Day 3 — Middle of Nowhere — Chhota Dara
No amount of words and pictures can aptly describe my experience today. Nonetheless, I will try.
It was the middle of the night, at about 0200 hours. I woke up and felt that the tent was closer to my face than usual. Thinking nothing much of it, I went back to sleep. Shortly after that, I heard some shouting. One of the guides was informing everyone that it was snowing. He was helping the other tent beat the snow off the tent. I thought to myself: “Great, it’s snowing. It’s gonna be a harder walk tomorrow. And now, I’ve got to wake up every 15 minutes to shake the snow off the tent.”
I was already awake at that point in time. But I was still lazing in my sleeping bag, staring into the dark space, not wanting to move. The guide walked over to our tent and before we knew it, he hit the tent. The next thing I heard, was a snap! Now that wasn’t good. The snow had already built up and the pressure on the poles were inward. Any more pressure exerted from the outside could cause the poles to snap, and the guide did exactly that. Edwin and I were awake, but we didn’t even bother complaining to each other. We just continued sleeping in the darkness, with a tent that was collapsing. Every few minutes or so, we woke up to shake the tent, until day break. Thankfully, it was snow. If it was raining, we would have been cold and drenched.
We awoke to cloudy skies. Our sleeping bags were wet. Our tent was broken. Not a good start to a day. We could not dry our sleeping bags as usual. It was cold and damp in the tent but it was business as usual. We squeezed our wet sleeping bags into the compression bags and packed our belongings. Breakfast was a morale booster though!
Vegetable eggs and pancakes. Breakfast was really tasty!
After a hearty breakfast, I stepped out of the tent into the cold. The scenery all around me had changed over night. There was about 6 inches of snow covering the whole area! We took the tent down and began the repair works while the weather was still good. Well, not really good, but at least it wasn’t snowing.
A totally different scenery from yesterday. Our broken tent in the foreground.
Our broken tent
Patched the hole with some black tape
The weather didn’t seem too bad, so we made a decision to keep pushing forward. After walking some distance, the weather actually felt quite good. Not too hot, not too cold, just nice (sounds a bit like Goldilocks). On the way, we even encountered some Snow Leopard tracks! And they were fresh tracks! Could we actually see one today? That would be really rare!
A cloudy day
Snow Leopard tracks!
Our footprints compared to the Snow Leopard tracks
About an hour after our departure, it started snowing heavily. Visibility was poor and the wind was howling. It got really cold and the next rest point was at Chhota Dara. We had to make it there. We took very few breaks and if we did, they were short. We got cold too quickly. We walked on endlessly as all we could see was white in front of us. We couldn’t see the end of the valley. The snow pounded on us relentlessly and our bags started to accumulate lots of snow. At this point in time, I thought to myself: “Why did I sign up for this?”
Well as a matter of fact, all mountaineers would definitely have this thought during their trips, but once we return to sunny Singapore, we will plan for the next trip, and ask ourselves that question again when we’re stuck in bitter cold. It’s ironic but that’s the life of a mountaineer! Plan a trip, get cold, suffer and complain, repeat. I was also reminded that our friends who are not on this reconnaissance trip are back in sunny Singapore enjoying Chicken Rice and Bak Chor Mee. Oh how much I wished I was in Singapore right now.
We stopped for lunch behind a huge boulder, and lunch was a short 5 minutes. I took this opportunity to take out my mittens as my gloves were soaking wet. My soaks were also soaking wet. It was really cold. I was contemplating changing my socks, and concluded after 10 seconds of thought. I will not change my socks as they are a scarce resource. I have to keep as many socks dry. I will just keep walking to keep myself warm. I had a quick meal of a boiled egg, some biscuits, and off I went again.
Heavy snow and poor visibility
When I next checked my watch, it was already 1300 hours. We have been walking for the past 4 hours. Chhota Dara was only 9Km away. We would have arrived by now on a normal day. The snow was really slowing us down by a lot. At about 1400 hours, we saw a lodge! We were here!
Chhota Dara! Our safe house!
We walked around the lodge to see if anyone’s around. There are usually people here in the summer season when the roads are open. It is technically the summer season already but the roads are not open. I guess that explains why no one’s here. It was sort of an emergency as our tents were with the support crew and they were far behind. The support crew was also not well dressed, and it was important for us to keep warm and dry. As such, the guide broke the lock and we went into the lodge. We changed into our dry gear and kept ourselves warm.
Entrance of lodge
Rooms and a small toilet
We were now really worried for the support crew. No one expected such heavy snow. It was summer! It was really freak weather. We waited anxiously for them and when the first two arrived, we were relieved. These two porters were well equipped and had enough clothing with them. The other three porters however, may not have enough. I remember them wearing very thin clothing.
When they arrived, they were all freezing and shivering. Most of them were wearing just a t-shirt and a thin jacket. It was probably below 0 outside and the winds were howling. How do they even take it? I immediately gave them my water and jackets without thinking. I was cold, but they were colder, they needed it more than I did. They should be more prepared next time.
While they were warming up in my jackets, Edwin told me about clothing allowance. Nepali porters usually use these monies to buy warm clothes, but Indian porters don’t. They save it for something else. Sometimes, they take advantage of the kind trekkers to lend them clothes! Could I be in this situation?
Support crew unloading the supplies to get a fire started
The porters were freezing, so I lent them my jackets temporarily
I spent a long time reflecting about this, as I watched my clothes soak up their sweat and kerosene and smoke. They were still shivering. I concluded that principles come first. I should live by my principles, and one of them, is helping others. Yes they could be taking advantage of me, but what if they aren’t? There’s just too many questions in situations like this. And when such situations occur, if you follow your principles, you can be assured that your heart will be at ease. I could write an entire essay about this but I shall leave that for another post.
Selfie with Edwin
We took out our sleeping bags to dry as we didn’t get to dry them this morning. Dinner was served shortly and I must say, it tasted funny. I couldn’t make out the taste at first. It wasn’t delicious, neither was it nasty. It was just… strange. After many mouthfuls of noodles and rice, I realised, to my horror, that it was kerosene. The vegetables had been tainted with kerosene, specifically, peas and potatoes. I singled out these vegetables and ate the rest. Now this isn’t good, it’s only Day 3 and the food has been contaminated. This mistake cannot be repeated for the final expedition in August 2014.
It was a really rough day today, but I must say that it was quite an experience. Mountaineering does not only teach you skills to summit a mountain. Mountaineering builds character. As I went into my sleeping bag, I took out my smelly jacket. Yes it smells, but the warmness I feel in my heart, cannot be purchased with anything in the world.
Sleeping quarters for the night
Vegetable Chow Mein!
Standard mountain meal (with kerosene)