Our trekking experience was built like the plotline of a classic narrative. The trek started off with the introduction of the Himalayan back country and the 14 main characters: 12 Pitt Students and two outdoor instructors, Gauruv and Vipul.
The first few days of the trek were the rising action as we trekked through the small village of Bitri, stayed overnight in a field outside the village after a villager offered to let us camp on their land, and then we continued on with the trek where we entered into a forest which offered us a change of scenery. Upon entering the forest, we camped in a wide grassland where hoards of sheep interrupted our cooking and slumber with some students even trying their hand at sheepherding. Here, we spent one rest day which consisted of a 3 hour of individual reflection followed by group feedback sessions and private individual check-ins with our instructors. We had been working in groups of three to set up camp and cook for the past 72 hours and this provided an opportunity for us to reflect on what had been working for us as a team and what changes we would like to see in the future to make us more efficient. My team (the Medusa tent) quickly found a process that worked for us. When arriving to camp, one person set up our tent, one person was Master Chef, and one person was the chef’s assistant. The person who set up the tent would then clean. When leaving camp, a similar process was implemented with two people preparing breakfast as one person took the duty of deflating everyone’s air mattress, packed the sleeping bags, and begun to take everything out of the tent. Some room was left for improvisation depending on the situation but overall, this was the system that we stuck to that ensured our team would always be ready on time.
As we packed up to leave the grassland where we had set up camp for the past 48 hours, we began our march into the climax. We spent a day climbing to about 11,000 feet through the forest but by early afternoon we saw storm clouds appear above us. What had begun as a small trickle turned into a downpour and we had to quickly seek shelter under the tarp we had packed. We stayed under the tarp for about 15-20 minutes before our instructors told us that the best decision for us right now would be to continue hiking until we found a place to set up camp. A short distance away, we found a place to set up camp, however, there was not a water source nearby. As a few of us set up our tents, others volunteered to fetch water from a small pond a walk away. I’m not sure what happened while they were away, but they came back very muddy so I’m grateful for all they went through to get us water. Unfortunately, we had to face the reality that there was still not enough water to last us through the night and into the morning, so we had to melt snow to fill everyone’s bottles with drinking water. While this was a stressful experience but the sun eventually came out and this became one of my favorite moments on the trek. When the clouds rolled away, one of the most breathtaking views we had seen on the whole trek appeared in the horizon. We all took our time taking pictures with the background and cooked a dinner that required minimal water.
The adversity was not over after the day of downpour. Being a designated leader on this day, I was briefed by Gauruv about the hike that was to come on the next day. We were planning on trekking about 5 kilometers through the snow and we had to push the pace if we wanted to reach a campsite with water. To make time for the snow on the mountains to melt a little bit, we had an easier start this morning, but we quickly had to focus as many of us hiked through snow for the first time on the side of ice capped mountains. While this was the most challenging day both mentally and physically, this was one of the most satisfying as well. Being in unfamiliar territory is what I came to the Himalayas for and I feel this was the experience that gave me what I was looking for. When I looked down and saw that steep drop that lied to the left of me as I was trekking, I got scared about all that could go wrong, however, I knew that we had to keep going so we could find get out of the snow and find a water source. In moments like this, our group showed how we can come together in serious situations and push away previous fears, concerns, and anxieties in the interest of achieving a shared common goal. I’m not sure what happened, but the campsite that Gauruv had in mind we were not able to find (?) and the afternoon storm clouds rolled in again, so we had to work to find a campsite asap. We scouted our options and had to come to the decision of hiking four more kilometers to find a campsite with a water source or camping in the snow where we would have to melt snow again. While tired and exhausted, we decided to continue hiking to get out of the snow. Serendipitously, we stumbled upon a small flat ground with a flowing waterfall nearby about a kilometer away, so we were able to cut the anticipated four kilometers short. Just like the previous day, in the face of adversity, we were rewarded with a view that was even more breathtaking than the last.
In the days following, we entered into the falling action that was not without its highlights and low points but the hardest part was definitively over. We had one more rest day where we basically spent the day eating and then we began our descent downwards. Without the pressure of trekking fast in order to find a water source, we leisurely hiked down and were able to admire the views that were before us. After communicating with local villagers, we were able to set up our second to last camp in a field not too far away from two villages. We had a third rest day which became one my favorite days on the trek. To reward us for all our hard work, Gauruv and Vipul arranged to cook us lamb as one of our last meals in the back country. I had eaten lamb before, but I had never been involved in any animal’s execution and I can’t say that I checked that off during the trek. While some students stayed to be involved in the skinning and cleaning process, I hiked down to the village to buy the ingredients that were needed to make the lamb curry. The next day, we hiked through another small village where we were greeted by a crowd of curious and excited school children. Drums could be heard in the distance and Gauruv informed us that the village was celebrating an annual ceremony in which the villagers invoked the spirits of their ancestors through dance and then followed the ritual with food offerings. Permission was allowed for us to watch 20-30 minutes of the ritual which was an extremely unique experience. After a brief break from hiking in the village, we had to continue our descent to our last campsite. It started hailing and pouring rain, but it did not take away from the beauty of our last site which lied at the intersection of the Rupin and the Supin rivers. It did not stop raining all night which made the end of our trek a damp, anti-climactic one, but by the end, I was so ready to feel clean again that I didn’t care.
The resolution of the trek is still being written as I continue to reflect on the experiences I gained and how I developed as a person post 10 days in the Himalayan backcountry. More to come later!
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