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Andhra Pradesh IFS officer Bharani successfully completes Basic Mountaineering Course at HMI in Darjeeling: PCCF Congratulations

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Andhra Pradesh IFS officer S Bharani has successfully completed Basic Mountaineering Course at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. PCCF Y Madusudhana Reddy congratulated her on this occasion.  She said, with the support and motivation from Andhra Pradesh Forest department successfully completed Basic Mountaineering Course at Himalayan mountaineering institute.

My 1st step in mountaineering

To truly discover oneself all you have to do is , challenge yourself with things that will make you unveil your mental fortitude. As a young girl my fascination and fear for the magnificence and tranquility of high snowbound peaks and deep oceans kept growing. This feeling keeps getting stronger and deeper over the years.

Late evening on May 2nd I reached HMI, Darjeeling “the Mecca for mountaineers” with a hope to colour my dreams. The next morning at 5:30 am I was surprised to see 75 girls from India, Bangladesh, Australia and Ireland who had come to HMI with the same hope as me. Many belonged to the age group between 20 to 26 years but there were very few like me between 30 to 35 and one 44 years. I was allotted to Rope 9 an enthusiastic set of 6 girls ( Sampa, Anita, Sonia, Jinal , Bheena and myself).

The 1st week at HMI aimed at strengthening us for the challenges ahead. Every day started at 4:30 am with a alarm bell, followed by morning run of 5 to 6kms in the hilly terrain. For people from plains , near mean sea level like me it was a tough route. I struggled to be in the 1st group of runners for 2 days. Palpitation kept raising with every uphill, yet I ensured  to keep my feet moving. From the 3 rd day my body had started adapting to the routine and the terrain. I ensured to make my morning run effective.

Next we were exposed to Rock crafts- Rock climbing, chimney climbing, Rappelling and artificial wall climbing. HMI has natural rock climbing area with 12 different rock faces. We were shown demonstrations by instructors , taught different knots used for different techniques, provided with the rock climbing equipments ( Harness set , carabiners , zumer, slings, descender). With each activity we developed a strong bonding with each other in the batch and especially the rope.

My body flexibility and stamina gave me strength for rock climbing, yet my upper body strength needed improvement. With all the cheering and teachings we overcame our fear for heights and depths.

On May 7th we went on our 1st trek to tiger hills, the highest peak of Darjeeling (22kms to and fro). Being the 1st trek we weren’t  given fixed weight of rucksack to be carried. Even then most of the girls were self motivated to take this as a practice for the forthcoming treks and carried nearly 10 – 12 kgs in the rucksack.

It was a beautiful day, good weather and we started trekking at 6:30 am. We started walking through villages and crossed Senegal wildlife sanctuary, a beautiful patch of forest and finally reached tiger hills at 9:10 am. Tiger hills is one of the best know sunrise point in India. It provides a beautiful treat with the view of Himalayas across Nepal, Sikkim and part of Bhutan. The majestic peaks of Mt kanchenzonga and Mt Everest can also be seen from tiger hills. I reached tiger hills with an expectation to get my visual treat but the mountain weather, makes its own decision. I accepted the cloud cover as a call to admire the peaks from a closer proximity.

The 1st trek was a motivation for many but it also started testing few. Stamina level, body pain, ability to move with the group , mental consistency to complete the route, etc were starting to increase with the increase in activity level and tight schedule. Meanwhile HMI fitness test (selection trek) was announced for selecting candidates for glacier training. Pandem trek of 17kms with 15kgs rucksack weight should be completed within 3 hours.

On May 9th at 6:30 am Pandem trek started. I would say it was a real test of willpower. Initial 4kms were downhill where most ran in to save time for uphill , this was followed by 3 to 4 kms of uphill and downhill here many split into small groups based on their speed categories, then came 6 to 7 kms of complete uphill in this part of the trek most girls were either in pairs or alone due to their trekking pace. This was the real challenge where many wanted to give up , few cried enroute, few had cramps, shoulders were burning due to the weight and legs kept marching towards their dream.

Many unknown locals encouraged, girls crossing one another encouraged and reassured the other. On completing uphill the final 3 to 4 kms was again a mix of uphill and downhill. There were know faces of instructors waiting to show directions. It gave a relief and again to finish on time many ran or atleast jogged downhill with the heavy weight and somehow completed the uphill to HMI ending point. Here time was recorded and bags were reweighed to ensure fair play. I completed the trek in 2 hours 35 minutes as the 18th person. I was exhausted and excited !

At the end of the day many forgot their pain and cherished the strength that made them qualify. Few who couldn’t make it had to bid farewell with the promise to improve their fitness and rejoin for the next course.

Now the batch was excited for the 2nd phase of training, march to HMI base camp (Chaurikang). We went through medical checkup , briefing and equipment collection. The excitement of new mountaineering gears like sleeping bags, down jackets, mats, rock climbing sets, helmets, mess tins , etc was taken over by the fear of carrying them. Each rucksack to be carried weighed nearly 20kgs now. Post pregnancy I had cervical spondylitis which led to radiating pain in my left shoulder and hand when I carry weight for a prolonged period. This created some confusions in my mind but I kept exercising, carried few ointments and reassured myself.

On May 11th at 6:30 am our journey to the glacier started. From HMI to Yuksum (5800ft) we went by jeeps. On reaching we pitched tents and were excited to stay in tents with our friends. In the evening we were taken for acclimatisation walk where we visited the birth place of Sikkim. Yuksum means 3 lamas – the founders of Sikkim. The 1st throne of Chogyal dynasty which united many smaller tribal groups under one peaceful rule. I was amazed to see a human foot print ( twice the normal size ) on a hard rock. It is believed to be the footprint of ancient human’s who had capacity to fly.

The next day (May 12th) started with the tedious task of repacking the sleeping bag, mats, rucksack and dismantling the tents (Same routine till we reached base camp). At 6:30 am we started our trek of 16 kms from Yuksum (5800ft) to Tshoka (9840ft) . It was a mix of uphill and downhill. We had to cross 4 bridges enroute which were fixed as the waiting points for the whole group to catch up. Being the 1st day we were excited and led as the 1st party. We got sufficient rest waiting for the others to join at waiting points. We had our packed lunch near 3rd bridge. Towards the end near 4th bridge exhaustion started increasing and finally we reached Tshoka at 3:45pm.

There was drop in temperature level (5 deg C , 1 deg at night) and we were welcomed with rain. The same night we had our 2nd medical checkup for BP and SpO2. Few with high BPs were rejected by the medical team for further ascend in altitude. My BP was slightly high 140/90 and I was confused. But I was in the border level and hence allowed to ascend. My Rope and friends were more worried than I was. They stood with me all through the medical checkup every time and were excited to hear the approval for my ascend.

On May 13th at 6:30 am our trek of 9kms from Tshoka (9840 ft )to Dzongri ( 13781 ft) started. It was briefed that the terrain will be complete uphill and the altitude gain will create breathing difficulty if proper pace in trekking is not maintained. I kept going at a good pace yet kept having high breathing rate. We reached Dzongri around 3 pm all exhausted. Then we pitched our tents and planned to rest for a while. The weather had other plans and it snowed heavily. The roof of the tents were filled with snow and we had to keep removing them at regular intervals. By this time we were used to open washrooms in the nature but at Dzongri the water was frozen too. Finally snow and ice became a part of our sanitary kit.  From this altitude sleeping became more difficult, sudden night anxiety , extreme cold, heat flushes, suffocation and to top it all fear of cold to pee in the night times.

On 14th May was our last trek to reach HMI base camp. We started the trek of 16kms at 6:30 am. It was a mix of uphill and downhill. My legs were tired and my shoulders started becoming numb. Many young champs started shedding tears in pain yet no one gave up. We crossed Dzongri la pass (14600 ft) and reached a river point ( Big Bari) we were offered hot tea and biscuits. Exactly 4 Parle G and 1 milkmaid tea became our lifeline by now.

 It was told that the base camp is just 1 hillock away from the river and this gave us the enthusiasm to finish the trek. We trekked the 1st hillock enthusiastically but found no base camp in the valley then we marched further and further looking at every empty valley. In the 5th valley I was able to see huts with green sheet roofs, finally reached HMI base camp (Chaurikhang) at 14600ft. Reaching HMI base camp is considered to be the 2 nd toughest trek in Asia.

HMI base camp amazed me with snow covered peaks in all directions (Rathong peak, Kabru dome, kabru fork 1,2,3,4, Mt Frey, Black peak, B.C. Roy peak). The Sun-kissed peaks made the snow glow, this visual treat gave goosebumps every moment. I am sure Tenzing Norgay must have felt the same , making him select this place as HMI base camp.

Next few days aimed at snow and ice craft at Rathong glacier (near Rathong pass connecting Sikkim and Nepal). It was a pride to walk through moraines, tarns and glacier for nearly 3 hours in any weather sunny, snowy, rainy (we saw them all). Snow boots, Crampons and ice axe are the lifeline for training in glacier. Watching demonstrations of free climbing, ice wall climbing, zumering made it look very easy. The moment we started practising reality hit hard , the amount of energy, body coordination, upper body strength were highly demanding.

The struggle to reach the top every time gave the dopamine dose to go further. Every time I climbed , my breath was out of control yet I near missed the chance to smile on reaching the top. After this tedious activity again exactly 4 Parle G and a chai was served. It made us regain strength for our return March to the base camp.

On 20th May we were told that the next day will be just a hike to a snowy area were fall arrest (protecting oneself in case of mishap in a glacier) will be practiced. All of us were so relieved thinking we will get some rest. Once the trek started we understood the hike was a even long route than the glacier ! We trekked for more than 4 hours, reached a mountain slope filled with fresh snow to fall and save ourself.

 It is one of the most crucial thing every mountaineer has to learn, protect oneself and his rope members. It was a fun filled activity, looking at everyone drenched in snow made us laugh and enjoy (even when many butts were frozen🥶). Then when we thought we are done and will return to base camp , we were asked to trek further for an hour. We reached a 70 ft rock wall / over hang for rappelling.

By this time it started snowing heavily and our sunglasses started fogging as we did intense activity. I have never feared to rappel down and so volunteered to do among the 1st lot. That day and that wall’s height was different the moment I started rappelling down I was able to feel my heart rate rise, snow hitting directly on my face and my breathing increased to a level were my sunglasses fogged completely and I lost clear vision of the rock surface beneath.

I had no choice and kept moving and jumped at points based on instructors command. On reaching the base finally one of the instructor helped me stabilise, defog my glasses and then I looked up the wall I had rappelled down … OMG now I think I can rappel down any damn height ! Now the terrible part was to wait in heavy snow for all 50 to rappel down. Poncho was my cloak, my armour, my shield ! It helped me trek back to base camp without getting drenched in snow.

After returning back we were tired and expected rest for the next day. Then came the news that next day (22nd May) will be altitude gain , were we will be summiting Mt Renok (16500ft). It was told that it was not mandatory and can be done by interested people. I suddenly felt if I will be able to do it ? Might be body exhaustion after a tiring day made me think so. Then I decided , I will summit it as a birthday gift for my love (My husband’s birthday- 22nd May). Let my mountaineering journey begin on his birthday.

On 22nd May I kept myself focused and maintained a good pace. Kept moving with 1 thought in mind , this is for you my love ! I reached the base of Mt Renok with the 1st group and 6 of us with 1 instructor roped up and started moving up the snowy peak. It was the 1st time in my life I was climbing a peak with the proper use of mountaineering equipment’s. We crossed snowy areas that touched knee level, Hard ice areas that demanded more caution, chimney were we had to squeeze in and climb and Rocky patches. On reaching the the peak we were so happy and the feeling of accomplishment made us feel proud. All my rope members wished happy birthday to my husband and we recorded it at 16500ft !

The next few days were filled with ice wall climbing test, few classes and count down to go home. On 25th all faces were filled  with sense of satisfaction, exhaustion, an yearning for home and food that doesn’t freeze in the cold.

After successful completion of glacier training, on 26th May morning all of us were set for our return March to Darjeeling. We covered 23 kms in 1 day and reached Tshoka by evening 4pm. The next day we covered 14 kms by afternoon to reach Yuksum and then in jeeps we reached HMI, Darjeeling at 7 pm.

The final 2 days wrapped up with written test , 70th Mt Everest day and finally our graduation ceremony. We were lucky to have earned our Ice axe on May 29th , the day when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary summited Mt Everest in 1954.

In the past one month, every sleepless night and long march made me long for my family (a tight hug from my son and husband) but it also helped me gain values for a lifetime. Persistence, patience, adaptability, comradeship and ability to laugh in the face of adversity.

We began our journey as a group of 71 people. Out of which one third were not able to continue due to physical and medical reasons. In the remaining two third , one third existed physically and gave up enjoying mentally. On the other hand, the final group of one third are the ones who really started living their dream. They ensured to love what they did , to enjoy oneself and spread their vibe.

Mountaineering is not about reaching the peak, it is a journey in which surrendering oneself to the mountain and respecting nature will guide you climb from peak to peak !

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