Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Same Difference: Hiking the February Triund - By Prachi Shrivastava
I have been trekking and adventuring with Fireballs for six months now and during this time I have grown up from having a mere eagerness to adventure, to adventure becoming an extension of me.
I have been on long marshy trails full of waterfalls in the darkness of the night, been on boulders like the jaws of death in an oxygen- less 14,000 feet height, been hunched for silent meditative hours by a mirror-like glacial lake in knife blade-like chilly dawn.
I have been hunched over damp firewood in a fiercely windy cave yet cooked steaming hot delicious dinner over fire from the same damp wood, been on a day-long relentless and breathless climb up straight inclines to sleep in a meadow beneath the milky way, been at a wedding which I attended in trekking gear ornamented with a dry-fruit garland around my neck and a flowery traditional topi on my head, and been at a bonfire in a lodge surrounded by majestic snowy hills that turned the lodge’s water supply to ice.
What I had not been on until this February end weekend was a trek in knee deep, sometimes waist deep snow for the entire length of the trail.
Triund (5km climb up from Bhagsu Nag in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh) offered itself up as the setting for me to get a taste of climbing up a snow-packed trail.
I had been to Triund in October when the rocky trail leading up to it was free of the slightest trace of snow or ice, and therefore this time my mind’s eye was exclusively focussed on the hypnotic breath taking valleys of clouds that change colours, that will greet us in a panorama at the end of the hike. The trail itself did not capture much anticipation. Until we began the trek, that is.
It is not that I didn’t know that the trail would be snowy. Fireballs had graphically warned me of the knee-deep snow lining it. But hearing that there’ll be snow and actually stepping on soft dense white layers for the first time, and realising that this is what every step is going to be like for miles ahead – both sets of knowledge differ in their impact on the curious newbie adventurer.
The shifting of layers of snow from underneath every step, to sit inside your now-drenched shoes and leggings and pinch your feet and legs to numbness after piercing them with daggers, makes one worship the dude who is leading the trail. This leader is creating easy craters for the followers to land their feet in. He or she would have to resign to keep leading and sinking first, because the followers would tend not to budge from pit stops until they see the next 20 minutes of feet craters ready to greet them!
The snow, on the other hand, is a blessing in disguise where speed is concerned. Stepping into mostly level feet craters requires far less exertion than climbing up rocks one after another. Colder weather helps save energy too. Our group moved much faster on the trail than it did in October.
During the trek I repeatedly fantasised of the dry warm comfort that would’ve been inside a pair of gumboots, but looking at people in sneakers slip around me replenished my gratitude for the wonder grip of my North Face trekking boots. Though slipping hardly hurts on the cotton wool like soft snow (beware of slipping on ice though, that’s harsher) thanks to these boots I walked effortlessly with my palms in my jacket pockets!
The volume, density and thickness of snow on the trail changed for us at three points. For the first kilometre, until Café Best View, there was mostly slippery ice and wet boulders but not more than scraps of snow. Here we focussed on dodging the ice and stepping on rocky patches or the soft snow which was right at the outer edge of the trail. This gave crow’s feet to a friend afraid of heights, from the continuous wincing.
Next was the 2 ft thick snow, soft enough to shift from beneath steps but firm enough to not crumble all around us but hold the craters the group leader was forming with his steps. This continued until Café Magic View – the mid-point of the hike, and during this part of the trek we lifted our heads up carefree and soaked in the cloudy sights and the snowy majesty of the Dhauladhar ranges.
The route up from Magic View tested our limits with 5 ft thick snow that was too soft for the feet craters to be of much help. We exerted creating new craters of our own at some places, widening existing craters, sinking up to our waist in snow, and I particularly wanted to cut my feet off with an axe.
It is at cusps where you want to severe a limb off your body that you truly grow out of your little cocoon and stop being a caterpillar. It was once I was told to go back to base if the discomfort was too much to bear, that my motivations for adventuring came back to me. I do not wander into the wilderness for comfort or discomfort, or for everything that is expected. I wander to be a sport and make the best of all that is unexpected. I wander to surrender to and soak in the ferocious. This was it. I was right in the middle of the wild. How could I shirk it?
I stayed put, determined again to climb up. I flexed my toes inside my wet shoes and gradually they adjusted to the terrain and came back to life – part physically and part psychologically.
Café 22 Modh (named after the 22 deflections, after this point, in the straight trail leading up to Triund) was as far as we went this weekend. We ditched the last 80 metres (or 40 minutes, by non-snowy standard time) of the trail in favour of not getting completely lost in the area of the Dhauladhar where no route was visible.
An Austrian, used to trekking in the Alps, deigned to find his way up using the compass on his wrist as we watched safely from 22 Modh, with our shoes and socks removed and our feet basking in the intermittent sunlight. But he only deigned. And returned after half hour of hiking to nowhere.
Making snowmen and snow-ghosts, and taking swigs of our poison of choice to the beats of music, or gazing unblinkingly into the human forms made by clouds concluded the trek. It is less about the destination and more about the journey you say? Sure, I’ll take that! Goes with this weekend’s flavour!
Though every Fireballs trip is completely different from the previous one, some things never change.
The voice of perfect silence in our abode for the night, broken only by the cheer of the trekking group high from spending an evening in the company of identical wandering souls. The person with the crazy drunk stories, the one with tales of astonishingly generous fellow travellers, the one with a story for every biking scar, the one who loves himself for discovering new tricks to traverse the mountains, and the nightingale with the inebriating voice.
And then there’s the one who sews all of this together, single-handedly runs a brilliant show, and cheers-on the one person whose whereabouts he had to trace several miles back on the road in the dead of the night, by commenting: “It is but legitimate to get this drunk sometimes in life buddy!”