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Friendship Peak Expedition – Climbing to the top for the best view

Going with the theme of most of my experiences, this one talks about my shot at hard core mountaineering  – scaling the Friendship Peak . I call it hard core, as I have never been a person who aspired to climb mountains, Infact I am one of those who is scared of heights. But what made me take that path.

We all have moments in our life when a spark ignites.

What really is a ‘spark’? ‘Spark’ means to ignite/ to activate.

To me ‘spark’ means the passion to do something to which the mind commits instantaneously. This spark can be different for different people, the spark of deciding to lose weight upon looking at your weight on the weighing scale, the spark to quit smoking by a chain smoker on seeing his medical reports, the spark of committing to study everyday and not using the phone by a student immediately after seeing his or her results, the spark of a high flying employee having a wish to turn into an entrepreneur and forgo his corporate life after reading a successful start-up story.

As the famous Hindi movie dialogue goes, “Kahin Jaane ke liye Kahin se nikkalna parrta hai” (to go somewhere you have to get out). But only a few people are able to step out, walk the path and convert this spark into fire.

The process (of converting this spark into fire) could be very tedious (and at times boring) so most of us give up on the way. Giving up is the easiest way out and anyone can come up with reasons for justifying the same. The ones who are stubborn and determined are the ones who experience the satisfaction of achieving what they resolved and often become great story tellers. After all, most stories are inspired from real life experiences.

Like all of us I also get a lot of sparks in my life, and more often than not I have taken the boring path of indulging in them (may it be running marathons, going for the Khardoongla Ultra the 72 km run in Ladakh, finishing the 12 hour run going around a 1 km circle, indulging and finishing the Ironman trialthon, trekking to the Everest Base Camp etc.).

I am a preparer and not a planner in general. By preparer I mean that I believe in working towards a goal rather than spending a lot of time planning for it. Fitness means the same to me – a way of life rather than an aim to achieve something.  So, I am always up for sudden adventures or challenges that, at times, test the mettle in me. The experience I am going to share is no different!


The Friendship Peak Adventure

When I was asked if I was up for a challenge in the mountains, the answer was instantaneous and before the end of the day, I had signed up for the unknown! As the saying goes, one’s best friend in the mountains is his self-confidence. Well, I definitely had a lot of that to back me up!

Four of us (Hithaiesh, Mithun, Sanjay and I) ranging from the young to the not-so-young (30 – 48 years) planned a trip to Friendship Peak near Manali from Sep 11-16. The only common factor amongst the four of us was that we had the same spark and love for the outdoors – clearly, our fitness levels, prior experience and adrenaline rush quotients were all different.

I arrived in Manali on Sep 10 after a 15-hour bus journey from Delhi. Some may call it torturous, but I felt certain bit of calm setting in with the journey.

These 15 hours made me realise how we have grown up too soon and our life has forgotten the meaning of patience and calmness. Back in the days when we were young, all our travels to the mountains took 12-15 hours and that too in the roadway buses, but the excitement of travel did not make us realise even a bit of it. Now, the time was crawling slowly but to my surprise I was enjoying it, instead of complaining.

We stopped by at Chandigarh petrol pump, to pick up a few passengers. The bus was almost 4 hours delayed, and the passenger who boarded and sat next to me seemed a bit upset – he complained once but after that, the life, along with the bus, moved on. He didn’t spoil his journey for something which was not under his control… giving my sense of calm, an introspective depth.

On arriving in Manali, the orientation team was waiting for me as the others had reached Manali a day in advance.

The first thing they asked us was whether our inspiration came after seeing Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. While we all laughed at this joke, he was serious; he narrated a few of his experiences wherein girls came in skirts for the trek saying that if Deepika Padukone can climb the mountain in skirt and sport shoes, they are no less. They didn’t listen to the trek leader, started their climb and had to return on day 2 with severe headaches. Luckily for us, we were all decked up with the right attire.

Day 0 of the trek left us thinking about our goal ahead and we all decided to put our city life behind for the next 7 days.

The weatherman did not have anything great to say about trek days ahead… heavy rains and overcast skies had been predicted till Sep 14 (Summit day had been planned for Sep 15!). So, right from the word go, the trek started to get more and more challenging, compounded by incessant rains in the first three days of our ascent and the discouraging news from returning trekkers about their inability to get to the top of the mighty mountain.

But, then again, the mountains have a different feel altogether… the chill in the air was unreal, the unseasonal rain didn’t stop though was not a disruption from moving ahead as well, being surrounded by snow and ice clad mountains was overwhelming. The sight and sound of wild crows was totally different from the ones we witness in our parts of the world, sheep and mules have a mystic calmness along with an expression. The expression conveyed by sheeps and mules reminded us of kind mystic monks that were patiently tolerating the invasion by us strange creatures, into their territory. The view of the sky and the terrain was something we kept on gazing at for hours, without getting bored and the starry night sky was beyond our imagination – everything was meditative and in complete contrast to what we see in our daily life.

5 days of hardship, fun, camaraderie, team work, radio silence with the outside (real?) world, new experiences and a new-found respect for mother nature, eventually led us safely up and down Friendship Peak. After the feat was achieved on day 5, before the descent back to the city of Manali, we realized how wound up we really were when each one of us couldn’t hold back our tears as we relayed our success to our families from the peak (a unique feature of this peak is that one can get 4G mobile connection at the shoulder leading up to the peak). We took approximately 4 days to ascend 11,000 feet over about 12 kilometres and then descended all that in just half a day!

As novice mountaineers, we stayed focused on the task at hand and let the experts guide us for everything else. ‘Trek the Himalayas’, our outfitting company, did a superb job with all the arrangements, including dining and stay, providing knowledgeable and experienced trek leaders and ensuring that all our fears and anxieties were laid to rest.

The whole mountaineering experience was hard, painful, risky and had no material rewards at all. Still what was my/ our motivation to do it?

I kept questioning this throughtout the trek. The answer came when we conquered the peak. I realised, the pleasures and gains of this experience were lying within me and nowhere else. The complete act itself was the destination of my journey. My biggest fear was neither the risk nor the pain; it was that if I stop and give up this, then some day, I might stop and give up anything (or even everything else) in life. That is what kept me going, my ZIdd.

I kept thinking, let everyone call me crazy, but I need to keep going. In fact, I didn’t even need to think about stopping till I reached there!!!

Let’s now get down to how it all unfolded right from not even knowing what I had signed up for…down to or should I say ‘up’ to conquering the Friendship Peak. Here are the main characters of this saga:

Trek Leader (TL) – Naveen

Deputy Trek Leader (2IC – 2nd In Command) – Sanjiv

Cook – Vinod

Four complete mavericks

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