Wednesday, October 22

HMI, Darjeeling vs. NIM, Uttarkashi

This is one of those questions which comes to mind when going for a mountaineering course in India.
Having done my BMC from HMI and AMC from NIM, I got some idea about the training in these two institutes. Here is what I thought of HMI and NIM in terms of :

  • Organization
Both HMI and NIM are run by Ministry of Defence, GOI in collaboration with respective state governments. So, in terms and objective and philosophy and in training programs both are same. In my personal opinion, the past principals and the present principal (Col. Ajay Kothiyal) of NIM  seem more active and devoted to the institute. NIM played major role in rescue and rehabilitation work in the time 2013 Uttarakhand disaster. This was also widely covered in media.
  • Rock Climbing area
The biggest asset of NIM is that it has a vast rock climbing area in Tekhla. In this area, there are variety of rock features of varying degree of difficulty. Trainees have plenty of time to practice rock climbing techniques on these features. In HMI, there weren't much rock faces to climb. For rock climbing, it has Tenzing Rock and Gombu Rock in the outskirts of Darjeeling. They try to compensate this later in the course with the big boulders available around the base camp. So rest of the training in rock craft happens in Base camp area of HMI which is in Chaurikhang, Sikkim.

HMI's artificial wall seem definitely bigger than those in NIM and everything else is more or less same. Maybe because HMI installed these walls after NIM.
  • Glacier for training of ice climbing techniques
The Rathong glacier, training area of HMI has lot more ice walls to practice than the Dokrani glacier of NIM. Both the glaciers are receding very fast and trainees need to walk to the training area everyday which takes some time and energy. Dokrani glacier of NIM, has lot of moraine covering the ice walls and around the snout of the glacier where most of the training happens there isn't much blue ice. I saw plenty of smoking blue ice in Rathong glacier. It has big fields of blue ice around the training area. Although advance courses in NIM goes to a different training area upwards in the glacier for 2 days for their advance ice craft which has sufficient ice walls and relatively cleaner ice. Overall, in terms of ice walls available on which we get to train, HMI has lot better than NIM. Maybe in future, NIM may think of to change the base camp to get better area for ice craft. It would be more appropriate for NIM, to move the base camp to the place where they have their advance base camp.

  • Technical Equipments and Training
It was unanimously established among my course-mates of AMC who did their BMC from HMI that NIM provides more and advance technical equipments than HMI. In case of HMI advance techniques or use of advance equipments are mostly demonstrated by instructors but in NIM you'll get a chance to practice with/on them.
  • Trek to Base Camp
It is a fact that, to reach the base camp; the trek in HMI is tougher than that in NIM. In both institutes, it takes 3 days to reach base camp. The trek in HMI goes on relatively higher altitude than NIM and are longer on everyday. Situated on higher altitude than NIM, the base camp of HMI offers more splendid view of surrounding peaks.
  • Accomodation
The hostel of HMI and NIM are both well maintained and have all the required facilities. If you are pursuing basic course, you get to stay in barrack made of metal sheets and wood in HMI. It's all tent in NIM for both basic and advance courses outside the campus.
  • Location of Institute
In my opinion, roaming in and around Darjeeling has better experience than Uttarkashi. So, location wise, HMI wins and it also has bigger area with a zoo in it's campus.

Tuesday, October 14

Advance Mountaineering Course, NIM (Nehru Institute Of Mountaineering)

After doing Basic Mountaineering Course from HMI, Darjeeling in 2009; whenever I thought of doing Advance Mountaineering Course it was always difficult to squeeze out one month time from job. After around 4 years of job when I was firm that I'll do it at any cost and it's now or never, I chose NIM, Uttarkashi. Mostly because it was giving me chance to explore different part of Himalayas and also because I'd heard that NIM has better equipments and focuses more on technical aspect of training. I applied in June 2013, but due to long queue I had to accept my enrollment in 148th AMC which was in September 2014.

NIM is considered to be one of the best mountaineering institutes in Asia which is run by Ministry Of Defense, India and has similar organizational structure as HMI, Darjeeling or JIM, Pahalgam.

I arrived Uttarkashi on 12th September 2014, a day before the date of course commencement. An institute bus was waiting at Uttarkashi bus stand in the afternoon. After some name check at temporary reception made at Bhandari Hotel, Uttarkashi , a bus full of students left for the institute. We checked ourselves in the institute hostel (Tapovan). A prep talk was scheduled that evening which introduced us about schedule, and dos and don't of the course.

The A.M.C. of 28 days in NIM is typically divided in 4 phases:
  1. Rock Craft
  2. Ice Craft
  3. Snow Craft
  4. Height Gain 
Phase 1: Rock Craft  

Day 1
On the first day of course, there was an early morning P.T. session. All 39 of us were divided in different groups aka ropes; each 5 or 6 person strong. Our rope instructor was Subhash Thakur from Himachal Pradesh. After lunch time everybody was issued with personal, technical and common equipments. Two climbing ropes were also issued per rope which we the rope members will take turns to carry for the remainder of the course. Later that day, there was only theory classes on expedition planning and first aid in auditorium. We're told that we need make a file for expedition planning and submit it at the end of the course. One of the aim of the course is to make leaders in mountaineering so planning an expedition is something everybody should be aware of. Each ropes were given a peak for which they were to plan an expedition and prepare a report. Some of the information e.g. rate list of equipments etc were provided by instructors to each rope and information about the peak is supposed to be gathered from books in NIM library.

Day 2
This day, we went for a hill walk on a hill nearby with all of our issued gears in rucksack. This walk was all ascent, ascent and ascent. After hill walk there was session for revision of knots. Later on that day, all of were allowed to go out for shopping for necessary equipments like sunglasses, sunscreen lotions, poncho etc.

Day 3 to Day 6
These four days we trekked to Tekhla rock climbing area which is around 8-9 km from institute as told. We carried all the issued load these 4 days.
Trek to Tekhla
I was told that few AMC batches used to camp in Tekhla for five days. Beware of leeches here. NIM has vast and beautiful area for rock climbing and it is far better than the rock climbing area of HMI in my opinion. We used to have our rock climbing lectures, demonstrations and practices here whole day. These tekhla days allowed us to learn and practice many techniques of rock craft.
These five days, we used to to start our trek early morning to Tekhla. When we reach there we do some stretching exercises and then there was breakfast. After breakfast we start our rock climbing lessons with our instructors at 9:30 AM. We get lunch at 1 PM in Tekhla itself and continued our training till 5 PM. We used to get back to our institute by bus in evening.

Day 7
On day 7 after morning P.T. we did some climbing on different indoor and outdoor artificial walls in the institute. It was relatively easier and a fun day for everybody.

Day 8
Tyrolean Traverse @ Asiganga river
It was river crossing practice day. We went to a nearby village by bus on the bank of Asi ganga river. Here we were taught to make and use tyrolean traverse. Later that day we were given time to try our snow boots and crampons so that we get it changed if they doesn't fit.

Day 9
This day, we left the NIM campus for first camp in Tela. This day we started our journey by bus from NIM campus early morning after offering prayers in the temple of NIM campus to Bukki which is on the way to Gangotri. During this bus journey, we could witness the aftermath of previous year Uttarakhand disaster. It took around 2 hours to reach Bukki by bus.

From Bukki, we'll be trekking through Dingad Valley, named so after a glacial stream Dingad (gad=stream)  originating from Dokrani Bamak (bamak = glacier)  which is our training area. The stream originating from the glacier's melting water later joins many other snow / ice melted streams and finally merges into Bhagirathi river near Bukki village. Bukki village is 2 km from the bus terminus situated on the right bank of Bhagirathi river. On way to Dokriani glacier, one has to walk 23 km from the road (Bukki village). After crossing the Bhagirathi river a footpath flows along the steep mountain slopes up to Tela camp (2500 m), from Tela to Gujjar hut a 12 km run along the Dingad stream is a route offered to cross the several up and down ridges, many samll and big streams and dense mixed forests of deodar, rhododendron (burans), oak, pine etc. provide an atmosphere of perfect peace and tranquility. Gujjar Hut (a summer camp of Gujjars with their cattles) is located at a height of 3500 m, just 5 km below the Dokriani glacier. Gujjar Hut is the gateway of the valley.

The valley has a gentle slope with different land features formed by the glacier and surrounded by snow-covered peaks. This place is good for camping and one can walk up to the glacier and adjoining areas and climb the small peaks. Only Gujjar huts and a base camp (near the glacier snout) of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun lie on the way. The best season to visit is through out summer and autumn. Besides the above two glaciers, Kedar, Rudugaira and Jaonli are some other glaciers which are approachable by the same way.

We started our trek to Tela camping site (altitude 8200 ft. )from Bhuki around 10 AM.This trek is around 8 kms. This was decent trek through dense jungles and was not very tiring except the last few minutes which was long continuous ascent.  Daily treks to Tekhla had made us stronger. We reached Tel camp around 1:30 PM and after little cooling down stretching exercises we had our lunch prepared by NIM cooking staff. Later we pitched our tents and went for acclimatization walk to a nearby hill in the evening. It was a beautiful walk through jungle which has meadows and at the top there was beautiful view of surroundings. At Tel near our campsite there were few houses of Gujjars and they have cattles which were tied nearby. Here there is also a small tower installed by Wadia Institute, Dehradun for weather monitoring.

Day 10
This day we had this very long trek from Tel camp to Gujjar Hut (altitude 11200 ft.). It counts as toughest day so far. We started around 7:30 AM after cleaning Tel campsite and reached Gujjar Hut at 2:30 PM. From Gujjar hut, we started getting nice view of nearby peaks like Jaonli (6630 meters). The place Gujjar hut was given this name because of few huts of Gujjars nearby who stay here in summers. We went for our acclimatization walk to nearby lake Khera Tal (Serpent Lake) which is a small lake between a vast and very beautiful meadow. Vast ground surrounded by tall trees with an opens on one side for magnificent view of peaks Jaonli (6630 meters) and DKD-II (5670 meters). DKD-II is the peak which we hoped to climb as part of our height gain phase later in this course. Khera in local language means snake. There is a story about this lake and a snake living around it which was previously poisoning a nearby stream Hurra Nala (Nala = a stream )  and thereby causing deaths in the village which depended on it. There is also a temple nearby the lake. People of Bhuki village sometimes come here to offer prayers and stay here overnight. In Feb-April this whole area is covered with snow. We were told that in month of June, this valley is full of flowers and there are many butterflies around here.

Day 11
Base Camp
In morning at Gujjar Hut, we had a class of map reading and get to practice using GPS devices. Everybody was given three co-ordinates to point out on map and follow these points using GPS device. These points were on the way to NIM Base Camp (12300 ft.). Every rope moved ahead with their instructors to Base Camp with the routes set using three waypoints given. This trek is relatively small and is around 2.5 km. Treeline vanishes on the way and we could see only shrubs around there.
After reaching base camp, we pitched our tents and did some cleaning of the area, cut the grass etc. There was not much for the day.

Phase 2: Ice Craft

Day 12,13
From this day, our training of ice craft started. The Dokrani glacier is bit far from base camp. Seems
as if glacier has receded a lot. Groups barely found decent walls to practice. All of the ice was covered with moraine. We cleaned it up for practicing. Our instructor Subhash Sir found a decent wall to practice we practiced different climbing positions on ice and climbing using ice pitons etc.
In my opinion, NIM's ice craft area is much less in comparison of HMI. It may be the time, when NIM may have to shift the base camp further up to Advance Base Camp.

These two days. it was mostly revision of  ice craft taught in basic course. In the second half on the second day, we were involved in checking of tents, which we'll be carrying to advance base camp (ABC) be used in high altitude.

Day 14
Advance Base Camp
Today, we ferried load from base camp to advance base camp (13500 ft.). With fairly heavy load the trek was tiring and I was huffing and puffing on the way. It like the last flat piece of of very picturesque land in cirque ahead. The surroundings form an amphitheater of mountains which from north-east-south constitutes of Machha ki Dhar, Jaonli, Draupadi ka Daanda, Choro ki Dhar and Rakhua Top. We dumped all the load like food items, tents etc in a shelter made of rock and came back to the base camp. It felt like a long walk. Back in the base camp this day, we had a lecture on mountain terminology after lunch.

Day 15
We moved to ABC with our personal belongings. We were allowed to leave few of our things which we thought would not be required above in ABC and further.
Looking towards BC, from ABC
We reached ABC at 10:30 AM after leaving and wrapping up tents at base camp past 8 AM. After some stretching exercises, we started pitching our tents. We erected volleyball net and a stone shelter where kitchen staff could heat water for us. Everybody was entitled for one hot bottle of water every morning and evening for drinking purposes at base camp and advance base camp. It was a lot of fun playing volleyball at ABC in the surroundings it offer.
Dokrani glacier: Further ahead is our training area

Advance Ice Craft @ Dokrani Glacier
Day 16, 17
We started the day by marching up to upper part of Dokrani glacier. Most of the trek is on moraine and glacier.
Training area is not very far from the campsite and there are ample ice walls for all of us to practice. After demonstration of technique by our instructors, we practiced the same.
We learned few advanced ice climbing techniques. This includes two piton climbing, aid climbing on ice wall. In month of September, there wasn't much snow on these ice walls. Very soon gloves would get and dirty with fast melting ice and supra glacial moraine.

It was continuously hailing in the in the second half of the day. It started snowing heavily in the evening which lasted till late night.

Advance Ice craft Training

For the duration of our stay at base camp we took ropewise turns to prepare dinner our everybody, which was part of our training as told.

We also had a class on high altitude cooking with different kind of fuels and stoves.

Phase 3: Snow Craft

Day 18
Out tents in ABC in the morning after snow
Since our phases of rock and ice craft was over, it was turn of snow craft. In our time there wasn't much snow. It was decided to practice snow craft on thin layer of packed snow patch with elevation of arounf 60 to 70 on a ridge of Machha ki Dhar which had ice beneath. Few people including me found difficult to maintain balance and practice on this patch. I had a fall which I couldn't arrest with ice axe while practicing and twisted my ankle. It wasn't severe, but it got me limping. It snowed again later in the afternoon. This completes our training part.

Phase 4: Height Gain

Day 19
For our height gain we hoped to summit DKD-II if weather allowed. We were warned that if weather doesn't allow we may not be able to reach the summit and return halfway. Anyway at this we ferried load to our Camp 1 (15800 ft.) which was also our summit camp. Loads included high altitude tents butane gas cans, burners, technical gears and other eatables.  It was an arduous task to ascent on continuous ice and moraine. I had OTG (over the glass) snow goggles which were too foggy to see and made the trek difficult. I had to walk without snow goggles most of the time. After reaching there, we set up tents for kitchen and store room and dumped our loads. The camp 1 area is a cwm (pronounced coom). This is a relatively flat area completely on glacier and many crevasses around. We could see all kinds of features of ice which we were told around. Ice tables, serac, bergschrund, crevasses, overhanging glaciers. If we're facing towards east, we had DKD on our right, but summit wasn't visible from there. Jaonli was towards north or our left. Jaonli (6632 meters) seemed so close as if we could walk over the summit. But standard way to the Jaonli was from behind (relatively may be from north face). The glaciers from Jaonli and DKD meet here to form the Dokrani glacier (around 5 km long).
While returning from camp 1, weather got really bad. It was complete whiteout. We trekked back in continuous snowfall. Drenched in sweat from inside and wet from outside with snow and hail, we walked back to advance base camp. After seeing this weather I really saw the dwindling chance for the summit, as there was now a good chance that we may not be going for the summit. If the weather doesn't clear soon, our chance to summit DKD is going to be feeble. It snowed whole day. Windproofs were completely wet. I kept my half wet clothes etc in sleeping bag to keep them warm.

Day 20
We packed our bags early morning from ABC and did routine cleaning of tent area before leaving. We reached camp 1 around 10:30 AM and started pitching our tents on the glacier. There was some snow over the ice which we beat to make the area for tent flat. We were getting tired easily with heavy movement like lifting stones for preparing the camp and other staff tents, kitchen etc. We could hear the water flowing through the deep crevasses. There was hole dug in the ice which stored some melted water in the day which we used for cooking maggi for lunch and warming water. Each tent which accommodated some 5 people was given a butane stove for cooking. With tents facing to each other on the ice in a row, and everybody cooking outside; it looked like as if we've established a small market on the glacier. After this, few handpicked people (around 6 to 7) along with two instructors left for the recce and route opening for tomorrow's summit attempt. Following them, rest of us also left for making the moraine part of route a bit stable. We all made cairns and fixed loose rocks along the way in the evening. We were told that we'll have to wake up at 2 AM and leave for the summit attempt at 4 AM sharp. Anybody gets late will be left there only. It was freezing cold in the night inside the tent. There wasn't much space inside the tent and we kept our snow boots in the vestibule. Thinking of going to loo instilled fear. There wasn't much time to sleep. I was guessing the time between short naps. Our tent was continuously making flapping sounds in wind. In night we could hear continuous deep noises of glacier moving beneath us. I couldn't sleep in night. Sleeping bag got wet from one side.

Day 21
We woke up in hurry after 2 AM and prepared ourselves for summit attempt. Chilling wind was blowing as we equipped ourselves with the harness set and other technical gear. I kept the breakfast in the bag and left for the summit with everybody. It was dark and everybody was wearing torches over head. We started the ascent in the moraine spanning high up towards our way with the helps of cairns established last evening. Everybody was waling briskly as if there was a very narrow time window for the summit. We're told that if somebody gets too late he may have to return from there only. After completing the ascent on moraine we put on crampons to walk on the ice. It looked very beautiful to see these many people ascending through the icy ridge with head-torches in the night. Everybody was walking silently. The cold and the wind was making talking difficult. At dawn, we reached a relatively flat area full of snow from where we could the peak of DKD-II. Behind us we could see the peaks of Gangotri valley. It was a magnificent view with the rising sun.
Ahead of us ropes were being fixed by our ropemate Deepak Rana and our instructor Subhash Thakur. It was a steep climb with unfathomable snow. It was very difficult to walk on the steep ascent this much powdery snow.

We self anchored ourselves to the established fixed rope and started the ascent. Trying to move ahead one step was making slide down further. But somehow, I learned the trick to make proper steps and walk up. The sun was rising. There were few crevsses hidden in deep snow which opened up their faces with people moving over. Everybody was moving slow. At some point we had to go one by one. After more than an hour of steep climb on snow like quick sand I could see the last rope to the summit.
View from DKD-II

I reached there around 8:15 AM. Opening the route, Deepak and Subhash sir reached there around 7:45 am.We congratulated each other for our successfully summit. It was blissful moment. We could the surrounding peaks protruding upside from the quilt of clouds. Senior instructor Jagmohan Singh Rawat introduced us to the surrounding peaks. We could see Shrikanth, Bandarpoonch Range, Kala Nag, Rudragaira, G
angotri Range, Jaonli, Nanda Devi, Kedar Dome, Kedarnath Valley DKD-I. After that everybody got busy posing and clicking pictures. After some 15-20 mins, we started our descent. It was fairly difficult to descending in steps in such steep snow. When we climbed down the major part part, we were given few mins break for breakfast. There wasn't any break before that. Common equipments like ropes changed hands and we started climbing down with happiness on our faces. While we were climbing down we could see the basic course guys at our camp 1, who were there for there height gain phase. At cam 1, we were congratulated by the kitchen staff and Chief Instructor for our successful climb.  Everybody was completely exhausted after this arduous climb.After reaching I pulled out the packed breakfast and shared it with my ropemates. In our rope, I and one of my ropemate were little feverish and went back to sleep. Everybody was really happy that we'll  be going back to base camp tomorrow. Most of us were planning a grand party after this course.

Day 21
We wrapped up our camp 1 and cleaned up the tent area. Trekked back to base camp passing through advance base camp and depositing the technical and other stuff  issued for camp 1. At base camp, we were greeted by all the basic course instructors and basic course guys who were clapping for our us. They congratulated us for our successful summit. We pitched our tents at base camp and cleaned and dried wet equipments clothes etc.

Day 22
It was exam day. There were few objective and few short answer subjective questions. After that we were competing for our map reading exam. We're given 2 points to which we had to reach. We were mostly running as one point was at Gujjar Hut and second was little off on the way to ABC.

Day 23, 24
Trekking back first from BC to Tela and then Tela to Bhuki. We were all happy to see other people and civilization. A bus from NIM was waiting to take us to the institute. It was like 10 in the morning. Soon after reaching there most of us got busy with writing the expedition report which had to be submitted the next day. After bath and lunch in the institute we submitted our equipments. In evening, we were allowed to go to the market to get the expedition report printed.

Day 25 to end of course
We had graduation ceremony and there was a cultural event in which our course-mates   participated.