Stories of my constant learning & continuous improvement
Hampta Pass

Hampta Pass

Part 1: A journey from my worst day of my life to the Summit!

How it ALL started?

I had signed up for the Valley of Flowers trek that had to start just before COVID hit so that trek was called off. Fast forward a few years and then Raj, I and a few friends were starting to talk about signing up for a trek and didn’t want to do Valley of Flowers as it had become too popular and commercialised. I had taken my friends on a movie under the starts surprise date to watch Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and as though it was a sign, came up the name “Hampta Pass”.

The very next thing we did, booked the trek for Hampta Pass with IndiaHikes for September. The prep had started on full speed and end of July, we decided to cancel the trek given the floods in Manali. We rescheduled the trek to the next year and since our plane tickets were already booked, we did a Dilli workcation anyways, ate a lot of food, shopped till we dropped and had tons of fun! Came back and we totally forgot about Hampta Pass again. Mid April is when the panic began and strength and fitness prep started for the trek. We hit the gym regularly and ensured to work on stamina and core strength everyday. It wasn’t as much as I wanted to be physically prepared for the trek but it was better than the previous year where my prep was nil. This gave me the confidence and a well needed mental strength that I will be able to complete the trek.

Let’s get some basics right

There are some fancy terms that you would read in the blog which with this link should be easy to understand. These were some greek and latin terms to me too about a month ago 😀

D Day!

Soon came the time where the journey towards the trek started. We went to Delhi first and then took an overnight bus to Manali. It was tiring but the next 2 days in Manali gave us all the down time to relax, unwind from city noise, get into the trek mode and get excited. This was also when the reality actually hit me and I felt the gush of emotions flow in. A few of the folks from the trek group met for a few hours and we were all already vibing together. That night was the match between India and Pakistan and the Hostel that we stayed at was screening it. After multiple breaks due to rains but when India won, the entire hostel was hooting and celebrating. The trek day was there even before we could take a deep breath and after informing family about the no network situations for the next week, we all set sail towards the Indiahikes Jungle Line Campus at Manali. We were briefed about a few things that was of utmost importance for the next 6 days. We were given our hygiene liner which we would put inside our sleeping bags and also an eco bag which we would use to collect any waste we spotted on the trail. Mind it, this was not for the garbage we generated during the trek but more from the Boy Scout Rule of “Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it”

3 hours and 42 hair pin bends alter, we reached the trek’s starting point, Jobra. From where the cabs dropped us to the Jobra campsite was about 40 mins walk through a tree filled trail. Our trek lead, Ankit Kumar Chhipa gave us a lot of titbits and hacks to identifying various trees which indeed was very fascinating. We reached the Jobra campsite (8,965 feet/2,733 meters) in no time to a beautiful, humongous, magnificent mountain which at that time and I believe even now, is the biggest mountain that I have seen!

We were showed around the campsite and all things we would need to know. From the water saving washing station to the no-water washrooms. Most of us were learning these things for the first time and a feeling of shock, anxiety and the feeling of “what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here” was at it’s peak. But there was also the sense of “let’s-do-this” and a greater sense of purpose to all of these. We all were exploring the surroundings of the campsite – the loud roaring river, the tents, the washing station, the dinning area, the safety bag that was in every campsite with oxygen tanks and rescue kit and many more things. It was all new and we were taught some knots that would come in handy when need be.

Amidst all of the excitement and learning came in the villain of my story, the evening snack, “the chowmein“. I would partially take the blame myself too for the chowmein becoming the villain. Again in my defence I was super hungry and just had a few extra spoons of it and in a few hours I ended up with a super bad Gastrointestinal issue. It was almost like a domino effect that started at mid night till the end of the trek and some more.

But before my GI issues started, we were fortunate enough to witness the most beautiful skies filled with millions of starts and also because it was around the time of no/very little of the moon, this is what we saw most nights!

The entire night was hell in a nutshell and every passing minute become painful than the previous one. I hardly got a few hours of sleep and the next morning still felt better. We suspected it was AMS but all reading on the oximeter and BP machine came in more than fine. I started on medication but I was throwing up everything I was eating including water and the medicines itself. During the morning briefing we were told that day was going to be the toughest of all days in the trek due to the length and also the ascend. I started off on high energy but 10 mins into the trek, I felt the most tired I have ever felt. It was like my feet would just not move. The trek lead – Ankit, our local guides- Shyaam & Rocky Bhaiyya were very motivating and kept checking on me at every step. Raj was petrified and worried looking at me in that state but ensured to have a tiny smile and kept saying, “Are you ok? Can you take few more steps before we sit again?” which pushed me to take just those few more steps. At that point, the biggest bowlder that I could see in my line of sight or the trekkers who were a few hundred meters ahead of me were my summits. I would tell myself that it was only till there I had to walk and I would then sit down. I tried eating dry fruits, trail snacks, ORS and chocolates but nothing stayed for mare than 4 minutes. I would take about 100 steps, sit down tired, hug the nearest rock, drink water or eat something, throw up, feel a surge of energy, get up and take the next 100 steps. This was the cycle for the next few hours. I was feeling the most hopeless and guilty through this entire time. My guilt mostly came from not just me being sick but also because I was keeping Raj from enjoying the trek that he had dreamt of for about a year and also because I was keeping the entire group behind too. At one point we got separated from the group and were at least an 30 mins behind. There came a point, when people were worried about the lag and Ankit after talking to the team and asked me if I wanted to go back. They said that the trail was getting harder going forward and I was not even better by a bit. There was another couple from the previous batch who were coming back because they had a similar GI issue and AMS that they didn’t mention early to the lead. Ankit asked me if I wanted to go back and I went blank. I felt like my dreams came crushing down and everything I did in the past few months was for nothing. Raj and I were talking about him going ahead but he refused to go ahead without me. That very thing that Raj said and because I desperately wanted to go to the last campsite to buy the trek t-shirt that is sold only at that point became my motivating magical force that pushed me ahead by a few steps. Shyaam bhaiyya gave me the dry fruit laddoo that was made at his place with pure ghee which was the first thing in about 6 hours that I hadn’t thrown up. We met the couple who were coming down and she was telling me how it was going to get tougher and that I should go back. I wouldn’t lie but I 100% considered going back. But I looked at Raj and said I would go a few more hours before I decided to go back. We went through many terrains which was breath taking! We had a river by our side the entire time and that was our source of water too. We saw the stones in the mountain shine because of Mica content. The sand around it looked glittery and it was a sight that would remain forever in my memory. There were meadows filled with lush green grass, narrow paths filled with slippery stones, rock falling zones where we had to traverse fast, cross water paths and much more.

I was hardly able to put my head up to look at the beauty of the trail but whenever I did, all that came out of me was “WOW!” The picturesque scenery was beyond splendiferous !

We had the constrain of having to cross a huge river before 1pm because post that because of the heat, the glaciers above would melt and the force in the river would get rigorous making it tough to cross. Little did we know at 1pm, Raj, I and 2 more people were still far away from that crossing. Rocky bhaiyya kept fooling was with “just 10 more mins” trick which worked beautifully and we reached the spot at 2pm. We removed our shoes and got ready for the crossing with super quick do’s and don’ts because we had very little time. We had to form a human chain and the very first step into the water and each and every cell in my body was screaming. I felt a stabbing pain through my body because the water was frigid cold! It took about 12 minutes for us to cross but it felt like an eternity had passed and yet the other end of the river was nowhere close. When we crossed it, the coldest winds wasn’t making our life any easier, it was a different version of the throbbing pain that continued. I reached the campsite at around 3 which was supposed to be 1pm but the sign of relief that I felt when I saw the Jwara (11,005 feet/3,354 meters) campsite and when I sat down in the tent is something beyond superior to anything I have felt. 

Post a great cool down session, we sat down for a late lunch at the campsite and I couldn’t eat anything and was at the peak of my weakness. We were all gathered in the dining area and were not ready to get out of the tent because of the cold. We all wore our warm layers and started playing a game called “connect”. We were all so indulged in the game that it felt like just a few minutes that it was time for snacks and then dinner. None of us got off the places we sat down when we had lunch. The entire team felt more connected (no pun intended or may be it was :P) to one another when we walked off that tent and went into our own! We were also told that the next day was going to be a cake walk compared to Day 2 and was also going to be a DIY day which meant none of the members of the organizing crew would even move a finger and all of us would play various roles from the wake up call giver to the person checking all vitals before starting the trek and through the day. One of us would be the trek lead who would go to & fro through the trail, one of us would be the sweeper who would check any place before they moved forward to check if something is  left behind and try to even clean up the place  and one would be the person leading the group from the front. One of us would serve food and one would take care of the campsite and its cleanliness. I volunteered to be the sweeper and was given a quick brief on how to use the walkie talkie and communicate to various campsites as well. From where I was the previous day to taking this role up the next, it felt like the right motivation that I needed. I am super grateful that I took it up and had such fun through the trail. We stopped to play small games on the trail, danced to Pahadi songs in the Nati style and laughed our hearts out. It was a beautiful trail that had tons of flowers, greenery, meadows, flowing water, shiny mica coated stones, waterfalls and ice filled mountains. 
Peacefully we all reached the next campsite Balu ka Ghera (12,220 feet/3,725 meters). Balu in Pahadi language is sand and Balu ka Ghera means mound of sand. It was a beautiful campsite with a huge ice patch all around it. And at a far distance we were looking at the ledge we were going to cross the next morning.

Post reaching the campsite and layering up with warm layers we all gathered for lunch. It was super cold so soon after lunch we gathered to play lagori! The sand was very slippery like in the dessert and the cold was making it difficult to even walk. This was the first time in my life that I was playing lagori so I was given a quick stratergy and brief on the rules of the game. We played the game thrice and it was a very intense game. All of us were at the peak of our competitiveness and in no time all of us were sweating. With that high energy we all came back to the dinning area for snow training. We had Dishu bhaiyaa who was a snow technician came in to teach us everything we needed to know about walking in snow. We all were given gaters and spikes to wear over our pant and shoes respectively which would keep us safe. Then we went to one of the snow patches and learnt how to walk up, down, side ways and how we would manage if we slided down or lost control. It was a good hour of intense practice followed by the yummiest dinner. During dinner we were briefed about how difficult things could get the next day and all things we needed to know about the ascend. We were petrified but were also excited to see what the next day held. We all hit bed early because the next day we had to start at 5:30am so that we could cross the pass before noon. As they say, post noon, in the mountains, things are not predictable at all. No weather report holds true for any predictions made and it is all the will and wish of the mountains. It was the steepest ascend that we went through and post crossing 3 huge ledges, we had to cross some more of the bigger ice patches where the rock falling risks were very high. Every time I looked down while walking through these patches, I saw the never ending slope of ice which was spine-chilling. As things got tiring, I kept singing “Make Way for Noddy” which kept me going. Then I moved on to taking just 80 steps post which I would tell myself I would sit down but as soon I reached the milestone set, I would tell myself that I would take another 80 and sit. These mental dialogue/voice is what kept me going. The minute we entered the Hampta Pass (14,065 feet/4,287 meters) there were overwhelming flow of many many emotions that I didn’t know how to process. I wanted to cry, laugh, jump, dance and go bonkers at the same time. I didn’t know how to channalise it but at the pass, seeing that white the snow which was blinding, hugging people and congratulating each other on reaching the pass helped a lot. We were all clicking tons of pictures and gathered around to say our gratitude before we started the descend.

We did a very powerful yet super simple activity at the summit which I think I will hold super close to my heart forever. We were all asked to collect a pick a favourite rock at Jobra which was our first campsite. We had all kept that with us and totally had forgotten about it. At the summit Ankit asked all of us to get that stone out, stand in a circle, hold the stone in our palms, put it in front of us and clasp it with all the strength we had; so tight that it would hurt. He asked us to hold on till we couldn’t take the pain anymore. Some let it go sooner and some held on to it for a while. I was the last on standing to still hold on to it and when Ankit said, “let it go Vaasavi, it is ok”, I let that go in the next few seconds and couldn’t stop my tears. I am still not sure what I was thinking but it was a very emotional time with absolutely no particular thought on my mind. Ankit later went on to say things like, “Even though we have let go something, doesn’t mean we can’t create something beautiful out of it”. He picked all of our stones and stacked all of our stones!

All of us at one point were in tears, weeping and smiling looking at each other. The entire energy in that place felt very pure and raw. We spent a good 2 hours at the pass, saw the next campsite we were going to crash at and gathered again to be briefed about the descend. Though the next campsite was at a visible distance, we were told it would take 5-6 hours to reach that. All of us thought it was a joke but when we heard about the descend, it was the most scared I have been and I am sure everyone else was feeling the same.

Here is the next part of this blog!

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