act of kindness, bravery, frozen himalayas, ladakh, leh, mountains, rescue, stok kangri, synapse adventures, trek
N along with a few of our very close friends had gone to trek Stok Kangri, a pretty difficult trek at 6153m (20187 ft). They did great but also encountered an incident which we all felt must be shared. So here is Vandana (one of the members of the group) sharing it with you. Might be a little long read but take my words for it, every minute worth it.
Over to her
PATHAR NAHIN, AADMI HAI
We set out at midnight for the final ascent to the summit of Stok Kangri. At around 6:30 AM, our expedition group was 100-150 meters short of the shoulder of Stok, when we heard “Stones, rockfall, sit down now with your hands over your head!” A few seconds later, our lead guide Takpa Norboo called out to his fellow-guide Suraj in Hindi, “Pathar nahin, aadmi hai, Suraj”. (It is not a stone, it is a person, Suraj)
We glanced up from our climb, and saw an image of something (was it a bag or a body?) being hurled off a stony outcrop 50 meters above us. It was a body alright, and it bounced off the snow, another rocky outcrop and back to the snow along a path about 30 meters or so, to our left. The head was unprotected, limbs loose and the face bloodied – the person was probably unconscious or worse. At this point, the four of us from our expedition group huddled around, clinging to our ice axes. We cast furtive glances to the left, almost dreading what we were about to see. Before we could fully grasp the situation, our lead guide, Takpa Norboo dropped his bag, swiftly headed to take position and intercept the ‘rolling body’ in a way that a field goal keeper would.
Takpa is a mountain Sherpa- all muscle and small framed. The person he was trying to save was much bigger than him and appeared to be falling very rapidly. We were on the last leg of our climb on a mountain face that had a 800-1000 meter drop into the glacier.
The body hurtled down with a momentum that seemed to take Takpa down with it. But Takpa was ready. He threw himself in the path of the speeding body, grabbed it with his right hand as it went past him. He spun around to the right, slammed his ice axe into the ground and now both began to slide. Simultaneously, Suraj (our second guide) slammed into the legs of the body and his ice axe into the snow, bringing both Takpa and the body to a grinding halt.
All this – in a matter of seconds. We all tried to gather ourselves; by this time all our guides (Takpa, Suraj, Gulzar and Lotus) checked on us and rushed to the scene to help the person. They provided oxygen immediately, laid out the ropes to create a make-shift stretcher, and emptied their bags to create the support for the stretcher- all resources that were being carried for our group’s expedition. Takpa advised our expedition group to turn around and commence descent. The injured person needed the guides more than us. Oxygen levels of the injured person were dropping to 36; we were out of oxygen cylinders for our own group in any case.
The presence of mind of our guides at this stage was commendable. They had figured out that the choppers might not make it to that altitude. They decided to take him down to a lower altitude. This was a mammoth effort at those heights, with the lack of proper stretchers and equipment. It required the help of at least six people to bring him down.
The rest of the story is resonating in the media. The IAF choppers did a daring act of rescue, placed their own lives at risk at that altitude, to get the injured person into the chopper.
We were shaken by the whole episode but even more overwhelmed by the multiple, random and selfless acts of kindness on the mountains to save a stranger’s life. What would have happened had Takpa not got across so quickly and positioned himself in the path of the speeding body? What would have happened if Suraj did not provide reinforcements? What would have happened if Gulzar had not provided the critical medical support, stabilization and oxygen? What would happen if our guides thought only of the interests of our expedition group? How do people put their own lives at risk to save a stranger?
This story is dedicated to the unsung heroes of the harsh, unforgiving mountains, like Takpa Norboo- how many more such stories exist and never get told or heard? Only those that have been on foot at 20,000 feet on a 30-degree plus, slippery and icy snow face can fathom how hard it is and the calibre of men who did what they did.
This story also reminds us of the need to take the mountains and harsh terrains with utmost seriousness. This is not a walk in the park. We need to be prepared physically and mentally, need the right equipment and the right guidance, expertise and processes.
Most of all, this incident reinforces the belief in humankind – all is not lost and superheroes do exist in real life. Takpa Norboo – we salute you.
(This article recounts the events as witnessed by the author. It may not be published, edited or rewritten without the express written consent of the author)
Edited to add : Some press links covering the accident where only IAF has been mentioned