Day 12 — Training Camp
Waking up in trepidation, knowing of the trials and tribulations which lay ahead of us today. This culmination of our training, what we have worked hard for over the past few days, was starting. This is the beginning of the end. Yes! Finally!
I woke up, packed my huge sleeping bag into the surprising little pouch and began packing my backpack for the journey up Friendship Peak. After breakfast, we dismantled the tent which we called home for the past few days, and packed it into our backpacks as well. Then, we set off to the base camp of Friendship Peak, Ladyleg (We don’t know the spelling, we just know they pronounced it this way).
“Smiling at the sky while it smiles back at us”
On the journey, we passed through steep, slippery, muddy slopes, and soft, unsteady, snow slopes. We passed the first leg of our journey rather uneventfully, albeit feeling exhausted, which was to be expected, given the altitude. We took well timed rest stops and were able to recover from our exhaustion every now and then. What never ceases to amaze me was the landscape we took in from different points. We see the breathtaking beauty of nature and its prowess whenever we see an avalanche from afar (Thankfully!).
Start liao start liao
Uneven terrain. Starting to see more snow
Then came the arduous part of our journey. The mighty landscape disappeared suddenly, transforming into a white canvas, almost blank, save for the occasional specks of rocks and trees seen afar on the adjacent mountains. It was totally surreal. Seriously, you have to be there to understand it. We had no sense of depth at all, could not tell an ascent from a descent. The gradient of the slope was entirely indistinguishable. It was just…. White. We took a break at the beginning of this new area, and ate our packed lunch consisting of chapati, cheese, biscuits, an egg, chocolate bars, nuts and potatoes. Hardly enough to replenish the tremendous amount of calories we were burning. I saved some for later, consuming only the packaged juice and banana.
More and more snow
Daniel looking good
Then, we set off for what would be the most challenging route, both mentally and physically, so far. It was a steep climb with soft snow everywhere, which rarely held steady under the combined weight of my body and backpack. As we tread further and higher, the few of us in front followed Vicky, the young guide, who took the ‘usual’ route which was now covered with lots of snow, meaning that it was a steep descent into a couloir. We had to use the techniques we learnt, such as sliding and self-arrest, to proceed.
Edwin assessed the situation and concluded that it was not a safe route, and suggested that we move further on. Those who went down could only carry on walking further along the gully to find a point where it was safe to join us back on the line we were walking along. They had to climb back up to join us! What misfortunes!
Continuing on, we arrived at a steeper ascent, which was fortunately stomped out by the leading guides. Their steps provided us with distinct and relatively solid footholds, though I did slip through the bloody snow a few times. As we reached a high point, we turned back to look, and realised that the porters were not following the route up. We found out that this was not their usual path to base camp (indeed we were going to a different side) and were uncertain about the path, thus the reluctance to move.
“Guys… are we lost?”
Speaking of the porters, I must tell you, they are undoubtedly an impressive group of people who never cease to amaze me. They carry loads you and I can hardly carry normally, in harsh climate conditions, with less oxygen, and up the steep slope. They deserve our utmost respect. Though it kind of pissed us off that the initial plan for 20 porters dropped to a measly 5 porters, and even then, one ran off, leaving only 4. On hindsight, it was quite ridiculous and hilarious, but at that point in time, the team was feeling the stress. A lack of supplies would be detrimental to the whole expedition.
Why bother bringing so much clothes when you can just wear a t-shirt on the mountain?
At the top of the endless hill was a ridge. It seemed rather precarious and was steep on both sides. I crept along the ridge and finally reached a flat snowfield which would eventually turn out to be our base camp. However, when we reached the snowfield, it was a complete white out, and we were unsure of the extent of the flat surface. Hence we stamped out a little perimeter to determine the extent of the flat surface, which turned out to be quite large (it was a basin!).
Walking around the ridge
The white out made it even more surreal. We could hardly tell up from down, left from right. It was really weird, and we could only trust the guide’s instructions. Once he told us it was here, we worked as fast as we could to set up our tents, eager to escape from the freezing wind. We had to flatten the ground, create a path from each tent to the other, then pitch the tent, while the wind was howling at us. It was bone chillingly cold. Nevertheless, we persevered on, built 2 tents, and surrounded them with snow walls to block the wind. Upon completion, we squeezed in to shelter ourselves from the numbing wind outside. When the weather cleared up, the last tent was set up, and 3 of us shared a tent. We then went on to help the guides as we knew they were short handed.
“Elsa? Do you want to build a snow wall?”
We had dinner in the dining tent and the weather had cleared up sufficiently for us to walk from tent to tent. However, it turned out that some of the guides were still busy as they had to carry the leftover load which was still at the bottom of the hill. I could only stand by and give them my utmost respect. It was not an easy job. Dinner was a humble meal of soup and vegetable biryani rice with tea (no surprise there). As we entered our respective tent preparing to enter slumber, the moon was full and round, shining brightly upon our humble selves.