Stories of failures, mistakes and lessons learnt while trekking in the Indian Himalayas

Stories of failures, mistakes and lessons learnt while trekking in the Indian Himalayas

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.
— Anatoli Boukreev

In the previous article we discussed the oft overlooked art of orienteering and navigation. In this follow up article we dig deep into our past and introspect on our mistakes and blunders made while trekking in the Indian Himalayas.

Over-attempt, ego and biting off more than you can chew

Once upon a time - two friends; young, ambitious and fit had scoped and planned alpine ascents for CB 16 and CB 12 near Batal H.P. CB stands for Chandra Bhaga (the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga river) and these peaks dominate the southern end of Dhaka glacier. The previous winter had been especially severe, snow lay thick on all CB peaks and we were psyched up for a couple of tough climbs. CB 16 was relatively easy peak to bag with an easy to moderate ascent and descent. CB 12 was another cup of tea. The route was difficult, the fresh snow lay waist thick in places and the rock bands were crumbly. We completed both ascents in 9 days, which was a record time for us.

Extremely tired yet hungry for more peak-grabbing we decided to attempt CB13. We figured that CB13 was in the vicinity and the route via the North ridge, seemed at that time, fairly easy and doable. We were tired but with all the excellent climbing we had pulled through, we felt quite invincible.

On CB13, pulling point on a relatively easy north ridge I stepped over a snow cornice. I remember hearing the swoosh of snow buckling beneath my feet, a feeling of weightlessness and a hard knock to my leg and face before I passed out. I don't remember how long I was unconscious but when I came to, I realised that I was hanging 30 feet over a long drop and my friend was screaming at me to get my weight off the rope. Apparently he had pulled a self arrest and belayed my weight when I had walked over the ridge. Coming to I managed to swing myself against the edge and extend a handhold. However, when I placed my left leg on the edge I felt a stabbing pain go up through my left knee. It was then that I realised that I had broken something in my left leg.

To cut a long story short, I had a shattered my left kneecap. A broken nose and a gash in the cheek were other less severe injuries. It took us two days to descend the ridge and the glacier and another two days before I could be mule packed from the base to the glacier to the road head. The road to recovery was long and self confidence in my climbing abilities has taken a hit. Although the bum knee does act up during severe cold temperatures, I consider myself quite lucky to be alive and still able to trek and climb. But I realise that this is only possible because of a dedicated friend and good luck with the weather.

I put never put myself in a similar position again. My climbing now is more meticulously planned and much more cautious. People seldom learn from other's mistakes. But, if you are on a mountain: leave your ego behind and do not bite off more than you can chew.

Years later I read “Extreme Alpinism” and came across this splendid passage

Beware of accidentally succeeding on a route above your ability. Success tends to breed ambition. The next time, a route of similar difficulty and danger may deliver the hard lesson that a single success at a high level may represent luck and not skill. Learn to recognise when you lucked out and when you met the challenge. Without this understanding, such a victory will feed contempt for easy routes on forgiving mountains. Contempt leads to casual attitude, which results in carelessness and ultimate failure on a grand scale. Respect the routes you complete and those that turn you back. Respect for the mountains is a cornerstone of a long and fruitful career
— Mark W. Twight

Pack the night before

Brammah 1 (Kishtwar, J&K) base camp. Out of the tent door at 3AM. Two hours later on the route, no snow goggles.

Pack your backpack the night before you set out for your trek / climb. Do not leave it for the early morning when you have to leave base camp. With the adrenaline surge faucet turned on for a summit attempt, chances are you will forget to pack some essential gear. It may sound obvious, but packing the previous night gives you a closure on your gear, and a chance to review the gear list in your head as you lie in your sleeping bag.

If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk.
— A. Alvarez.

Water

Jia Himani Chamunda Trek. There is no water en route on this trek. A situation described and documented quite clearly in almost every blog and trek report. Yet on this trek I came across a group of 15 hikers from Punjab who did not have a bottle of water between then. They were dehydrated, fortunately not enough to be debilitated. A clear case of not carrying enough water

Kalahari Pass, Himachal. Packed 3 litres of water in my backpack as my canister stove had given in the night before. After 5 hours, I had gone through a litre of water. However, I was so tired due to the additional weight of 2 litres of water that walking through the snow would have been dangerous. Therefore, I decided to turn back.

Survival rule of 3: you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. This rule makes water one of the most important gear in our backpack. Nonetheless, at 2 pounds per litre it is also the heaviest component in a multi day backpack. On an alpine ascent the weight of an extra litre of water can make or break an ascent. While on a hot summer day, the lack of water can leave you weak, dehydrated and prone to mistakes. Research your route. Plan your water requirements and do not over or under carry your water supply.

To put yourself into a situation where a mistake cannot necessarily be recouped, where the life you lose may be your own, clears the head wonderfully. It puts domestic problems back into proportion and adds an element of seriousness to your drab, routine life. Perhaps this is one reason why climbing has become increasingly hard as society has become increasingly, disproportionately, coddling.
— A. Alvarez

Toenails

Triund winter trek - an easy 9 kilometre trek back to Mcleodganj made unpleasantly memorable by a split toenail.
Clipping toenails oft ignored yet an essential part of pre-trek check list. Make sure you clip yours before you leave for a multi day trek. An overgrown toenail can quickly lead to a split toenail. Not only does it detract you from a trek, but it is constantly abraded with a sock on every single step.

The bizarre trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don’t dare, they’re crazy because they do. These people tend to enjoy life to the fullest, laugh the hardest, travel the most, and work the least.
— Lisa Morgan
 

Share your mistakes and experiences with us in the comments section below. Remember everyone sharing an interesting experience gets to win a customised inditramp t-shirt.

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