It was colder than the coldest of nights.
It was darker than the darkest of nights.
It was LONGER than the longest of nights.
I am talking about the night I crossed the mighty Gondogoro Pass.
Just so that you know, we had trekked for more than 7 hours in the day and after reaching Ali camp, no one could sleep…partly because of the high altitude(5000 m plus) but mainly because of how damn scared we were. Yes, we were scared, and it could be seen from our colorless faces and our never ending questions.
“Lala, are my boots good enough?
Would my crampons help?
I did not bring any ice-axe..is that a problem?”
Everyone had the same questions and we would ask them not once, not twice, but after every half an hour or so. Our guide Ibrahim Munna was going to cross the pass for the 20th time that night. He was as calm and quiet as the mountains themselves.
Finally, around midnight we started to climb up. The silence was permanent, one could hear his heart pounding hard in his chest. After half an hour we reached Munir camp..and what I saw there can never be forgotten…
Bonfire… on the white snow..in the darkest of nights..and all the porters huddled around that crackling fire…singing songs in ancient languages we could not understand..and then a loud cry of “Ya Ali(A.S) Madad!”.. the fire was extinguished and it was dark again.
Note: Balti porters traverse glaciers as if they are walking in a park. This was the only time we saw them scared and making prayers…It only made us more nervous.
Little did I know, it was just the beginning.
We reached the first section of fixed rope. Here we had to attach ourselves with the rope and then climb upwards because the slope was just too steep to climb without using rope. Now, here was the problem.. only 2 people could use the rope at the same time whereas the waiting queue had nearly 100 people. Yes. 100. Weather reports suggested that it was the last day before bad weather so all the teams had decided to cross the pass today. So now, It was time to WAIT.
Yes..wait in the coldest, darkest and longest of nights. You can well imagine the waiting part did not make it any better.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I finally had the rope in my hand, pushing hard to climb up.
I was the second person and unfortunately the first person slipped and fell onto me..
more unfortunately, that happened twice..
even more unfortunately, my head-torch broke and fell down..
when the gradient is so steep that you are holding a rope or else you would fall, your torch does not just fall in your feet.. it falls and takes a never ending slide.. and since it’s a damn torch, it illuminates the whole path as it slides down and you can see what will happen to you if you let that rope go.
I was DOOMED, and right in that moment I thought for the first time, I won’t make it.
I bypassed the next guy and somehow made it to the end of the first section of fixed rope.
“Where is your head-torch?” Asked the Hushe rescue team guy. (4 of them were positioned at different sections of the pass.)
“It fell down..” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
“Ohh…” He opened his mouth multiple times but could not say anything more than that.
I sat down.. shivering with cold.. There was no way I could climb any further without light.. I had reached a closed end.. there was no way out of this one but for HIM.. and no matter how grave the situation is, HE can always make a way for you.. and so I met Salman bhai.. the strongest of my 17 teammates.. and that angel of a man shared light with me right until we reached the top..and God knows it wasn’t easy to share a head-torch on the icy slopes of GGLA.. it was anything but easy.. but we did make it to the top.. all thanks to him.. and not only that, just as the top became clearer in our sights, he asked me to overtake him and said something I shall always remember, for not even the kindest of people have a heart that big,
“Saad, you have been the best trekker of our team, I want that you become the first one to step on the top.” He said very calmly and handed me the torch so I could lead on now.
“We shall do it together.” I replied.
We reached Gondogoro Top earlier than expected and much earlier than we wanted, for there were still at least 45 minutes left in the daybreak. It’s not recommended to stay put on a high altitude mountain pass but of course we were not going anywhere without taking a picture. And so we WAITED.. again. Shivering, and at times doing sit-ups to fight the bone wrecking cold wind at the altitude of 5500 meters. After another eternity of waiting, we did manage to take pictures with our mobile phones(dslr battery got discharged due to extreme cold) and reached the other side to descent down the pass.
We thought the misery is over.. WE WERE SO DAMN WRONG!
Descending down GGLA was the most difficult part of trekking/climbing I had ever done. Rocks were falling down and hitting people, like actually hitting them but still no one dared to let go off the rope. It was the only difference between life and death. After hours of struggling, falling, getting hit and bruised by the rocks, I finally managed to descend down safely.
I sat down.
It was over.
Only that it wasn’t…
I heard a scream…some gasps and cries… I turned…I saw.
A MAN.. A LIVING HUMAN BEING was falling from the rocky slopes of GGLA like a football.. He would bounce and roll in the air after every fall and that did not happen just once or twice.. He kept bouncing and bouncing, falling down hundreds of feet, until he slammed hard into a big rock. Unmoving. Unconscious.
For a second, everything was still. No sound, no movement, as if the world had stopped rotating.
And then, some people ran towards the man who had fallen, I sure wasn’t one of them. I could not even move a muscle. I was numb with shock. It was the scariest fall I had ever seen.
That fall can NEVER be UNSEEN.
That night can NEVER be forgotten.
Location: Gondogoro LA.
Pictures taken by Me, Daniyal and Pornchai Ung.