I woke up a little earlier than everyone else and started getting ready. The night before we were instructed to pack our bags and be ready to go. We would have no time and as Himanshu mentioned before, the earlier we start, the better it was. Ideally if everything went well and the weather permitted,we could stay as long as 45 minutes otherwise it could be as less as ten minutes..
Everything hinged on when we started and on the weather. We had to be there before the sun was up and about, because once the sun came up near the pass, the snow would melt, the rocks would be wet slippery and that dangerous Verglass(thin ice) would make everything else risky.
We stuffed breakfast in our mouths at 4.45 am, tried very hard to eat, carried snacks of chickpeas(channa) in our pockets and had to carry lunch in our boxes. Today would be the toughest longest gruelling day. Not only would we have to cross the summit, we had another 10 km trek after that all the way down to Rontigad camp.
This is the difference with Rupin Pass unlike other treks I had done. If the weather was bad, like it turned in Chandrashila trek, we could trek back to our camp but in this case we had no choice but cross the pass and move towards the other side. This was it and there was no turning back.
Kiran was made to walk in the front and walking he did but every 5 minutes the same thing happened, he was out of breath, losing strength and slowing down more and more. And this was a straight up steep ascent, all the way up and in the cold freezing air it was killing us all. Straight up and the heart was pounding. There was no trail except using rocks and climbing up, staying close and trekking up in a single file.
The technical guide was trekking like a mountain goat and he was stern saying When I say stop, you stop, you don’t take your breaks. Unfortunately with Kiran’s mind still going awry we were stopping every few minutes so Himanshu, Rokabhai and Rabin told us to keep moving ahead.
It was so freezing cold that no matter how many layers I wore, my throat got screwed in minutes in that air and I started coughing violently and I mean violently. The cough had started a few days back and it subsided with the pills Himanshu gave, yet today morning it went worse in minutes. Himanshu ran up to me and told me to take a strong pill pronto like right now, it was going to get even colder and he didn’t want me to wheeze which would be the worst thing ever on a day like this.
Vishwas and a few others were ahead along with the technical guide, we kept on ascending and when we were told to take a water break just for a few minutes we looked back and saw something that dumbfounded us..
We were above the clouds.. It was like a blanket of puffed clouds and the mountains surrounding it and it was as if we all died and went to heaven.. It was dazzling and magical as we looked at the clouds completely hiding what was underneath it. Thoughts of our campsite, yesterday’s events nothing mattered, all that mattered was the present.
After a killing ascent and I mean killing ascent, there we saw.. The whole landscape ahead was covered with snow and not a soul in sight. It was magnificent, infinite and terrifying all in one go. We stopped and put on our spikes on our shoes, the same ones that would allow us to tread safely in snow.
And there began our trek in the snowy landscape. What can I say when we walked in a single file. It was breathtaking to say the least.We had to walk in a single file and watch the footsteps in front of us and make sure we tread on the same path. Many a times our foot went suddenly deep into the snow, one misstep and a slip.
Below us was steep and vast, snow, snow and more snow, cold but our bodies were warming up to it yet it was slippery. I remember Praveen behind me and encouraging me, it’s ok Swapna, we can do this. We were all in one way or the other goading each other.. The small talk no longer existed. This was BIG, a really big thing.
If one would get lost here, this was their end in every way. Not a soul except a few trekkers way ahead of us and no one else. 19 people with Indiahikes team of 4. The team strictly told us not to take any pictures till we reached the summit. No wasting time.
I looked back and saw Kiran slowly trudging with Bhim and Himanshu, he had to catch up with us, the summit was all about being together. After what looked like forever Rokabhai and Himanshu pointed out, there you go, there is the ‘gully’. Yes that was the Rupin Pass. A narrow gully that was at an angle, it didn’t look that far away and Himanshu said it would take us half an hour to reach the top of the gully.
As we came closer and closer towards it, the enormity and steepness of the Pass hit us! Oh shit! This was almost at a 90 degree angle! This was not going to be a trek but a fucking climb. Flanked by snow, slippery wet jagged rocks it looked dangerous! It was 200 metres up and an excruciating 200 metres.
The heart was thumping hard but no thoughts came at that time except that we had to climb and get over with this. The technical guide started making steps with his ice axe and Vishwas and a few others were almost halfway up.
We started climbing up in a single file, struggling, grunting, my cough became so violent I was wheezing now and this is not good in the mountains. I was struggling to breathe and trying to push away any fear of breathlessness. Rokabhai was close, right next to me.
As we started climbing, almost reaching a quarter distance something happened..
Suddenly we were struck by a strong gust of wind, heavy winds and by heavy I mean lashing winds.. Winds that could knock you off in seconds if you didn’t hold on to something solid.. What the hell was this?
We all stopped wherever we were.. What the fuck?? And then it became worse.. looking up we saw Rockfalls! Shit! Rock falls!! What could we do in this situation? Immediately Rokabhai Rabin shouted saying hold on to whatever you have, hold on tight and we did.
We were holding onto whatever we had for dear life, I could hear some slipping, I slipped a couple of times and if not for Rokabhai I would have fallen straight down taking a few others with me.
Fear, hallucinations, everybody’s lives were hanging in balance.. Some were flat down on a rock with freezing ice, some were just hanging on the edge hoping the rocks don’t give away.
We had no sight of Himanshu and we were stuck right there in the middle of it all, little rocks hitting us, hitting our eyes, our bodies and us just hanging there with no will to move, the gutsy freezing winds ready to blow us all.All was needed was one Big Rockfall and it was all over for us..
Tell me what would you do in a situation like this?