Mountaineering Expedition to SarPass, a journey of Lifetime – Part I

It all started in late June 2013 while coming back from the Mountain Biking Expedition to Jalori Pass when Prashant,Shiv and myself were discussing about going for some tough treks organized by YHAI and we had few option like Sarkundi,SarPass and Chandrakhani, we finalized on SarPass due to snow factor. Soon after reaching home a WhatsApp group was created as “MB-21 Jalori Pass” which later I changed to “SarPass-2014” to get the ball rolling and create interest in people.

The discussion started on and chunk of us agreed to be a part of it. As the booking period started, the realistic figure came down to five of us namely Ananth,Ankit,Ranjith,Vishal and Me. 😦
We decided to carefully choose the right dates and plan the expedition which was going to be of 11 days so that we can utilize 2 working weeks. We chose the batch which started from Monday the 5th May 2014 and would end on 11th May. Also the other benefit was that it was only 29 People Batch hence less clutter more fun. We had few days buffer hence we further planned for Bungee Jumping and river rafting @ Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

Bookings for the Trek was done in December 2013 and further planning for the trip started with things to buy like Trek Shoes and thermals etc. I went for Quechua Forcalz 500 ankle length boots which really served as a boon and also the Most Wise decision made by me for the trek. (More info on this to follow)

Let me keep the logistics and chores as short as possible for further action….

As per my schedule, I started my journey from Namma Bengaluru to Dilli (I prefer calling our nations capital as Dilli rather than New Delhi just because it gives me the feeling of familiarity) and soon realized that other guys were also on their way traveling from somewhere to somewhere. I utilized most of my journey in the train sleeping since there is nothing else to do and you can be as lazy as you want. The Second thing which you get to see from the train is the beautiful country side and diversity of land changing from plains to plateau etc. Ranjith and I were going to meet at Dilli and had planned to go for sightseeing since it was my first time in capital.

It was crazy sunny in Dilli but spirits were high, I was loving it badly. We visited few historical places like Qutub Minar,Red Fort,Akshar Dham, India gate and nearby places. The city screams history of India and Mughal Dynasty. I also got to see the biggest Indian flag at Rajeev Chowk, Oh boy!! The Metro service is amazing and this expedited the sight seeing process. I almost lost my Bus for onward journey but thanks to Ananth for dropping at ISBT and forcing the bus driver to wait while Ranjith and I were running our lungs out to reach.

The Trip started again from Delhi to Himachal but this time by bus and at night. When I woke up in morning around 6:00 AM, the complete environment and portrait had changed. I could see tall trees and skyhigh mountains of Mandi. It was drizzling and I was jumping with Joy. I got down at Bhuntar and had to reach the Base Camp in Kasol which was another 45 mins journey. I realized that along with some locals the bus also had few foreigners and I quickly recalled one of my friends telling me that Kasol is a heaven of pot smokers and Bob Marley kinda…. Along the way bunch of kids hopped in with heavy luggage, maybe it was their school trip and the bus was jammed and packed. Suddenly I remembered that at one point of time while staying in Pune, I used to believe that I was a good rider. Then I relocated to Bengaluru and realized I was a real ass because people in Bengaluru were crazy riders and I was nowhere near to them. And then I found the third category which was the bus drivers in Himachal. For them it was a daily job but for me just being a passenger, I was in a shock state of how well they could drive with no chance of minute error which could lead to either dashing the mountain side terrain or deep diving in the river valley.

Soon I reached Kasol and as the bus dropped me, I saw the YHAI base campsite. Oh boy! it looked like people resting before joining the ongoing war next day. several camps laid in a proper pattern with special camps for Camp Leader and Director. Got to know those school kids also had come for trek to SarPass which was a bummer coz I assumed this was one of the toughest treks organized by YHAI. sob.. sob.. sob.
I was allotted a camp and met few like minds from my hometown, Pune. Even they had good trekking experience in Sahyadris and also realized they being in IT Industry (soft corner). Later in the evening I was informed that the gang of kids has come all the way from Gujrat and hence raising the tally of our group from Twenty Nine (which I assumed) to SIXTY!!!! (I tried to imagine sixty people trying to conquer SarPass at same time but could not, maybe I was less experience)

I was free for the day hence went to visit Manikarn, it is a Sikh pilgrimage which was 5KM from Kasol which had hot water springs. Gurudwara has always been so near to me as it gave much required tranquility to my soul.
In the evening I was joined by Ankit and Vishal at base camp and Hardy Boys (Ananth and Ranjith) were gonna join the next day. Its a real nice feeling when u meet your friends after an year and the smile on the face says it all. The day ended with fun and frolic and we teased the SP-4 group till death while they served some entertainment.

Day1:- (Base Camp-Nature Trail)

The Day started quite early at 6:00 AM, as usual I was late and had to run around in zippy. The climate was pretty cold especially the water and keeping hands wet for more than 10 secs made it numb. We were to get acclimatized in 2 days before moving to higher camp. We went for a jog and then did some warm-up exercises. Later coming back to basecamp we were served breakfast. Our old saying for the food served by YHAI is that the food is so awesome and healthy that we always stood speechless.

After breakfast we got ready to go for a small nature trail just to get hang of it with some dead weight like blanket etc. We started from the road and gradually gained some height. I could feel my weak lungs dying for oxygen but the whole idea of SarPass kept us moving forward. This was much required to make ourselves understand where we stand from fitness perspective before starting the brain crunching and adrenaline pumping journey. I had made my mind already that we need to reach the top of the mountain but sadly had to return from halfway as per the instructions by the Guide.
PS: Guides are the local guys from nearby villages who know the area and terrain distinctively well and guide us through the complete journey.
We all rested for a while before climbing down and had a a casual introduction round with everyone. Randomly I blabbered the group slogan as “SP-5…Lets go High!!” and somehow it became popular and got officially coined as Group Slogan. We were served some delicious citrus drink, I guess it was lichi flavor but wasn’t as good as RODODENDRON the official energy drink for Jalori Pass Expedition. 😀

We climbed down towards base camp and on the way got to see a rural school which looked like a vintage car. No matter how many satellites we launch or how great we are on world map from GDP perspective, the core part of rural India still remains where it was. Completely RAW, you can see children sitting on floor in cramped area. Lets leave this for now as its a debatable topic.
We got to meet Hardy Boys who had reached basecamp and after some hustle were allowed to be a part of our group even though being late for arrival. We all met and it was a pleasant moment to be remembered for long. Soon the Hi-Def Phone camera came out and the group pic was posted on WhatsApp to make the other friends jealous. We again went to Manikarn in evening and this time with all the buddies together. The day ended with similar campfire but this time it was our turn to present, I remembered we teasing the previous batch a day before but we sucked big time and naturally had to keep quiet not to make fun of our own group.

Day2:- (Base Camp-Rock Climbing & Rappelling)

It was better than yesterday, we woke up in time and were ready for warm-up before the Major could start yelling at us.
PS: The Base Camp Director was incarnated as Major due to his strong voice and personality.

It was less painful as compared to yesterday and I was liking it except the trekking boots were little on heavier side but we had to get used to it. After coming back we finished our breakfast and got ready to C off the SP-4 group which was going to higher camp and cheered for them. The rock climbing was a nice experience and we learned about few basic techniques and method and also about the required gear like Harness, Descender, Carabiner etc.

Since the group strength was high it was a time consuming activity and after completing our turn we had to spend remaining time roaming around nearby surrounding nature. We had some nice time roaming near river stream and clicking some snaps of our prestigious Quechua boots as well as Casio G-Shock. Finally we came back to base camp for lunch and the remaining afternoon session was planned for Rappelling hence we had to reach the same place again. Its rightly said that the climate in the mount is unpredictable and soon clouds gathered above us and it started drizzling we had to leave the rappelling exercise and run towards base camp. I feel this was a very much necessary or an eye-opener exercise which made us purchase poncho (cheap kind of raincoat) just in case it gets difficult while we move towards higher camp as we wont find any shops there. Along with the poncho we also purchased hand gloves and monkey caps unwillingly for emergency sake. Unwillingly because we assumed we were macho enough to take the nature head on something like Bring it on… Babay!!! (we bargained with the shop keeper till death and also met few local guys ready to make some business deal selling us weed). Although we knew we were not gonna buy any but just for fun sake. 🙂
We came back to basecamp and had some good time playing with flying disc and some hot tomato soup.

Let me take a moment here and provide some insight about the food served at YHAI. The day starts with Bed Tea which is served near kitchen at 6:00AM and breakfast at 8:00AM which comprises of real healthy stuff like porridge, Eggs, veggies and Paranthas. For afternoon you are served fresh baked rotis along with 2 variety of veggies with rice/pulav and all mixed cereal dal. Not to forget salad,pickle and papad which completes the meal. Later in evening you get Tea and snacks like biscuits,bhajias. Soup is served at around 6:00PM and dinner at around 7:30PM which comprises of similar stuff as in Lunch but with some sweet as an extra add-on. Late evening you are also served Bournvita. They have variety of healthy food in their kitty and keep surprising us eachtime with something new. I know this feels like an eating expedition rather than trekking but as the physical activity increases the body start to enjoy such healthy routine.

At the end of the day it was again the Campfire after dinner and the new group which came after us SP-6 really performed well with few dancers and flute player and much more. I forgot to add that earlier in the evening we were given helpful instructions by camp director and the guide regarding the further trip and how to keep calm and avoid bad situations and be safe.

Day3:- (Higher camp to Grahan)

The day had come for us to leave the base camp and catch some altitude. We were free till breakfast time as we had few chores to complete like packing and handing over our luggage to be kept in store room before we marched forward. My super enthusiast group of five of us went for some warm-up run to keep the spirits high but had to listen some sound thrashing by Major for not following the protocol. (I guess we were used to it).
We downsized our luggage to be carried to higher camps with minimal required essentials and lesser load. and handed over our remaining luggage in store room. Had some nice and sumptuous breakfast for the last time at the basecamp and received packed lunch for journey ahead. We were sent off by SP-6 cheering us loudly and all of us full of positive energy.

The terrain was OK for us to climb and things were going good without any problem. since the group was huge in size we were rather slow and were getting irritated. I remember we swearing many times not to come back to YHAI for such trips as they are getting more and more commercialized and seeing ourselves part of the very teen crowd got us demoralized as it was a kind of insult for Macho’s and appeared as we were strolling in garden.
PS: Irony of this situation to follow later. 🙂

The day was more of walking across the rocky terrain and gain some height simultaneously. We spent most of the times clicking snaps of nature and and singing old melodies. On the way we took a halt where one of the local villager had setup a small eatery and was selling some snacks. Although we were informed by basecamp director not to buy stuff from them but we still thought that we as a tourist are the only source of income for these locals and suddenly life values took the command over the protocol. We had some snacks and made him happy. Soon we reached our lunch point which was near a river stream. We planned to spend some time near the stream before hogging on. The water was crazy cold as we had gained some height but as usual the Machoism inside made us dare and get in the water and do some crazy stuff. We stepped inside the water and a chill directly went in the spine but soon the body normalized with outer atmosphere and felt a bit comfortable. After few photo session and running between rocks in the stream we got this crazy idea of putting all our G-Shocks in the water and got some nice clicks. Another crazy idea was to compete on keeping the legs inside the water the longest. Its astonishing to realize that body can take so much and we could be in water for so long.
We gave pause to our craziness and finished our lunch and later moved towards Grahan. As we reached near the camp site we crossed the Grahan village and also a school for primary kids. They looked so cute and we shared some toffees and biscuits with them. As we carried on we reached our campsite a very nice place surrounded with farms from two sides. All was going good but suddenly the sky went dark and it started raining. things sobered in a while and to my amaze sun slipped out of cloud and its rays directly fell on a tree which was at near distance from our camp site which made it look like Tree of Fire. What an amazing and eye treating sight it was. Ahh!

Day4:- (Higher camp to Padri)

As usual we packed our gear and after headcount packed our lunch and were about to move on. Each of the trek group has a Group Leader who is chosen voluntarily and he takes care of few logistics related to the group. When the group starts to go on higher camp he is required to lead the group from behind just like a shepherd while the Guide leads the group from front towards next camp due to his familiarity with the locale. The poor guy got completely pissed with this practice as he had to be real slow while moving onward and being a babysitter for all the others. He realized our group of five was strong enough to take over the leading from behind practice and the responsibility was hence shrugged on us.

We started with our onward journey but this with more and more pauses and lot of photo sessions and crazy singing. Oops I forgot to mention the abuses and swearing exercise. 🙂
This part of journey was again on rocky side with lot of ups and downs and terrain was changing quickly. Let me agree to it that it was kind of tiresome journey and we were happy that it suited our Machoism but as soon as we started to get in tune with it, we realized that other guys were just near us and gradually had to decrease our speed. As we reached the lunch point, we did get tired enough and after attacking on the food had some good rest.
We started the second part of the day’s journey and after gaining some height in the woods got to see the first snow. It was the FIRST SNOW of my life which I touched and felt. A feeling which cannot be described in words. The area was muddy which made the snow mix with shrubs and shed leaves which made it dirty. we clicked some snaps at this location and continued ahead.
The journey went on and after some time we reached our campsite Padri. The most amazingly beautiful campsite with small stream of water flowing besides the camp. A green landscape followed by tall trees from three sides and high ranges of Himalayas at farther distance. Point to note that our fourth campsite Nagaru was visible from here which was completely laden with snow and generated instant thrill. The greenery around was relishing for eyes and brought calmness from inside.

Everything went as usual. The camp leader at Padri was a very experienced fellow and educated us with lot of things related to further camps and in a whole about mountaineering and other treks which can be done in India. A very informative session for people like us who are all into it.
In the evening we got to have an actual campfire and sang some good numbers over antakshari duet.

Day5:- (Higher camp to Minthas)

I could realize that we were completely acclimatized now and the daily routine picked up quite nicely. An insomniac like me who used to sleep in morning 2:00AM started to rise at 5:00AM. Got to know that one of the senior person in the group was caught with eating and dietary issues and his stomach gave up. It was already difficult for him to climb upwards since 2 days and today he decided to give up before things get worse. When you are in mountains, you cannot take risk. If you survive you stand a chance to come back but if you don’t then all rests in vain. It was painful to see him quit but we cannot change the destiny, Alas!
We had nice breakfast after which we gathered for headcount. Today we decided not to lead the group and gave up our responsibility and someone else volunteered.

We had to cover lot of ground today and the terrain was going to get tougher. We started the climb onward but the gradient had drastically changed and it was going to be a busy day. The climb was again up and down but more on upward side with higher gradient which made the whole group take more pit stops. It was a real crazy day for my group of 5 guys. we used to stop and watch the leading guys reach a certain height and the herd following them, then we would take difficult and risky shortcuts and reach near them quickly and repeat the same pattern. In between our play we also took some time to help others climb some difficult stretches.
The lunch point was a flat land on top of the mountain and we could see distant pattern of mountains densely populated with tall trees at one side and other side was huge mountain ranges covered with snow waiting for us. It was rather sunny climate with amazing view.

Till the time we could finish our lunch it started getting windy and we decided to move ahead due to uncertainty of weather. As we reached the end of one mountain and were walking towards the other one to start the climb again, the panorama changed quickly and here came the hailstorm. we covered ourselves with the poncho to keep our rucksacks dry for onward journey and carried ahead slowly regardless of no visibility. As we reached the middle of panorama in between the crunching hailstorm, all five of us stopped near a small rock and thought to take a pause to feel the atmosphere. It often happens that we stop in a middle of a rain and let our mind and body feel it, it was somewhat similar situation with us too.

We moved on from this point and got into the woods. Climbing upwards was impossible as wind would blow our raincoats away so our hands were busy holding them hence looking upward and climbing without any support was no go. We waited under the tree till the things calmed down in next 20 mins. As I removed my raincoat, what I saw left me completely baffled. The same terrain and landscape which was green as we passed through it was fully covered with snow and the wind blew harshly. we moved on further as the Guide informed that campsite was at near distance.
As i mentioned earlier its astonishing how things quickly change in mountains. everything was muddy with snow as we moved further and gradually gained more height. In between had to help others as the terrain started getting slippery due to fresh snow.
Do you remember I mentioned about the wisest decision made of buying the Quechua Forcalz 500. Oh boy!! it really served the purpose and I could feel the ease of putting each step ahead and not slipping while people were going down like stepping on Banana Peel. We were near the visible distance of campsite and I found a nice slope covered with fresh snow. Could not resist and swummmmmmm I went. 😀

We reached the campsite and were welcomed by the camp leader. Weather had been real hard on us but today’s journey was complete. It still kept drizzling and people slipping and falling outside our tent. I could not take courage or a chance to get out of the tent and called it a day. Few daredevils in our tent went and brought the dinner for all of us. @Vinit,Ankit,Hardy Boys Thank You! guys for being so helpful. (Being a critic I seldom mention names of people but they deserved to be named and remembered)

The next day as we were about to start our journey for the last tougher campsite Nagaru, we saw bunch of guys climbing down from Nagaru like ants. The Guide informed us that weather at the top had worsened and one of the tent’s flew off. The group had no choice but to climb down with an unfinished job and sorrow in hearts.
As we continued upwards, the weather worsened and approx THIRTY people from our group called it quits. Want to know why??

I am yet to pen down the complete thing and would like to Thank You for being patient enough to read it till the end… Allow me some time to bring you the remaining thrilling part Mountaineering Expedition to SarPass, a journey of Lifetime – Part II

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– Rax

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