 2. Kevin was up a little later two. Mingma was sweet enough to wake up and make us some tea and porridge. We were on our way by 2 or just past 2. Both Kevin and I were able to move swiftly over the east/north East Ridge. It was cold, windy, exhausting, we were swift and it was great fun. Since the northern side of the ridge was a little corniced, we stayed south of it and kept ascending the steep traverse at a steady pace. At around the 6700m mark we decided to wait for Mingma since he was not so far away from us. We had a drink and some chocolate. It was extremely chilly, so I kept wriggling my toes in my boots. I also had my down jacket on, so that helped as well. Kevin would keep pointing to me that my boots and gauntlets were not the best for 7000+ peaks. I simply nodded in agreement and told him I would get something better before the next big climb. In all this banter, we hardly realised that we were attempting to summit a harsh, demanding peak. It was good that we were able to joke about things at 6700+ meters in harsh conditions because with 400m still to go it was important we kept our spirits high.
Once Mingma caught up with us, we shook hands and continued climbing. Mingma requested me to carry a coil of rope and some anchors for the next few pitches. I was exhausted from all the climbing for the last 3+ weeks but we were part of a team and he was carrying a lot as it is, so I just couldn’t say no. We were a little slow after that point because we had to traverse the ridge at its steepest section. It took us close to 3 hours to get past that section. We had to tread extremely carefully cause even though it was not a steep climb, it was sort of a traversing climb and the slope beneath us was quite steep and the snow was too deep and too soft, so it took a lot of effort to get past that section. Once we were past the traverse we took a little break and then climbed a 50 – 60 degree section which was about 30 meters high. From the top of that section the views were outstanding. I removed my down jacket and stuffed it in my summit pack. From there we had to turn south towards the last section of Kun which was mostly a moderate climb between 6900 and the summit, although there were a couple of places where the gradient was close to 60 degrees. Every step at 7000m was so exhausting. I was thirsty but the team was roped up and so we didn’t care to stop for a drink. Unfortunately the sun was beating down so hard that it felt like we were in the plains of north India. Once we were slightly above Pinnacle peak in the distance, I had a fair idea that we were not far away from Summit, so I got my GPS out. Around the 7025 m mark the weather suddenly packed up. This was around half past 10. We kept climbing in really poor visibility conditions until the gradient was hardly 10 – 15 degrees. We couldn’t see very far around us but the GPS was reading 7121m. I looked at Mingma and he pointed towards the snow beneath his feet as if to say this was it. Since the visibility was terrible, we went with what the GPS showed us and we ascertained with the position fix that we were up on top of Kun or almost there. We hung around there for close to 45 minutes. It wasn’t just taking pictures and having a drink or a bite. We actually had a lot to talk about. Mingma and Dawa wanted to offer prayers and laid out an array of prayer flags while Kevin joined them. He urged me to join in the ritual but I politely refused. We decided to descend at around quarter past 12.
One might think that the ascent must have been terribly exhausting but I found the descent extremely challenging. The initial part of the descent from the summit was not so bad. I had a bit of a headache coming down but that was the least of my concerns once we reached the traverse. Descending traverse on deep powder in the afternoon was such a horrible feeling. At some points we had to raise our feet almost two feet in order to make any progress. Between 6700 and a hundred meters above camp 3 we had to rappel down on the traverse in deep powder; again – it was terrible. The last 100 meters above our little camping spot was also fixed but we were able to climb down facing downhill rather than rappel. By the time we made it to camp 3 it was about 4; 14 hours since we left the tent earlier that morning, hardly a litre of water and a bar of chocolate; I’d have to say I was pleased with the teams effort. Our shoes were soaking, socks were wet, our underwear and long johns were very damp and uncomfortable and I had this stupid headache which just wouldn’t leave me alone. I had an aspirin and just slept. I don’t think anyone of us had anything to eat. Around 6 Mingma woke me up for some tea. Usually in the evenings there was always some chatter in the tent but not that evening. None of us were in a mood to say or hear anything. There was also some soup which at that point in time was not at all palatable for me. Fortunately we had a can of cherries that Mingma opened for me. I had the cherries and just hit the sack. Kevin suggested that we start climbing down towards the base at 2, early next morning. I just gazed at him for a second and asked him if he was joking. Of course he kept such a straight face that one could hardly make out that he was. I just looked at Mingma and we both almost simultaneously said 6. We agreed that we were not gonna rush the next day. It was a very long climb down to base camp. We had to descend to the ice field, then hike to camp 2, hike to the top of the ice wall adjacent to rabbit rock then hike to camp 1 and finally hike to base camp. It was not an easy day and hence we needed some rest that night especially after that exhausting summit attempt.
8 July 2015
We woke up at 6 the next day. For the first time during the expedition, Kevin, the Ice Man said that it was cold. When Kevin says that its cold, then it really is cold. He is Irish and has this natural tolerance to cold conditions and extremely low temperatures. But that morning the conditions at 6 AM were much colder than the conditions during the summit attempt at 2 AM the previous morning. The situation was made worse because our boots were frozen and we were gearing up in the open, packing up the tent and cleaning the campsite. We were on our way by 7. It took us an hour to descend the plateau. Crossing the ice field to reach camp 2 was probably the most uninteresting section of the expedition; it was just like a couple of days earlier when we had to cross the same ice field to get to camp 3. In fact the whole descend from camp 3 to camp 1 was a pain in the bottom because of the deep snow. Our progress was impaired by the snow the heat and the glare. Perhaps our only solace was that once we made it to base camp we would get to eat some good food. The most frustrating section during our descent was rappelling or climbing down the wall from the top of the ice field to camp 1. Rappelling down that wall was extremely unsettling because every step would displace large amounts of loose powder and cause us to lose our foothold. Towards the lower end of the wall once the gradient began to ease out we ran the risk of encountering crevasses. All four of us ended up in a few crevasses more than once; fortunately we were roped up and we didn’t have to set up rescue systems in order to get out of those crevasses.
We reached camp 1 at around 2. We had left some stuff there which we had to collect. Once we made it to camp 1 we were all grinning because we all knew what that meant; we could climb down from camp 1 to base in under 90 minutes. We were covering that distance in 55 minutes during the load ferries, so considering that we were exhausted from the summit and from all the effort that day, we gave ourselves some more time. In any case we definitely saw ourselves reaching the base by half past three. We took some pictures at camp 3 and hastened towards base. We all agreed that we should rope up because over the last week or so the crevasses had opened up nicely. We had crossed a number of crevasses between base and camp 1 during load ferries, but they were not so wide then; but over the last few days we noticed that crevasses were opening up at an alarming rate. Our premonition was true. We had to go off our earlier track (from a week before) on a number of occasions because there were crevasses right on our track where as just a week (to ten days) earlier we remember walking up this 30 – 45 degree gradient with hardly any crevasses on our route to camp 1. We were very careful in negotiating and skirting the cracks. We reached the end of the snowline by 3. We got rid of our crampons and sat there for a while. We reflected on the last few days and thought that it was such an amazing and such a swift climb. People usually plan three to four weeks for a 7000m expedition, but we were able to do base camp to base camp in 11 days. I thought it was a good effort. Kevin and I kept chatting on our way down from there to the base. After about 20 minutes from the snowline (which was about 5000m) we could see the base camp in the distance. We didn’t see much activity in the distance though. When we were about 5 minutes short of the camp, Sridhar came to receive us. We shook hands and discussed the effort while we walked to the camp site. Dorje and Tenzin were out soon to receive us. Sridhar was so excited and surprised
too because he thought we did it in quick time. Sridhar and I discussed the whole route for the next half an hour while my pack was still on my back. It was hilarious. I asked Dorje to make me some salad with sliced tomatoes and lime and chilli powder and salt. It was awesome. The rest of that evening we discussed the expedition and the plans for the next two days. We were expecting Sam to send us a vehicle on the 9th or 10th. I suggested that we get some rest the next day and then hike to the road head on the following day.
9 – 11 July 2015
We woke up quite late on the 9th. Sridhar had to visit the GOC of an Army unit between Panikhar and Kargil, so he asked us to pick him up from the unit the following day. Kevin asked him to bring a crate of bear for himself and a couple of bottles of rum for Mingma and his boys. I just had to wait till we drove to Panikhar so I could pick my Thums up or Mountain Dew. Kevin walked down with Sridhar for an hour and returned to the base by noon. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The weather was good so all of us lay around in the open and cracked jokes and just had fun. I mostly had my tunes on, so that was fun too. The porters arrived by 6 that evening. I think I slept around 9 that day because we were to hike to the road head by 6 the next morning; but I only woke up by 6 the following day. It didn’t take us a long time to get ready though. After a quick breakfast, we were on our way by 7. The hike down was a no brainer and hardly took any effort except for the pain in my little toe. But with a summit in the bag, that was the last thing on my mind. The weather was bad that day. It started drizzling and raining after 9. None of us bothered to wear our waterproofs. During the hike to the road head, we came across another party of climbers. They were being managed by a friend of mine who was running the show from Delhi while his staff managed the resources on site. The team consisted of 4 climbers and 4 sherpas and a few high altitude porters to carry their stuff above base camp. Quite a lot of support I thought. Further down we came across their equipment being carried up by porters and ponies. By the time we reached the road head, it was just past 11. There is a bridge across the river that runs by Gulmatonga. When I crossed the bridge, I noticed a couple of folks waving in our general direction. I wasn’t sure if they were waving at me so I just kept walking. As I approached them I realised it was Ben and Petra. They did mention at one point a couple of weeks earlier that they would like to come to Kargil and take pictures of Kun from some village during the time we were ascending the peak; But them coming to receive me at the end of the expedition? That was really sweet. They wanted to go to a village further down the road but nobody was sure if the roads were serviceable. I tried to get them a lift to the village but none of the drivers passing by were willing to help. I asked Ben if he would rather like to return to Leh with us. He discussed with Petra and she agreed. The porters were there by noon. We loaded up our stuff in the bus and were on our way to Leh by 1. Ben and Petra had quite a few questions about the climb and Kevin and I had a lot to say. It was fun driving through the hilly terrain. In a couple of hours we reached Panikhar. I picked a Mountain and Dew and chips from the store there. There was this guy at the check post who requested me for a ride to Sankho. He looked harmless, so I told him he could come with us. Turns out he was a teacher at a local government school and would commute from Sankho every day in order to teach at the school in Panikhar. He was an Urdu language teacher; I told him that Urdu was one of the most beautiful languages. We dropped him at Sankho and then carried on driving further down the road to the Army unit. Sridhar was not at the Guard Post, so I called him; fortunately his mobile phone was reachable. He asked us to wait for 5 minutes and a little later he arrived with a crate of bear and a couple of bottles of Old Monk.
Kevin, Petra and Dawa had a few beers while the rest of the boys had the much stronger Old monk. Mingma and Ben chose to stay sober. I don’t drink; not alcohol anyway, so it was just Mountain Dew for me. We had a late lunch/early dinner sort of meal at a restaurant in Kargil. After hanging around in Kargil for an hour, we resumed the drive to Leh. Ben gave me his iPod nano to listen to his tunes. Some of it was good but since I prefer familiarity, an hour later I just shifted back to the music on my phone. We made a few stops along the way to relieve ourselves. We also stopped at Khaltsi at about 11 to pick some snacks and coke. During the bus ride. I would keep moving between the driver compartment and the passenger compartment because Mingma and his boys were in the front sitting with the driver. It was good sitting with them, listening to their music, talking to them about their plans and such. We reached Leh around 2 AM on the 11th. Ben and Petra walked to their guest house on Chanspa while we were locked out of our hotel on Fort Road for close to an hour because apparently the hotel staff locks the main gates and entrance after 10; which hotel locks out the main gate?? I was astonished at the practice. After we were shown our rooms by a sleepy concierge, I ran to Chanspa to check if Ben had managed to get a room at the guest house. I could just hope they did because there was no power supply in the guest house and there was no trace of staff in the reception. Of course at 3 in the morning it was no surprise that they were fast asleep. I just hoped someone would be in the reception area because I had called the manager form Kargil to keep a room reserved for Ben and Petra. I went back to our hotel and had a cold shower; my first shower in two weeks. It was very cold; Very very cold.
We woke up at about 8 the next morning. After breakfast Kevin went to the local hospital with Sridhar while I stayed in the room. We met again for lunch at a Pizza place. I saw Ben and Petra from the terrace and invited them over for lunch. After lunch I picked some stuff for Mingma and his boys from a friends outdoor gear shop. For dinner I took Ben and Petra to my favourite Kebab joint. We had mutton sheekh kebab; it was delicious and they loved it. After dinner, we had some Seabuck Berry juice at Dzomsa. We agreed to meet the following day and went to our respective hotels. The next morning Kevin had to be at the airport by 6 for his flight to Delhi. We parted on a bitter note. We had a difference of opinion about something very trivial and it was a shame considering we had such an amazing time on the mountains. After he was gone the next morning, things were pretty slow and boring. Good thing I was leaving the next day. For dinner that night I went with Ben and Petra to the Korean House. It was Petra’s birthday that day. The owner of the restaurant had promised us Beef Steak after the expedition, and she kept her promise. Sridhar joined us around 8 and brought the rains with him. We were a little worried because the rains were heavy and Leh airport if infamous for discontinuing operations in case of inclement weather. I just couldn’t bear the thought of spending another day in Leh after 5 weeks in the mountains. I just wanted to go home and sleep for a couple of weeks, so I didn’t talk much about the weather. Petra was sweet enough to sketch something for me. It was something peculiar that looked like a cat. I didn’t understand it, but I promised her that I will always keep it safe.
13 – 14 July 2015
My worst fears had come true. It was still raining in the morning. Sridhar and I were at the airport by 6. We checked in our baggage and were hoping to board our respective flights by 9 and meet up at Delhi for the debrief at IMF. Unfortunately my flight was cancelled. What was irritating for me was that Sridhar’s flight took off. I didn’t understand the logic but I had to face the fact that I was stuck at Leh for another day. I went to the guest house where Ben and Petra were put up. After settling down in my room, we went to an Indian restaurant for lunch and then went to the market place to pass time. We had dinner at a nice restaurant near Chanspa. I was just hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be held back another day in Leh. After dinner we went back to the guest house. Ben went to the room while Petra and I went to the hotel dining hall to leech onto the wifi. Before we said goodnight, Petra apologised for not being able to converse much because of her limited English speaking skills. I assured her that I was ok with her and that she didn’t have to be sorry about not speaking a language that is not native to her. Besides, I told her that she was a witty person and that 9 times out of ten, I could figure out what she intended to convey. The next morning I left a note on their door saying good bye and asked them to let me know if they ever needed any help. Fortunately there were no weather related incidents in Ladakh that day and my flight took off as scheduled. I was at Delhi by 11 and took off from Delhi for Chennai by half past 2. By the time I reached Chennai it was half past 5. I called Sridhar and apologised for not being able to make it to the debrief the previous day. He said that he took care of it. We agreed to meet if he was in Chennai or if I was in Bangalore.
This was one fascinating trip. I had hoped to climb Kun in about just under 3 weeks. But we were dropping loads, opening routes and ascending the mountain at a swift rate. I was fatigued from the solo trip to Dzo Jongo and the unnamed peak in Merkha Valley before I went to Kun; but it helped me acclimatise for the big mountain. In six months between February and mid July, I had made 4 trips to the Himalayas, but none were as satisfying as the ascent of Kun. None were tougher too, and perhaps that is the reason that the success on Kun was that much dearer. I don’t know if I would go back to Kun again, but I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Kun is a beautiful mountain and I am fortunate enough to have ascended it. I hope one day I can go back to Kun for more.