Memoirs of an Himalayan Expedition: Part 4 – Marathon
After arguably one of the worst nights of our lives we looked forward to getting out of our tent in the morning. We had barely slept the entire night, the -15* Celsius had ensured that we spent most of our time twisting and turning in the vain hope of acquiring a position that would protect us against the brutal cold. Outside the snow was thick and white, very white. The sun had decided to sleep late too ensuring that the morning temperatures also remained near the zero degrees mark. As Ankit and I entered the hut we found that even they had suffered and realised that such temperatures affected everyone even though they were mountain people living in the region for years. That morning we would be slow to depart as the entire camp had to be packed up. Ankit and I were ready in good time and were given Maggi for breakfast. Was not the best, rather watery but it was hot and that was all that mattered. Dineshji said that we would trek for around 7 kilometres and then take a jeep for the remaining distance. It was the standard practice. Ankit steadfastly refused and I supported him. In Ankit’s words, “Paap lage jeep le toh”. Dineshji was rather astonished by our refusal but agreed nonetheless. At this stage we did not know that it was going to be the toughest physical exercise that we had ever performed in our lives.
We hauled up our rucksacks, put them on and tightened all the ropes to give a crushing closeness to the body ensuring that the center of gravity was concentrated. We set off at exactly 8 a.m. The first 7 kilometres were tough, we had to ascend through snow while carrying a rucksack. The rigours of the past 3 days however had ensured that we were fitter than before and the first 7 kilometres were trekked with ease. At this stage all the other trekkers would sit in a jeep and be whisked away to base camp. We trekked on. The next few kilometres consisted of descent. While it was slightly gentle to begin with, it got progressively tougher. Ankit and I walked slowly, chattering away. Then Dineshji told us to hurry up, he wanted us to cross the forest quickly. The forest meanwhile consisted of a continuous steep descent with thousands of rocks strewn about. A perfect setting to strain the ankle. This was the first time we had ever been asked to hurry. It was enough for me and Ankit. We started setting a mad pace and within minutes the three of us were virtually running through the jungle at a pace set by our mule. The next 4 kilometres were covered in this fashion, of graceful yet frantic pace. Then the inevitable disaster occurred. I sprained my left ankle badly. We rested for a while and carried on, slower now, chastened by my injury. The next few kilometres was a steep descent on a mountain path. We had first climbed to 12,000 feet, now we were to descend to 6,000 feet and then again we would ascend to 8,000 feet. The descent was slow and tortuous due to presence of hundreds of thousands of small rocks (not pebbles by any means) of varied shapes that basically constituted the path. A false move could result in the bending or perhaps sprain of an ankle. Finally we had reached the bottom of the mountain. Crossing a bridge that connected two mountain ranges we again began our ascent. The going was exponentially tougher this time around. We had already been trekking for multiple hours and by Dineshji’s estimate we had finished not more than half of the day’s trek. By this time Ankit and I were thoroughly exhausted. But sitting down to rest would ensure that getting up and starting again would be difficult. It was thus logical to keep the progress steady and relentless. We continued ascending, already stretching our bodies to the limit. By this time we had already done a lot more than a day’s worth of trekking and now the rest of the trek was to be a pure climb.
By sheer determination we dragged on, not stopping for fear of cramping and losing focus. Walking in the mountains is tough. Walking in the mountains with a 10 kg rucksack is tougher. Purely ascending in the mountains with a 10 kg rucksack was the toughest especially after we had already been trekking for multiple hours. The sun was shining brightly now, the snow left far behind. We sweated but dared not to remove our jackets as we did not wish to stop. To trek non-stop was the only way we were going to accomplish our goal. We knew we had covered an enormous distance in a single day when we saw even Dineshji panting. The narrow mountain road appeared to stretch on infinitely, hugging the mountain.
Finally I mustered up the courage to ask Dineshji how much distance was left. “2.5 kms” he answered. By this time Ankit had declared that this trek had been a lot tougher than the 21 kms half marathon he had completed. The last 2.5 kilometres were the toughest act of physical endurance of our lives as the route got steeper and the mental defences started fading. We now simply looked forward to the clean white bed of the lodge at Loharganj, no other thought occupied our minds. After what seemed an eternity we saw the first buildings in the town of Loharjung. The last 100 metres were the toughest.
As we finally stumbled onto the balacony of our lodge we noted the time. “1:53 p.m”. It had taken us approximately 6 hours. And finally we asked Dineshji the distance we had covered. “28 kilometres”. No other trekker in his career had covered the entire distance from Ali Bugyal to Loharjang in a single day. This was another first.Opinions welcome. Readers may send in their views and opinions to Manan Vyas at the following e-mail address: email@example.com