It’s one of the highest peaks in kashmir and a fascinating objective for someone wanting to delve in to Himalayan Big Mountain climbing. I’ve been obsessing with Nun for a few years now; especially after having heard of horror stories on the mountain; stories about the near and dear ones of my climbing partners; incidents and anecdotes that they would share with me in the tent after a hard days work, about how one’s friend lost his life on Nun, or how one’s father or brother lost a limb or was almost washed away in an avalanche. True! These occurrences are a feature on any Himalayan peak, but I just happen to have heard more about Nun, than other peaks. Nun is not a K2 or a Nanga Parbat by any stretch of imagination. Even in the Indian Himalayas there are peaks which are a lot tougher than Nun. May be, my obsession for Nun, cannot be explained. May be its not supposed to be explained. Regardless of the fascination, those stories seldom managed to steer me away from wanting to climb Nun. The desire to attempt Nun was constant and I trained really hard and with single minded dedication to prepare for it.
I have been in touch with Kevin for over a year and quite often Nun would be the subject of our discussion. Kevin is a seasoned climber, with good experience in South America, Alaska, Kazakhstan, Nepal and India of course. I love climbing in Ladakh (Nun is in Kargil) and prefer climbing in July, but we agreed on a September ascent because Kevin had a big project to finish by August. Nabarun, with whom I climbed Chumser and Lungser last year, also signed up. He was bringing a friend of his, Abhijit, who he assured me is an excellent climber.
The task of managing permits and logistics was more arduous than the climb itself; and since this was my project, I opted to liaise with IMF and Sam (my Logistics guy) to have things in order. Barring some minor hiccups, the permits and logistics were eventually pretty much sorted out just in time.
02 Sep 13 – I met with Kevin in Delhi near Venkateshwara College, quite close to IMF. The first thing he told me was, “you are a f***ing young guy; my kids look older than you”; and I was on cloud nine. We had a drink and spoke at length about Nun, the logistics, gear and especially my boots (Nepal Extreme), which I requested Kevin to bring from London. In an hour or so, we met with Nabarun and Abhijit and we sorted out the paperwork at IMF by 1700. I picked some apparel after the briefing at IMF. Kevin had to sort some stuff at the Hotel and I was getting restless; because I have a tendency to obsess with any new purchase. Rushing back to my room and staring at the boots for a few hours was what I had in mind. One of the channels in the Hotel was playing The Practice (my favourite show while I was younger, a lot younger). So, The Practice and time alone with my new boots; my idea of a perfect evening. Kevin sent me a text requesting me to wake him up at 5; and I was like; tell the Hotel guys man. Just kidding.
03 Sep 13 – I was up by 4. I think I only slept around 1. I called Kevin around 5 to check if he was up. He was. We had a flight for Leh at half past 8. Kevin and I met at the airport. He had upgraded to business class because that would allow him extra baggage allowance. He has a tendency to carry all the stuff in his bedroom and garage and if you carefully look in his kit, you might even find a queen size cot and mattress with cushions and matching sheets. He just doesn’t leave anything behind. And the stupid airline even gave him a little cushion; over the course of the next fortnight, Kevin showed me that cushion a 150 times. Yes! He actually brought that cushion to the base camp. Apparently he was pulling my leg. No offence, he is a witty guy with a sense of humor; and it didn’t take me long to get used to it.
Anyways, we were at Leh by 10. Sam was there to receive us. We were put up at a nice Hotel on Fort Rd.
Sam stayed with us for a while; we had some tea, had a little chat and then Sam had to leave to meet some of his clients. We agreed to meet post lunch to discuss the itinerary. Sam was to bring the Sherpas with him. The rest of us retired to our rooms. Kevin and I were together while the boys from Bengal made themselves comfortable in the adjacent room. We spoke at length about our gear and the drive to Tongol. We also compared our respective gear and apparel; it was interesting stuff. Of course, most of Kevins gear was heavy duty. Mine was more lightweight alpine stuff. We had lunch and met with Sam and the sherpas, Nima and Pemba. We spoke at length about the itinerary and the equipment that we would require. We allotted the least number of days for transportation to the roadhead and hike to the base camp and back. This would allow us maximum climbing days and sufficient contingency days in case of inclement weather. The team seemed to be on board with the idea. After the meeting, Sam and the boys were off to pick the rations where as the team and I decided to rest a while before meeting with Sam at his office to take a look at the central equipment. We were at his office by 4 pm, and the tents, ropes, pitons, screws etc looked in order. We lazed around the town till late in the evening. Nabarun, Abhijit and I feasted on the sheekh kebabs while Kevin was watching us treat ourselves. He hates mutton. I felt sorry for him. I had resolved that the following day I wouldn’t bring him to the joint. We returned to the hotel by 8. Kevin went to the room after dinner, while the boys from Kolkata walked with me to the taxi stand. It was terribly cold and Leh is just at 11000’. I was anxious about how cold it would be at the base camp and beyond. We walked for half an hour perhaps and then returned to our rooms; Kevin was already asleep by then. I struggled till about 3 am before falling asleep, but only just.
04 Sep 13 – As is usual for me at altitude, I had not had much sleep. Kevin and I woke up to a nice and sunny morning. We had to pick up the LO after breakfast; Wg Cdr Sridharan, a gentleman ex-officer from the IAF. I had met with him in Chennai a couple of months earlier and was glad he was our LO. I also had to accompany Kevin to the Hospital sometime after picking the LO, since he had a condition to be taken care of. Something known as Haemochromotosis. Sam and I picked Sridharan from the airport, dropped him at the hotel and then took Kevin to the hospital. Kevins condition required him to donate some blood which worked out pretty well since one of the BRO (Border Road Organisation) labourers was involved in a mishap and was in need of blood. The doc advised me that Kevin would be alright for the duration of the expedition and also advised me to bring him some juice. I obliged. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful except that it was Wg Co Sridharans birthday and he had invited the team over for a drink that evening. He had also invited Sonam Wangyal, a renowned climber that evening. I had a few things to take care of that afternoon; especially had to do a final check on the logistics, equipments and rations. Sam had even managed to arrange for radios, but was not sure about how powerful they were. I advised him to load it up just in case. I was at the hotel by 6 in the evening, just in time for the get together. It was beer for the boys and Coke for me. Mr. Wangyal was there too. He has a tendency to be loud and bombastic and has an opinion on most matters. He did have a few words of wisdom for us and especially warned us about how cold it was going to be upwards of Tongol. Of course his remark about the temperatures was pertinent to me because I was testing out a crazy layering system which had no down insulation in the list, for reasons best known to me. I decided to continue with my test though.
05 Sep 13 – I woke up quite early. I checked with Sam if the transportation was in order. He assured me that we would be on our way as soon as possible. We were all set in a jiffy; ready by 0630. Sam and his boys were there by then. It took us just about 10 minutes to load our stuff on to the bus. Just when we were about to leave, Sam whispered something into my ears. Something he tells me before every trip; Jerry, Listen to the guide. I smiled at him, we hugged and then we were off. Apart from Nima and Pemba, our team also comprised of the cook Sidar and his helper, Sumpa. There was also a scrawny guy called Navoy who was sent by Sam to learn the ropes of mountaineering. Kevin made himself comfortable right next to the driver in the front. It was a pretty comfortable ride till Kargil and even upto an hour past Kargil, after which the roads were non-existent and the ride was pretty nasty. We halted at Kargil for about an hour in order to pick some vegetables. On our way out of Kargil, we also picked some beef. We made it to Tongol by 6 in the evening; Impressive, considering we left Leh only by about 7. Sridharan was pretty impressed too. He was confident we wouldn’t make it in one day. I was glad we did.
After setting up camp, I visited the leader of the porters with Nima and Pemba. The porters are a very hospitable bunch, especially their leader. Since we had no movement planned the following day, we asked the porters to visit us on the morrow post lunch. Back at the campsite, I was with Kevin while Nabarun was with Abhijit and the LO was in a separate tent. After dinner I took a stroll around the village. It was pretty nippy and the thoughts of the temperatures at BC and beyond did cross my mind more than once.
06 Sep 13 – Not much was planned for today since we had to sort out the weights. Apparently the porters wouldn’t carry over 20 kilos per person and they were pretty stiff about it. After breakfast we decided to acclimatise on a nearby feature. The idea was to gain as much altitude as possible at a leisurely pace. Tongol was at an altitude of 3400m while the feature we climbed was at 4200m. Kevin and I were there in just about an hour and a half, along with Nima and Pemba,. Nabarun and Abhijit were there not too far behind us. We decided to stay on top for some time. Nima and Pemba had to go in order to sort out the stuff. We stayed for about an hour after they left. Kevin spotted a thistle and told me that it was the national flower of Scotland. So I had to snap it up. Who knows when I’ll see my next thistle? Abhijit had his iPod on; which seemed pretty much glued to his ears all the time. They were virtually inseparable, but it didn’t seem to affect his performance. He is a pretty fit guy. Nabarun was acclimatising well too, although he seemed to be a bit slower than last year; but with still over two weeks to go for the expedition, I didn’t concern myself too much with it; the team looked just fine for now.
It took us about an hour to climb down to the village. Sidar and the boys were waiting for us with some hot lunch. During lunch a couple of gentlemen paid us a visit. They were handling the logistics for a team from Bombay, who were also attempting Nun. They said that the team were at least two days away yet. I was a little concerned with this piece of information. There were two teams at the base camp already; an Indo Polish Army Team and a Belgian team. The team from Bombay would make it 4 camps at the base including ours; and my concern – I was just hoping we didn’t get in each others way. Sridharan assured me that it was too soon to worry about that. Besides, I figured that the Belgians would be on their way down when we’d be at Camp2 and the team from Bombay would in all likelihood be behind us throughout the expedition, cause theirs was a big team and it would take them longer than us to establish high camps. After meals the boys took a nap, while I was busy snapping a sad looking yak; also took a short hike away from the village. The boys were up by the time I was back. It was windy and a lot of sand had managed to find way into our tent, sleeping bags and sacks. Sridharan, Nabarun and Abhijit had kept their tents zipped, so they were OK. While we were getting rid of the dust, Kevin and I spoke at length about the agenda during the expedition and the following day in particular. Post supper, Kevin and I walked a bit into the village.
07 Sep 13 – It was an early day for Pemba. He had to lead the porters to the BC before the team reached there. He was up by 1 in the morning I presume, ‘cause the porters were gone by half past one. The rest of the team were all set to leave by eight. Kevin and I were right in front with a second set of porters who were helping us transport the kitchen tent and rations. Abhijit, Nabarun and Sridharan had formed a team and were together behind the porters. It took us well under a couple of hours to make it to an Intermediate camp. This is where most teams establish a camp for at least one night before moving on to the base camp. I would have considered it too but we were acclimatising pretty well. It took us another hour to get to the glacier. We lost way for about 40 minutes and so had to return to the glacier, where we met with Nima and Sidar. We just followed them to the BC. Tongol to BC in well under 5 hours (could have been done in under 4 had we not lost those 40 minutes); was a good effort. Sridharan and the boys were there by 2. Our spot in the BC was nicely perched between the Army and Belgian camps with a good view of the climb to the Advanced camp. Both Kevin and I were a little dazed and rightly chose to sit down and relax. I offered him some Almond candy which he seemed to like.
Sidar had the lunch served in a little while. Nice and hot. Sridharan and boys had lunch at the army camp. The Belgians had established camps 1 and 2 and were at the base camp to recuperate before going for the summit. They advised us that bad weather was forecast for the following day. After lunch, I visited the army camp. A few friends of one of my acquaintance were climbing and I met with them. I also met with the doctor of the Polish contingent and the leader of the Indo Polish joint expedition. They looked like a happy bunch. After the brief visit I returned to our camp. Sidar had prepared some delicious food; what stood out was some spicy hot soup and chilly beef. After that tasty meal we went to our tents and Kevin pretended to read for 5 minutes and then gave up. I think he must have read something like 5 pages from that book during the 3 week expedition; it was a book that had something to do with Everest. I would just laugh everytime he picked that book.
08 Sep 13 – We woke up to clear skies; no sign of any rain for miles. Guess the Belgians were wrong. They were on their way up to Camp1 for their summit attempt. After breakfast Nima and Pemba were off to Camp1 to drop some equipment. The rest of the team and I were off to ABC to drop off our boots and apparel. Of course the aim was to just acclimatise, but dropping off some load slightly higher made sense. The route to the ABC is a rocky moraine which is an extension of the sentik glacier. Just like the intermediate camp between Tongol and Base, we decided to miss the ABC too. So the next camp after BC for us was Camp1 since we were all acclimatising pretty well, yet. Kevin and I were at the ABC in about 70 minutes while Sridharan, Nabarun and Abhijit were there soon. We hung around for a while, stowed our stuff under a rock and took some pictures. Sridharan, who has been to Nun before, described the route we should take to Camp1 the following day. Obviously he made it sound like it was the easiest thing in the world; of course it wasn’t. ABC had a pretty good campsite, but we just decided to give it a miss. After about an hour at ABC, we decided to head back to base for some nice hot lunch. Nima and Pemba were back by tea time and we rehashed the itinerary. We had planned for 4 more load ferries over the next 5 days. Of course, if we shared the ropes that the Army were to fix, that would bring down the number of ferries to 1. For now we were prepared to fix our own ropes for the ascent. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. In the evenings we would exchange banter over tea and carry it on till dinner. Sridharan would tell us of anecdotes from his youth in the British Raj; Bad humor; actually Sridharan has a lot of insight and since he has been doing LO duties for a while, he had a lot of interesting experiences to share. Kevin would never miss a chance to pull his leg though. We were in our tents by 8. Kevin tried to play the intellectual climber by pretending to read while I tried my best not to giggle. Him reading a book is a joke. On a serious note, in my opinion, Kevin was doing exceptionally well. He was right up there with me as far as gaining altitude was concerned (sometimes even better) and he did it with ease. He never showed signs of fatigue, he was sleeping well and was pretty composed mostly, except the times when he would have to pick on Sridharan; at those times he would not hold back. It was hilarious watching Sridharan and Kevin take a jab at each other. Of course all this augured well for the team ‘cause it meant that we were in high spirits.
09 Sep 13 – Sunny day. Kevin seemed pumped about the climb to camp 1. The idea was to drop some load and be back by evening, but a trip to Camp1, with load, was crucial in helping us acclimatise. Sridharan was going to escort us till the Ice Wall, across the glacier, just above ABC. He was in two minds about moving with us to Camp1. Nima had implied subtly the previous night that it would be better if Sridharan stayed at base to liaise for help or logistics in case we ran against a wall. We had about 8 to 10 Kilos in our packs, mostly fuel, food and personal equipment which we wouldn’t need between BC and Camp1. We were off right after breakfast. Kevin and I were right behind Nima and Pemba. Abhijit, Nabarun and Sridharan were not far behind. We quickly changed into our climbing boots and wore the harness. Sridharan had brought his kit too but changed his mind at the last moment. So it was Nima and Pemba in front followed by Kevin and I. Nabarun and Abhijit also were not far behind on the line. The initial part of the fixed line was a low angle ascent of between 40 and 50 degrees. About 15 minutes into the ice fall, there was a bulge about 20m high where the route was steepest at 80degrees. But beyond the bulge it was a pretty straightforward ascent for the next 20 or so minutes. I was using CAMP C12’s while Kevin was using his Cyborgs. Even though the C12’s are meant for general mountaineering and can handle Ice Falls to an extent, according to the CAMP catalog, I had a couple of skids. Of course I was secure and nothing untoward happened, I was more wary for rest of the day, and very deliberate. Once at the top of the ice fall, we had to hike up a very low gradient terrain full of crevasses. Fortunately most of them were very visible and we were able to squirm past them. After a hike of about 10 or so minutes, we had to traverse left and then continue a low angle ascent for about 15 minutes to reach a glacial plateau. This plateau is about 4 km long and gives the first view of Nun. Nima and Pemba, who were here the day before, had set up our tents in the middle of this plateau, right next to the army camp. We hung around for about half an hour at Camp1 before commencing our climb down to base. Nabarun and Abhijit had not made it to the campsite until then. They had followed the wrong trail perhaps. We were hoping to meet with them somewhere near the beginning of the plateau, but they were not there. So I sent Nima and Pemba to look for Nabarun and Abhijit while Kevin and I stayed at the top of the descent. They were not too far from where we were apparently. Nima had the wise head to advise them to drop the stuff where he met them. He was obviously of the opinion that the stuff could be transported on our next visit to Camp1. Navoy was with us too; he had not climbed or descended an ice fall before and had no issues ascending with a Jumar, but he had troubles descending. I gave him a quick lesson on figure of 8 descent and he took to it like a charm. It took us well under an hour to descend the Ice fall and we quickly changed our boots. We dumped the climbing boots and harness at a safe spot under some rocks and began our climb down to the base via ABC. Sidar and Sumpa were waiting for us with some hot tea and biscuits. Quite refreshing to be honest, considering I am not a tea drinker. In the evening I met with the leader of the Army Expedition to check for the possibilities of helping each other out. The idea was to share their equipment and in return we would help them fix the route. He seemed ok with the idea, but needed to check with the Polish contingent, which he did and affirmed that we could help each other out for the duration of the expedition. Of course, this meant that we didn’t have to ferry the fixed ropes (about 1.4 Km of it) to the higher camps; a savings of tons of effort and at least a hundred man hours. I think that very thought gave me a good sleep that night. Since the number of ferries were now reduced from 4 to the 1 that we already performed earlier in the day, Nima and I agreed that the team could rest the following day and establish Camp1 the day after, while Pemba and Him would accompany the army team to Camp1 the following day. Overall, it was a very fruitful day for us.
10 Sep 13. I could hear a commotion early in the morning. I guessed it was the army guys on their way to Camp1. We woke up around 0800. The army guys were gone by then. Nima and Pemba were still around. I had advised them to leave around noon time. After breakfast Kevin and Sridhar spent some time with army team, the folks who were not planned to reach camp1 until the next few days. I hung around with Nabarun and Abhijit discussing our apparel. They both had picked a lot of new stuff and most of it was interesting. Especially, Abhijits Fischer skiing jacket and Nabaruns OR gauntlets. Good stuff. My Simond sleeping bag was not so great though. The down was clumping in the baffles and I was a bit concerned about how it would perform in the higher camps. Still a day to go though.
Just before lunch, Nima and Pemba decided to leave for Camp1. We did a check on the stuff that they were gonna carry and the stuff that we were to carry the following day. After some time they set out and were out of sight in about an hour. We had lunch and a chat in the dining tent where Sridhar shared some anecdotes from his Air Force days. Once in a while we would discuss Nun too. Soon it was time for the boys to take a nap and for me to laze around for a while, lie down and perhaps gaze at the tent fabric while Kevin had a symphonic nap. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful; Tea in the evening followed by soup and supper. Sridhar and Kevin had invited a gentleman from the Belgian camp. He had decided to stay back because he realised Nun was not his cup. The rest of the Belgian team were due to attempt summit in a few hours. The Belgians did send a word over the wireless that the temperatures at Camp2 were -22 (-8 in the tent). We were a little perturbed, especially me since I was giving the down layer a miss, and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a great idea. But it was too late now. Besides I could try this now when I am conditioned. Moreover, If I could pull it off, it would be a terrific achievement. These are things I told myself to get in the right frame of mind. Kevin was not too sure if mine was a great idea. I agreed with him that of course it was not a great idea; It was a test and I would try my hardest to pass. He on the other hand had a fantastic piece of Rab Expedition Down Jacket, and he was going to bring it with him to the higher camps.
11 Sep 13. Big day. We were moving to camp1. Sridhar was going to keep us company till Camp1. Everyone was in high spirits. We were on our way after breakfast. Nawoy was with us too, till the ABC of course. Kevin and I made it to the ABC in under an hour. Nabarun and Abhijit were not far behind. Kevin was off in a flash since his crampons were quiet near the fixed rope. Nabarun, Abhijit and I had to fetch our crampons which we had deposited under a rock quite some distance from the fixed rope. I shook hands with Sridhar before setting off. I was about 10 minutes behind Kevin and Nabarun and Abhijit were 10 minutes behind me. I was on top of the ice fall in about 30 minutes. Sridharan was still hanging around with Nawoy. I didn’t think waving at them was any use since they appeared no more than a speck and I was sure I seemed the same to them. Nabarun and Abhijit were not far behind. En route I met with a few Poles. They were on their way down from Camp1 and I could make out from their faces that they were not too thrilled about the whole affair. I was told by the Indian contingent of the Army expedition that the Poles were actually part of a joint exercise at HAWS and the expedition was a culmination of the joint exercise, but they were not prepared for the rigours of a Himalayan expedition.
After saying bye to the Polish soldiers, I was on my way to Camp1. I met with Kevin in about an hour. Nabarun and Abhijit made it in an hour later. Nima and Pemba were out to fix the route to Camp2 with the Army guys. We were also expecting the Belgians to go past us on their way down from the summit. Just after lunch our worst fears came true. It started to come down heavily and this was the trend for the next 5 days. Nima and the rest of the boys made it back sometime in the afternoon, closely followed by the Belgians. Apparently 5 of them had made it to the summit and one had suffered serious cold injuries. Kevin met with them and they were off as soon as they arrived. The precipitation was not helping either and they had a good couple of hours, may be more, in order to climb down to the Base camp. We had an early dinner, which Kevin hated, and we went to bed hoping the blizzard and snow fall would stop and we could get on with the climb. Boy! Were we wrong?
12 Sep 13. It was still pouring down. To make matters worse the wind was gusty, it was overcast and Nun was totally hidden in the whiteout. Kevin seemed to have slept well. I was on and off. But we were all feeling ok. Our rations were clearly marked out. We were hoping to summit in 3 days and had rations for 4 or 5 days. We decided to hang around, and if the weather didn’t clear up, Nima and Pemba would head to the base till the weather cleared up. That way we would save on rations and even get a better, more recent forecast. The weather didn’t clear up in deed and around supper time Nima and Pemba suggested that they would climb down to base around noon the following day. All of us spent the day on our backs, in our tents. The snow did stop for a few minutes in the afternoon, but it was more of the same in the evening. The winds were always persistent and at times even threatened to blow the tents away. I did spend some time with Nabarun and Abhijit during lunch, but that was all. The order of the day was pretty much “each in his own tent”.
13 Sep 13. Nothing had changed. By now, the precipitation was beginning to demoralise us. We were really hopeful when we had saved a couple of days getting to the base camp. We drove to Tongol in a day as opposed to two and then hiked to the base camp in one day, now all of a sudden, we lost two days and were not sure when the weather pattern would change. After breakfast, Nima and Pemba were on their way down. Nima had left his crampons at the slope leading to camp 2 about an hours hike from where we were camping. So he took my crampons. Kevin moved into Nimas tent because he hated the smell in my breath. I am kidding. He is really tall and therefore felt cramped in a shared tent. He figured, since he would be alone in Nimas tent, he could sleep diagonally and therefore wouldn’t be as cramped. His supposed luxury was only meant to last a day though. In all probability Nima and Pemba would return the following day.
Of course Kevin played the good neighbour by visiting me during lunch and dinner. The burner, fuel and boil in bags were all in my tent. Nabarun and Abhijit were relatively lethargic during the day, but apart from the general disgust at the weather staying bad, the spirits were alright otherwise.
14 Sep 13. Snow fall was incessant the previous night and the winds were howling. Things did get a little better though. The sun was out at about 10, but only for a few moments. We just had tea for breakfast. Kevin and I would try to make conversation from our respective tents. But it wasn’t working out too well. The precipitation was beginning to annoy us, especially Kevin and I. We had noodles for lunch and that is when we decided that if the weather was not so bad the following day, we would establish Camp2. The idea behind the decision was that if the weather did clear up on the 16th or 17th, we would be at a higher altitude, would have slept at that altitude for a day or two and we could use that good weather day to move to camp3 rather than 2. Kevin seemed alright with the idea, but Nabarun seemed a little apprehensive although he was not vehemently opposing. Abhijit was neutral about the idea.
Nima and Pemba returned as predicted around tea time and Kevin was kicked out of his temporary luxurious dwelling place. At supper time I shared my intention about moving to Camp2 the following day with Nima and he was neutral too. We both agreed that we should wait until sunrise (if there was one) and then see how things pan out weatherwise. I just reiterated that if the weather was too bad, of course, no body was going to move. But if it wasn’t so bad, perhaps we could establish a higher camp if we moved swiftly. We didn’t argue, but he understood the logic. Since our Nannies were back, I was relieved of the duty of preparing the meals and stuff. After supper we went to our tents in anticipation of a bright sunny day to follow. Nima did have a forecast from the army team at base camp, but it was inconclusive at best. What they said was that 18th would definitely be a good weather day and it would continue to be good for a week or so. But the forecast was kind of iffy for the next 3 days. Intermittent precipitation was what was predicted; which was way off as we were to find out.
15 Sep 13. I slept really late. I think I only fell asleep at about 4 in the morning. The snowfall and the winds and the tents flapping just didn’t let me sleep. Kevin woke me up at about 7 to check if we were set to go. Nun was hidden behind the clouds, winds were strong and there was still a little snowfall. There was no activity in Nimas and Nabaruns tents, so I assumed they were still asleep. I suggested that we wait for a while till the others wake up and also for the weather to clear up. We both hit the sack again. At about half past eight, Nima yelled from his tent that in his opinion we should stay put at Camp 1. I just replied stating, “lets wait and watch”. The sun did come out briefly, but most of the sky was clouded. About 9 o’clock, I spoke with Nabarun and Abhijit. Nabarun didn’t say anything, but to me it seemed like he wanted to stay. I reasoned with him. I advised him that we had spent 4 days at camp1 doing nothing. We were using up precious high altitude rations and most importantly, if the weather holds up reasonably long enough, and if we moved to Camp2 that day, then when the weather does clear up for good, we would be acclimatised at a higher altitude and in a position to move to camp3 instead of wasting that good weather day in establishing camp2. The route to Camp2 was pretty steep. We had to traverse to the base of the feature on which camp2 was perched by hiking for an hour on the snow plateau, in the middle of which we had been camping the last 4 days. Apart from the weather, steep terrain probably concerned Nabarun, but we had fixed that part of the route and so it was a straightforward climb. One only needed to brave the elements for a few hours, if at all it got bad once we were on our way.
Since the sun was still out, Kevin and I began packing. Nima and Pemba were in still their tents, and I gave a shout that we were moving. Nima didn’t seem too pleased, but played along. The Army team, that had moved to Camp1 on the 10th, seemed puzzled at the activity in our camp. On 12th, a team from Bombay had arrived at Camp1 too, and they were intrigued too. I spoke with JP, the leader of the army expedition, and he expressed concern at our departure to C2. I assured him that we would be alright. This was our best chance at summit. We didn’t have the logistical luxury like they did and most importantly, they had time till at least one of their 3 summit teams conquered the peak. We didn’t have that luxury. It was a 3 week expedition for us (Delhi – Nun – Leh); no more. Hence we had to exhibit some urgency in our intent. But at no point was any one rushed or did I consider the movement to Camp2 unsafe. In hindsight, if anyone including Nima the guide was not confident about moving in bad weather, he always had the option of staying at Camp1 and catching up when the weather did clear up. The route to Camp2 was fixed and both camps were in a line of sight. Since everyone packed up to move, it was assumed that they understood the logic behind moving on the 15th. The sun was out (albeit for a brief while) and bad weather was predicted for the next day or two. So if we were gonna sleep in our tents, why not sleep at a higher altitude, was my idea.
So we packed up; I shook hands with JP and then we set out. We were deliberate and were warmed up in about 15 minutes. The traverse to the bottom of the feature was pretty fast. Till this point we were pretty much together. It took us just over an hour to get to this point. Nima, Kevin and I were together. Pemba, Nabarun and Abhijit were not far behind. It was beginning to snow a bit so we put on our shell layers. Kevin is pretty much used to cold conditions, whereas Nabarun, Abhijit and I are not. I only had three layers on; the base layer, a t shirt and a wind proof fleece. So the hardshell was only acting as a protection from the precipitation and was not offering any warmth, which I didn’t need at the moment, but did need over the course of the ascent to camp 2.
Camp1 was at 5400m and we had lost about a 100m while traversing the ice field to get to the bottom of the feature on which camp 2 was perched. Camp2 was at 6200m, so we had about 900m to gain. A tall task considering we were still at the base of the feature and by now it had begun to come down heavily. The first 100m were not so steep. About 40 degrees I’d say. This is the point where Nima and Pemba had deposited their crampons a few days back. We wore our crampons and continued the ascent. A couple of hundred meters more and the terrain was a lot steeper. It was not quite ice, but ankle deep powder. Of course there was a lot of old snow/ice under the powder, so we had a good base under the fresh powder to progress upwards. By now it was beating down hard. I could see Kevin and Nima about 50m above me while Nabarun and Abhijit were about a hundred meters beneath me. Since the route was fixed, I decided to catch up with Kevin and Nima and help them establish the camp, instead of staying with Nabarun and Abhijit. Camp2 hardly had any place to camp and we needed place for at least 2 tents. So we had to level the place first and then pitch the tents. The more people we had working in order to level the spot, the better. That, and the fact that the route to camp 2 was fixed, were reasons for me to move on confidently. At that point, I honestly believed that the team was safe, even though we were sparsed over 150m vertically. I continued ascending the slope which by now was about 65-70 degrees. About 3 o’clock, I noticed Nima and Pemba (who were in front of Kevin) had stopped climbing. Nima was bent. The precipitation was really heavy and by now the winds were really gusty. We were on an exposed slope so we were feeling the cold, and so was Nima was my assumption. I think he didn’t move for about 10 minutes, which gave me time to close in on them. I did wait for a few minutes to check on Nabarun and Abhijit. After about 5 minutes, I saw Abhijits green skiing jacket, and thought it safe to continue. After about half an hour Nima made another halt. Although they were about 30 odd meters above me, I could sense Kevin getting restless. It was clearly evident. It was almost as if he was saying, “common Nima, just move on”. But it was that kind of a day and that kind of weather. If Nima was making a halt, it clearly meant that the conditions were harsh. Nimas halt meant that I could catch up with them in about 5 minutes. First thing Kevin asked me was If I was ok. I said NO. I was really cold and shaking. I didn’t tell Kevin at the moment but a couple of my fingers were feeling weird and my ribs were aching. Of course there was nothing he could do at that point in time, so I didn’t see the point in telling him and we just continued climbing. In about half an hour we reached a rocky outcrop. 10 meters of ascent around this outcrop got us to the top of the feature. We were at Camp2. Just in time. We could see the sun setting in the west and the winds coming hard at us and the snowfall too, which had waned a little bit. Nabarun and Abhijit were not expected for at least an hour. I was basing that on their rate of ascent. My ribs were aching and I was shivering excessively. We were using our axes to dig out the snow and our boots to level the camping spot. We did that for a few minutes and then pitched the tents. No food, no water. Just out of our shell layers and into the sleeping bags. That’s what we did. I did have a chocolate and some water though. I had lost a lot of heat and despite being dry and n the sleeping bag for half an hour, I was still shivering. I had asked Nima to look down the line to see if Nabarun and Abhijit were anywhere close. Kevin had nothing to eat and was asleep in about 5 minutes. Its amazing he has the ability to do that. Kevin asked me about the Nabarun and Abhijit and all I could say was they haven’t made it yet. Just as we were speaking about them, Nima was at our tent and said that the winds and spindrift were making it hard for him to climb down, but he did see headlamps not too far away, and assumed that both Nabarun and Abhijit would soon ascend the fixed line. It was quite late and dark by then. I guess we made it to camp 2 by 1700 and it took us about half an hour to level the ground and establish camp 2. It had been a couple of hours since then and NOW I WAS GETTING WORRIED. Kevin told me that he felt like he heard footsteps going past our tent. I was not so sure. I think he had heard the outer tent wall flapping. He was pretty sure he had heard footsteps. I waited for some time hoping that if Kevin was right, either Nabarun or Abhijit would come into our tent. There was silence in Nimas tent, and since we were a bit opposed in our outlook about establishing camp2 that day, I thought it best to leave him alone for some time. The last time I checked, Abhijit was 100m behind (vertically) me on the fixed line. Even if they did take a break for half an hour (which in that harsh weather was highly unlikely) they should have been here by now, even if I catered for their slow rate of ascent. I expressed my concern to Kevin. The first thing he said was that he would come with me to look for Nabarun and Abhijit. I thanked him and asked him to wait for a few minutes. I went out of the tent and had to literally scream in the direction of Nima and Pembas tent; because of the howling winds and spindrift. Pemba did respond. I told him about Nabarun and Abhijit (not that they didn’t know, because one of those guys was to sleep in their tent). He told me that they would be fine and make it to the camp soon. I straightaway said NO they are not fine and that they should have been here by now. I told Pemba that at least one of us needed to go down to look for them. I told him about my condition and that even if I went down I would be of no help to them. Pemba had known about my condition since we arrived at camp 2. He asked me stay in the tent with Kevin. He said that him and Nima would go down to look for Abhijit and Nabarun. Kevin asked me to pass his boots and I told him about Pembas decision to go down with Nima (Pemba and I were speaking in Hindi and Kevin doesn’t speak Hindi). I asked him to stay in the tent. Apart from Pemba and Nima going down, another reason I wanted him to stay in the tent was that he was relatively stronger than the rest of us and relatively injury free. Relatively is the key word, because all of us had suffered some form of cold injury or were showing signs of AMS or Oedema. So if we continued further, Kevin had the best chance of making it to the summit. I was not so sure I would be able to continue. As far as I was concerned, that night I truly felt like that was the end of the expedition for me. Pemba asked me to stay in the tent, but I was not going in so fast. I stayed there and kept yelling Nabaruns and Abhijits name, hoping that they would respond if they had made it to the vicinity of the camp. There was no response. In about 10 minutes Pemba and Nima were out of their tent. I was feeling sorry for Nima, because I knew he was not feeling too good. Once they were on their way, I went inside the tent. Kevin and I spoke about the state of affairs for a few minutes. I wasn’t feeling too good about how things turned out that day. Kevin assured me that the decision to move to camp 2 that day was a good one and that it was not my fault that Nabarun and Abhijit didn’t make in time. All I could tell him was that if something went wrong, I couldn’t tell their parents that their sons were too slow and hence it was not my fault.
So we were talking for a while and Kevin managed a little nap again. I just lay there with my eyes open, waiting for the rest of the team top appear. The winds had slowed down a bit and the precipitation too, but every once in a while I would hear snow falling on the tent intermittently. After an hour and a half I could hear feeble voices and that’s when I began feeling good. I though of what I should say, but I could just scream Nabaruns name. He replied “Jerry”. We both managed to wake up Kevin, and I am sure he didn’t mind. I quickly unzipped the tent entry and made way for Nabarun to come in. Nima helped him undo the harness and his pack. He was stiff and couldn’t move or make movements. Nima and I helped him with his boots. It took him over 10 minutes to get in the tent. We first hugged for a minute and then I helped him get inside the sleeping bag. Abhijit was in Nimas tent. I assumed Pemba was helping him out. I offered some water and peanut candy to Nabarun. Nabarun had lost his sleeping bag in the storm so Nima gave his sleeping bag to Nabarun. I presume Nima and Pemba shared a sleeping bag that night.
After Nima went to his tent, Kevin, Nabarun and I spoke for half an hour. Apparently Nabarun had given up due to exhaustion and Abhijit was stranded with him even though he was fit enough to make it to the camp. They decided to bivvy in the open and in the process lost Nabaruns sleeping bag. I asked them if they considered returning to Camp1 since we had left a tent behind with some food and he said it didn’t occur to him. I just told him that I was glad to see him again. After a while Kevin fell asleep. Nabarun showed me his toes and I showed him my fingers. His toes were numb and blistered. My fingers were blistered and numb too but I felt a sting once in a while. Of course it was too soon to tell how serious the frostbite or chilblain was, but it was definitely not good. After a while we were all quiet, but I was glad that the team was together finally.
16 Sep 13. There were occasional winds and not much precipitation but it was still overcast. Visibility was quite low. We had not had dinner and were still weak so we decided to stay in the tent. I think we just had tea and some biscuits in the morning. Nabarun and I had a chat about our injuries. I took a good look at his feet and the blister on his toe had gotten bigger since last night. My toes too were numb and three of my fingers (all on the right hand) were giving me a stingy feel. They were blistered too and the middle finger was even turning dark. While we were talking, Kevin went out to have a chat with Abhijit. I couldn’t go out yet because I was feeling very weak. Kevin was back in a few minutes and told me that Abhijit was fine; a bit in shock still, but fine. I was glad. Kevin asked me to visit Abhijit; and I told him I wasn’t feeling too good at that moment and suggested that may be I would meet him after lunch.
Around noon, Nima brought us some food; well, boil in the bag stuff really. We had the fuel and burner, so boiling some water was not a concern. I took over the kitchen duties. The meal was refreshing. I felt a lot strengthened after the meal. After lunch, I went to meet with Abhijit, but he was fast asleep. Pemba told me that Abhijit was feeling much better and I thought it was best if he got some rest. So I hung around for a while. The mountains around us, Nun behind us and Camp1 in the distance were all covered. A few mountains were visible through the clouds. There was no snow fall at that moment, but the winds were strong and chilly. After a few minutes I went inside the tent and Kevin spoke with me about the course of action. Of course when we were speaking, he had assumed that I was spent by now. He advised me that Pemba should escort Nabarun and I could escort Abhijit to Camp1 and then to base while he could carry on to Camp3 and beyond with Nima. I advised him straightaway that I was going further to camp3 and see how things pan out there. I suggested that Abhijit was good enough to go down to base on his own while Pemba could escort Nabarun. Of course the three of them would be together so with Pemba around, both Nabarun and Abhijit were quite safe. Kevin was both surprised and glad that I had decided to continue. He expressed concern over my toes and fingers and I told him that I will not be a burden to either him or Nima. If at any point I felt like I couldn’t continue, I would return to the base camp. Of course Camp2 to base camp was a really long hike/descent, and quite risky if one had to embark on such a long arduous task alone. What would be even worse was a descent from Camp3 to Base camp because getting to camp3 to camp2 involved a long circuitous 2 hour descent and a 100m climb too. But I brushed aside all his concerns confidently. I had been in situations where I have trekked, climbed, descended alone; so getting back to base camp from camp2 or even camp3 was no big deal. Of course we were having this conversation based on a hypothetical scenario where I was not able to carry on with the rest of the team (basically Kevin himself and Nima). In all probability we were gonna be together for the rest of the expedition. Or so we assumed.
Nabarun was asleep while Kevin and I were talking. I waited for Nabarun to wake up to discuss stuff with him. He woke up around 4, just in time for tea. He took it well. I told him if the weather was good the following day, Pemba would escort him and Abhijit down to base. Of course I felt sorry for him. The reason for establishing camp2 in adverse weather was to increase our chances at the summit, and now it seemed like that very purpose was being defeated. We had a lot of time and nothing to do, so we spoke about a lot of stuff. My plans for the future, his plans for the future, equipment, apparel, the night just gone by etc. Soon it was dinner time and we had more of the same. Boil in the bag stuff. We had a good laugh about things during dinner and it was all good for the moment.
17 Sep 13. Kevin was up really early. It was sunny by 0700. Camp1 was visible and we could see a train of dots between camp1 and the feature on which we were camping. We had no doubt it was the members of the Indo-Polish army expedition. We started packing up. Pemba was to escort Nabarun and Abhijit to Camp1 and if possible to Base. We had instructed Pemba to leave the tent at Camp1 as it is, in case we needed to descend in case of an emergency.
We had our breakfast and were busy chatting, waiting to receive the army blokes. By 10, I advised Nabarun and Abhijit to depart so that they could make it to base, just in time for lunch. Base camp would be a comfortable place for them and there were two army doctors too in case of an emergency. We shook hands and they were off to base in a few minutes, Pemba escorting them. In a about an hour after Nabarun and Abhijit had departed, the army blokes began arriving at our campsite. We received them with tea and biscuits. They had already had a long day by now, and had aimed to reach camp3, which made me think they would be spent by the time they made it to camp3. I suggested that they camp in the bowl about a 100m under camp2. It was an easy descent and considering the fact that almost 80% of their team was at least a couple of hours away, it would give them a much needed break and they could start stronger the following day. I also advised that our team could open the route to camp3. They seemed to take it well. So we descended to the bowl together and the army team stayed behind while Nima, Kevin and I set out towards camp3. Hav. (Sgt) Namgyal, one of the swiftest members of the army expedition was sent with us. From the bowl, we had a gradual climb for about an hour, may be 90 minutes. From this spot we had two options to make it to camp3. Namgyal and Nima were leading while Kevin and I were following. The shorter route seemed to be heavily crevassed. Namgyal was trying to fix the line while I was belaying him. After about 30 minutes of exploration it became apparent that the route was too risky. We spent about 2 hours around that spot. I suggested if the route makes us explore for half an hour and ponder for a couple, then it cant be too good, considering there were at least two, may be three army batches to climb the same route. Both Nima and Namgyal agreed that we take the longer route. But by now it was too late. We descended a bit towards where the Army team were camped. We set up an intermediate camp and decided that we could start early the following day in order to open the route, before the army team moved to camp3.
Namgyal made a quick trip to his camp, to report to his officer. We had a small tent with just enough room for three, but I was more than glad to accommodate Namgyal. Kevin and I had a good chat about the proceedings that day. It seemed like a wasted day, but there was nothing that we didn’t try that day. In hindsight, if we had gone through with the decision to establish camp3 through that route, there was a high chance of some incident occurring. Nima was still not in very good talking terms with me since 15th because of my decision to establish camp2. I made small talk with him and we were ok in a while. The sunset in front of our tent was symbolic of any bad blood vanishing away. Namgyal was back in a couple of hours, just in time of dinner. We had noodles, tea and some boil in the bag stuff. We were pretty cramped in the tent; 4 grown men stuffed in a 40 sq ft space. But it was fun.
18 Sep 13. I had no sleep at all, which is a feature while I am on the mountains. Kevin seemed to be ok. I was feeling terrible after so many sleepless nights. After tea, Kevin and I stayed back while Nima and Namgyal were off to explore the route to camp 3. By 10, the army blokes started appearing at our campsite. As the day passed on, my condition improved slowly. Kevin wanted to move to camp3. I decided to hang on a little more. I asked him to move on. He seemed a bit concerned but I assured him that I would be fine. In any case I was gonna follow him an hour later. We cleaned up the tent and left it pitched, since Nima and Namgyal had left some of their stuff behind. Kevin was gone in about 10 minutes and a couple of the polish soldiers passed our tent a little later; there were still a few soldiers camped at the bowl. Apparently they were moving out in batches. Slowly I started winding up. Kevin was not visible anymore, while I could see the polish chaps. I moved slowly and deliberately, tracing the poles for an hour, which is when I reached the fixed line. This is when Nima and Namgyal passed me on their way to the campsite to pick their stuff. I think the fixed line was wasted because the terrain was not so steep and it didn’t seem crevassed too. But I guess the army had so much equipment, they could afford to waste it.
The route was not very steep, but there were sections where one had to cross a number of crevassed and it was definitely long. Besides climbing at 6300 – 6400m Is bound to take a toll on anybody. About 90 minutes later I passed the polish soldiers, who were relaxing a bit. They started moving a little after I passed them. In about an hour I was able to see some tents, and the awesome Nun in the background. It was a fantastic sight. The Poles were still tailing me, which was good. 15 minutes later I reached the site and our tent was not pitched yet. Kevin and I pitched the tent and the army guys brought us some tea. Nima and Namgyal and a couple of the army soldiers went about 100 m higher to explore the route to the summit. We were at 6507m and the summit was still 628m away. The route that they had taken gave me an impression that the army team was thinking of the south face. I had the west ridge in mind. Nima was back by 6, and we had some tea and then dinner. It was going to be an early start for us, so we were in the sack by 9.
19 Sep 13. I had still not had any sleep. The last time I slept was a few hours at camp2. So well over 30 hours of insomnia for me. Kevin and Nima did manage a quick nap. I was feeling the worst I could possibly feel; Headache, cold, breathlessness and not to mention the fingers and toes having worsened because of the continued ascent. On the flipside, it was a conscious decision for me to continue and Kevin did ask me to descend from Camp2. So I was responsible for the situation.
We slowly geared up for the summit attempt. Nima made us some tea and we also had some biscuits to get us going. Nima had to help me wear the crampons, the fingers were that bad. The feeling was a mixture of numbness and extreme stinging pain. The toes had little to no sensation. The worst part was my killer layer system that I was trying; a base layer, a thin fleece, a windproof shell and a hardshell. That’s it. May be this was the wrong peak and the wrong time to try it out, but it was too late to ponder over that. Kevin was very concerned. I assured him that I would return if I couldn’t continue. A few members of the army team were on their way by 1. We followed them in 10 minutes. I was between Nima and Kevin. Kevin observed that I was wobbly in my stride. I assured him I was fine. After about 15 minutes of ascent, I asked Kevin and Nima to carry on, suggesting that I would follow them to the fixed line. Kevin straightaway opposed the idea. I told him that I didn’t wanna hold him up. But he was not going to have any of it. He told me that he was not in a hurry. I was pleased to see his reaction and continued climbing with him and Nima for about 15 more minutes to reach the fixed line. We secured ourselves and climbed for about 10 minutes on the line to meet with the army chaps. I didn’t understand why they were holding up the movement. Apparently they were shifting anchors from place A to place B and back to A. As long as I was moving, I had some warmth in me. But a couple of minutes of waiting on the line, and I was rattling. Kevin was behind me but I knew he was closely observing me. Nima spoke with Namgyal in their common language and I just knew they were discussing how safe the anchor was or not. I just wanted them to fix the anchor and move on, but they kept delaying. 10 minutes and now it was the beginning of the end for me. The cold was unbearable. I was shaking in my boots which were single layer leather boots. I looked at the army blokes and they had their downsuits on and 8000m double layer boots. No wonder they were taking their time to plonk the anchor. On the flipside, I couldn’t just blame my layering system or my apparel. Alright I should have had a down (or some insulating) layer. I should have had a double layered boot. But you don’t just make an alpine start and waste time at 6700m at 2 in the morning in mid September. Its suicidal. The temperatures were 20 below zero and whether one has downsuits or not, one ought to be on the move. In this case, apparently I had no say over when we should move since the army guys were hogging the fixed line. We had an arrangement with them that we help each other and therefore all I could do was wait for them to move. They didn’t move for 45 minutes. By now the fixed line was shaking vigorously and Kevin was not patient anymore. 45 minutes at the same spot. All I was thinking was that in 45 – 60 minutes I should have been at 6800m and should have been much warmer. Instead I was witnessing a commotion over something as simple as where to fix the anchor. I just looked at Kevin and I think I was scaring him. He kept slapping his palms to ensure circulation, something that I couldn’t do because of the stinging sensation. That, and the fact that I was hypothermic and breathless by now. Hands, feet, torso, all cold. He advised me to go to the tent. I just couldn’t make myself do it. Camp2 would have been something else. But after that effort to reach camp2 and then the decision to continue to camp3 and attempt the summit; it scared me to think that all that effort would be wasted. We were just about 500 m short of the summit. All the difficult sections were behind us and it was a pretty straightforward ascent from where we were. These are the thoughts that were going on in my mind. All I could say to Kevin was, please, lets wait for 10 minutes. He said ok. But we kept talking. He told me that I had given my best and I didn’t look too good at the moment. 10 more minutes and we were still there. Kevin gave me a look and I nodded. That was it for me. It didn’t look like we were going anywhere too soon. By now, I had no sensation in my fingers, toes and I could barely speak. I told Kevin that he must summit for both of us and the team. He nodded. I just asked him if he really thought I gave my best. He said, under the circumstances, I had given my best and the delay was not my fault. I was shattered, but I told him, He was leading now, and wished him well and began climbing down to the campsite. I looked back once in a while towards the summit and towards the spot where Kevin and the army team were; still no progress. At that moment, going down seemed like the right thing to do. I felt like I would need a bulldozer to make me move, but I had to move. On my way down, I saw a number of soldiers huddled in small groups, waiting for the first team to move on with the ascent. When I made it to the tent, it took me more than 15 minutes to get out of my crampons, boots and harness. The fingers just refused to do anything. I had some Gatorade and got in the sleeping bag. I think I was shivering for a couple of hours even in the sleeping bag and then it dawned on me how cold it was outside. I never slept, but after two or three hours I was not shivering as much as when I came in the tent. I could feel my fingers now and the three middle fingers of my right hand were stinging profusely. By 8 the sun was up and I looked out of the tent. They had indeed attempted the south face and not the w/sw ridge. They were still well short of the summit, which was surprising. We had aimed to reach the summit by 8 and back to camp3 by 11 and then back to base by evening. At this rate it seemed like they would summit by 11. I hung around the camp, waiting for Kevin and Nima to return so we could begin climb down to the base together. But they were still on their way up. I waited till about 11, which is when the army summit team 2 arrived at the camp. I left a message for Kevin with one of the officers and then started packing. The climb down was going to be a really long one. Camp3 to 2 to 1 and further down to base with a couple of sections where one had to climb for 100 odd meters. I looked back one last time before leaving; neither Kevin nor Nima were in sight. I departed from camp3 by noon and it took me about 90 minutes to reach the bowl where the army had camped the night before, some distance away from our interim camp. I just didn’t have it in me to climb. So I took a break at the bowl. Had a drink and a chocolate and regained some composure. From here a 100m climb would take me to camp 2. I was slow and deliberate and very cautious. I think the break did me a lot of good. I was able to reach the top of the feature in a few minutes and could see some activity in the distance. It looked like someone familiar, but I kept moving towards camp2. I was there in a few minutes and it was Pemba indeed. He had come to receive us. I told him about the change of route and the possible delay in the summit. We figured, Nima and Kevin wouldn’t descend to base. In fact by now we were pretty sure that they would not even move out of camp3. Three of the polish soldiers from the second summit team were camping at our spot. We exchanged pleasantries and then Pemba and I were off on our way to camp1. It was a really steep descent but both Pemba and I were descending swiftly, face down. We were at the bottom of the feature in just over an hour. Pemba had brought us some lunch. It was horrible but I managed to have a bite. From the bottom of the feature we had a gradual climb for an hour where we would gain about 100 meters and then traverse the snow plateau for about an hour to reach camp1. A team from Bombay were there and a few members of the army summit team 3 too. We had a chat with the Sherpa of the Bombay team, and it was quite evident that they were not going beyond camp1. The army team too looked pretty much settled in camp1. I didn’t think they were going any further. We left a message for Nima with the Sherpa and began our descent to the base. We traversed the snow plateau for 30 minutes and then descended a highly crevassed glacier to reach the top of the ice fall. In just over an hour we reached the bottom of the ice fall and I was looking for the spot where I had left my hiking boots and sundry. I got of the crampons but decided to climb down with my climbing boots. We just packed the hiking boots, harness, crampons etc in the rucksack and began descending to base. Climbing down the steep scree slope in mountaineering boots was tricky, but we made it down in about 30 minutes. Nawoy and some of the porters came to receive us. I was glad I was able to descend to base from camp3 in close to 6 hours. Sidar and the boys were a little dejected that I missed the summit but were glad that I kept going when most people would have returned. I told him that Kevin was very likely to have made it to the summit and we were both hopeful that they did. I had not had a proper meal the last few days; it’s something I struggle with at altitude, but now I was starving and thirsty. I had sliced cucumber and tomatoes soaked in lemon juice, salt and chilli powder. Two plates full.
I was told that Nabarun had second degree frost bite and needed immediate medical attention. Sridhar was kind enough to accompany Nabarun and Abhijit to Tongol and further to Kargil. From there Nabarun and Abhijit would carry on to Leh and onwards to Delhi, while Sridhar would return to Tongol and wait for us at the tourist guest house. Pemba also went to the Bombay camp; half of them had stayed at the base camp while the rest were at camp1, whom we had passed by sometime earlier in the day. I just needed to check on the radio with the summit team if Kevin and Nima were ok there was no response from the army. So we returned to our camp; after dinner I played some music on my phone for a couple of hours and fell asleep sometime past midnight.
20 Sep 13. I woke up by 7. I was hoping that Kevin would reach the base by noon. I sent Pemba and Nawoy to receive him and Nima. By 10 we could see some soldiers descending the scree slope. We rightly guessed it was the Polish soldiers from summit teams 2 and 3 respectively; who had not attempted the summit. There was a british team led by Martin Moran, camped nearby and one of the members, Shyam, a doctor by profession came to meet with me. Apparently he was suffering AMS and I offered him some tea and we spoke about our styles of climbing. The Indian contingent of the army began appearing in a couple of hours. I was hoping Kevin and Nima would be with them. At 2, Nawoy had returned to the base and advised us that Kevin would reach in an hour or so. On inquiring about the delay, he said that they decided to make a long halt at the Bombay camp on the snow plateau. At 3 I could see Kevin in the distance and Nima slightly behind him. They looked exhausted. They reached the camp in about 10 minutes. We hugged and I congratulated him on a successful summit. I offered him some lemonade and tried to speak about his attempt. But he started the conversation with, Jerry! If you had continued, you would have died. He said that there were more halts as the day went by and that he had to slap his hands a million times – literally and since I was in no position to do that it would have been difficult for me to keep the circulation going. I just smiled and suggested that we could talk about that later. Now was the time to celebrate his success. He told me that it was a good face climb till about 7000 and beyond that it was a mix ice, snow, rock ascent. Sounded interesting. I offered him some lunch but he refused to eat. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the tent, sorting out our gear and listening to music on Kevins ipod. Sometime in the afternoon we sent Nawoy to Tongol in order to arrange for the porters. We had decided to retreat the following day. Later a couple of ladies from the british team approached us. One of them needed some insight on the route and the other needed gaiters. Kevin offered his gaiters to her and we shared our experiences on the summit attempt. I told them that if they were able to make it to camp2, then making it to camp3 and then the summit was easy; of course in fair weather. Kevin didn’t eat much for dinner. He made a quick trip to the british camp and came back in about 15 minutes. Martin had offered him some whiskey and that’s all that he needed. In the tent we had a look at each others injuries. I offered him some medicines. Earlier he had also made a trip to the army camp and the doctors prescribed him some aspirin along with some other medicines. Blood thinners basically to keep the circulation going. We had a long chat that night. I had an upset stomach so I never slept that night.
21 Sep 13. A sleepless night meant that I had a severe headache by dawn. Kevin was up by half past 6. He was hungry so I offered him some chocolate. By 7 there was a commotion in our camp. It was the porters whom Nawoy had instructed to arrive at the base early in the morning. It was freezing in the morning and there was a lot of activity in all the camps. The army gentry and half of the Bombay team had also decided to hike to Tongol that day. The british camp was moving to camp1. Shyam’s AMS however, had deteriorated further, so Martin advised him to descend Tongol and further to Leh if he desired. My guess was it was curtains for Shyam.
After breakfast the LO for the British team approached me and requested if we could escort Shyam to the tourist guest house in Tongol. I was more than willing. Kevin and I even offered to share some of his load. He said that he was fine, so I just advised him that if he ever felt uncomfortable, he could give us some of his load or even his pack. By 10 we began our descent to the base, which was pretty uneventful except my water bottle kept slipping out of its spot. It was severely dented by the time we reached the intermediate camp, which we skipped on our way from Tongol to the base. Shyam looked a lot more comfortable compared to how he was in the morning. Kevins toes really hurt him, so he found it hard to climb down. I was hurt too, but I was sprinting down and then would wait for the team at a view point or a self appointed water point. We had originally planned to stay at Tongol for the night but along the way Kevin and I reasoned that if Sam had sent our bus then we could drive overnight, have dinner at Kargil and sleep at Leh instead of Tongol. It sounded like a brilliant idea.
We reached Tongol by half past noon. Sridhar was there at the army support camp waiting to receive us. He was glad that Kevin and I were fine. We had lunch that the army support staff at Tongol had prepared. Kevin couldn’t even manage a mouthful. He just looked at the plate and said NO. Since the bus was there I just told Nima that its better that if the team slept at Leh and although he was not too thrilled, he agreed. But we had to wait really long because a couple of the porters who had our stuff decided to take a nap in the middle of nowhere. The weird part was that they had left the base at least an hour before us and they had not reached Tongol even three hours after we had made it there. I was fuming in anger but there was nothing I could do but wait. Kevin was in good company with the Poles, especially their doctor. Finally we had to send a couple of our guys with a couple of porters to go look for the missing porters. They were able to track them down and the whole bunch arrived at the guest house by 4. I spoke with the guest house caretaker and fixed a room for Shyam, wished him well and then we decided to leave for Leh. It was close to 5 by the time we were on our way. For the initial part of the journey Sridhar sat with me and we spoke about stuff in general. About Nabarun and Abhijit, about the army team, about the poles and about a possible repeat attempt in the coming year or two.
After about an hour we made a halt at a checkpost where Kevin had to sign out. I bought him some juice since he hadn’t had lunch and some for Sridhar too. We were soon on our way. We reached Kargil by 9. Nima and his staff wanted to eat at a place near the bus stop, which was pretty basic. Obviously I couldn’t take Kevin and Sridhar there, so I suggested that they eat at a place in the main market, while I would buy Nima and his boys some dinner. Our spot was a small diner, very basic in every way. I ordered some rice and mutton followed by sheekh kebab. Nima and Sumba had the same. It was pretty good. We were done in about half an hour. I advised the boys to wait for me at the bus stand where our bus was parked. I went to the main market, to the restaurant where Kevin and Sridhar were dining. They were just walking out as I approached the door. Good timing. Kevin and I had a slight difference of opinions at Kargil. He wanted to stroll alone for a few minutes. Basically he wanted to call home. While I wouldn’t have a problem with that anytime anywhere else, Kargil was different. He kept saying, “Jerry, I am an adult” and it made no sense to me. I just wanted us to be together (at kargil). I just wanted us to be safe. If he had asked us to leave him alone at Leh or at Delhi, which are much safer places, I would have obliged. But Kargil was not safe at all, for reasons well known. I stayed away from him, talking to Sridhar, but near enough so that he was visible. He made the call and had a short conversation with his wife I guess.
I bought some Limca for the rest of the journey. By 10 we were off again and drove for over 6 hours to reach Leh. There was no power supply in the hotel, so we had to manage our way through the dark. It was 4 by the time we reached the hotel, but I was glad we drove overnight. We could at least sleep on a bed.
22 Sep 13. Both Kevin and I were fast asleep and we were woken up at 8 or 9 I think for bed tea. I felt like shooting the hotel staff because this was the first time during the whole trip that I was actually sleeping. Instead, for the sake of decency, I thanked the guy for the tea and asked him to bring some warm water for both Kevin and I, so we could nurse our frost nips, bites etc. Kevins fingers and toes looked terrible but it was because of the blood clot under the nails. My fingers on the other hand had suffered frostbite and chilblains and I was getting a little concerned about them. Namgyal had offered to take me to a local physician in Leh who is known to treat severe cases of Frostbite. I was hoping to meet with him during the course of the day. After breakfast Kevin told me that he wanted to visit the hospital to have some blood taken off him. He wanted to go alone and after the little argument we had the previous night, I left him alone. The weird thing was that he didn’t go alone. He went with Sridhar, and so I just presumed he was avoiding me for some reason. I left him alone though and didn’t talk about it. So he went to the hospital and I went strolling around Leh. I first had a shave and just after I ran into Namgyal. Being a local, well almost, he was assigned the task of arranging accommodation for the Polish contingent in a good Hotel. The poles and the army team had camped at Tongol the previous night, when we opted to drive out. He asked me for help with deciding on a good Hotel and I was glad to help. We drove around to a few hotels where I spoke with the management and finally we decided on a fancy hotel, I forget the name, but I know the way to the Hotel, as I do know the way to most places in Leh, having gone there for years now..
Namgyal and I decided to meet up after lunch so we could visit the Physician and then also check out a few resorts where the Polish army would dine in the night, a little get together sort of thing. I briefly met with Sridhar and Kevin over lunch and checked on Kevins medical condition. He seemed to be alright. After lunch I took his leave and drove around town with Namgyal. We first met the physician, who had a small office in his house. I have no idea what he spoke with Namgyal but at the end of it Namgyal assured me that I would be fine. I was prescribed a few herbal pills and some ointments which the amche prepared for me. Namgyal also took me to a few resorts where I did the talking. We booked a resort about 7km outside Leh and then drove back to Leh. With his task completed, Namgyal was now not so anxious. Since we had nothing else to do, we did what everyone does in Leh; Walk around the town. I asked him about his plans and he told me that he was keen on finishing the pending construction of his house. He said that he would need to be spared by his unit in order for him to concentrate on the house. I bought us a drink at the Pamposh Juice Corner and after a few minutes it was time for him to leave. We both agreed to meet when ever we had time. I invited him to Chennai and he invited me to his house when I was there next time. We also agreed to climb together sometime.
I kept strolling around the town and also checked my mails briefly, which by the way is a luxury in Leh. Internet is invariably down and most places offering internet services are ridiculously slow. By 7, I was back at the hotel, waiting for dinner to be served. Kevin and Sridhar were there too. After dinner I went out for a walk. It was terribly chilly and there were very few people on the streets. After about half an hour I returned to the room. Kevin was watching something on comedy central. We thawed our hands and feet in hot water and spoke for sometime about stuff. The climb, our injuries, the travel, our baggage etc.
23 Sep 13. A very uneventful day. We woke up late. Kevin wanted to tip Nima and his boys while I had some gifts for them. I arranged for Nima and the boys to meet at Sams office at an appointed time. I wanted to avoid a situation where Kevin suggested that I leave him alone; so I arranged for him to meet with Nima and his team and then walked away. Incidentally Sam was out of town, which is why I had not met him since we returned from the expedition. After about an hour or so, I checked with Nima about the meeting with Kevin. When I was sure that the meeting was over, I asked to meet with them. On my way to Sams office, I ran into Kevin. We spoke for a minute and then I went to sams office. I handed over the stuff I had for Nima and his team. After a few minutes, we parted ways. In went to the hotel for lunch and then to the room to packup. Kevin had a quick nap. I the evening, we spoke a little bit. At about 4,, I went out for a walk around the town. We had a flight the following morning, and I didn’t wanna waste the evening sitting in the hotel room. I walked to jeep stand, the main market and even managed a brisk walk and climb to the Shanti Stupa. Shanti Stupa allows beautiful views of Leh town in the evening. On my way down from Shanti Stupa, I called Dorjey, a friend of Sams, and asked him to arrange for a vehicle to have us picked up at 0800 the following morning. I went straight to the hotel from Shanti stupa, for some hot dinner of course and then for a ritualistic walk. I was back at the hotel by 10 and spoke with Kevin for a bit. We discussed about how we would go about nursing our injuries and some immediate plans. During the conversation, Kevin told me about his plans of climbing Kilimanjaro with his daughter. I wished him luck.
24 Sep 13. We woke up early. There was no hot water; well it was lukewarm at best. More on the colder side. Both Kevin and I were in and out of the shower in a jiffy and all set to leave after breakfast. Sridhar was ready too. Dorje and our vehicle were at the Hotel by 8. I asked Dorje to convey my regards to Sam before driving to the airport. At the airport we met with the army boys. We spoke for about half an hour before we had got our bags checked in. The flight was pretty uneventful too, except I got a horrible seat by the emergency exit near the port wing. Apparently, one is not supposed to hear music while seated there. Ridiculous.
At Delhi we collected our bags and Kevin and I hugged before parting ways. I thanked Sridhar for everything he had done, especially him helping out with moving Nabarun and Abhijit out of base. He had to rush to the IMF for a tourism meet, while Kevin had to go to his Hotel briefly, before taking an early morning flight to London. I had to wait at Terminal 1D for a couple of hours before my flight to Chennai. I reached Chennai by 8. My uncle was there to receive me. I wondered briefly if Nun was the right place to try out my layer system; but then said to myself, I lasted three weeks in that system. So it did work in a way. Summit would have been sweet, but I didn’t think I would be able to try this out anywhere else. So I brushed away those thoughts and tried to focus on recovery and getting back in shape and on track for the next big one. Nun was a bit of an anti climax for me, but my team and I were moving on days when a better equipped and fitter army team was “sitting it out”. And then to carry on from camp2 to 3 and to attempt the summit was pretty brave and for Kevin to go on and summit was a splendid effort. For me it was a matter oh so close. But I live to climb another day.