In chaos, there’s a cosmos
Back in Delhi someone asked me, “Why twin summits? Why not just one?” I had smiled in response.
Heading towards my 40th year, I felt like testing my boundaries and endurance. The high altitude climbs of Kang Yatze II and Dzo Jongo, both well above 6,000m, seemed exactly what I was looking for.
Our mind accepts challenges more comfortably when we prepare ourselves. Despite knowing how tough one summit can be, I was easily able to accept two. With training, the most difficult endeavours become achievable.
Our trek began in Markha Valley starting from Skiu (3,400m). I’ve been to this part of Ladakh before. It’s rugged and dry with sparse vegetation. The weather is harsh and in its extremes. After all, Ladakh is a high altitude desert in the Great Himalayas.
Somehow, we tend to not travel to places a second time. We assume that we’ve already been there and done that. We like running after newer pursuits. When I traversed the Markha route again, I absorbed it as a different person. I was surprised to see how much I did not remember when absorbing Ladakh’s raw beauty afresh. This time, I didn’t even bother taking many pictures or videos.
After Skiu, our journey moved through various camps: Markha (3,700m), Thachungtse (4,150m), Nimaling (4,720m) and Kang Yatze base camp (5,150m). Our first climb was to Kang Yatze II (6,250m).
Kang Yatze is the most prominent peak, visible on clear days from most of the Markha Valley. It can be approached from either side of the valley. The two summits I and II make the mountain look like a king’s throne.
Ascending the king’s throne was no easy feat. Avilash Bisht, our trek leader made sure that our entire group climbed KY II. It’s a rarity among climbs that everyone summits a mountain. It calls for ongoing rigour that only an able leader can inculcate.
Right from the beginning, Avilash directed us with discipline. He walked the talk. When we arrived at camp, he would rush to complete the most difficult tasks from setting up toilet tents to lifting the heaviest loads. He was a stickler for time and processes. He would check our oxygen saturation levels everyday and observe our trekking styles to gauge our capabilities.
Avilash kept an amiable distance from the group by speaking only when necessary. He would have fun but knew when to back off. That detachment compelled the group to respect his instructions. Especially when his directive caught us off-guard. Like the time when we reached the KY II basecamp.
The itinerary had indicated that we would stay put in basecamp once we arrive. By the time we made it to basecamp, we were all tired and expected to relax. But after eating and resting awhile, he asked us to get ready to trek up to the advanced basecamp and back. It was 500m higher. Left to us, our group would’ve preferred doing nothing. But we quietly adhered to his orders and marched on.
Doing his duties as a leader didn’t make Avilash any less human. It was fun to see him laugh. Because when he did, his whole body shook uncontrollably. To motivate us, he kept saying, “Shabaash, shabaash. Slowly, slowly” throughout our journey.
After the first couple of days, he instructed us to stick together as a group. Citing the example of fuel efficiency, he explained to us that our bodies were in fact like cars. In order to trek optimally, we must neither walk fast nor slow. Those instructions helped condition our bodies for the days ahead.
Ten days after we started trekking, we climbed KY II. Our summit day started a little before midnight. After scree and moraine, we slowly tread into snow. It was a gradual, steady climb all the way up. We were all roped up. All of us had to move in unison, one behind the other.
“Just focus on putting one step forward. One foot in front of the other,” Avilash would say. In doing so, we summited. Literally, one step at a time. One climber at a time.
We were lucky to have had great weather that morning. Sunrise on top of KY II revealed the magnificence of the Zanskar range. Stretching itself in the far distance was the Karakoram, one of the most heavily glaciated parts of the world.
I had waited for so long to summit that I was neither in a hurry to arrive nor achieve. Endings, it seems, aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Seeing the sprawling Himalayas and their might, I sought refuge in their immovable will. Some unknown transformation seemed to await within me. Little was I aware of the unexpected challenge I would soon face.
My journey continued after KY II to another peak called Dzo Jongo (6, 300m). We camped at higher altitudes and kept moving. We practiced wearing our crampons and ascenders (jumars), which would be needed on the steeper climb to Dzo Jongo.
Until Day 12, my oxygen levels were normal whenever Avilash checked. In fact, I was teased as the group’s “monk” for such surreal readings. But that morning my levels dropped. I felt low and weak. I was limping with exhaustion.
I soon discovered that I started my period. It was out-of-the-blue, almost a week earlier than expected. I went to Avilash to update him. He simply said, “Manage it. Energise. There’s no solution at this stage.”
True, there was no solution but to accept and move forward. But it wasn’t something I needed just before climbing the highest peak I’ve ever climbed. Emptying a sachet of Enerzal into a 1 litre water bottle, I took a short pranayama break in my tent. Silently, I readied myself.
Unlike the summit night of KY II, the second summit night seemed cloudy. It seemed to reflect what was going on inside of me. The going was slow with depleting oxygen levels. I carried on with a limp feeling in my legs. Each action seemed five times slower than usual.
Soon it was time to pee. It was a moment that had bothered me since the summit began. I feared the ordeal of changing through the harness and gear. Since we were all roped up together - one behind the other - there was no way for me to move to the side.
Reeti was cheering me. As if it was the most common thing to do on the Dzo Jongo glacier at 3:45am. Even as I wore my gear back, I was touched by the patience and sensitivity that people showed.
Right next to me were Manav and Sunny. Manav had become my walking buddy through the trek and Sunny was our guide. They quickly came forward to help me back with my harness, willingly and smilingly. Their kindness filled me with a certain warmth inside. Rekindling my faith in human nature.
My most dreaded moment was over, just like that. I realize that it wasn’t as dreadful as I had imagined it to be.
Acceptance, surrender and action. Everything somehow becomes easier if we unfold life in this order. Different situations surface unexpectedly at every turn. Some are more difficult than others. But when we face them, we always have a choice in how we respond. We change the game through these choices we make, in that narrow window between.
If we accept life and surrender to a higher order, we invariably grow. It helps us act with dignity and withstand anything that comes our way. When we move through fear, we become a better version of ourselves. We become larger than our situations. It’s when the whole experience becomes rewarding and cleanses us from inside.
By this point, I knew I’d be on top of Dzo Jongo soon. They say, the mountain permits us to climb. We could be as prepared or ready but the mountain has to oblige. I somehow knew the mountain was obliging me. Asking me to keep stepping forward.
Slowly, step after step, we made it to the top. The weather magically cleared up as if awaiting our arrival. I found myself smiling. The Great Himalayas arrested me from every direction.
I sat on a few rocks that peaked out from the Dzo Jongo summit, looking at life above life. With every journey, life has found a way to thaw my boundaries. It has quietened a judgemental voice. Making everything else suddenly seem easy.
And just like that a popped up in my head to describe all of what I was feeling. All the chaos in the cosmos. All the disorder that seemed to quietly and secretly get me to this point. Both outside on this second summit. And inside of my deeper self.
It was exactly-what-you-want-it-to-be-ness.