Seasoned climber, Piyush Khandelwal, ignites his passion. His is one of the best stories to begin our series of Weekend Adventure with Zippo.
As I looked down 21,000 ft, the snow that had seemed fierce was now non-threatening, the challenge of steep rocks and deep crevices had been overcome. The sun had never seemed closer and I, had never felt so alive! This was my moment at the Stok Kangri summit.
A few days ago, I had stood at the base camp staring at the peak. We had been there for three days. Due to rainfall we could not climb. There were incidents of people returning due to AMS or snow storms but that didn’t intimidate me. I was certain that as a seasoned climber I wouldn’t face many problems. I felt prepared, rather in my best form ready to be tested by this mighty peak. Little did I know, I was going to be proved wrong.
On day four we got a heads up for the climb. Half an hour into the trek, we hit our first snow patch. As I sunk my trekking pole into the snow, I realised it was as hard as a rock and being a clean patch, we crossed it easily. The moon started to appear. This was the first time I saw a moon rise and it was glorious. However, as we started climbing up the flank that followed, the group became quieter and the pace turned slow. It was a steep climb and with each step, I began to feel oxygen deprived. I started to get increasingly uncomfortable.
By the end of the flank, I knew I had to go back. My guide tried to counsel me into moving on but I had a sinking feeling and I was adamant to return. Back at the base camp, I tried to understand why I gave up. I fell asleep and an hour later was woken up by the sound of my fellow trekkers. Everyone had returned without a conquest. Next day, I initiated the talk of a second attempt. Everyone was hesitant but three other climbers decided to stay and give it a shot.
As we approached the steep flank from where I had returned the previous night, I felt more positive than ever. I knew that nothing could stop me from reaching the top. Guided by the moonlight, under the blanket of twinkling stars, we traversed our way further.
We were at around 18,000 ft when all we could see was snow, glistening with ferocity. As we stepped in with our crampons, we knew the hard times had just started. Every few minutes, one of us would slip. Tired, anguished and filled with fear, I kept moving on the rocks, jumped above the crevices and traversed on ice.
At 19,000 ft, the ridge started. By this time, I had to stop often to recollect myself. The wind was like a harsh slap across my face. I shouted to keep myself together. My water had frozen into chips of ice. Even my balaclava was covered with snow. But all this didn’t matter now. All that mattered was victory!
Only a few hundred meters to go and I still couldn’t see the summit. At this moment, the goal seemed tougher than it was. My body had given up and it was only the adrenaline pumping in my body that made me move.
As I reached the summit, I looked down at what all I had overcome. It wasn’t just the snow, the rocks and the climb. I had come face to face with fatal situations and yet I moved on. I had achieved, in that moment, a climber’s nirvana.