The Lone Survivor

Fiction


Mountain climbing

 

                It all starts with silence and I know that it will end in it. With all this human knowledge embedded within me, I still cannot let it go.

There is the beauty and the beast, with the beauty comes the beast. Many-a-times, you can’t see it and many-a-times, you can.The vast expanse of ice stretches covering its white lies, it has no compassion, no pint of emotion. It looks at me straight like the way it would when I was young. Words, voices, images flash by, they portray my existence what it was like and how it would look for the time to come. The snow sinks in; hypothermia is the only friend that is with me in my finale. I still cannot possibly believe it is over. “It is never over until you think it is”, rings in my ear. It is strange, this emotion of leaving what you love to do the most, at the time of doing it and being sad about it. For, it ran in our family- my forefathers down till my father, everyone I could think of served the country and died in the field of war and everything that I heard about them at their time of death was how they welcomed it with valour and how happy they were to end their life on a high. Whizzing sounds of strong Himalayan winds rush through this ridge. I look at my life box and realise the time for the last shot has arrived. Maybe the base camp was a better place, maybe I shouldn’t have gone. Maybe Buddha Sherpa was right.Maybe’s can never change the past, so it did not, this time too. In time, I somehow manage to push my frostbitten fingers with severe angst of pain to propel myself to inject the last dose. This meant I had somehow delayed my end by three and half hours or sometime around that mark. Whatever would happen at the end of this time- I did not know what. But I hoped that whatever happens in the end, “I should live”.

Seconds turn to minutes, and like this the wheel of time turns. It doesn’t change at all, neither does the sun change its movement. I can see its imprint from where I lie. Something tells me to sleep, but I am afraid, what if I never wake up? But I know, slowly but surely, my eyelids will close and then there will be a fight. The greatest fight of my life, but this time I need external forces to help me to win it. Only I, on my own, cannot win it. For, I am not essentially prepared for that day, when I had won the junior national mountaineering championship, nor that day when I was the youngest to climb the Mt.Makalu, or even that day when I was chosen as to be in an all-star star team, youngest in the history to be in this expedition. They arrive- visions arrive, I see myself and soon it makes me realize the test has finally begun.

Wanderlust

A young boy, with a yellow-brown rucksack arrives at HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute). He enrolls, everything goes smooth, the first winter arrives and then things change. It is harsh- this climate, the early morning runs, the climbs, the snow - everything leads his will haywire and then he sees, Mt.Kanchendzonga for the first time in its true colour. His reason to live appears. Time flies by and soon it is the first test of his professional mountaineering career, the junior national championships. The young boy seems focused, determined, and strong-willed but he has some serious competition to defeat. The climb starts, his feet are nimble, working fast as usual but there is one who is ahead of him, matching his movement toe to toe and going one step further. And then it happens, his ice-axe hits the thin layer of snow covering the rock, which somehow vibrates through to the other side of the artificial hill. The other climber’s crampon slips the grip and his journey forward takes a hit. This sudden pause, gives the boy a lead and eventually, he wins.

Then everything changes all around him, that mountain grows to as high as twenty seven thousand feet and the crowd, the judges give away to brazen snow all around. The only mortal faces that he has with him are two Nepali Sherpas and one fellow climber. Energy levels and his age change from the previous scene. The midnight awakening from the final base camp is done and now it is time for the steep climb from the south west ridge. It starts well. The steep end of the peak awaits him. Soon, they realise the situation of the dipping oxygen levels and this leads to the fall of his fellow climber. Shallow breathing and wayward movement continues and the universal death dilemma of the climber appears: whether to save him or leave him to climb the peak? Symptoms of high altitude edema develop and as he signals to the Sherpa’s for abandoning the mission and moving towards to rescue the fellow mountaineer, it happens. An act of self-sacrifice. His fellow mate unties his hook, lets his body out loose and leaps towards his end. With a stitch of this loss, “Ramesh down. Over”, he signals on the radio to the base camp and soon summits the peak, becoming the youngest ever to achieve this feat.

Everything changes again this time. The harsh scene gives way to a scene in an office, a team for an expedition to one of the world’s toughest mountain-climb is being set up. There is a probable list, and a final list .His name does not feature on the final list. Somewhere far away in Mexico City, breakfast is served to a mountaineer. The breakfast contains a tiny bit of arsenic, which accidently has been accumulated by the swapping of the topping left to kill mice the next day, to onto his breakfast. He finishes his sumptuous meal and in a matter of seconds, the poisoning starts. Soon his conditions deteriorate. A phone call arrives in the office and then a brief discussion leads to a change in the list and now, the list has a young man, the rookie amongst the juggernauts. The sight shifts to a house. There can be seen an unassuming presence of the lady, and a persistent presence of two toddlers. The phone rings, he picks up the phone and recognises the warmth in the voice on the other end. His heart starts pumping, “Yes, Very much” and he ends the call. He rushes to the next room, kisses the lady and says, “The time has come to climb her”, “Why? Didn’t you have much fun with me, Honey”, she smirks. “Hahaha, no honey, it is time for her, just her. The Five Treasures of Snow, Mt. Kanchendzonga”.

Senses start connecting to the snow. I hear the winds blaring and soon, I see myself walking with a gray cloak, in a field full of orchards with a strong sense of comfort. The image of shedding this cloak induces in me images of despair, discomfort and heart-wrenching pain. But I know, I need to shed this so as to live and soon, I start shedding the Himalayan Suit (the last stage of hypothermia) , a immense gush of warmth rushes to my extremities. I feel alive. I know descent is coming. Consciousness becomes stronger. I realise my fingers are completely frost-bitten, and my toe has been damaged too. A strong cloud has capped me over. I see no one. It is the vast snow that extends beyond my line of sight and with the suit half down from me, all I see is that dawn is approaching.

That night, at camp 4, the last camp before summit, a French group receives an information of an impending jet stream the next day. Decisions are made. The enunciation for summiting will be done three hours in advance. And soon, at 22.00 hours that night, the ascent starts. The radio signals are good. Everything goes smooth till dawn and soon they see a man sitting upright on a ridge with his North Face suit half undone. They move closer. 

“Hey, I bet you’re surprised to see me”, I say . They look at me, they gasp in silence. They are bemused. They lift me, this group of yellow clad people, looking like humans. “Man, found, man found, do you copy”. The death zone dilemma attacks them, they whisper .The summit or the life of a man as the chance of summiting hardly comes again and when one is this close, what does one do? Humanity prevails and soon, I am being carried down. I am like an uncorked screw, the lone survivor of the first four man of the elite team that had gone onwards to summit this colossal mountain. Base camp approaches, delirium is heavy and I am dreamy. They slide my body into the decompression bag and I sleep like a baby.

THE HERALD, 31ST JULY, 2006

MIRACLES-YES, THEY DO HAPPEN
An unbelievable rescue on Mt. Kanchendzonga, a French team of mountaineers rescue an Indian mountaineer, reported to be dead, who was found sitting on one of the ridges of the Mt.Kanchendzonga, the third highest peak, not to mention one of the most treacherous peak in the world and found conscious after surviving one night alone atop this hefty peak. And now are the excerpts to his interview after this mighty survival on one of the most rugged tundra on earth.

“So, what’s your take on your miraculous escape?”

“Whether they are miracles or not. The covering of my body atop that immense landform, so as to prevent the temperature to go below -20 deg Celsius. The forewarning of the jet stream and the early start of the French team so as to avoid it .The choice of life over personal gain, or all the times I have passed the finishing line. I have realized that there is some force of nature which makes all these things possible and we humans cannot explain it from our one-dimensional perspective. Thus, it is a miracle to us, but if we can see what actually happens, maybe, just maybe, it would be explainable to us.”

For more of the interview , turn to page 6.


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