Thursday, 28 June 2012

Lion Peak : Lion Tamers or Tame Lion?

With help from Kaliram, one of the porters with the Bengal expedition we shifted camp to Hawa Mahal on 23 August. After a quick lunch of noodles and Ovaltine we went up the ice of the glacier for the first time to conduct a quick reconnaissance.



It was great to actually start using our ice axes and our Austrian Koflach plastic mountaineering boots...I had done my climbing course seven years ago in humble leather boots made by a Delhi company, so the switch to plastic was like going from the model T Ford to multi-point fuel injection! Even though our foray was brief, we now had an inkling as to how far we had to traverse over the Lion glacier to get to the foot of our little hill. We would have to skirt round the spur coming down from Central Peak and climb higher into the ice bowl to be within striking distance of our summit.


I slake my thirst while exploring the lower Lion Glacier.
Peaks on the southern rim of the Bara Shigri provide a dramatic backdrop.

An icy runnel on the glacier.

The next day we went up the Lion Glacier but failed to reach the site of our proposed higher camp for the simple reason that we were moving up the true right bank of the glacier instead of the left and very soon we were caught in a maze of crevasses which forced us to rope up, just in case either of us fell into one of the icy slots. By the time we had realized our mistake, it was too late to reach our goal so we dumped the light loads we were carrying about an hour short of our destination and hastened back to Hawa Mahal which we reached at 6 pm. The scenery had been magnificent and this was adequate compensation for our efforts. It was also a great help in acclimatising ourselves to the 16,000 ft altitude we were camped at.

Sunday 25 August saw us setting off with monster loads. We stopped enroute at our previous day's dump to add to our burden and staggered into our proposed campsite at four in the afternoon in driving snow. The altitude was 17,500 feet and it was cold and the wind blew snow into our faces as we struggled to pitch our tent. Once inside our little nylon shelter it was a luxury to start using our gas stove to cook dinner as all along we had been cooking on an old kerosene stove.   Back then it was difficult to obtain portable gas canisters and gas camping stoves in India. Ravi proceeded to light incense sticks and I was mystified by this ritual. Perhaps he was performing a form of worship to the elements, I thought. I later discovered that the fragrance from the incense sticks came in very handy to dispel all the bad odours one accumulates on an expedition and to mitigate to some extent the effects of flatulence on the enclosed air of a tent!


Central Peak - 6285 metres

Flatulence notwithstanding, we descended to the dump site in the morning, picked up everything that was lying there and brought it up to what we now rather grandly called our Camp 2. We rewarded ourselves with a lunch of dried fruits and onion soup before heading up the rocky slope to take a look at the upper basin of the Lion glacier, in the hopes of locating our final, summit camp. It was easier said than done. The upper glacier was riddled with crevasses and we poked around their edges rather gingerly before leaping across them. We travelled roped together, but in the event that one of us had fallen into one of the rifts, I doubt very much that the other person could have effected a rescue. But the brotherhood of the rope breeds confidence and we soldiered on : Ravi would sometimes stop and sniff the cold air as if there were answers in the ether, then he would move on. I let him lead as he was the more experienced of the two of us. As the afternoon wore on it became decidedly chilly and after a couple of hours we headed back to the tent.



Camp 2 below the ramparts of Central Peak

As we retreated into our warm sleeping bags I recalled that I had seen some dead dragonflies on the ice and had also come across the carcass of a rodent-like creature. A solitary raven had circled above us as we weaved our way between the crevasses. My idle mind would have loved to transform these unrelated and discrete elements into a gloomy omen, but I resisted the idea. These were the days when mountaineers had no access to Ipods / Ipads / the Internet to distract the soul. At the most one would carry a light paperback book to while away the hours when stormbound in a tent or to help pass the long hours of darkness. In many ways, the experience of being on a mountain with its own unique aura was pretty intense: for many this was one of the many reasons to yearn for the freedom of the hills.


Ravi among the crevasses

Finally we could see the cirque at the head of the Lion glacier


Our final camp below the summit of Lion

One more day of load carrying to the summit camp at 19,000 feet and we were to be free from humping loads for the next two days at least! Our second foray up the glacier led us to a nicely levelled stone platform which was obviously being used to pitch a tent for the summit attempts on both Lion and Central peaks. We heaved a sigh of relief when we first sighted it and then quickly dumped some supplies before retreating down to Camp 2.

Looking down at the broad sweep of the Lion glacier

On the afternoon of 28 August we were comfortably ensconced at the high camp, thrilled to be within striking distance of the summit. Sunset that evening painted the surrounding peaks in a warm glow and the moon rose in a clear blue sky to welcome us.






And the moon bathes the glacier in a kind and soft light ...

The next day we broke the golden rule of climbing - "The Alpine Start". What this means is that mountaineers typically set off for the summit at some ungodly hour of the morning (4 am or thereabouts, and in many cases even earlier) so that they have many many daylight hours to do their thing and return safely to camp. Perhaps we were tired or just plain lazy, by the time we were ready to set off for the summit it was around 9:40 am. The sun had peeped out briefly first thing in the morning, then quickly retreated behind a grey overcast sky. Our breakfast consisted of "upma" and tea. We packed some dried fruits, two bars of chocolate and a litre of water. I snipped off the excess length of my crampon straps and we were all set to go.



The distant peaks of Spiti hove into view as I followed Ravi







It was a long agonizing plod up the snow slopes towards the col between Lion peak's north ridge and Central peak's south ridge. Then we had to scramble up 3 pitches of rock with our crampons making grating sounds and finally the snow slopes leading to the summit. It had taken us almost five hours from our camp to the top. We were elated : this was my very first Himalayan summit! The views from the summit were awesome.


Avoiding the corniced ridge to his left, Ravi heads up to the summit.




It was exactly two weeks to the day since we had left Mumbai and now we were sitting at 20,100 feet with the peaks of the Bara Shigri glacier ringing us...I couldn't have asked for more. The cynical might argue that this was not a technically demanding peak, and that by Himalayan standards it was a baby peak. But to a person like me who had  seen snow for the first time when he was 21 years old on the Margan and Synthen passes in Kishtwar during a trek organized by the Youth Hostels Association of India, who had spent all his life in the hot humid plains of India, who had accidentally picked up Chris Bonnington's "Everest South West Face" (chronicling the first attempt in 1972 on this daunting slope) from the shelves at the British Council library in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and had to repeatedly refer to the glossary of climbing terms at the end of the book to make sense of the narrative, this was indeed a Very Big Deal! I had never been the athletic type
in school - the annual Sports Day was a day of mortification for me as I always happened to rank  last in any event! I had glimpsed the ethereal vision of the Kanchenjunga massif floating above the clouds as if in a dream : this was during a brief trip to Darjeeling in the early 1970s. Certainly that first heavenly glimpse of the Himalaya had kindled a spark in my soul. I went on to borrow Maurice Herzog's classic mountaineering tale : "Annapurna" from the Alliance Francaise. This epic tale of the ascent of the world's first 8000 metre peak fired my imagination. So what if I was born far from the mountains, amongst the rolling hills of the Chotanagpur plateau (now in Jharkhand), perhaps only a thousand feet above sea level; I had read somewhere that a sailor need not be born near the sea nor a mountain climber near the mountains. It is what drives us from within that takes us on our life's greatest journeys. For me personally, Lion peak was the start of that incredible journey that sustained my spirits for the next twenty years and still continues to bring me great joy in recollection...

On the summit





Saturday, 16 June 2012

Lion Peak : Into the Den

Though I had slept quite well I woke up depressed to a cold and cloudy, grey sky. Arvind had had another bad night and had decided to go back to Manali.

We repacked our kit bags and helped him to cross over to the Batal side of the nala. He headed off to the teashop to see if he could rustle up some aid. Luck was with him as he returned within the hour with Gautam and Raju, our new porter recruits. They helped him get back to the bus stop with his baggage while Ravi and I proceeded to transfer our reduced loads to the Bara Shigri side of the nala in a repeat of the previous day's rope sling manoeuvre. We dumped 5 kg of "theplas" (fried, supposedly long-lasting Gujarati parathas) among the boulders as the long moist journey from Mumbai had kindled a healthy growth of fungus on them! Thus lightened, we began the slow approach to the snout of the Bara Shigri glacier with the help of our two new porters who had now returned after leaving Arvind at Batal. They very gladly accepted 6 kg of atta and the remainder of the theplas which Ravi and I now planned to jettison as well - our plan was to trim our weight and go in as light as possible. The porters concealed their booty up a small gully for them to pick up on their return. It was great to be walking again and to realise that perhaps our little expedition might still arrive at the base of our peak!


Our two porters enjoy tea and rotis with the shepherds (with dogs)

After a short tea break with some hospitable shepherds from Palampur in Kangra who were herding their sheep up to the high pastures we neared the terminal moraine of the Bara Shigri as it thrust its millions of tons of rock, soil and detritus into the Chandra river. Clambering over huge boulders we finally decided to pitch tents for the night in a little grassy enclave among the rocks. The sun dipped rapidly behind the retaining wall of the glacier with its rocky crenellated summits and the temperature plummeted.



Traversing high above the Chandra river we move towards the snout of the Bara Shigri, visible at the end of the frame.

I pose with one of the porters

Ravi is silhouetted against a striking mountain backdrop. Dharamsura and Papsura are the two big peaks on the left.

Closing in on the snout of the Bara Shigri glacier across the wide Chandra valley



We camped for the night a little beyond this point


Camp at the mouth of the Bara Shigri
Next day, four hours of boulder hopping on the tangled moraine of the glacier, laced with a liberal dose of collapsing mud slopes, brought us to what was called Centre Camp in the historical accounts of the exploration of the Bara Shigri glacier. It was hot and it was dusty and it was exhausting. It was hard to believe that we were traversing a river of ice, frozen beneath all the ugliness. Everything was shades of brown, ochre, black and grey. A few hardy stands of pink willow herb struggled to add a dash of colour to the barren wilderness. The only human encounter we had that day was with four people descending the glacier. They were from the large expedition from Chittaranjan in West Bengal which was camped further up at the junction of the Lion and Bara Shigri glaciers. These four gentlemen were going back to Manali to replenish supplies of kerosene and food which they were running out of......when they told us that there were 14 mouths to feed at their camp, we were surprised that they had not factored this into their logistics planning. We exchanged pleasantries and when we enquired from them how far did we have to go till Centre Camp, they confidently predicted "4 hours at least"! When we actually made it there in the next 2 hours we were mighty pleased with ourselves: perhaps we had given the impression of being an extremely slow-moving group to our friends to have come up with their estimate. It was still just before midday and blazing hot; we cowered in the shade of the rocks after putting up our tents. Out of curiosity I placed my temperature-reading watch out in the sun and hastily put it away when the reading touched 51.6 deg Celsius! I remembered then reading about an Australian expedition on the north face of Everest which had to deal with severe sunburn in a high glacier bowl where the heat of the sun gets reflected by the vast mirror-like slopes of snow and focused like into the basin....out here in the Bara Shigri, it was the rocks that were heating up and grilling us mercilessly.


I am flanked by Gautam and Raju at Centre Camp.
The NE face of Dharamsura provides a fitting backdrop.

An early dinner at 5:30pm and we called it a day. Four hours of trudging up the moraine the next day finally brought us to the junction of the Lion nala and the Bara Shigri glacier. This is where the large group from Bengal was camped and this is also where we established what we called our Advance Base Camp. We exchanged pleasantries with Deepak, Dilip and Neelkanth from the other expedition - they were very hospitable and offered us tea and biscuits as we set up our tents. Gautam and Raju were paid off for their services and we watched them skip happily back down the glacier.

Since it was only mid-day, Ravi and I picked up some light loads from our pile and hiked up the Lion Nala for 2 hours until we reached a spot christened "Thanda (Cold) Camp"  by Josephine and Barbara of the Women's Kulu Expedition 1961. They had named it thus because of the extremely cold winds that they encountered here, right at the base of the icy snout of the Lion glacier. Twenty four years later nothing had changed, it was still a freezing, uncomfortable campsite on rocks. Later we were to modify the name to "Hawa Mahal" (Palace of the Winds). We dumped our loads here and rushed back to Advance Base, to be offered tea again by our neighbours!

"Thanda Camp" or "Hawa Mahal" was just below this icy snout of the Lion Glacier.
Two figures can be seen descending the slope in this telephoto shot from the camp.


They topped up their hospitality by inviting us over to their camp for dinner and we were only too happy to accept, as we were now truly tired. They had a full time cook turning out meals at regular intervals and we were shocked to see some electric bulbs strung up in their kitchen mess tent! Power was being supplied by a couple of large batteries. We concluded that their budget was significantly more than the micro finances Ravi and I were operating on......on return to Mumbai we sat down and calculated that between the two of us we had spent less than Rs.4000/- on the whole trip. This included transportation, food, hotel and porter charges!

Anyway I was glad that someone had the means to offer us a free dinner of delicious chicken curry, meat, chapattis and rice at 14,000 feet on a glacier! I tucked into the meal heartily but Ravi who is a vegetarian, ate his usual small portion. I shall always remember that sumptuous repast and am eternally grateful to those kind gentlemen from Chittaranjan. It was almost midnight when we finally fell asleep, happy and content. We had every reason to be : in exactly a week's time after leaving the hot, teeming, tropical and humid megalopolis of Mumbai, we were poised to fulfil our little Himalayan dream.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Lion Peak : The Seed is Sown

I licked my wounds for 3 months after the Dudha debacle. The doctor in Bandra whom Margaret (my wife) and I roused from his Sunday afternoon siesta at his house took a cursory look at my bleeding head, prescribed a few painkillers, and told me I would be all right.

Well, he was quite wrong! I stayed home for a week, calling in sick, doing a post mortem of the accident. I knew I was lucky to be alive : if my skull had struck the rock at a different point, I would not be narrating this story. Needless to say, I was not wearing a climbing helmet - I did not even own one. Ah, those halcyon days of amateur rock climbing!

When my wound showed no signs of healing after a week, I trotted off to the medical clinic at Air India where I worked and showed it to the company doctor. He was horrified that the Bandra doctor had not put in a few stitches and closed the wound : that would have had me on the right track and enroute to healing. Now the wound was infected. This resulted in a portion of my head being shaved off and the proper medication applied. I was granted rest for another 3 weeks!

I had plenty of time now to not only critically examine my fall but also to ask myself certain searching questions :

  • At age 29, was I too old to start rock climbing? Even though I had completed the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering 7 years earlier in 1978, I had not really taken up rock climbing after that...I had stuck to hiking in the Sahyadri and trekking in the Himalaya.
  • Was I going to risk life and limb and a livelihood by pursuing this sport?
  • Was this fair to my spouse?
The questions were resolved 3 months later when I stood alone below the Classic route at the Dudha slabs. Though this small 3 pitch climb was the easiest on the slabs, I felt nervous. I knew I was trying to prove something to myself. A couple of weeks after the accident, I had successfully climbed the Table Top route with Ravi and Faruk and this had purged my fear. Faruk was to become my regular climbing partner in the next couple of years and we would spend many happy hours wandering up the cliffs.



Faruk on the first pitch of Table Top


But right now, as I looked up at the sloping rock, I realized I had no back up. I could not afford to make a mistake. Any error could prove fatal. Banishing all negative thoughts, I began to climb. The first pitch went smoothly, to the shallow cave-like feature where there was a bolt hammered into the rock for a belay. I paused here for a while, looking out over the dammed Dudha lake at the smoky pall that hovered over this part of industrial Thane. I thought about the little Himalayan climb that Ravi and I had been planning now over our last few meetings. I would take the short train ride from Bandra to Matunga Road station and sit in Ravi's shop (called Avi Industries after his eldest son Avinash) and shoot the breeze with him. Though Ravi was about 15 years older than me we got along well. Ravi had not been to the Himalaya for a long time, so when I mooted the idea that we should go and climb a mountain, he readily agreed!

Since I was not really a mountaineer (merely doing a course at an institution does not make you a climber), I had to be careful that we did not bite off more than we could chew. I found the perfect peak after going through a couple of old issues of the Himalayan Journal.

Lion peak in the Bara Shigri glacier happened to have a decent altitude of a little over 20,000 feet (6187 metres), did not involve any technical climbing, and was situated in the rain shadow area in Lahul. This last factor was important, because it was easier to get off work in the monsoons than at any other time of year! The peak had been first ascended in 1961 by the Kulu Women's Expedition - Josephine Scarr and Barbara Spark had driven a Land Rover all the way from England and spent a couple of weeks climbing in Lahul and Spiti.

It had been almost 2 years since my last visit to the Himalaya - a trek in the Langtang Valley of Nepal - and I longed for those high mountain valleys and glaciers.

A few fat raindrops suddenly brought me back to the present; a pre-monsoon thundershower pelted me with rain, a heady smell of sizzling rock and earth being suddenly cooled came to me like a heady perfume, and I scurried up to the top of the route, through the crack on a boulder which heralded the top of the hill. I was safe now and enjoyed the walk back down to Mumbra. The monsoons would soon drench Mumbai but I would escape to the high ground in Lahul.

On Independence Day - 15th August - Ravi and I boarded the Paschim Express at Bombay Central railway station and headed for the freedom of the hills - or so we thought. Thirty six hours later, we had exchanged the warm and moist humidity of Mumbai for the cold rain of Manali. Accompanying us was Arvind Thakker, a young lad foisted onto us by Paresh Daru, an old friend of Ravi's. Paresh had told Ravi that Arvind was just coming along for the ride, he was keen on a little hike in the Himalaya and promised that he would be no burden on us. He was in his late teens and had never been in the Himalaya.

The three of us checked into a poky little "hotel" where Satish Patki was holed up. This was the same Satish who had held my fall at Dudha...now he was on his way back from a climbing expedition himself. On his reccomendation, we engaged two porters to help us lug our loads to a base camp on the Bara Shigri glacier.

We boarded the Kulu - Kaza bus at 6:15 am on Sunday, 18 August. It was already quite full, but we did manage to grab seats for ourselves after loading our kitbags onto the roof of the bus. As the bus groaned up the twisting mountain roads through the villages of Pulcharn, Kothi, Gulaba and Marhi, the rain came down hard and cold. The driver of this public service bus was kind enough to let us get down at Rohtang Pass and take some photos. At 13,050 ft. the Rohtang Pass is the gateway to the districts of Lahul and Spiti and is the defining demarcation between the moist and lush valleys to its south and the arid landscapes to the north which eventually merge into the high deserts of Ladakh.



Left to Right : Ravi Kamath, Arvind Thakker and our 2 porters pose on the crest of Rohtang Pass.
 As we descended towards Gramphoo, the rain ceased and the sun came out briefly. More people piled in and I was sharing my seat with a Spitian lady and her 6 month old baby. The bus grunted on its winding way; the road was now unpaved and some of the hairpin bends had such a steep gradient that the driver could not risk negotiating them without asking some passengers to get off and walk a couple of hundred yards and then reboard. When the young mother got off to lighten the load, I was literally left holding the baby!



The road into Lahul after the descent from Rohtang

With a sigh of relief, we heaved ourselves off the bus at Batal, at the base of the Kunzum La which separates Lahul from Spiti. Batal, at that time, consisted of one teashop where we refreshed ourselves before crossing the suspension bridge to the south bank of the Chandra river. We walked downstream on the wide floodplain of this river for perhaps half an hour to be confronted with the turbulent little Karcha nala which debouched onto the valley, bringing snowmelt from glaciers hidden high above. It was already late in the afternoon and the rising water level and the speed of the current made it inadvisable to ford the river. We were extremely mindful of the incident a couple of years earlier when 6 people had been drowned and washed away when fording this stream in spate: we had seen the little stone memorial erected in their honour. We would have to wait overnight and cross early in the morning when the flow would have diminished by the nightly freeze in the high mountains.

We pitched our three little tents on the banks of the Karcha and settled down, glad of the respite after 4 days of travelling from sea level at Mumbai. We were now at around 11,000 feet and were not feeling our best, especially Arvind who had a splitting headache and nausea, classic signs of mountain sickness. The porters elected to cook for us and the potato pulao they produced was delicious. We washed it down with a warm and soothing malt drink (Ovaltine). Arvind barely ate, another bad sign.


Dusk falls at our camp on the banks of the Karcha Nala

I slept fitfully, still reeling from the sudden change in altitude. We packed up early next morning and were ready to move. The flow of the Karcha had eased a little, we could even see that the water level was lower than the evening before. But things can be deceptive : the porters took a few tentative steps into the river and pronounced it unfordable. We spotted a little island of sorts in the middle of the stream and suggested that we could break up the crossing into two halves. With a belay from Ravi, I ventured out into the cold, fast flowing water and  waded across gingerly, making sure that the current did not sweep me off my feet. At the deepest portion the water came up to my thighs, but I made the ford successfully. Now it was the turn of Arvind and Ravi. With me hauling in the rope, they too joined me on the island.

Our two porters had been watching the proceedings rather sceptically and obviously thought we had taken leave of our senses: they were local hillmen and chose caution as the better option. They refused to budge. All our baggage was on their side. After a little discussion with my friends, I decided to cross back to the porters; then I walked a long way upstream, hoping I could spot another, easier, shallower, crossing with a reduced flow. I was out of luck.

As a last resort, we ended up stringing a rope across and hauling all our luggage to the island with a rudimentary contraption fashioned from a carabiner and a short sling : this basic "pulley" method actually worked. Arvind joined me and Ravi remained on the island. To their credit, the porters did help in this operation. I paid them off for their short time with us and saw their backs disappear towards Batal : 2 tiny dots in the vast floodplain of the Chandra valley.


Ravi (left) hauls one of the pieces of our luggage to the island while Arvind (right) anchors the rope
at the other end.

Arvind and I hurried across to the little island before the waters rose again for the day. We pitched our tents and settled. We were still in a state of shock that our little expedition had become shipwrecked on this little piece of turf in the middle of the Karcha Nala. Surrounded by our heavy backpacks and 5 kitbags, we assessed our situation. The good news was that  we were now being compelled to spend a second night at this altitude: this was good for our acclimatisation. The bad news had many components: if there was a flash flood, the island would be submerged and we would be swept away down the river and deposited (probably as corpses) into the bigger Chandra river; how were we to get ourselves and our stuff to the camp (three marches away) where the Lion glacier flows into the Bara Shigri glacier? How and where should we look for resources?

As always in such situations, it helps to attend to the little tasks at hand; it clears the head of confusion and gives you time to address the problem. Both Arvind and Ravi had taken a dunking in the frigid water as they had neared the shore of the island that morning and were in need of drying out, which they proceeded to do. I devoted my time to organizing the campsite and brewing some tea, a process guaranteed to calm the mind!
As we sipped from our cups and watched the late afternoon light throw a veil of warm ochre over the surrounding slopes, we felt contented that at least for the moment we were safe, had food and fuel, and were about to spend a second night in this stark and gorgeous landscape. We had some plans forming in our heads and would put them into place at the crack of dawn.






Monday, 4 June 2012

Baptism of Fire on a Table Top!

The year : 1985. The month : February. The place : Mumbra - near Thane, Maharashtra, India.
The Cliff : Dudha Slabs.

Like most life-changing events, this too happened in the blink of an eye. One moment I was tentatively but confidently putting my entire body weight onto a tenuous hold on the face of the cliff and the next instant I was hurtling down the almost vertical rock as the dubious hold gave way. There was a sickening thud as my unprotected head came in contact with the black rock and then there was oblivion. When I regained consciousness a strange vision appeared before my eye:  the sun baked hill across the little valley appeared to be upside down.  It then dawned on me that I was seeing it upside down for the simple reason that my head was below my torso and this was because I was dangling from a blue 9 mm climbing rope. The rope was taut and stretched upwards and disappeared amongst the tufts of yellowing grass and blocks of rock that formed the skyline. There was also a slimy wetness around the top of my head and this extended down my left shoulder…when I thought about it a little more I realized that it was blood : my blood !
I spun like a rag doll at the end of the rope for some time before I heard voices. The voices were loud and seemed to come from above. “Aloke ! Aloke !” the voices seemed to say. And then, “Are you all right?” I shouted back a weak “Yeah, I think so” before thinking that the question put to me was rather odd. Well, yes I was hanging on a rope and if that rope failed to hold me I was going to fall down a hundred and fifty feet to the bottom of the route named “Table Top” by Ravi Kamath whose voice was still calling out to me from above. “Can you lower me down a couple of feet? I can see a ledge where I can stand,” I yelled out into the space above. When the slack came onto the rope I knew that they had heard me. I maneuvered myself so I could be right side up and stood on a sloping ledge not more than 12 inches in width.
“Can you stand and wait for me wherever you are?” was the next question, to which I bellowed “Yes” and waited. I took stock of the situation: I did not seem to have any limbs broken, in spite of having swung in a pendulum to bodily hit the cliff. I was lucky.
I heard a rapid rustling above and to the right of me and there appeared Ravi, confidently rappelling down on another rope, his signature golf cap on his head and a look of concern on his face. We had met at the base of the Mumbra cliffs perhaps an hour ago as he and Harsha prepared to climb another route. Satish Patki had introduced me to them as we proceeded to the base of our climb. Now Satish was the one holding my rope at the top end: my life depended on him and his belays…fortunately both were good. He would later recount how he had been in the process of showing Harsha and Ravi his " bomb proof " Nuts -in- Opposition belay when the rope went screaming between the palms of his hands as I came off the route.
“Are you all right?” Ravi repeated again as he came to a stop a couple of feet away. I said I was and he asked me if I wanted to continue climbing. I said no, I’d rather rappel down to the base. My confidence had been badly shaken on the third pitch of Table Top, my introduction to the rock climbs of Mumbra. I needed to retreat and lick my wounds and take stock. Ravi swung over and made sure that my abseil device was properly fed through the ropes before I began to go down.

Ravi Kamath on Table Top route
The sun was beginning to heat up on this February day in 1985 as I regained terra firma and unbuckled from the ropes. It did not take me long to locate my brown Karrimor daypack amongst the boulders below – it had been snatched from my back with the force of the impact and had sailed through the air and landed at the base of the cliff. I walked back along the trail to rendezvous with the rest of the guys. I could feel the blood oozing from the gash on my head so I pressed my handkerchief to it to stem the flow.
Ravi, Satish, Harsha and I walked down from the cliffs and stopped briefly at the little dargah with its scraggly trees where they assessed the damage to my head and pronounced me fit to walk down the half hour to the road and onwards to the railway station. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. Thus began lifelong friendships which led to further accidents and misadventures  in the mountains which of course translated into unforgettable experiences! I shall be sharing these in subsequent postings....so stay tuned!