Till now – we had spent a week of rock climbing training at Tenzing Rock Darjeeling, and after passing a fitness test we started our 4 day trek towards HMI BaseCamp at Chowrikhang, Sikkim and had to undergo a 12-day glacier training in the outdoors.
In the Basecamp we had a fixed routine – wake up call + tea at 5am, and had to leave by 7am to trek to the Glacier which was around 4kms and 1-1.5 hour trek, come back for lunch 2-3pm and we used to have practical demos during 4-5pm and dinner would be served at 7pm.
In the mountains you have to wake up at sunrise and finish everything before sunset.
1st day: We had acclimatization walk today approx 1km full ascent to the point where we can see the Basecamp in bird eye view and all the surrounding peaks. It was so windy that day and we had to sit for an hour lecture in the same situation. We were briefed about the surrounding peaks, Rathong glacier and their history.
We reached Basecamp for lunch and later got our snow boots, crampons issued. Honestly we all were still very tired from the entire trek and recovering. The first few days are really important as we have to acclimatize to the altitude properly. Headaches were common to all, and a few protocols to be followed were briefed. The order of the days below might be mixed 🙂
2nd day: Today was our first day at Glacier and we trekked almost 3 hours with all the equipment, ropes, carabiners. At one point we need to remove our trekking shoes, wear snow boots and crampons and traverse through the ice to reach the ice wall for ice climbing training. We get a demo by the instructors on how to do it and rest of the time it’s just practice. The training was really tiring, even though it’s for just 2-3 hours max, we used to get fully drained out by the end of it.
We used to be famished & reach basecamp again around 3pm for lunch. Again at 4pm we used to have a lecture/demo as they had to finish sessions before it get’s dark over there (5.30pm).
3rd day: Everyone was tired of the continuous trekking in past few days and today was declared a rest day i.e no trekking with weights. Little did we know what trekking in sir’s terms meant 🙂
We were taught Jumar Climbing and had to practice the same. It was actually very fun once we got the hang of it, we enjoyed a lot! After lunch we had Map reading practice and had to spot the said peak based on the co ordinates and vice versa. Useful for expeditions.
4th day: Another Glacier training day. We were taught about fixed ropes and rapelling on ice wall. Another very interesting aspect taught was crevasse rescue. It was scary and fun at the same time when the instructors put all of us in the rope one by one into the crevasse just held by a rope, and our other rope members had to establish a pulley setup to rescue us.
7th day: Today was our last day at the Glacier and we got shocked when they announced there would be a small test where the course instructor would grade us based on our climbing techniques on 2 ice walls. I was so nervous while climbing but finally did it!
After so much self-doubt, there was a sense of achievement and relief going back finishing the glacier training. Evening we had lecture on Hyperbaric chambers and CPR.
8th day: We were taken to Advance base camp. It was at same distance as compared to the glacier. But the weather that day was bad which made it difficult as it had snowed previous evening. It was difficult for the instructors even to find a path for river crossing as the stones were all covered with ice and made it slippery & risky for us. Finally we reached the AMC camp and were taken to a huge rock about 50 feet+ for long wall rappelling. We were all scared and while rappelling the wall seemed to never end! But at the end of the day, each one of us had conquered our fears 🙂
Remaining days we were taught about self arrest, Suspension travel, Tyrolean traverse for river crossings, practice of rope stretcher.
11th day: This was the day of our height gain and we were taken to Mt.Renok expedition for the same. We had to trek for 2-3 hours to reach the basecamp point, leave our bags, be in a fixed rope position with our rope members and we were all attached to each other by rope – led by our instructors. This was very tricky as first time we were moving slowly and carefully that too in a fully snow patch. Somehow we navigated and reached the top of Mount Pokhriyal (renamed recently) situated at a height of 16,500 ft and that feeling was very overwhelming for all of us, holding our Tricolour flag was an achievement!
Remaining 2 days we just practiced whatever we had learnt, returned the equipments, cleaned the campsite and got ready for our way back to HMI. While going back we had to descend at a faster pace and in 2 days, not 4 which we took while coming up. It was going to be double tiresome as we had to continuously walk for 10 hours+ everyday. Our itinerary was Basecamp -> Tshoka (skip Dzongri) -> Yuksom and same day to HMI.
Last few days at HMI : While we were all physically mentally drained and were happy that we were almost done with the course, we were introduced to indoor rock climbing. This was also tough and I was feeling almost enough of this course 😛 but we all pulled through. We even had a competition and 3 awards for who climbs the rockface in less speed.
We also had a written test on what all we had learnt during the entire course, based on all these tests + our behavior and discipline our grading would be decided at the end. We had a cultural event for which some of us danced, there was singing and all kinds of talent where we all enjoyed a lot!
Last but one day was our graduation ceremony where we were awarded our most awaited ice axe by the principal Gp Capt Jai Kishan Sir, this by far is my most prestigious award for which I have shed my blood, sweat and tears literally and I will cherish these 30 days forever.
Whenever I feel low or weak, I always remember these gruesome days where survival and training was the only thing on our mind and how we all conquered our inner fears, strengthened ourselves and achieved something we can never explain to anyone when always we are asked the question – “Why did you do this course?” 🙂
I have actually cut down a lot of things in my mind which I wanted to explain – also might have missed few minor details. Do comment below and share me your thoughts or queries if any.