Friendship peak trip report by Pranav Rawat.
I have been doing treks on my own for years. No porters, cooks or even guides. There were times when I failed to achieve my goals. In all those treks, I realized that the weight of my pack was a major hindrance. Carrying all my gear myself, there have been times when I did expeditions with a 30-35 kg rucksack.
I was at home, planning some new projects when Huzefa called me to work on his new project in Manali. He named it Blue Bolt. The project focuses on training and trekking and climbing light in the mountains in the Alpine style of climbing. Huzefa had been working on the concept for the last five years. It looked like I’d found the solution to all my rucksack weight woes.
In Manali, I met old friends Praveen and Honey. Praveen is an old buddy with whom I’ve done mountaineering courses. Honey and I had worked together for a trekking company last year. The Blue Bolt project was getting a lot of old friends together to solve a problem which had plagued us all.
It was decided we would climb Friendship peak (5289m) as our first alpine ascent.
With this goal in mind, we started working on our food. The first product we made were endurance bars made out of oats, honey and peanut butter. I had already used them on my trek to Bhrigu Lake last year. What I love about them is that, they use absolutely no artificial ingredients and are hence very healthy.
Next in line were bananas cut and dehydrated into chips. Unlike banana chips sold in markets, these aren’t fried and hence retain the natural flavouring. In the same manner, we dehydrated watermelon and pineapples too. For meals, we dehydrated rajma, urad, pulao, rice, spinach, cauliflower, capsicum and potatoes. We also bought some muesli and pasta to add more variety to the meals.
At this point, Jayant, who I knew from Climbathon last year, joined us for the climb.
The weather permitted a three day (9th to 11th May) window for the climb. Jayant was involved in some trek leading recently and was the only one who was appropriately acclimatised. If it weren’t for our light packs, we would not have been able to attempt a three day manali to manali expedition. We rented a bit of gear from the Manali market, weighed each item that went into our packs and got ready for the climb. I cooked some Berdhni Roti (Pahari dish) for lunch on the go.
We reached Solang Nala in a taxi, where we ate some breakfast and started the trek to Dhundi. After walking for a kilometer and a half, we got a lift from a BRO dumper up till Dhundi.
From Dhundi, our real trek started. We crossed a temporary wooden bridge on the Beas and moved to other side of the river. We expected snow from Dhundi but it’s absence frustrated Huzefa because he was carrying his skis along. Also he was in crocs, which made things more difficult and he could not keep up with us. We ate some of the endurance bars we’d made on the move and felt a significant change in our energy levels. By this time, we’d moved ahead of Huzefa and were using the radio for communication. Unfortunately we mistakenly changed the frequency and could not get back to the original one even after repeated efforts. This radio, the Baofeng UV3R, was quite different from the ones I had used before. It was very light with two frequency bands and could be charged by USB chargers. The complex functions though made it difficult to reconnect with Huzefa.
We kept moving until we found a nice flat ground opposite to Bakar Thatch for setting up our camp, free from rock falls and avalanches. The entire area was packed with snow but most of the ridges were empty. It seemed like the snow might have melted or slid down in an avalanche. We had established our camp and I heard Huzefa’s voice asking about the route. He’d left his rucksack down the trail and came up to check the route and figure out why the radio wasn’t working. We matched our radio frequencies again and he went to collect his rucksack.
We made some tea at the camp and by the time we had arranged our things in the tents, Huzefa reached too. He then pitched his Tarp Tent weighing 1100 grams. Then we reheated the berdhni roti for lunch. The weather was clear and nice, we took some nice pictures and discussed the route for the day after. For dinner we rehydrated rajmah and rice. Rajmah didn’t rehydrate easily, so we rehydrated urad dal and mixed it with the rajmah. We mixed the pre-cooked masala and the resultant dal was as good as the one made at home. I’d eaten the pre-cooked MTR meals on treks and this dal tasted far better than anything that ever came out of those packets. After dinner we enjoyed a game of cards. Huzefa decided to sleep in the open with his -10 rating sleeping bag to test its limits.
The night was not relaxing for us. Praveen was carrying a very thin mattress along with a high altitude quilt which had been worn thin. He shivered the entire night and I could also not sleep because of his discomfort. Jayant was up early. He made tea and woke every one up.
Praveen was low on energy and feeling cold. Also his injured heal was not allowing him to wear his high altitude boots. It was decided that he would descend and take all extra equipment with himself. Huzefa was also struggling with his skis so left his skis and our trekking shoes under a rock and proceeded with a lightened rucksack.
As the climb started, in under an hour, we faced a snow slope filled with avalanche debris. After a quick discussion, we decided to proceed on because the upper reaches of the slope were already barren and hence relatively safe. Jayant was too fast to catch on that slope. Huzefa was quite slow and was not able to match our speed. At Lady Leg we waited for him and discussed the route we had to take. We got a fabulous view of Indrasan and Deo Tibba from this point.
The entire area was covered with snow from this point onward. The sun was directly over us and we were sweating profusely in the snow. The lack of any water source on Lady Leg made things even more difficult. The entire route was filled with curves and it felt like we were walking on a snake’s route.
By 2 pm we were below the friendship glacier. We decided to establish our camp there. Huzefa could not be seen at this point. Jayant took out his fuel stove to refill our water bottles with melted snow, but the stove wasn’t working properly. After a few minutes it stopped completely. We looked for a gas burner but could not found one. We realized that we’d left them at the lower camp by mistake. Jayant took out his toolkit and cleaned the stove thoroughly with Honey’s tooth brush, but it didnt work. Ultimately we put the fuel bottle aside and attached the gas canister to the stove. It was then, that we realised that the fuel outlet was blocked by a tiny piece of straw. The stove started working well, but we’d spent valuable time cleaning it out.
Huzefa too reached by this time and complained of a head ache. He decided to rest in his tent. I was not too sure of my health either by this time. We cooked some dehydrated pulao with vegetables. It was delicious, but I wasn’t feeling too well and decided against eating it. Honey and Jayant, who were feeling well and starved emptied the bowl quickly.
Huzefa was not well and he vomited several times. He had a history with altitude problems and he was suffering from indigestion as well. We tried giving him some basic medicines but he vomited that out as well. During the night Huzefa’s health improved, but he was still wasn’t well enough to eat anything.
It was decided that ultimately it was Honey, Jayant and I, who would go for the summit. Huzefa would stay at the camp and rest. We planned on leaving by 5 in the morning.
Next morning I woke up early. The time was 3.30 am. I made tea first and reheated the pulao from last night. After a very early breakfast and tea we decided to take some tea up to the summit. In our hurry be spilled the tea all over the tent. Cleaning that mess up, took half an hour out of our precious summit push time. Giving up on the idea of making tea again, we were left with energy bars and banana chips for the summit push.
We were finally able to start by 5:30 am. Our speed was good and we were following the curvy route upto friendship. The walls of Friendship glacier were fully exposed, but we didn’t see any crevasses. The climb got steadily steeper as we moved closer to the summit. My energy was very low by this time. Skipping dinner and energy bars had shown its effect on my energy level. I had just eaten some banana chips and energy gel. I was concerned about Honey but after some time I was behind him by quite a bit. I was using my mental strength to keep moving. The section continued getting steeper. Even Jayant and Honey were reducing their speed now. Jayant lead the route and I stayed with Honey to watch his steps, as he did not have crampons. On the col we found an ice wall with 3-4 inches of snow on it. I taught Honey how to use lower and higher dagger technique of ice climbing. He is a quick learner and was doing fine. We climbed that wall vertically. Now we saw that Jayant had reached the summit and it was closer than we thought.
It was then that we realized how steep the final push was. I was concerned about Honey and cut a few steps for him on the icy portion. Finally we reached the summit. Jayant had anchored himself to a fixed rope which some people had left there. We got a fleeting view of the Lahaul side because the weather was closing up. The actual summit was rocky and steep. We spent quite some time there and clicked a lot of pictures too. We celebrated with banana chips but during this entire time we were also worried about the way down as the weather had completely closed down. I decided to rope up with Honey on the way down for his safety. Also we taught him to how to arrest his fall.
Even though Honey was a complete novice, his confidence increased steadily as he descended down the Col. As the gradient started becoming easy, he started having fun with fall and arresting. He was doing a free fall anywhere and was arresting it properly.
As we reached the shoulder of the mountain, I untied my knot and coiled the rope on Honey’s shoulder. From there I sat down and had the longest glisade until the end of the glacier. As we reached the camp Huzefa was up and feeling well. We wanted to descend quickly but Huzefa wanted to stay another day. After a long discussion we decided on descending the same day.
Huzefa’s energy was low because he hadn’t had any meal since the previous night. As we reached our first camp we changed our shoes. Getting into our trekking boots was such a relief. Huzefa, feeling better decided to ski down from there along the river Beas. Further down, he got stuck in a land slide and had to climb up to cross that section. We moved ahead to Dhundi. We had some chai and Maggi there in a camp. By then Huzefa came and we moved. Luckily we got a lift from ABVIMAS truck which came there with basic mountaineering course ration.
The entire climb was a very nice experience, we learnt a lot about food and equipment and we were able to test all our products up there. We completed the climb in three days from Manali to Manali and our first project in climbing fast and light was successful.