Siachen trek: The experience
of a lifetime
Glacier, Oct 28 (IANS) It was for me the experience of a lifetime:
an eight-day trek up the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir,
once regarded as the world's highest battlefield at 22,000
feet where the guns have been silent since 2003 after an India-Pakistan
80-km trek from the Siachen Base Camp to Camp 3 and back by
a 32-member group of defence personnel, military school students
and journalists served to vividly bring out the hazards and
pitfalls Indian Army soldiers have to face on what was also
the world's coldest battlefield where temperatures dip below
- 65 degrees Celsius.
goes stone cold as soon as it is taken off the burner, washing
your face becomes a luxury, and drinking water smells of the
kerosene used to melt the ice. Yet, the soldiers stoically
endure this, serving for a minimum of three months on the
glacier in a two-year tenure in the area.
was among five women, including two journalists, who survived
the arduous but adventurous trek:
1: Full of enthusiasm and unaware of what lay ahead, the group
set off for Camp 1, our first destination. Meandering through
rock debris the task was made all the more difficult by the
special clothing, 2.5-kg shoes and the 20-kg rucksack that
each of us carried.
in ropes of five, the trekkers paused every 10 minutes to
catch their breath, prompting Col. Satish Sharma, the Commanding
Officer of the Army Mountaineering Institute to remark: "You
have been walking in between breaks while it should have been
other way round."
team reached Camp 1 at 6 p.m. just before sunset and was served
peanuts and hot tea - which seemed a luxury at those frigid
heights, surrounded by the Saltoro Ridge on one side and the
Karakoram Range on the other.
first night in a sleeping bag was difficult and one also had
to accommodate the camera, shoes, socks and hand gloves to
keep them warm.
2: After getting an inkling of the vagaries ahead and hearing
from team leader Lt. Col. A.L. Maini that the stretch to Camp
2 was the toughest, we did not feel like coming out of our
sleeping bags. This apart, we also shunned our everyday luxuries
like bathing as the mercury registered -10 degrees Celsius.
14-km-long stretch involved crossing deep crevasses over ladders
and walking over the snow, wearing crampons - spikes that
are tied under the shoes to get a grip on the slippery snow.
steps with each other, holding on to one another when someone
tripped on frozen rivulets and crossing many ladders, we managed
to reach the halfway point at around 1 p.m.
2 was achieved at around 6 p.m., after crossing the toughest
stretch of a two-km snow desert and moraines.
night was a delight with a full moon ethereally bathing the
Days 3 and 4: Heavy snowfall between Camp 2 and Camp 3 confined
us for all of two days, with virtually nothing to do other
than waiting for our meals.
group then zeroed in on playing cards. I guess it was the
longest cards session at those heights from 9.30 a.m. to 6
p.m., a record of sorts.
5: The temperature declined after a night of snowfall but
the two-day layover redoubled the team's determination to
complete the trek. We set off for Camp 3 with new vigour even
though the thick snow layer made walking difficult.
trekking for 16 km the team reached Camp 3, where the temperature
was a bone chilling -25 degrees Celsius. The whole team was
so exhausted that everybody just went to sleep.
6: The previous night brought with it a peculiar problem:
the sleeping bags were full of ice when we woke up due to
the heavy condensation.
could well imagine what the soldiers had to face, when at
the height of winter, the temperature plummets to -65 degrees
Celsius at Bana Post, the highest point of the glacier located
at an altitude of 22,000 feet.
unfurling the tricolour at Camp 3 we started on our return
to the Siachen Base Camp. This time our speed surprised us
all and in record time we reached Camp 2, which we felt was
like home after spending three nights there.
7 and 8: From Camp 2, in what seemed to be a cakewalk, we
reached Camp 1 and then the Siachen Base Camp. It was fairly
easy now, with our bodies having acclimatised better.
I do it again? Most certainly - because I'm now a veteran
(Ritu Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)