Chilling out!

LEADING FROM THE FRONT Indian Navy's Submarine Commander Satyabrata Dam

LEADING FROM THE FRONT Indian Navy's Submarine Commander Satyabrata Dam   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: V.V. KRISHNAN

An Indian Navy team is just back from an arduous ski expedition in Greenland. Team leader Satyabrata Dam relates the gripping experience to SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

There is no cockcrow here nor does the morning look any different from the night. But the alarm clock says it is 6 a.m. Rubbing his eyes, Sonam Tamchos checks the altimeter. Minus 35 degree Celsius and a wind chill of minus 80 degree Celsius. Never mind, he gets out of his tent to do something he had not done till he became a part of this expedition - sawing off a bit of stone-hard ice to melt it in a saucepan and prepare tea. For himself and the rest of the team tucked inside their tents, waiting eagerly for the hot cup to arrive. Having done that, 20-year-old Sonam, with a hand from a team-mate, will have to liquefy buckets of ice pieces to organise drinking water for the day. There are 11 of them, and today is the youngest member Sonam's turn to do the odd jobs before beginning to hike till their legs give up. That the sun is a 24-hour constant in the Arctic region is a blessing. Cut to Submarine Commander Satyabrata Dam, sitting in the air-conditioned ambience of a five-star hotel in New Delhi. Dam is just back from leading this team of the Indian Navy, the first to climb the highest peak in Iceland, Vantnajokull glacier, and then the Greenland Ice Cap Arctic Circle region. An ace mountaineer himself, 41-year-old Dam's accomplishments include climbing "almost all the major peaks" including Mount Everest from the North face, known to be technically a more challenging route. Obviously then, your amazement at the gruelling expedition, as he narrates it bit by bit, meets with a plain smile. "Before the expedition started, the team members went through physical and mental endurance tests. Some names that were initially short-listed for the trip were dropped because one felt they were not fit enough. But the experience of sawing ice to turn it into drinking water was something none of us was trained for," says Dam with a smile. Yet another aspect of the expedition that Dam and his team were not prepared for was negotiating the gigantic crevasses deep enough to swallow sky scrappers, furious ice-melt streams and huge shastrugis (wind swept waves of ice formed due to cross winds), where they had to lift their ski sleds to take them across. "In such a situation, we could average only one km per hour. Some of our members fell into crevasses and we rescued them. There were many touch and go situations like this," relates Dam. Before leaving India, he says, "I made sure to meet the family of each member and prepare them for the worst." Being away from the sea, there were thankfully no polar bears, no walruses, no Arctic wolves and foxes to be wary of. "There were no other souls, just us and the roaring sounds of the wind," he says. And yes, they saw drums filled with air fuel with U.S. Army stamps on them too.

Indian Peak

After climbing the peak in Iceland "as a curtain raiser", Dam says they then flew to Kulsuk in east Greenland and then to the main ice cap of Angmassalik area, negotiating the ice choked fjord of the North Atlantic by boats borrowed from the local Inuit community. "We then started from Hans Glacier and crossed the Arctic Circle, reaching up to 70 degrees North," provides Dam. While taking a loop round Mount Forrel base, the team climbed an unnamed virgin peak with a height of 11,200 feet and named it the "Indian Peak."But, Dam says, "The locals have a vague idea about where India is." Simply because few Indians visit both Iceland and Greenland. He says contrary to what they had thought, Arctic people live in colourful houses, not in igloos, and hate the term, Eskimo. "They were given this name by the initial Danish explorers. They hate the term because it means they eat raw meat," he says. With an increase in tourism, modernity has entered Greenland, but unemployment and drinking seem to be the burning issues, he adds.As Joint Director (Mountaineering) of the Navy's Directorate of Adventure and Sports, Dam's next project "is indeed big", but he is not yet ready to even throw hints. Team spiritThe names of the ski expedition members:Commander Satyabrata Dam
Lt Cdr K.S.Balaji
Lt Cdr G.P.Pande
Lt Cdr Avnish Khajuria
Sergent Lt. Ajay Sharma
Raj Kumar
Rakesh Kumar
Vikas Kumar
B. Singh
Manoj Vats
Sonam Tamchos

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