To sum it up, Siachen scaled

share this article

On the final stretch of the Indian Army's civilian trek on the Siachen glacier, just 60 km more to reach the 16,000-foot-high summit post...

This is the fourth and final part of the Siachen Civilian Trek series. Read the others by Dinakar Peri: The last hurdle, Getting fit to blend in, and The civilian trek.

October 4-12

There’s excitement all round as we prepare for our final trek on the Siachen glacier. This is what we have been getting ourselves ready for during the past three weeks. Our target: Kumar, a post close to an altitude of 16,000 feet. Between the Base Camp and Kumar, there are three camps. Here are the distances between them:



Base Camp ~ Camp 1

12 km

Camp 1 ~ Camp 2

14 km

Camp 2 ~ Camp 3

16 km

Camp 3 ~ Kumar Post

18 km



In other words, we need to trek for about 60 km. We plan to take it one camp a day, and spend an additional day in Kumar.

Soldiers typically do two camps a day, reaching Kumar in two days. But, remember, we are civilians!

The Kumar post is named after Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, who was instrumental in leading Operation Meghdoot in 1984. This is what secured these heights for India.

If all goes well — weather permitting, mostly — we should be back at Base Camp by October 12.

 

The prayers over, we are all roped and set to start. The luggage has been distributed among the porters, who move much faster even with the loads. They are all locals and the biochemistry and physiology of their bodies is adapted to the alpine conditions.

Between the first two camps, there is a small camp at mid-point called ‘half-link’. Usually, all transiting teams stop here for a brief rest and refreshments before proceeding further. Camp 1, 2 and 3 are essentially transit camps for troops deployed on forward posts and only have few soldiers and porters stationed full-time for organising things. The actual posts are located at heights of 18,000 feet and above, the Bana post being the highest on the glacier at about 22,000 feet. Indira Col is the highest point on the glacier that India currently holds.



At 18,000-19,000 feet, Indian and Pakistani posts face each other; Pakistan holds peaks at these heights too. However, beyond 20,000 feet, it is only India. This is due to Operation Meghdoot. Launched in April 1984, this project pre-empts Pakistan and enables India to sit at an advantage that comes from holding the higher peaks. This is also a major reason why India cannot withdraw troops under the present circumstances.

Trekking from Base Camp to Camp 1 is fairly easy but the going gets tough from then on as we encounter hard ice. This means we need crampons — metal frames fixed on the special shoes. Several slips, falls and halts later, the team makes it to Camp 2. Everyone is exhausted. But loads of dry fruits, sweets, and fruit juices await us.

We are going to be accommodated in tents; sleeping bags are part of our gear. And the only way to get water anywhere on the glacier is to melt ice!





Getting to Camp 3 from 2 is said to be the toughest stretch of the trek. Lieutenant Colonel Anand Jha, who is accompanying us, and Captain Arpit Khera, the team leader, double-check with all of us if we are willing to go ahead. Three of our teammates decide to stay back. One of them has developed a ‘chilblain’, a swelling of the body's extremities due to long exposure to cold water or contact with ice. If left untreated, this can quickly develop into frostbite, which can be dangerous. The only way to treat this is to descend to a lower altitude, and evacuate the person in a chopper to Base Camp. He is later moved to a hospital in Pratapur.

The trek to Camp 3 is exhausting — the elevation is quite steep. But what we encounter during the trek from Camp 3 to the Kumar post is largely soft snow. The terrain is mostly flat. The toughest part, it must be said, is climbing up to the Kumar post, which has been built on top of a large block of ice.

We make it, finally.

 

And in doing so, we become the largest group of civilians to have reached Kumar till date.

From Kumar, the ice is continuous and flat, which allows for the use of snow scooters, critical in reaching remote posts during emergencies.

At Kumar, we get a glimpse of how the emergency response system works here. A jawan, just recently inducted on the glacier at above 18,000 feet, had developed High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which if not treated can become quickly fatal. He’s brought to Kumar on a snow scooter. As it was evening, he is stabilised in an artificial pressure chamber before being airlifted the next day.

 

After a day at Kumar, we retrace our steps. And on the afternoon of October 12, we get back to Base Camp. The four, who couldn’t proceed beyond Camp 2, are there to welcome us at OP Baba mandir.

After four week of strict routines and rigorous training, it’s time to freshen up and relax.

October 13

We leave Base Camp and head back to Leh by road. By the evening, we are back in the hotel we stayed earlier.

October 14

The trek team is formally flagged in by the 14 Corps Commander Lt. General S.K. Patiyal, and we receive certificates for successfully completing the trek.

We have a day all to ourselves in Leh, which, in complete contrast to the bustling city we saw earlier, wears a deserted look, as the tourist season is over and most hotels have shut down for the winter.

October 15

New Delhi, here I return! It’s a completely different world.

share this article
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor