Darj Diaries III… (Training at Base Camp)

Ok, so hoping that the recent posts had been a good read and ride, here is the post describing the most interesting part of the course, the Glacier training.

This isn’t an account of heights and weights and distances or any other numbers. As much as I’ve tried to keep these writings factual, the feeling side still has the upper hand.

It definitely isn’t a handbook on trying to handle ourselves at the course, no matter how much we prep, there are lessons we learn only during the climb and training. And those are the experiences that help us be better prepared for the next one.. ๐Ÿ™‚

What this post IS, it is an expression of all the beautiful memories and learnings the mountains have given me. All I would hope to achieve out of it, is maybe just to inspire one more person to take a trip to these mountains and spend a little while in their company, and do that with the right spirit. For every minute spent there is a knit work of memories worth hoarding forever!

So, my days at the base camp…. Here goes..

Following the low sight, high spirit journey, we finally arrived at the Base camp – Chaurikhang. The clouds were so dense, we could barely make out anything at the camp site, let alone the surroundings. We took our time settling, lunching and were assigned some more gear and equipment. After stumbling our way around the campsite in the new boots, I slept like a dead man that night!

The Rathong Glacier

The Rathong Glacier

We went for an acclimatisation walk the next morning, the weather was clearer, yet some peaks remained covered by the thick clouds. We were briefed about the surrounding peaks, the attempts to scale them, and the deceivingly close Rathong glacier, our training field! Back to the campsite, there were lectures on glaciers (naturally) and learning to handle yourself on the crampons and the ice axe. Easier seen than done!

Stepping out of the hut next morning, I’m stunned! All around us, and so close they seem, are brilliant white peaks, and a valley beyond the extensive camp site… The place is so beautiful, I’d love to make it my home! Two barracks stand as our makeshift home for the week to come, facing us is the MI Room (apparently Sir Edmund Hillary’s laboratory at one point!), little stone huts are pitched around the site which belong to the instructors and the ever-inviting and warm (literally and figuratively) kitchen tent can be seen right outside our window! An extensive field stretches outside the hut and there are rock faces for training near by.

View of the Base Camp

View of the Base Camp

When we did finally start our trek to the glacier the next day, it seemed to take forever to reach the seemingly close glacier through all the moraine and up-slopes and down ones! Dead zones. Unseen drops in mountains you can’t see from the eye level. Right. But our speed got better on our way back. And better still on the following treks to the glacier. At a height of 15,500 ft. the Rathong glacier is the snout of the Rathong river, and HMI’s training area for the ice craft. It is huge!! I had never seen anything like it before. After we could finally hold ourselves up (barely) on the ice, we had ice climbing, coordination between ice axe and crampons, fixed rope, crevasse rescue and anchor base lessons there. Each day we spent there was an adventure in itself! Regardless of how the training went, one thing never failed to cheer us up, a cup of hot coffee after training!

Training at the glacier

Training at the glacier

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Back at the campsite, lectures on jumaring, self-arrest and demonstrations on the following day’s activities continued. The day we practiced jumaring was the most fun! It was a break from the intense schedule of training at the glacier. A little easier and more fun. So was the self-arrest! How we laughed and trained and cheered all day long!

Jummaring!

Jumaring!

A treat awaited us after the last of the glacier training.. Did someone say cheese kofta!? We hogged on the meal like crazy! And really, we were spoilt at the base camp. The wholesome breakfast, the delicious lunch after the day’s slog, chai in the chilly evenings, followed by soup, then dinner and finally hot drink before we’d sneak into our cozy wooden huts, lit by the candles. The electricity spoilt the show three days later ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Our Home.. :)

Our Home.. ๐Ÿ™‚

Last day of training, height gain! And what a day it was. We were munching cornflakes for breakfast, weather as bad as it had been on day one, when it began to snow!! By the end of breakfast, we were having cornflakes with snowflakes! It was awesome! We tried to get it on camera, capture the first reactions on tape or just trying to feel it! And in that snow, we began our ascent of Renoke. It has to be my favourite day of the course, hands down. We slid over ice, we ate snow, we threw snow balls at one another, we shared the load, we shouted and laughed, and climbed that final tough patch up to the summit in a rope up.. All the while getting drenched in snow! Everyone was congratulating each-other at the summit! 16,400ft. I was almost on the verge of tears! I was so happy, so thrilled.. We had done it. The training was interesting and informative, but summiting a peak something entirely different! The base camp seemed like a tiny speck from the top. We were cold and elated! I wish I could freeze time there. Then again, I have in my head ๐Ÿ™‚

On our way back from Renoke

On our way back from Renoke

We clicked some pictures and began our descent, leaving a trail of laughter and chatter and smiles on our way back.

Renoke Peak

Renoke Peak

I couldn’t have asked for a better finale to the training. Someone said it should stop by afternoon.. Dead wrong! It continued to snow almost all through the day! Next morning, the campsite was nothing short of Hogsmeade (ok, where’s the butter beer?)

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But next morning was also time to leave. Through the week at the base camp, we had fallen into the simple schedule of training during the first half of the day, lunch, volleyball in the evening, charades, dinner and cozing up in the sleeping bag. It was surprising how little we needed to get through the week at the base camp, and so much we relied on each-other’s company. How could I miss the wai-wai place there! Tiny little place we’d huddle inside and sit forever! Our very own Honeydukes! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Here’s one thing I know, wai-wai is not going to taste the same back home ๐Ÿ™‚ we each had our favourite little huts. It’s warmth came from the stories shared and the juniper fragrance in there. Such a tiny place, and eight or so of us in there. Yet so comfortable! It really was like walking into someone’s home.. And leaving the place left me with the same lingering sensation..

It was pouring all the way back to the institute. We took two days to get to HMI. And for most part on the way back, my mind kept wondering back to the, now dear, base camp. Little memorable instances, the snowfall, summit, friends… Everything! Everything about the place was picture perfect. It was a page out of my very own fantasy, maybe nothing as classy as Harry Potter, but it was magic all the same.. ๐Ÿ™‚

There’s a certain sense of liberation in having spent few days in a place google maps can’t trace, wearing uncoordinated clothes and keeping unkempt hair, wandering about an open field, laughing unmeasurably, giving a thought more than its due, giving an idea more than a thought… It was only after we halted for lunch at Sikkim on our way back that we realised we had lost touch with civilization (From the looks of people around, we definitely looked so!)

Songs played in the car, (the not walking was going to take some getting used to!) and looking around the tea gardens and first rays of the sun, someone pointed out to the hill ranges far in the distance. He says “That’s the Kanchenjunga Range” “no way! You gotta be kidding me!” “Arey really!” I wouldn’t believe it!..

We were greeted warmly, back at the institute. Running to get our luggage back, I saw the ranges again from the hostel room on the floor above. It’s breathtaking! The sun glints off its peaks, there was so much speculation over it, and to finally see it in a distance… It is amazing!

We graduated at a grand ceremony which marked Tenzing Norgay’s Birth Centenary. Among the big names and big stories of mountaineering, there was again that familiar feeling of being a part of something more than just a basic course, a legacy. But this time, our heads were held a little higher, hearts humbler and smiles wider, having taken the tiniest step towards it.

The Graduation Ceremony

The Graduation Ceremony

The schedule eased somewhat after we got back from the trek to West Sikkim. Couple of times before, i had had small encounters with the city, but the day following graduation, I finally got to spend an entire day at Darjeeling.. that is one experience i’ve been dying to share!

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