"The grip on the ice axe that pierces the heart of the mountains is all that matters when you climb. It's not easy to make way slicing through the chunks of ice. As the altitude gets higher, the lungs will find it harder to pump in oxygen. Your nose will start bleeding. The temperature is at -37 degrees. At each step, something will pull you backwards."
Some journeys go far beyond leisure or sightseeing. Journeys that become more or less a mission – journeys that aim to scale the heights of insurmountable mountains, fighting the piercing needles of freezing cold and the roaring icy storms and stepping over the huge chunks of ice that drop in your path out of the blue. Journeys of Maneesh are like that. He has scaled 14 peaks till date. Hailing from Kannappuram in Kannur district, Maneesh was a coconut tree climber till he started climbing larger heights ten years ago.
Pal of peaks tells his story
"'Even if you have completed the training successfully, there is no guarantee that you could defeat death. Mountaineering is, in other words, an adventure sport without spectators to cheer you on' were the first words I heard from the trainers at Atal Bihari Mountaineering Institute in Manali. But I was determined not to be deterred by those words.
"I really do not know when I started worshipping the peaks. Finally, it got to such a point that I just caught the next train to Delhi. Even the first enquiries about learning mountaineering had started after reaching Delhi. A friend told me about the Atal Bihari Institute of Mountaineering in Manali. And I joined for the Basic Mountaineering Course, determined to scale at least one peak. Each day at the Institute taught me many important things that a mountaineer had to pay attention to.
The biggest villain during mountaineering is usually Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. Preventing AMS is a big challenge. It can cause acute breathing problem at higher altitudes and has absolutely no connection with our general health. It usually starts with a slight headache, which can be common during high altitude trekking.
Before beginning to scale the heights, you need to get your body under control. A great deal of exercise is necessary for that. Specially packaged vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is used for the climbing. Water is obtained by melting the ice. There are many unavoidable items in your baggage including the sleeping bag, small axe for breaking ice lumps, snow boot and special clothing.
My first climbing was in July, 2006, during the Basic Mountaineering Course. The target was the 17,300-ft Friendship Peak in Manali. Most of our 28 member group were first-timers. We realised that the lessons learnt in the class room were a far cry from the real experience. But my joy knew no bounds. We scaled that peak taking one month. At the top of that 17,100 feet, I realised that my call in life was to be a mountaineer."
More heights to scale
"The confidence from that first climb was my fuel for each journey. After the first trip, I returned to Delhi and worked as a daily wage labourer to earn the money for the next trip. Mount Mulkila was my next target. The 18,200-ft mount is located in Lahaul–Spiti province in Indo-Chinese border. I was the only Malayali in the 32-member team. And I knew no other language too! The climb was tough.
Breathing problems cropped up for many as we scaled the higher altitudes. More than half of our team dropped out and returned. But I was determined to conquer Mount Mulkila at any risk. Chunks of ice kept falling at each step. The trip lasted 20 days.
After that, many other peaks followed. Each year, I would climb at least one or two mountains. After Mulkila I, it was the 20,000-ft Mount Frey in 2007, followed by 18,250-ft Mt Draupadi ka Danda 2 (DKD2). After that followed Gangotri (6670 meters), Mount Rudugaira (5850 meters), Mount Shivling (6543 meters), Mount Jaonli (6633 meters), Mount Kharchakund (6632 meters), Mount Rimo 1 (7385 meters), Mount Nandadevi East (7345 meters), Mount Manirang (6594 meters), Mount Mulkila 4 (6517 meters) and Mount Kasktet (6461 meters).
My dream of becoming a mountaineer is continuing to grow after conquering each summit. May be, mountaineering has this strange pull that makes you reach for higher summits again and again.
Romancing the peaks
As the journey romancing the peaks started, I backed out from getting married. You could even say that I just forgot to get married, because my romance was only for the mountains. It is a mission that never guarantees a return. But my family has never opposed any of my wishes so far. Of course, scaling Mount Everest was the greatest dream for me too, like all other mountaineers, at one point in life. However, that dream is put on hold for the time being. There are two reasons – the first one is, of course, financial. Scaling the Mount Everest costs around Rs 25 lakhs, at least. Another reason, I want to scale all other peaks in India, before Everest. And I'm sure that I can do that, armed with my confidence and determination."