15th August, 2018. We were at the base camp of Parang La pass and I was quite restless inside my tent. It was already midnight and we were supposed to wake up at 2:30 am to cross the pass. We were at the altitude of 16,900 feet and I was feeling breathless inside my tent. The thought of catching HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (Cerebral Edema) was making me uneasy and I did not want to sleep alone in my tent. I was the only girl in that batch so did not had much option, moreover, everyone was evenly distributed in the group of two except the Thailand guy who opted for single tent on special demand. I could hear him twisting and turning inside his tent, coughing, he was not keeping up well with the altitude.
We started from Manali to Kaza on 11th August, 2018 to embark on our journey to Parang La trek. Parang La is one of the most challenging and less visited treks in India. The sheer remote location and the tough survival conditions pose serious life challenging threats in this trek. You have to walk in total of 130 kms in 8 days, in Trans Himalayas region with cold winter winds fluttering your nostrils and yet walking under screeching hot Sun with literally zero plantations. Any sight of water trickling down the rocks would be a delight.
12th and 13th August was spent doing acclimatization walks and on 14th we left for Parang La. Initially it was a little steep but oxygen level was just 12% at this altitude which is generally 21% at sea level. We knew the worst is yet to come.
The fourth day i.e. 15th August was the toughest in this trek. We had to climb down some 2000 feet to the river bed and then climb up 3000 feet and it was sheer straight climb under hot Sun. Slowly and steadily we made it to our base camp of Parang La but we had gained the altitude quite abruptly and that means our body has to work extra hard to acclimatize. Well, that’s the terrain of Parang La, no other way around!
We were at the altitude of 16,900 feet where oxygen level dips to 10.5 %, that means 50% less than that at sea level. No wonder I was all baffled with thoughts of mountain sickness.
Nights are the toughest part in trekking, because you are all alone in tent and keep on wondering, observing your breath. My chest was feeling heavy and I felt little difficulty in breathing. I was not sure if it was just because I was thinking too much or was it actually happening. I tried distracting my mind. I could hear constant coughing from the other tent. Soon, the Thailand guy was given some medication and thereafter we all went to sleep.
I buzzed off my alarm at 2:30 am. I had to take a leak but the wind was nearly freezing outside. I mustered all my guts and quickly did my morning chores. It was no way possible to wash my face today! I just did brush and came back and zipped up my tent. I started packing my sleeping bag since that requires energy and in return generate body heat. I could not hear anyone up until yet except him. We both were sitting in our respective tents, alone, packing our stuff and silently boosting each other’s morale. I knew at least I am not alone! Rest of the guys were enjoying a little extra nap time. It started tipper tapering on my tent; rain was the last thing I wanted today. We all were counting on good weather and fortune for crossing the pass.
Soon I heard the footsteps of our trek leader and assistant trek leader. They had come to check the oxygen level of the guy. Everything went quite for a while and then I heard low whispers in the eerie morning darkness. The Thailand guy had to go back. His oxygen level was way beyond the normal level and heading further to higher altitude would affect adversely. I heard it all, all the conversation and communication and for a moment I was still. He was fittest of us all. He was the one who did not complain about the sheer steep climb even once. And if he could not acclimatize, what are the chances that we could! But then, acclimatization and fitness are two different things and are not inter dependant.
The news did break me down a little because of the bond we all 7 people had formed in past few days, I felt emotionally broke at Parang La since somewhere deep inside I was, we all were, looking up to him for that energy booster while climbing. It was a small group and the best one till date. Right from the first date, the feel of the whole group was very friendly and understanding. Nobody could tell that we all had met just 3 days before. I knew the news will come equally shocking to everyone.
I went out, everyone was up by now. We were about to have our breakfast when he came and told everyone that he is going back. Everyone went quite for a while, because no one expected him to be the one not getting acclimatized. We had people in our batch that were slower, much unfit than him but he was the one whose body could not acclimatize. It was almost 5:00 am now and we were late. Sun was about to come up and that would pose danger at pass. No one wanted to have breakfast but we needed energy so I buckled up my guts and tried to motivate others. Sending the strongest, fittest person back, broke down everyone’s confidence. Suddenly everyone doubted their capabilities of making it to the pass. After all, 18,300 feet is not a joke! But we had to go forward; there was no giving up at this point.
He was sent back to Kaza along with Assistant trek leader and one member from the staff and one pony to carry the bag. We went short on the staff but together we could manage the coming days. From then onwards, everyone got even more conscious about acclimatization and made it a point to keep sipping water, small sips at a time because we had literally no refill points on the way. Everyone use to carry Just 2 litres of water everyday until next camp site.
We all stayed strong, most importantly, we all walked together that kept everyone’s moral boosted and we made it to the pass. The comings days were rather easy when we were descending down to Ladakh valley but almost every evening, when everyone would gather up for rounds of cards and laughter, we would miss him. Any sort of communication was possible only after reaching Ladakh. Sending the strongest person did broke me down that time but taught me a lesson; nothing is stronger than your mind. You got to believe in yourself, keep your calm and act wisely.
Read the detailed itinerary of trek and my personal experience here.