Monday, June 23, 2008

HMI - Part II

After our week and a half of physical training and lectures in Darjeeling, we commenced our trek up to HMI Base Camp. A quick bus ride later put us at the start of the trek, in Yuksom, West Sikkim, India. (Yuksom is an ex-capital of Sikkim, with a coronation seat, and was the meeting place of the lamas.) From Yuksom, at about 6,000 feet, we made our way up through Bakhim ("House of Bamboo"), through tiny Dzongri, over Dzongri Pass, and finally arrived at the Base Camp, at 16,400 ft. With rest days and acclimatization hikes each afternoon, the trip took 4 days.

(Shot while taking a break on the trail -- the yaks were carrying lots of food and cooking equipment that we'd use at Base Camp. Shot just above Bakhim, around 11,000 ft.)

Let's play word association. I say "this bridge"... you say.... "safe?"

HMI Base Camp (To see in Google Earth click here) is officially called "Chowri Khang" which means "Grazing place of the Yaks," due to the bit of flat land magically plopped among towering peaks. The flat spot is, of course, not wasted when yaks aren't around, as the worlds highest cricket pitch, as well as a usually-unaccessible helicopter landing pad. At camp there are a number of stone, fiberglass, wood, and tin roof buildings: one hut each for men and women, a few huts for instructors & caretakers, a kitchen hut, and a mess hall hut.

(HMI Base Camp from above. Since our course was so overpopulated, we used extra tents (row of white) in addition to cramming in the huts. The tents sometimes prevented runaway soccer and cricket balls from bouncing down the ravines -- but not usually.)

Here's a (whiplashing) panorama movie shot at base camp:

And two shots, one looking up at the Kabru peaks, the other looking down the valley towards Dzongri Pass.

Almost every day we made a 2-3 hour trek (each direction) towards the north west to reach the Rathong Glacier. Here we learned and practiced sequence climbing on ice, pick and toe (and other methods of) ice climbing, crevasse rescue, rappelling, and self arrest. After a few hours on the glacier we'd get some tea and then hike home, reaching Base Camp in the mid-afternoon for lunch. Afternoons were spent resting, attending lectures, and lots and lots of singing (Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, etc.).

Treking up to the glacier - one one of the very few good weather days. Our random pet street dog came with us to the glacier sometimes (he never had his crampons or ice axe, though!).

My friend Ashish on the glacier.

(Lecture on ice and snow anchoring techniques. Coldest lecture of my life. And in Hindi.)

Random glacier activities.

My team practicing making an improvised stretcher. From top, clockwise: Instructor Juna Sir, Ajeet, Saikat Banerjee, Holden Bonwit, Tumpa Roy (in stretcher), Hiten, Ashish Palande.

Up at base camp we had almost the same diet as in Darjeeling, with the following exceptions: no leavened bread (chapatis for breakfast), no eggs, and rare servings of meat (mutton) and soya for the vegetarians. There were a few occasions when we got halva parantha, kheer, or some canned pineapple dessert.
(Typical lunch or dinner at base camp: water, dal, rice, & potato subsy (also had chapatis every meal, I think those were in my pocket at the time of the photo -- I promise, I can explain).)

One of our pieces of equipment (an ascender / Jumar), proudly proclaiming its historical origin: "Made in USSR"!

Going for the summit: as we headed out from Base Camp for the summit of BC Roy peak, I got an education in Indian Mountaineering trail food. The top two items (chocolate & energy bar) in the picture I happened to bring personally, but the others (all candies + biscuits) were meant to sustain us for the 8 hour summit / trek & (I assume) save us in the case of emergency. Sugar, anyone?

More about the summit attempt of BC Roy peak, places not to fall down, and the final installment in the HMI series in the next post!


  1. You know -- Kodai is a mountain dog too (from Kodaikanal)

    Keep taking pictures of dogs!

  2. Holden,

    Have I ever mentioned that you are one of the coolest people in the world. This adventure absolutely blows my mind. I don't know how to even begin to state my amazement. I think that I would need to talk to you for a week straight just to begin to unravel the stories.

    Amazing documentation as well. Keep trucking...


  3. Hey thats Boop Sing giving you your coldass lecture! He was my rope leader. I'm just laughing reading over this stuff...


  4. hi hbonwit

    am doing this course this march..
    And I wanna know one thing.. how much importance is given to ht to weight ratio ? I have trekked regularly in Himalayas.. but the deviation of ht to weight is more than 15% for me.. they have accepted my forms..But just wanna know about tht..

  5. Vivek, I don't remember them discussing Height to Weight ratio ever. I believe that your ability ot learn mountaineering skills (rope skills, first aid, climbing technique), as well as physical ability (in shape, ability to deal with altitude gain) are much more important than any specific number (though of course with a low height to weight you may struggle with the above).

    Best wishes for safety on the course!

  6. Holden

    Thanks for your suggestion..I know I can manage it but wanna know how HMI takes it as it was mentioned in the medical certificate.. And are you fully occupied with training every day ? Or you got your own time in the evening?

  7. Vivek, I wouldn't want to ruin the mystery. Bring a notebook, and if you like, one book. Something on survival/knots/altitude/weather/safety might be appropriate.

  8. Hi Holden,

    nice post you have written.. thanks for all the information!

    i want to know about the physical fitness test they conduct at the beginning - hiking 25kms with 15ks backpack.. whats the time limit for that?
    it will really help me in my preparation.


  9. Swaroop, I don't know about the time limit, best of luck finding the requirements.

  10. hello holden,can you guide me, i m going to hmi darjeeling this week can you tell me are they very strict regarding training.
    do they provide any snack during were the room of hmi.
    you have writtern nice blog.

  11. @Anonymous - I can't guide you much -- the journey is yours to take!

    I think that you should keep in mind that some students do drop the class, either by their request, or by the instructors. That said, if you are in good shape, and can handle exposure to medium/high altitude, you should be fine. Bring an excellent personal attitude, and if you like some small snacks, bring them (you probably won't want to carry them up to base camp, though, so enjoy them during training).

    The room/accomodations were spartan, but comfortable. They were communal by gender (ie. you will be in a room of 4-40 people).

    Best of luck!


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