The couple that went climbing – part 4

Link to part [1][2][3][4]

My rucksack

One of the days in Darjiling, all the students were issued a rucksack and other clothing and equipment that had to be carried in the ruck-sack. We would carry these loaded rucksacks on our shoulders (including our personal items) from Yoksum all the way to the base-camp – a distance of a few zillion kilometers. A height gain of a few thousand meters [a].

Anyway, so this post is about my rucksack and what it had. For those of you who might be interested in taking up this course (I have been getting queries lately) – I have also jotted down few pointers.

  • Items provided by HMI:
    • Winter Clothing:
      • Dirty red coloured windproof jacket and pajama (the pajama was short in length and wide on waist for me – I did have the option to try it and get it replaced in Darjiling but I never tried it till I reached the base-camp; what an ass-hole I am). If you have your own windproof clothing set, should you bring it when you join the course? If they are really good stuff and you have used them at high altitude – then yes. And in that case, you don’t have to take the HMI stuff when they issue it. It’s always nice to wear something that smells like you than something that smells like a million people’s smell put together. Even when you can’t smell much at high altitude anyway.
      • Dirty and spoiled violet coloured feather jacket – once again, if you have one, you can bring and use yours. But if you are someone who doesn’t know what a ‘feather’ jacket is – please don’t get your goddamn designer jacket that you got from a shop like Levis or Woodland. Just throw them out of the window. You will die in the mountains otherwise. Though you can use the fancy jackets while in Darjeeling – if you really don’t want to throw them out of the window that is.
      • Harness Set – which basically means the following three:
        • Harness (even if you have your own – you don’t have to bring it; what HMI gives is really good stuff)
        • Sling (basically 1 meter rope) – the rock-climber who brought his own sling lost it – so once again, just use the one that HMI gives
        • A Carabiner – definitely don’t bring your own, you will lose it
        • Jumar (ascendar) – HMI gives good stuff.
      • Footwear:
        • 100 Kg Snow-boots (ok, ok, 5 Kgs at least) – now unless you have ever been to a glacier, you wouldn’t probably have these. These are costly. The ones that HMI gives are basic ones. And therefore they are really really heavy. The best boots (used over 7,000 mt) are light but cost 50k (INR). So there is nothing much you can do but carry these heavy ones. Unless you are rich. By the way, don’t worry about the weight if you are a girl. Because if you are a girl, these snow-boots would be removed from your ruck-sack anyway and given to you once you reach the base-camp. As a matter of fact if you are a girl, you also wouldn’t need to carry your harness-set or the crampons with you.
        • heavy Crampons with a green-coloured crampon-bag (once again, if you own lighter ones, bring your own. If you don’t own, forget about buying them – they would cost about 10K and you don’t even know if you are ever going to use them after the course (unless you are sure glacier-walking is going to become your best hobby henceforth).
        • Gaiters
      • A dirty heavy sleeping-bag with heavier white lining-cloth (if you have anything with a minus 5 rating, please bring it; I regret not carrying my sleeping bag because I have this feeling that mine was lighter and cleaner. Also, had I been carrying my own, I probably wouldn’t have needed the lining anyway – they give you the cloth-lining so that HMI’s sleeping bag doesn’t get dirty.
      • Ice-axe – the ones that HMI gives are really heavy; once again too costly to buy if you don’t have one already so there is nothing much that you can do about this one.
      • Mess-tin: now these are great if you need to cook food yourself and want to use the same utensils as a tiffin-box. Since we were always served food, it was a pain to eat in the mess-tins, and 10X pain to clean them. I strongly recommend that you leave the mess-tin in Darjeeling and instead of it, carry a light plastic tiffin-dabba. Also, it would be really really convenient to clean them if you carry an extra toothbrush. Because cleaning anything with your bare hands freezes your hands. Quite literally.
      • Rapelling Mittens
  • Personal items:
    • Toiletries
      • Sun-block (one small dabba is more than enough – anything above SP 30 is fine – the trick is not going for the max SP available, but in reapplying the bloody lotion every few hours; unfortunately, as MRP would say, even girls don’t understand the importance of re-applying)
      • Nivea Cold Cream (had too big a dabba than I could ever use) – given another chance, I would carry the smallest size Ponds dabba – you only need to apply them before sleeping
      • Anti fungal powder – I probably used just 1/3rd of the dabba – but I couldn’t find anything smaller than that anyway. What did I use it for? Well – for putting it all over my body every time I had a change of clothes. Especially when I changed socks.
      • Deodorant (MRP shared mine. I had Axe. She stayed with girls in the girl’s hut. No one attacked her. Fuck you Axe.) On a serious note, you don’t need to carry it. I mean, come to think about it, who cares how you stink when no one is bathing for 12 days straight.
      • Dettol hand sanitizer (the extra bottle remained unused) – was a must-use item for me. Up there, forget using water to wash your hands. Except when the hands get really really dirty and greasy.
      • Shower gel – used for both skin / dish washing.
      • 2 thick rolls of toilet paper (just as much as I needed – including few strips that were donated to the needy souls – if you are carrying just one roll, you will have to beg borrow or steal some during the last few days)
      • Dettol anti-septic (and because the bottle that I carried was made of glass, it broke eventually – the learning is: don’t take with you anything that comes in glass bottles – dil ho ya sheesha ho, aakhi toot jaata hai, and more so in camps – try Savlon)
      • Toothbrush and toothpaste
      • Few Shampoo sachets (only once could I wash my hair)
      • Lip-guard
    • Clothing
      • Undies: 6 (used all of them): back in Darjiling, I had asked the film-maker[b] once how many undies would he be carrying. ‘I have enough da. So many that I can probably put on a new one every day’, he had replied with confidence. My calculation on the other hand was something like this: 4 days of uphill trek + 12 days of stay at base-camp + 2 days of downhill trek = total 18 days of hell. 18 divided by 3 (assuming I would change undies every 3 days) = 6.
      • Socks: 6 pairs (used all of them). Same calculation as above.
      • Track-jacket: 1 (a light track-jacket over a sports t-shirt is a good inner over which you can wear the wind-proof jacket or the feather jacket or both depending upon how cold it gets – you absolutely don’t need thermals or sweaters or other things if you have a track-jacket).
      • T-shirts / shirt: 6 (used all of them – all were typical light-weight sports cloth material)
      • 2 pants (1 North Face cargo and one duplicate, low quality Adidas track-pant – should have  got another cargo with function pockets – you really want strong pockets, preferably with zips). Calculation: if you can wear the same undy for three days, you can definitely wear the same pant for 3 into 3 = 9 days. 18 divided by 9 = 2.
      • 1 sports-towel. Now I didn’t just use it just for wiping sweat off my face during trekking or for taking sponge baths in the base camp or for changing clothes. I also used it as a substitute for my rucksack chest-belt during the uphill trek. In retrospect, instead of using the towel, I should have taken a better rucksack for which all the belts worked. Because during the downhill trek – the towel just didn’t help. As for its other uses, a regular sponge would have been a better and lighter option for taking a sponge bath; with the sleeping bag liner, I could have changed clothes anyway; and for wiping face and stuff – a small hanky could have done the job. In effect, what I am trying to say here is that, a towel could be skipped to an extent.
      • Gloves – now both MRP and I had three pairs of gloves. One was a waterproof one with woolen lining inside while the remaining two were wind-proof gore-tex gloves. The gore-tex ones were not water-proof but gave the hand a better freedom of movement. Except that now when I think about it, just one pair of the bulky water-proof gloves could have done the job. And that is because we never really needed too much freedom of movement in the hands anyway.
      • A cap – so that you don’t get tanned. I had taken with me a cowboy hat from Ahmedabad to Darjeeling but during the trial trekking sessions there I found that the rucksack kept colliding with the back of the cowboy hat. Was painful to walk that way. And that’s why I bought in Darjiling a cap with just the front hood, and it worked smoothly. It was even foldable. So when I needed to put it off my head, I could just fold and slip it inside my cargo-pocket. I dislike the fact that I lost this awesome NorthFace cap eventually (but thankfully only during one of the last few days at base camp).
      • A rain-coat. It never rained really but one day it came quite close to it. The jacket was helpful during heavy snow-fall anyway. The only reason I didn’t buy a poncho was because I already had a rain-coat. So did she. If you don’t have any, a poncho would be better suited. Easier and faster to put on.
    • Other:
      • Water-bottle (if you don’t have / take yours, HMI does provide it’s pink coloured high quality anti-fungal water-bottle – the only issue is that almost everyone has exactly the same bottle, so chances of you losing yours because it gets mixed up with others is very high)
      • My blue coloured plastic coffee-mug with a ‘smile’ emoticon on it’s face (and because it was a breakable plastic mug, it finally did break – I am still glad I didn’t carry that ugly HMI steel tumbler with me)
      • My green coloured plastic spoon (because the HMI steel spoon was yuck)
      • Subbu’s EOS 500D with both my lenses (the heavy bulky 18-200 and the small and cute 50mm f1.8). I also carried with with me a separate cute orange coloured waist bag to carry the camera and the lenses. By the way, during the first few days in Darjiling, the Quarter Master might frighten you with super costly charges for using a camera in the Base Camp. The bigger the camera, higher the charges – he would say. But the fact is – all that I / others carrying a camera, needed to pay on the last day in the base-camp was some 150 bucks. Even out of that, HMI itself paid 75 bucks on every student’s behalf. So the bottom-line is: if you have a camera, carry it please. With a 8 GB memory card if you can. It’s every bit worth it. Also carry your camera charger because up there at the base camp, they have solar panels and charging points (just have to strike friendship with an instructor because these charging points are only in their huts, not in students’).
      • Head-flash – it is a must. Some people carried torch but believe me it’s really helpful if your hands are free. A new set of batteries will last the 12 days easily and hence you don’t have to carry additional ones.
      • Books: you would find it funny to know that I carried in my rucksack two books, not just one, and one of them was a 580+ pager Thomas Friedman book on Middle East. I did read about 200 pages. By the way, HMI does have books to lend at the base-camp. So you can probably skip carrying any yourself.
      • Few thin notebooks and few pens
      • Cash – you don’t need much (1,000 bucks is enough – more than enough may be)
      • Wrist-watch – if you are wondering that’s something that goes without saying, let me tell you that MRP didn’t carry one. And she had to ‘borrow’ one, one evening. Crazy people. And of course, it would be cool to have a watch that shows altitude and stuff.
      • Trekking shoes (technically, not part of the ruck-sack; I was wearing them)- I hated my Woodland shoes. The sole had a pathetic grip. I recommend Quechua shoes if you are planning to buy one. MRP had them. So did the Film-maker.
      • Swiss Knife – the only things I ever used were – the knife, the scissor and the wine-cork opener (you can do away with it, but it’s just such a cool little thing to carry on any adventure trip)
      • Ruck-sack cover: MRP and I preferred it over plastic-sheet. And we were proved right when we saw many students struggling to use the plastic covers when it snowed.
      • Shades: I broke mine. The learning is – carrying an extra pair wouldn’t hurt. The bigger, sturdier and blacker, the better. Or else, say hi to snow blindness.

I think the fully loaded rucksack was easily over 20 Kgs. No wonder, our lives (and all holes in our bodies) were so brutally fucked on all days of trekking. During both up-hill and down-hill. About which I would be writing soon. Even when ‘soon’ is a vague thing to say. As she says.


[a]For the boring ones who want real numbers, the total distance to be walked was about 40 Kms (in three days of trekking with an additional rest day thrown in). The overall height gain was about 2,600 meters.

  • Day 1 of trekking: Yoksum (1,780 mt) to Bakhim (2,700 mt) – 12 Kms
  • Day 2 – rest / acclimatization walk in Bakhim
  • Day 3 of trekking: Bakhim to Zongri (4,030 mt) – 14 Kms
  • Day 4 of trekking: Zongri to Base Camp (4,380 mt) – 12 Kms (with snow covered Zongri Pass thrown in between)

But believe me, none of these numbers really matter. When you are carrying a 20+ Kg rucksack on you, it’s a walk through hell. A walk of a zillion kilometers. And a few thousand meters height gain.

[b]The film-maker was a tall young Kannadiga from Bangalore with curly long hair, who would later get an admit to Edinburgh College of Art – Scotland. Film-making was about experiencing new activities, he told us one day, and that’s why he had enrolled for this course.


2 replies on “The couple that went climbing – part 4”

Please let me know your email id. Got to discuss a couple of things about HMI BMC. Its urgent as I am going for the BMC starting on the 15th of September, 11.

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