Himalaya First Ascent – SUTD Mountaineering // Northern India
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
This quote by Lao Tzu truly epitomises the SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) Mountaineering team’s milestones, spanning months of preparation and training with the help of Edwin from Incredible Journeys, till this final journey – a first ascent of an unclimbed, and unnamed peak (6,056m) in Western Himalaya which will be named Mount SUTD.
It was a humbling month long adventure with the team, documenting their every step, and witnessing their tenacity in pursuit take flight. The feeling of being there, and standing atop the summit was simply exhilarating. But what matters most was that every one sticked it out, laughed about the suffery stuffs, and learnt more about themselves. Its really true when they say that mountains are the best teacher. Its the very experience and hardship that stretches us, and nothing can be more valuable than these life’s lessons.
The team headed out strong from New Delhi, en route to Basecamp (4400m).
To prevent us from AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness), we had to climb high, and sleep low. The main bulk of the expedition saw us through multiple round trips between higher and lower camps, ferrying loads to higher camps, and returning to lower camps to rest. This ‘climb high, sleep low’ strategy has helped us to acclimatize well, and prevented any onset of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness). The effects of altitude and the thinning air became more pronounced as we went higher; every step became heavier, and every breath we took didn’t seem enough. En route to Advance Base Camp (5006m), the terrain became rockier, and the climate harsher. No wildlife in sight, only the occasional choughs that hover high up in the thin air.
A puja was carried out to pay respect to the mountain gods, for a safe passage through the mountain. Safe journey onward.
A vast expanse of ice field greeted us as we did our acclimatisation trek from Camp 1 (5256m) to Summit Camp (5490m). Shortly after, snow fell and clouded our visibility. The team had to rope up to one another, travel in a single straight file, and plant markers along the way to ensure a visible and safe course for the return leg. We threaded meticulously through the ice field to avoid any potential crevasses lurking inconspicuously along the route.
The rock-laden campsite we were on transformed into a sea of white, overnight. This dramatic change in landscape due to snowfall might be pleasing to the eyes, but spells disaster if it lingers on. The bad weather window came in earlier than forecasted, casting doubts on our planned summit push day.
Our objective stood in full view as the cloud unshrouded the shy giant beneath its thick blanket. The tallest, and grandest, within sight. Summit Camp (5490m), 500m vertically shy from our objective, will be our set off point for the summit push, weather permitting.
The team set off at 0230hrs for the summit push. As it was snowing, the loose rocks plying the ridges were slick, and we had to move carefully and make every step in the darkness count. Our headlamp was the only light source guiding us. As dawn brought life back to the mountain range, we could finally see the fatigue faces of our team mates. Despite the lingering cold and fatigue, the team pressed on. After an arduous 10-hour summit push, the team finally stood tall on the highest point of Mt. SUTD (6056m). The weather turned bad as we made our way back. Heavy snowfall plagued the route back, and we could hear the constant buzzing noise from our helmet. The noise is caused by static in the air which meant we were at risk of being struck by lightning. Luckily, the entire team was unscathed, and reached summit camp after 5 hours of rapid descent. The summit push marked a historical feat, a momentous milestone never before achieved by an institution in Singapore.