My First High Altitude Trek
5’4, 48kg, below BMI, very low tolerance for cold, can manage till 20C, very low tolerance for strangers, migraine prone, hard-core non-vegetarian.
That is what my profile reads like. Yet, I enrolled with Trek The Himalayas (henceforth, referred to as TTH) for an 8-day trek to Rupin Pass, perched at a measly 15250 ft, with a drop in temperature up to -5C.
Having grown up in Indonesia, my wardrobe is entirely made up of Cottons. I began gear hunting as per the checklist provided by TTH. Rucksack… check; high altitude, water proof, high ankle, hiking boots… check; trek pants… check; down jacket… check; fleece jackets… check; neck gaiter… check; UV surround goggles… check; medications… check; check check check check check!
Based out of Nashik, getting to an airport is a task. An anxious cab ride to the Mumbai airport was how it all began. A quick flight to Delhi, an overnight train to Dehradun brought me face to face with 20 strangers. For an introvert, this is the last place I really ought to be in: 8 days stuck with people I have no clue about!
As always, I started off by wondering, which one would be a serial killer and who I need to maintain distance from (please note, serial killer and people I need to avoid are two different groups!) A long ride to Daula, the base camp, sparked off a beautiful friendship with wonderful individuals.
A myriad of characters from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi; I’ve made friends for life. We were split as per gender and assigned rooms. Before we closed our eyes for one last time, as normal human beings who have not scaled such heights, our Trek lead gave us the necessary instructions which we needed to adhere to if we did not want to die or let alone suffer from AMS (acute mountain sickness). (Apparently dying is any day better than AMS!). We had to eat well to survive. We were offered vegetarian food. (*Sniff*… Kleenex please)
With the bare minimum essentials, my bag weighed around 9 kilos and the additional 2 litres of water did not defy gravity either. Several little birdies, whispered in my ear, ‘Seemab, trust me, you can’t carry your bag, give it to the mule.’ I have always been one to do whatever it is I’m asked not to do. So I decided, I’ll try out carrying my bag the first day and take each day as it came to decide if I could manage on my own.
I thank the genes that my parents donated to me, for the stubbornness which made me survive day 1’s climb. When we reached our camp, I thanked my precious bony feet for their existence without which I would not have survived. Trek lead : ‘Simba, this is nothing! What will you say when we go up the pass???’
(Since people had difficulty pronouncing my name, Seemab became Simba. I didn’t mind… it was not the first time, someone thought of me to be a very cute little cuddly lion cub)
I pushed aside what the trek lead quipped and was enjoying the company of crazy, funny people. Day 2 was a grueling walk which was never ending, filled with ‘how much longer???’, to always get a response, ‘oh.. another 5 minutes’, ‘another km’, ‘another hour’ … as ridiculous as the answers were, they got me to where I needed to go. Meandering through forests, with the sounds of the flowing river for background score, strolling through a movie where I was the lead!
Post reaching our camp, exhausted to the core, my legs were screaming for some rest. Trek lead : ‘Time to acclimatize! Everyone come! We are going for a walk!’ (Wasn’t that what we just did??? … all morning???) After throwing a tantrum, trying to sneak out of the walk, I tagged along like a scorned 2 year old. I had to admit, the walk did me some good and loosened up my stiff muscles!
It was time to leave again the following morning to our next stop. The worst day that I had faced. I seemed to have gotten up from the wrong side of the bed. Nothing was going right. I left my chocolates at camp, I had not filled up water in time, my body was not listening to me, my stubbornness was not being heard, my thoughts drifted to my past, to the days when I was not particularly thrilled (an idle mind is definitely not good!) I still survived and that too with my bag still strapped to my back.
On reaching, had to go on our ‘acclimatization’ walk. (How I hated that word!). This time, it would have been better had I rested instead. During our walk, a catch on my lower back put my aim of carrying my bag till the last day to a stop. In a lot of pain, I surrendered to the mule and some pain killers.
Day 4 was a super long walk, so much so we had to pack lunch this time. After sprinting ahead, losing our way, slipping down slopes, hopping over stones to cross the river, getting excited on seeing a camp, only to be told it was not ours, to finally reach the campsite to stay for the first time in tents at such a height. The first three nights we were lucky to have been put up at homes of friendly villagers.
We were camped by the river with the view of the waterfall which we were to scale the following day. (Newton’s theory on gravity came to mind.) We were taught techniques on how to walk on snow as we had a couple of snow bridges to cross. Balance not being my forte, the thought of snow scared me!
After a very uncomfortable night thanks to a visit from dysentery, my friend/tent-mate and I decided that the best way to defy gravity was to sprint! A three hour climb was conquered in two! (01:56 to be precise: She gets very upset when I round it up to 2.)
With an amazing view, we had a long day to kill. Some resorted to a stroll by the top of the falls, some were playing ball, some had their siesta and some had their tête-â-tête, while my condition was slowly worsening. That night was the coldest with sub-zero temperatures.
Dehydration was setting in, my appetite went for a toss; I just wanted to go home. My friend was just starting to fall sick, so we decided to approach the trek lead. He was not thrilled that we had kept this from him for this long. After taking necessary medication (which did not help), began our final climb up the pass.
With a lot of slipping and sliding, dotted on snow, inching up towards 15250 ft, we worked cohesively as a single unit, to avoid causing danger to each other and successfully summited.
Now came the fun part, as we could slide down the slope! Two long slides down brought back so many fun childhood memories! Today was the longest day yet. The snowy clad peaks were fading away into the background, greens started emerging again. It was a never ending walk up and down meadows, through a herd of sheep and bison. I drifted away from the group and it was just me and the mountains with only the sound of the river singing a sweet lullaby. After hours of such bliss, I finally reached campsite and rested. I had not stretched post my walk, which proved to be a mistake for my last day’s descent.
Worsening by the minute, I skipped dinner and retired early. The final day, accompanied by limited fluid intake, caused severe pain in my limbs and my feet were not willing to co-operate any longer. We reached our destination Sangla, after a very painful walk. I was relieved to remove my boots! I do not know what the others went through internally and physically. But, they were all a solid rock of support through the journey and I am eternally grateful to every single one of them for being there when they were needed the most! It was a quick goodbye at Sangla with the hope of many more such adventures together.
A drive to Shimla, a bus ride to Chandigarh followed by an overnight ride to Delhi, brought me out of the temporary dream I was living in, back to reality. By this time my feet started to swell. By the time I reached Nashik, my legs were swollen till my knee.
A lesson well-learned! Eat well, drink well, stretch well and sleep well! Now am back to the daily grind of work and I miss those many precious moments shared with my new friends.
Now, being better equipped with what not to do, am ready to scale the next peak. Sikkim, here I come!