Summit, the ultimate target. Everyone wants to reach there.
Reaching there gives  “a joy of accomplishment, sheer happiness, self-confidence that yes I can, assurance of being fit enough, feeling of conquering own fears”.

I had always wondered, what if someday I’ll not be able to reach till Summit? How would I feel?

My imagination was that I would feel bit sad, probably very sad, angry, lost. Millions of thoughts would continuously run through my mind in background which would make it more worst. ( should I have walked fast, should I have done more practice before trek, what went wrong, what could had been done in different way, etc, etc … )

Luckily this was merely an imagination for past couple of years’ treks where I was able to complete the Summit. I was happy and wished it to remain the same.

Little did I know when I started Pangarchulla Trek during winter of 2017-2018 that this imagination was going to become reality. On Summit day of Pangarchulla trek we had walked for around 7-8 hours. We had climbed pretty well and were almost keeping up with the schedule. We were around 1.5-2 hours away from the Summit, but then we had to cut it short and return back. The boulder spot, from where we had to return back, was this close to the Summit.   ⛺………….. …………….. ………………… ………………. ……………..🚶      ⛰

I had thought that it would be like nightmare and all my imagination would now become true. But Nope. Nothing like that happened. Surprisingly I was pretty happy while returning back. What? Why? Really? – yeah. Let me rekindle memories of that day to describe how little little things made it a happy happy trek!

Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.   -Greg Child

Summit Day: Pangarchulla Trek

Early Morning

I waked up at around 3.20 am. It was dark and pretty heavy cold. On a winter trek’s summit day, getting out of that warm sleeping bag, knowing that heavy cold is waiting for you outside, is itself a big task. As soon as I got out of the sleeping bag, I saw that previous night’s water inside the water-bottle had now turned into ice. So last night temperature did went into minus! Voila!

We went to kitchen area for breakfast. In the breakfast maggie was served. After breakfast we went to our tents, packed the day-pack, put on our crampons. Went back, filled up water bottles with hot water, came back and gathered around tent.

There was trekking pole in one hand, torch in another. Shoes were covered with crampons. Woolen cap covering the head and ears, bandana covering rest of face. Muffler for keeping neck and face warn. Two hand gloves. Woolen one for keeping hands warm and other one for Snow. Whole body was wrapped in layers. Two thermals, Down jacket and two layers more on top. Thermal and trouser on down. Eye was the only spot which was left uncovered. In spite of these many layers, still the cold was being felt.

We were at around 3300 m(~11,000 ft) and Pangarchulla peak is around 4481 m(~14,700 ft). So altitude gain for summit day was around 1200 m(3800 ft). It is never easy climbing that much distance after 3300 m(~11,000 ft) in single day, but all wanted to do the summit and were looking forward to it.

At around 4.20 am our group of 14 people and 2 guides started trek towards Pangarchulla Summit. All walking one after another in a line in the dark.

On every summit day, I quite enjoy this few early hours of trek in the dark. During this time height fear completely goes out of equation. Whether there is a stiff cliff on a side, path is narrow or path is bigger one. All feels same. Because the only thing visible is few steps beyond me. Everything else is simply dark.

Trek path was full of snow. For initial couple of hours 1.5-2″ of snow was there on average. At some patches in between, it was bit more than ankle deep. Crampons were helping well in keep the grip on snow. After around 1 hour’s hike, hot water had turned into ice in hydration pack’s pipe of some of our friends. So we were actually walking in minus temperature! Yeah !! Walking in subzero temperature, a lot and lot of snow. My winter trek’s dreams were becoming true!

During ascend at this height, person like me quickly goes out of breath after few minutes of trek. To tackle that, we were following the basics. We were trekking for around 10-15 minutes at steady pace. Then taking short 2-3 minutes break for catching up with the breath, drinking water and taking care of the running nose. We continued this cycle for around 2 hours in the dark.

Sunrise

We were eagerly waiting for sunrise. Primarily because once sun comes out, it would provide a bit of relief in cold. Secondarily because at this height sunrise looks awesome. At around 6.00 am night’s darkness started to fade away slightly with the morning sun rays. Sun was coming out in the opposite direction of our walk. Also now at many places, there were grass paths in between the snow.

Sunrise happened around 7.00 am. Even though, we had stopped for around 15 mins to see the Sunrise. There are very few photos of it. Since no one wanted to take gloves off in that cold, just to take some photos. Instead all very enjoying the moment.

View was awesome. Mountains were everywhere, in every direction, till the farthest distance where our sight can reach. Some of the mountains were snow covered, some were not. Sky was full with beautiful shades of different colors. Every few minutes colors were changing. Behind some of the farthest mountains, sun was coming out. Some of the mountain’s peak had also turned into golden colors. It was beautiful.

After seeing sunrise, we continued the trek. Initial 10-15 mins steady walk cycle had now reduced to around 5-7 mins max. But we were slowly and steadily moving ahead and keeping up with the schedule. After around 9 am, trek paths again started to go through snow. Now it was ankle deep snow on average and at some places more than knee deep. Hmm. Actually more than knee deep paths were probably more of my choice. Since I very much like to walk in snow,in-between I take a detour to the actual route and walk where snow is more than ankle deep. This is one of the reasons, I don’t wear water-proof shoes and instead rely on alternate mechanism like extra shocks and polythene. Because when you want to walk inside the snow knee deep or more, you know at some point in time snow will go inside shoes from above the ankle and when that happens, even waterproof shoe’s waterproof-ability goes for the toss.

On any trek, bigger group gets divided into smaller groups after few hours of trek. Some walks ahead and some walks behind. I usually fall into second one. At around 10.00 am some of our friends were quite ahead with 2 guides. 5 of us ( Me, Sonal, Amruta, Aarti, Noopur ) were behind, moving slowly with the third guide. But the problem was that guide who was with us did not seem to be knowing the route. We pointed in different direction showing different peaks and asking the same question, is it the one we are targeting? Every-time answer was Yes. John snow would have known more than the guide. We did what we could do in this situation. We followed the foot-marks of our friends who were ahead of us.

At around 10.30 am we reached a spot where two sets of footmarks were going in two different direction. One was going straight, other was going in the left. We stopped there for few minutes. Looked in the far direction to analyze both paths. All of us felt that we saw a friend somewhere far in the left side’s boulder. So we thought left most path might be the one to go there and started following it.

The Boulder Trek

At around 11.00 am, we were right there. At the start of the boulder trek. Standing in Snow. Staring ahead. Bit confused about the right route. Hundreds and hundreds of boulders were ahead of us. All sorts of boulders were there. Smaller one, bigger one, some covered with snow, some covered by snow, some shinning, some lay horizontal, some slanted, some vertical.

Since there were boulders ahead, guide instructed us to take out our crampons. It took us some time to take it off. But in that time guide had already moved quite ahead leaving us behind. From there, he was just signaling reach here. Route to follow in boulders? Good luck finding it on your own. We had now realized guide was of no use. We were completely on our own.

As soon as we started on boulder section, we knew its not going to be easy. But initially we thought that it is just rough 20-30 minutes patch. After that, there will again be ascend in snow. If we move past this boulder section in 30-40 mins, we might still have time to do the summit. So we started crossing one boulder at a time. Luckily we had a pathfinder in form of Sonal. He was going ahead, trying out few routes and then telling us which one to take. Rest of us were following him.

( I remember, sometime after starting the boulder trek. I had said “Agar aise hi rasta he upar tak to muje nahi jaana summit tak”. In normal scenarios, going through boulders does not seem to be too risky task. But snow was playing a crucial part here. On some boulders, there was ice, on other it was snow. Ice part makes boulders skiddy, so jumping from one boulder to another becomes risky. Snow was even more risky. Because we do not know how deep the leg would go in snow. At some places there were actually huge gaps inside the boulders covered by snow. If someone jumps and goes into the snow which is covering gap of boulders, chances of hurting knees/ankle were higher. Calculated risk seemed pretty higher in this boulder trek. And suppose in some boulder, my leg had got hurt badly then taking me down for 4-5 kms would have been a pretty difficult task. Adventure is good, but not at the cost of hurting leg badly. )

After around 20-25 minutes of trek, we were right there standing in the middle of boulder zone. There were boulders everywhere. From this place we had two option, we return back or move ahead and stop at some place above. We thought that route we had taken in the boulders was the wrong one. If we can go up to the point, from where there were no boulders were being seen on the left. We might be back on right path again. So we decided to give it a shot and go till that point and then after that decide what we will do next. Around 20 mins and couple of boulders later we again found ourself in the middle of boulders. This time more puzzled about where we should go next now.

So there we were, in the middle of boulder trek. Standing/sitting on some boulder. Tired (because of the long ascend), Hungry (Apart from few toffees nothing else eaten from early morning), feeling a bit out of breath (because of altitude). But still Savoring the moments. Staring at beautiful sky. Looking at mountains, boulders, snow around us. Relishing calm and peaceful silence of the mountains. Enjoying the warmth of sun in this cold weather.

We stayed there like that for quite some time. During that time, Sonal the pathfinder, went up/down, sideways, tried different routes to analyze how risky it was to go upwards. If seemed that even if we go ahead and climb, it was most likely that we might find our-self again lost in the middle of boulders after half and our or so. If that happens then we would have to climb down that many more boulders. Considering this, returning from here only, seemed better option. Returning from here also meant that we would have more time for the descend and we can enjoy more. So we decided to go back from here only. And thus our maximum point of the summit day was there, somewhere in the middle of the boulder trek.

Now during all this was happening, guide was quietly seating on some far boulder. We told him we are going downwards, and tried asking him couple of time, if he could lead us downwards. We weren’t hoping much, but somehow he agreed and saw us the route to go downwards and lead us on the way. Each of us now was concentrating on one next boulder at a time. Giving hands to each other and helping each other out. Telling each other, where to put foot and where not to.

I consider myself lucky trekking in boulders with Amruta, Aarti, Sonal, Noopur. All of us knew, it was risky and difficult there. All of us were worried. But while we were there, no one showed any sign of it. No one panicked. In fact no one talked anything about being risky or difficult. All were encouraging each other. Everyone knew if we take time here, summit will not be possible. But still no one was in hurry. All were helping out each other.

In the boulder trek, I was mainly concentrating on where next to put the foot. One step at a time. Analyzing the depth of snow with trekking pole. Finding out if there is boulder/hard snow right below powder snow or if there are snow covered holes. And then moving forward.

After moving downwards in boulders for around hour or so, we finally found our-self out of boulder zone. We were pretty happy! The Boulder Trek was finally over. Few photos of Boulder Trek might have help reader in imagination of it. But we haven’t taken photos in Boulder Trek. On a brighter side, we have good memories. I can still close my eyes and feel right there somewhere in boulder trek.

Photos are for others to see, Memories  are for our-self to cherish. -Pranav Maniar

After the end of boulder trek, there was a lot of snow on the way down. So we put on our crampons back, had a last look at that hundreds of boulders which had caused us to return back from the middle and then continued walking downwards.

During that downwards walk, we also came to know that our guide was also carrying lunch. So now we had to find someplace not having snow and having sunlight. And then we can have lunch. We continued to walk in snow for around half and hour and then we finally found a place we were looking for. We sat there for the lunch.

In the packed lunch it was chapati and aloo ki sabji. We had just started eating and just then cold wind started to blow heavily. It was causing cold to increase manifold. To escape the cold, we quickly finished the lunch and decided to move downwards. Guide told us that since he was carrying lunch for the whole group. He will sit there and wait for our other friends to come down. We knew the route form where we came earlier. I had also recorded our whole day’s route through GPS, which could work as reference just in case our memory betrayed us. Also, body was now re-energized after lunch and ready for next couple of hour’s descend. Thus 5 of us started our return journey.

Returning Back

Descending in the snow is always full of fun and one of my favorite part in winter trek!. One can run, walk, slide, fall in, get up, play and do all sorts of fun activity in the snow. For me, one of the primary goal to go on winter treks is seeing and playing in lots of snow. Because from where I come from (Pune), we don’t get to see snow. There was a lot of snow around during descend. Some places snow was more than knee deep. We were already descending, so probably only few hour’s snow seeing was remaining. My shoes and socks were already wet by now because of walking in snow earlier. It wasn’t going to dry now. And legs were good till now, few hours more in snow would not harm much. So I decided to enjoy that descend to the fullest. Because the thing is “Saal me ek hi baar aate he snow me” :).

After walking for sometime, there was a 30-40 ft snow-patch ahead with harder snow, seemed perfect for sliding! And there it was, the first slide of the day! After that first slide, me and amruta tried to slide again for around 4-5 times, but all in vain. Since snow was softer and around knee deep. It was hard to slide in it. As soon as we were trying to slide, we were getting stuck there. But overall it was kind of fun!

Most of the descend was like, running through snow, falling somewhere in that, then again getting up and continuing it. Repeating that till the time I go out of breath. Because of descending like this, snow was everywhere on my clothes, inside my shoes, inside side pockets, pockets, inside gloves. My shoes were wet quite a while ago, but now my down-jacket and thermals were also damp. But Np. Kyu ki “Saal me ek hi baar aate he snow me”, kuchh bhi baaki nahi rehna chahiye !!

We continued to descend like this for couple of hours. At around 3-3.30 pm few of our friends, who had went ahead earlier, also caught up with us. At that time, we came to know that Rahul, Rohit and Mayuri were actually able to complete the Summit. Kudos to them! Deepak, Milind, Priyanka, Ravindra and Saurabh had also reached quite near to summit, but second guide had not taken them till summit.

We continued to descend slowly slowly. In between, clouds came by and it seemed there might be a snowfall. But no, in a quick time everything was clear again. Now sun had beginning to set and we were slowly descending. Sharing our stories of the day with one another! At around 5.00 pm we reached back to our tents. It was just perfect time to reach back to the tents. Light had already started to fade and the sun was about to set in few minutes. Finally after around 12 hours, the long trek of the summit day was over. Body was tired but heart was full of happiness.

Evening

After returning back, I just wanted to take off my shoes, dry the foot and lie down in the tent. But body needed to be re-hydrated first. So we put our day-pack in tent and directly went to kitchen tent. Drank some hot water/coffee. Sunset was about to happen and cold had started to increase. As a side effect of playing in snow, all my clothes, thermals and jacket were damp. And since body was now at rest, these damp clothes were increasing the cold. So I quickly went back to tent. Shoes were finally off. One sweater and few t-shirt were only dry. I layered it all and quickly went inside sleeping bags. After that I remained there only. I was hungry but getting out from sleeping bag in that cold without thermal/jacket? No way. So directly to sleep. Tada!

Stats

Statistics of Summit day were pretty good. We had walked for almost 12 hours and covered ~7.5 KM. Altitude difference for that day was around 779 m, (~2250 ft). Max height we reached was 4148 m (~13,600 ft). Highest for me till now.

 

Looking back, I feel all that teeny-tiny little moments of the trek were way more important than Summit. Which became possible only because first we didn’t blindly ran for the summit and then we didn’t gave any thought to Summit on our return journey.

It’s not the destiny, it’s a journey which matters in the end.


Photo Credits:
 (cover) Priyanka(@priya18more) , Sonal(@samuraimodak), Milind(@milind.joshi7705) , Deepak(@cdeepakait), Rahul(@rahulkurumkar


P.S. :
I had been thinking about writing trek/travel blog for more than year or so. But it had never materialized. Sometimes in life some special moments are required to make things happen. I guess, the boulder trek was that moment for me. My blog was dead for almost past 6 months. But once I came back from the boulder trek, I had decided to write about that day. After returning, I took new hosting space, setup blog again. Started writing the blog moments by moments. After around one month. Here it is. Live on the web.

If you are still reading, then you have already spent considerable amount of time. I would urge you to spend few moments more and have a little chit-chat with me. I would be delighted. Don’t know where to find me? – Links to Social Networking sites are right there in the sidebar.

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