Yes, with great anticipation for the D-Day, we slept a rather uneasy night on the cold and rocky lands of Bhaguabhasa. The temperature dipped lower and lower and it was hard to stay still on the rocky slopes. We kept sliding down in our sleep only to wake up and readjust our posture which ensured we had a dreary slumber.
Nevertheless the excitement never faded and we were up by 4.30 to get ready for the final push. By 5.00 AM we were all assembled and started off with the bhajan that somehow had become part of our daily routine. It was spine chillingly cold and the march began towards Roopkund. We walked in the cold for a while in the dark and then the sun was slowly making its presence felt. Somewhere on the way, the doctors of our group administered a homeopathy precautionary medicine for AMS to all of us. I strongly believe trekking is a case of “mind over matter” experience. As long as your head says its right, it all does feel right. You’ll see in a while how mind plays tricks when just an ounce of doubt creeps in.
The route passes from above Bhaguabhasa in a gradual ascent to a small steps sort of formation called Chiriyanag from where the trail rises to Roopkund. The fact that we got up at 4.30 AM and the fact that such chilling temperatures take a toll on one’s appetite, I was feeling super hungry. The roast almonds Dairy Milk in my pouch came to my rescue and I was trying not to panic. It was an eerie atmosphere. The sun doesn’t reach soon to this place with such huge mountain masses rising in front of it. Needless to say, it was very cold and the dim light was in a blue hue similar to those in eerie thriller movies. We stopped at 6.30 AM just when we were about to hit the snow covered trail for everyone to gather.
The temperature outside measured to zero degrees! So now that was one achievement. Chilling out at zero degrees – literally we did. I had a funny feeling in my toes. Actually I wasn’t feeling much in my right toe fingers. I tried to ignore the numbness and walked ahead but slowly a damn thing called fear was making its way up into my head. We were walking on snow and the climb was steep. I tried not to look up at the steep climb that would dishearten me. At times we were clambering onto rocks to climb up. Our guides had setup a rope on the final stretch of the steep climb to Roopkund and halfway up the stretch fear got the better of me. I was damn sure that I had frost bite in my toes and my hands were so numb and cold I couldn’t feel a thing. I just collapsed on the rock nearby and with a sad little pathetic face I was telling Rajesh (Our Trek Lead) that my hands are frost bitten. With an amused and oh-I’ve-seen-this-before laugh, he told one of the porters to lead me to the top. I held on to his hand as he walked me to Roopkund and it was barely 50 steps away! I was glad I made it to Roopkund but I was still shaken inside. My hands and feet were still cold and I was cursing myself for not buying good woolen socks and gloves. It was 7.45 AM and finally the snow was shining and my world was lighting up. I ran up the mountain slope where the sunshine was reaching and it felt oh-so-delightful.
Few minutes later, Rajesh declared Junargali would be attempted soon. Junargali ridge rises 500 ft above Roopkund and is like a knife edge with steep stretching slopes on either side but also with the most majestic views of Trishul, Nandaghunti, Chanyakot and many more mighty high giants rising right in front of you. After all the frostbite drama I did which btw disappeared totally, I was undecided whether to go or not to Junargali. I could see the Junargali above me and the path didn’t seem so tough to me but the hype surrounding it was weighing me down. Still undecided I went to Rajesh to ask him how difficult it would be, he asked me to stay back saying it would be tough. And that did the job. I was on my way to Junargali! :D
Generally speaking, the climb to Junargali is killing. The path is treacherous with very steep slope to your right and the snow all over. But it was made easy for us by digging out steps with the ice axe which gave us good footing. Well it is still slippery and we still needed to carefully measure our steps, but it was definitely better than walking on the slopes directly. Just before Junargali ridge, there is a small rock formation to be climbed and the scary part is that these rocks are perched over the cliff edge and one slip would land you directly in Roopkund Lake adding your bones to the existing ones! The help from the porters was much appreciated and well needed to cross over the final barrier and viola! 16200 ft – I definitely reached new heights in life today.
It goes without saying that the views were out of this world with vast sweeping ice fields, Shila Samudra Glacier, Ronti Saddle on one side and Roopkund on the other and all the peaks rising high all around us. With peaks rising to as high as 7200 meters in front of me, I felt so insignificant. One wrong step and I’m dead! One unfavorable change of weather and I’m dead! One wrong decision and I’m dead! How insignificant! We, the insignificant humans had to get off the snow grounds before the morning sun made it soft. Getting down the rocks on the cliff edge was a bit tricky where just a strong gush of wind could push you down. The porters helped us get down.
Now it was sliding time and it was fun to speed down the slopes with the added detriment that my pants are all wet. But it wasn’t gonna make any difference in a while. We reached Roopkund by 9.00 AM and then we started towards Bhaguabasa. On our way back we saw clouds drifting in towards Roopkund and we were thankful the weather was merciful. It has been a beautiful day so far. Out of 26 who attempted Roopkund today, 24 made it to Roopkund and 16 made it to Junargali! A commendable and glorious feat!
Reached Bhaguabasa at 11.30, had our lunch and our gang was the last to leave the campsite for Bedni. Today was a long day. We were headed to Bedni Bugyal – our day 2 campsite and this is day 6. The weather started to change drastically as we went up to KaluVinayak. By the time we reached Kalu Vinayak Top, it was drizzling and few minutes down the pass we encountered heavy rain and hailstorm. Yes, hailstorm again. My rain poncho held its own well against the rain and hails. And my waterproof Gore-Tex + Vibram Zamberlan shoes rocked! Himalayas are definitely not a place you’d want to get wet. The walk was long and beautiful. It just didn’t feel like today was summit day. We hardly spent an hour at our final destination, the place we’ve been sweating out for 6 days to reach. The snow was fading out of my mind, the peaks were fading out and the insignificance was also fading out. Now again I felt part of this world. The grass was green and the rain felt good. Rain showed no respite and Sujeet, Kunal, Ambareesh and me were walking together. Kunal did not have proper raingear and he was soaking wet within minutes. Somewhere near Pathar Nauchuni, Rajesh crossed us and Kunal joined him to reach Bedni as soon as possible while the three of us continued walking at a leisurely pace. Once we reached the GMVN (Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) rest houses, the comfort of a shelter appealed to the minds of Ambareesh and Sujeet. Soon we were getting comfortable and I did not like it much. We still had a good distance to cover and I’d rather finish it off while I am still on the run. These guys were complaining of a headache and feared they were affected by AMS. I suggested, if that is the case, losing altitude is the thing to be done. Soon we started towards Bedni and the familiar surroundings changed completely with snow covering the grasslands. I walked alone. I walked with them. We talked about our next plans to Himalayas. We decided we’d return next year. The rain receded and now we were walking in puddles of melted snow and white trails. As we reached Bedni, the rain caught on again. The tents were set up and I was more than happy to escape into one of them. It was 4.00 in the evening.
After the rain receded, we came outside to enjoy the last of the views. Luckily, the clouds cleared up and we had clear views of Trishul sunset. We talked for a while before the cold sent us back running inside our tents. After a day with all sorts of experiences, successful summit attempt, it was a night for a tranquil slumber. But it was the last day. Can you imagine the bliss of being out of touch with the outside world for a week in close accord with nature? It was a full moon day and I shall miss watching the peaks which would only clear up in the night when we would not be able to take any photos. Did u say for a reason that was? Well yeah, I am beginning to think so as well. As much as I enjoy being a photographer, sometimes it is best left to imagination and memories and no distractions. Not all moments need to be captured. Like tonight!
Oh btw, today morning was one such morning when at first I didn’t click any pictures because I was freaked out and later coz I didn’t want any distractions. I just wanted to enjoy the views and I trusted my fellow trekkers to do the job of capturing the beauty and they did a mighty good job! You’d find their photos in my post today unlike the usual. Thanks Deepak, Pavan and Ravindra!