19 hours at ABC and beyond……(II)

4th July : I let the boys go ahead to settle in to our tent. While I sat around with Takpa, Padma and Rigzin, inhaling the intoxicating kerosene fumes (that I was enjoying very much!) and generally planning for the summit bid a few hours hence. Morale was high. We didn’t give Farid’s sudden setback too much thought. There was no way he wouldn’t be better after a few hours of rest.

It was decided that we’d have a cup of hot tea and some maggi noodles at 2am and then generally lace up our boots and rope up and be ready for the climb by 2:30am. This meant that I would nudge the boys awake by 1:30am, so we could get into our harnesses, gloves and helmets etc. have some time for a quick pee or something…..no one was thinking of any elaborate midnight ablutions. We were in fact praying that no one would need more than a quick piss at that time of night. We were going to sleep with all our clothes on, to save time.

After our short and precise plan with the time etc, I got over to our tent and was surprised that there was no sound. Our boots were still lying outside, and wearing frozen boots at 2am would have been a nightmare. So I slipped 2 sets each into either vestibules of the tent so that the boots had some protection and were within easy access and crept in to the tent. All three boys were lying inert. Tejas, though, was awake and I explained about the boots to him. Farid was groaning and I wasn’t sure whether he was awake or asleep. Little Iqbal was definitely asleep and snoring! I was full of envy for him.

From 10:30pm onwards began Farid’s hellish rigmarole of stepping out of the tent every 20 minutes or so to try and urinate. Between his headache, nausea and the urination, he and I spent the next three hours taking sips of water, popping asprin, paracetamol and nimulid and generally just biding our time. Farid’s walk to the summit was becoming distant with each passing minute. Neither of us wanted to discuss it. He was in no condition to think about it and I was dreading bringing it up. At that moment the summit didn’t seem important. Farid’s health was all that was on my mind.

Tejas through all this had been lying awake as well. Just trying to rest up as much as possible with his eyes shut. At 1:30am we awoke Iqbal. I was relieved that it was time for some decisions and action. The last three hours with Farid had been excruciating. Tejas, Iqbal and I slipped into our harnesses and helmets and the inners of our boots and sat around and awaited Padma’s arrival with some tea. It occurred to us that there was no movement from the kitchen tent. Odd.

I gathered enough reserve to step out into the howling, cold and lashing wind which arose and died intermittently through the night. All three in the kitchen were fast asleep! I was dismayed! Having woken them, they made some mumbling excuse about the stove not working…….I said that was Ok. Then Padma came to the tent entrance and said that Takpa said that it was ok if we left a couple of hours later.

Having spent the last three hours awake, a part of me was relieved that we could squeeze a couple more hours for some rest. Another part of me knew that it would just be a continuation of the nightmare and not much relief. Another part of me doubted whether we’d ever get to the summit at this rate with this lackadaisical attitude towards time. Time on a mountain is to be treated with as much respect as one’s equipment as would be made amply clear shortly……..

I was disappointed with this disrespect for time. Anyway I walked back to our tent and told Tejas and Iqbal the latest plan. No one spoke and we all kind of continued to drift in and out of a dazed slumber with poor Farid carrying on with his own nightmare.

At about 5am Padma came to our tent and handed us a cup of tea each. No one even asked for Maggi because we just wanted to get on with it. Then came the decision regarding Farid. Takpa’s first reaction seemed to be to rest up and try for the summit next day as a full team. I was not expecting this from him.

I knew that Farid had to go down to BC definitely. If we delayed the summit bid by another day, would he be fit enough to come back up this same evening to try the summit the next morning / tomorrow? And even if we went with a “day later” decision would Tejas, Iqbal and I be fit and willing to continue to occupy ABC at 18,000ft which had fabulous views but was cold and windy and generally uncomfortable? I was very quiet while Takpa was trying to boost Farid’s morale by giving him the option for climbing the next day. In a way, I am glad Farid was given that option because he was the fittest member of the team and he deserved that chance. However, my silence might have made Takpa realise that this was not an ideal option for all of us. If Farid had shown even a slight amount of enthusiasm, I might have considered it but he was too far gone to be disappointed or enthusiastic about another opportunity. He just needed to get down and lose height as quickly as possible. Padma was deputed to take him down. I sensed disappointment there because Padma was by far the fittest in the group and he had been looking forward to the chance of bagging a peak!

Then came the difficult task for me, “Mama”, the genius, to decide whether I wanted to continue with Tejas and Iqbal or return with Farid. I did want a chance at the peak and yet I had a sick son. “Dharam sankat”. Farid very magnanimously whispered that I must go and that I should take his helmet and torch. I didn’t need any further encouragement.

We were ready and geared up by 5:30am and then Takpa had his second wave of indecision! He felt it was late already. The sun had not risen though it was daylight and we didn’t need torches. The snow was crisp and compact but it was a clear day and the sun would be out in an hour. This was most demoralising. This kind of indecisiveness. Then he walked around and beat the snow around a bit with his crampons and said it was OK and we would “make a go” for the summit. We gave ourselves 10am as our turn around time. Mind you, a “normal” turn around should be about 7:30 / 8am in order to deal with better snow conditions.

We started off all roped up. Takpa in the lead, followed by Iqbal, then myself, followed by Tejas and Rigzin bringing up the rear. Three feet from our tent I saw a bright red patch in the snow that looked like tomato juice or soup. It couldn’t be either because that’s not what we had for dinner the previous evening. Takpa pointed out that that was Farid’s urine. I was shocked! I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry on.

What was happening? Three precious hours late on the mountain. Illness. Oversleeping. Indecision. And yet I felt that it was only fair to the healthy ones to have a chance. Especially Tejas who had not only been up all night with me, but was now totally cheerful, awake, sprightly and willing to give himself a chance at the peak. Unroping myself and staying back would have taken another 20 minutes off of our already delayed schedule. Farid would never have asked me to go if he was even slightly unsure about himself and his health even though he was so weak…… And so began our summit bid under a lot of cloud, doubt and dilemma to say the least……….