To catch the snow

Learnings and Life lessons from a Himalayan trek

trek images


  • Have a goal
  • Preparation is not a fun killer
  • Leave breadcrumbs
  • Follow footsteps only to an extent
  • Keep having a time check
  • Its about the journey, not the destination
  • Move slower and faster
  • Sprint and rest
  • Look up to your final goal often
  • Never get too comfortable
  • Step back to move forward, at times
  • There’s always a way
  • Nature is HARSH, deal with it.
  • Know when to stop*
  • It’s okay to be not being able to reach your goal

Prologue

On 28/07/2014, early in the morning around 7 am (yes that’s super early for me), we, the 4 of us Me, Vinoth, Vasanth & Raj, started from Syabru Bensi, Rasuwa, Nepal on Langtang trek. Three days we walked and then, by the 3rd day noon, we reached Kyanjin Gompa, 3800M. It was September and so it was sunny. We were to rest that noon but I badly wanted to play with the snow (don’t judge me, I love snow, okay). I could see snow mountains at a distance. But I was advised they’re not reachable and they’re longer than they look. I thought otherwise.

Have a goal — A balanced one

This is the first step to improve yourself. I had a clear goal, to catch the snow. Though it seemed impossible, I calculated it could be possible with a few hours walk. In real life, the toughest problem is having a balance between a realistic yet dreamy goal. Unrealistic goals will hurt you soon. Super practical goals will be too damn boring. So having a balance is a must.

Preparation is not a fun killer

I borrowed a torch, I put on my thickest jacket and a raincoat above that. Though I was going alone, I knew I wouldn’t need anything else. I had this notion that if you plan something perfectly and go well prepared for it, then you can’t possibly have fun. I kinda still hold onto that, but in an open adventure like this, which risks your life, having a safety net is always helpful. So you can come back and try this again. Have a fuzzy plan, it helps.

Leave breadcrumbs

I kept marking (in my mind), specific huge gigantic stones on the way up. And I followed the stream upwards, climbed along it. So I knew if I stick with the stream, I’ll definitely reach back safe. It’s one of the important things you should do consciously. Note down landmarks, leave breadcrumbs or footmarks. It could help you return as well as help someone else follow your trails — if they want to rescue you or if they want to reach a similar goal.

Follow footsteps but only to an extent

When I was climbing the mountain, sometime I’d come across a pathway. I’d be so happy to see it, because it made me feel I was not alone. And the pathway will take me heights with less pain. But sometimes it would go down. I promised myself I’d never lose altitude on the way up. Because I don’t want to get tired climbing up and down. So then I’d ditch the path and climb towards the snow. When you’re on track towards your goal, you might find already travelled ways. That’s very helpful to boost your confidence. You could be in peace that someone else had already gone that way and you’re going on the right track. You can be adamant and intentionally go through the thorns but it’s safer and better to follow others’ footsteps. BUT, only to an extent. Your goals won’t (mostly) be the same as the previous traveller. So, once you realise that it’s taking you in a different path, don’t hesitate to deviate. Only utilise them as much as you need.

Keep having a time check

When I started from the place we stayed, I saw that the time was close to 1400 hours (2 pm). I was sure the place would become pitch black around 7pm. So I fixed a deadline for myself that I should return by 6. That gave me 4 hours to and fro, i.e. 2 hours to reach the snow. It was a bit less but that’s all I got. We all have a time limit. So on the way, every now and then, I’d look at my watch (i.e., borrowed lumia) and see how long it takes me to reach point x from y and think if I could reach my goal in the given time. I’d compare my prediction vs. reality and see the accuracy of my calculations. In our life, our time is very limited. We might have to do mundane tasks on a day to day basis, long as you’re sure you’re moving towards your bigger goal. And checking the time gives you an opportunity to ensure that. If you don’t see any significant improvement in sometime, may be it’s time you change your methodologies or you reset your goal. Because anything could be achieved at infinite time. But nobody has that, so check “your time” often.

Its about the journey, not the destination. So embrace and enjoy.

This is something to keep in mind that I should’ve said earlier. If you think about it, in the end what mattered is the 4 hour trek I experienced than my momentary stay at my destination. I saw beautiful things on the way. The view was amazing, I saw how multiple small streams from glaciers formed a river, huge crags on the way and some horses grazing here and there. I even had to cross a big waterfall. Lot of pitfalls, slippery stones, dead ends and scary thorns. But I enjoyed it. So keep in mind that the journey is all that matters and so make the full use out of it. Find minor details in your daily life and appreciate it, smile everyday and embrace the company you have.

P.S. But some destination is necessary to have a journey. So have something, anything.

Moving slower and faster — Looking closer and farther

While I was trekking, I keenly observed my vicinity and moved faster by routing the possible paths in my mind. I kept thinking a few steps ahead and I moved faster. But when I looked up farther I was like “I ain’ feelin nothin”. So sometimes I’d just walk like a tortoise enjoying the view; the tiny details of nature around me, the falling mosses on a dead log, wondering why that rock looks like a panda foot. But, oh wait, tick tock, if I move like a snail I’d never catch the snow. So I’d run and then dawdle, repeat. This is same while riding a vehicle. You can enjoy the view by riding slow, whereas being fast is just commuting. So don’t keep running behind your aim. Be aware to move slow for sometime to appreciate small things around.

Keep minor achievements — Sprint and rest

The snow mountain looked at me from a distance that’ll make most people give up. So I convinced myself to just think about that huge boulder at the horizon, and just think about reaching there. Once I reach there, I’d get over it, look around, feel amazing, sit for a moment and find a the next spot to reach. Reaching the final goal at a single stretch is impossible and gruesomely tiring. Soon you’ll run out of energy and you’d want to give up, convincing yourself that it’s not possible. And that’s why you must have small sub-goals. Split your main goal into multiple parts, which will eventually take you to your destination. This way, you can see and measure progress. And the sense of achievement you get while finishing them (a dose of dopamine to your brain, the chemical responsible for happiness) will give enough reasons to keep moving forward. Write down your goal, write down your subgoals below it and tick it once you do them. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Look up to your final goal often — Motivation

The only motivation I had during this trek was that, in the end, I could play with the snow. So whenever I was tired, when it started to rain, when my path had a dead end, I’d look up (literally) to the snowy mountain and picture myself playing with the snow. That mental image and the view of the mountain will give me motivation to push further, to overcome the odds and move forward. Having a picture of your loved one in your pocket. Or having a motivating poster on your workroom. It’s all the same.

Never get too comfortable

Climbing a mountain for hours will make you super tired. So when I see a not-so-wet rock shelf, I’d sit on it. My painful ankle healed and I didn’t feel like moving any further, because I got too comfortable. (But then I was in the middle of nowhere and I had to move). We do the same mistake in our lives. We work our ass to get that college/job/promotion/car/what-not and once we possess it, we get too comfortable with it. We resist to put ourselves out of the comfort zone, into the wild which helped us grow. And we choose to just stay stable where we are. Being stagnant is never good. The key to continuous success is consciously placing ourselves in the risk zone. So remember to never get too comfortable with your current situation. Keep moving, keep experimenting, keep falling, keep failing and stay in the game.

Sometimes its necessary to step back to move forward

Only after climbing a point, I’d realise that there’s no (easy) way down. So I’d come back and check for alternatives. While crossing a falls, I climbed the mountain to the top to the stream, kept trying and trying and it took me 6–7 turns to cross it in a safe way. If I had just gone and tried to cross the river, I might not have made it. This is a common mistake most people do, especially the ones with a huge pride or those with heavy weight in their head. It’s not easy to accept dead ends and step back a little. It needs a lot of maturity. But once you see it through, you’ll start doing it. The other path may not be a direct path towards your goal, but you’d have to accept that it’s the only way you can move forward. Instead of hitting the rock hard, step back, try something else. If it doesn’t work out, try something better and one of them will work out.

There’s always a way — Batman

This is something I had within me even before the trek and it has helped me a lot. Inspired from one of Batman’s ideals. And it’s true, there always is a way. It may not be visible, it may not be easy, it may need sacrifices, it may take time or it may not be accepted. But, there’s always a way and if you believe it, you’d find it and do it.

Nature is HARSH, deal with it.

This is a lesson I learnt the hard way. I had to cross a field of bushes and the thorns tore my dress. There was no beautifully laid path. I fell into a stream. The water was damn freezing (that I might’ve just got frostbite). I’ve slipped on rocks and rubble and hurt myself. The rain slowed me down. At close to the end, the oxygen level was too low (~ 30% of sea level O2) that made me dizzy and I was about to faint. On the way back, fog covered me that nothing was visible over a meter radius, I was shit scared. You can’t see anything at all, nothing, in a forgotten land. If it weren’t for the sound of the stream and my breadcrumbs, I would’ve been lost, and eventually dead (unless I turn into a yeti). I used to think that we’re one with the nature and it would embrace us. I couldn’t be more wrong. Nature doesn’t care about your existence. Neither will it support it. It just exists. We should be intelligent enough to survive along nature.

Know when to stop

This is the most important lesson I learned. At around 4800+ Meters (i guess) I felt incapable. I was so close the snowy mountains (the top image). I checked my time and I had half an hour more to climb up. I kept jumping rocks and I realised I got tired every now and then. I couldn’t breathe well. I figured I could catch the snow, given another hour. But the environment has changed, and so should my prediction. Beyond all that I had another half an hour in my clock to try. But I didn’t. I stayed there for a few minutes and decided to stop going up. Because I knew my body might not be able to take it anymore. Lack of oxygen lead me to a lot of negative thoughts too. And so I stopped. In life, it’s crucial to test your limits, find them and learn to know when to stop. From all kind of things like arguments with spouse to earning more and more, you should know when to stop.

It’s okay to be not being able to reach your goal

This could be an outcome of knowing when to stop. I didn’t catch the snow, I gave my best shot, but I couldn’t do it. I had a little more time, but I knew it wasn’t suffice. If I had done it, I couldn’t have reached back safe. I couldn’t have completed the journey. I couldn’t have survived and it would’ve been a one way trip. But still, I couldn’t do it. For a moment, I felt so disappointed of myself. It only took me a while to realise that it’s okay. It’s okay to be not being able reach your goal. I did my best and I had an amazing journey. You might find it hard to agree, but that’s the truth. Not everything is possible by you and you’re allowed to make mistakes. As long as you don’t regret trying, it’s okay to be not able to reach your goal. You’re better off failing than not even trying.

Epilogue

When I decided to return, I saw a huge mist coming towards my way. Within minutes it reached me and the whole place got fogged up. That was spine-chilling for multiple reason. One, I couldn’t see my path clearly, obstruction in my vision in an unknown environment. More chances of hurting myself. Secondly, the temperature reduced. That too with negligible fat in my body, it was freezing to my bones. And when you breath the cold air, it hurts your nostrils so bad that it might even bleed. Third and the most important reason for me to shit my pants — I couldn’t see my way back. And I’ve come too long that random ways will never take me home. And nobody knew I was there. If I’ve stayed, I would’ve been stranded. And once the sun goes down, the dusk will kill me. It’ll be pitch dark, that’ll make you wonder if your eyes are even open. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it started raining. Oh Man. There was a plain land to cross and I saw an orange plastic animal shelter far away and it was the only thing (mildly) visible through the mist. That was not the way I came but I remember seeing it closer. Having a direction in mind, I walked kind of blindly. I couldn’t afford to take better paths in fear of losing direction sense. And so, I tore my rain coat a bit, fell into rock pits a bit, ran into bushes my height and somehow reached the orange shelter. Phew! The place was empty. There were dungs (yaks’ I assume) and it was too dry and there were no footprints. It looked like it’s been abandoned, could’ve been weeks. I couldn’t stay there for long, too creepy. Then I heard the sound of the waterfall I crossed. I followed the turbulence, found the waterfall and crossed it. After that, there was a steep I had to climb down. It wasn’t even close to as easy as I thought it’d be. I almost gave up and broke down. I really couldn’t do it. It was very hard to motivate myself to keep pushing when I can only move one step at a time. I sat every now and then for few minutes and imagined how easy my life could’ve been. It took me forever but step by step, slowly I got down. When I reached the bottom, to a stream, I almost had tears in my eyes. I felt a great sense of joy, that nothing in my life would be harder than what I just went through. After that, it was a piece of cake. I sticked close to the stream till I reached the civilisation. And when I reached a crag above the community of houses, I shouted “woohoooo” out loud. It really felt fulfilling. Then I ran like a freed horse without minding anybody on the way, to the place we stayed, fell on the bed and thought,

Boy, that was one hell of a ride

Flickr (trek images)