Roaring winds from Mt Nanda Devi East was crashing the tent at Camp-1 (5200 meters); one lift would take the tent down 300 meters onto the other side of the ridge. Ice axes, 3-feet snow stakes and walking sticks that were used in anchoring the tent loosened out in no time. I used all that was in the tent to hold the 3 corners and stood firmly at the 4th, I knew I was losing ground and had to get out to safety abandoning the tent, my backpack and other essentials were ready to be dragged out, it was just a matter of time that I would be forced to exit. After one bigger round of pounding, I heard Bharath and Takpa, they rushed in kicking down the anchors into the snow and we were holding on to the tent for the next 45 minutes till Nanda Devi calmed down.
Locals believe that Nanda Devi range is one of the most powerful and dangerous range in the Himalayas, they offer prayers to Nanda Devi to ensure that her fury does not bring doom. For a mountaineer peaks in Pindari Glacier have always been the most challenging quests, given its inhospitable terrain and highly unpredictable weather conditions. But Pindari Glacier is also one of the most beautiful regions, and our quest to climb Mt Nanda Khat (6611 Meters) started for Loherkhet.
Trek from Loherkhet to Pindari Glacier (the glacier has receded in the last two decades) is a pure scenic beauty of 50 Kms, the trail is a traverse all through the huge rocky hills on one side, river Pindari gushing right below and rocky & lush green hills on the other side with several waterfalls that join river Pindari at the base. The rich forest cover on both sides of the river houses an amazing assortment of flora and fauna, birds like Eurasian Jays, Rose Finches, Snow Partridges, Snow Doves, Fly Catchers etc are found in abundance and Dr Lalit captured over 45 species of birds through his lens.
Even though the Rhododendron flowering season was over, there were still some pink patches here and there in contrast with lush green surroundings. The clear water in the river splashing the huge rocks, sound of the waterfalls all around and the wind was soothing. Dakuri our first camping site gave us a 180-degree trailer of the snow covered peaks like Maiktoli, Cream Roll, Sunderdhunga Col, Panwali Dwar, Bhanoti, Nanda Devi and its outer sanctuary ridge.
As we hiked up and down the hills crossing Khati, the chirping of the birds and the sound of the pleasant breeze was replaced by the roaring river; with water gushing down rapidly slamming the huge rocks in its way making its presence felt. Tiny brown dippers did entertain us for a while but the sound of the river was too loud to be ignored. As we reached a place called Dwali where the water flowing from Kafni & Pindari Glaciers meet, it was a different world all together; the enormity of the water was so much that the hills on both sides are literally invisible.
As we moved to higher altitude the trees and shrubs were replaced by grass and the trail opened into the meadows covered with the bright yellow Butter cups and over 4-5 colors of Potentilla. With clear blue sky, and ice covered peaks far ahead, it looked like a carpet of flowers just laid out to shoot a scene in Yash Chopra movie.
One of the threats that was very eminent was excessive grazing, each of the flocks were not less that 2-3 hundred sheep and the total sheep would not be less than 4000. Added to grazing, shepherds set off fire on the dried grass and in they do not even spare the Juniper shrubs. Birds were screaming out of the fire abandoning the nest and the little ones and the eggs. It was heart breaking to see the destruction caused; the grass that holds on to the top soils erodes within no time causing landslides.
As we approached basecamp, the view of the magnificent peaks, constant noises of the avalanches and rock falls welcomed us. Given the logistical difficulties for a 12 member team to manage itself for 20-30 days we decided to set up our advance base camp closer to the peak we would be attempting. As we got closer we could sense that the furies of the nature got stronger, calmer nights were replaced by thunder, snowfall and the day with gushing avalanches. At advance base camp it was indeed a 360 degree effect, as we were completely surrounded by the peaks, Lamcher, 1, 2, 3, Nanda Kot, Changuch, Trails Pass, Nanda Khat, Panwali Dwar, Baljuri.
Our movement to higher camps got slower than planned, and sometimes we stayed in the tents for 24-48 hours. Route to Camp-1 was about 4-hours with two rock faces of 150-200 meters each, an ice wall and an altitude of 900 meters. Occupying Camp-1 with all that we needed took us 8 days, and the approach to summit camp from there on was a snowfield filled with crevasses, snow bridges and a climb 3-4 hours. The hidden crevasses are always dangerous, many may not be dangerous but in bad weather anything can get worst. Reeba fell into a crevasse and could not pull herself out, we luckily had Wallambok who got down into the crevasse and release her climbing boots that was stuck. Smaller incidents more than being dangerous take away a lot of energy and time, thereby slowing the progress in the mountains or getting held up in bad weather. However well trained or experienced mountaineer one could be, there is no possibility of competing with the bad weather or taking an unsafe route trying to challenge nature at its worst.
After days of waiting for the weather to get better we finally got a clear window, summit attempt started with splitting the team into two. As it was an alpine style climbing we could do better with two teams and also the risk factor would be much lesser in smaller teams. As one team conserved their energy at Camp-1 the lead team successfully attempted the summit, it took over 20 hours, weather got worst at the end of 11 hours, but reaching the lower camp safely was a priority. The next day second team did not get lucky, they were to start the summit ascend by 10 pm and weather never cleared, with heavy snowfall, complete whiteout and strong winds they had to move down to safety with heavy hearts.
Every expedition, every summit attempt may not be always successful, what drives a mountaineer to these mountains again and again seeking new highest and new challenges is the sheer love to be midst of the magnificent peaks. Mountains do really bring out the best in you; one would look at them and wonder how tiny and insignificant human beings really are.
For a true mountaineer surviving the cold, facing the challenges, climbing the mountains is not a sport but it’s an ‘Attitude’ they love to live.
For adventure at its best reach [email protected]