Our journey was not only a test of physical endurance but also a testament to the spirit of exploration and adventure that drives us to push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of mountaineering.
In the wee hours of September 19, our seven-member group comprising Kaiser Jameel, Latief Hussain, Gulzar Ahmad, Muzammil Ashraf, Masrat Iqbal, Umar Shafi Khan and myself embarked on an epic journey to conquer the majestic Mount Tatakooti, which stands tall at an impressive elevation of 4760 meters above sea level. This towering peak, highest among the entire Pir Panjal range of mountains, looms proudly in the horizon beckoning adventurers with its challenging terrain and breathtaking vistas.
Our adventure began from the picturesque village of Dodepather, where we joined forces with two seasoned pony-wallahs who would assist us on this arduous trek. With our backpacks ready and spirits high, we set off.
The initial leg of our journey led us through awe-inspiring landscapes as we trekked to northern slopes of Diskal meadow, followed by the enchanting Ashthar valley, and finally the plains of Domail, which served as our base camp. The anticipation of what lay ahead was palpable as we spent the evening strategizing and mentally preparing for the climb.
Most of us couldn’t sleep in anticipation of the excitement of what we were about to accomplish. The following morning, on September 20, our alarms sounded at 3:30am. After having hot cups of tea, quickly packing some essentials in our small backpacks and leaving the heavier stuff back in the hut, we ventured into the darkness, equipped with headlamps and determination. What set our ascent apart was the daring decision to avoid using ropes as much as we could while climbing. With only the natural contours of the mountain and our sheer willpower to guide us, we took the challenge head-on.
The ascent was far from easy, as we encountered rocky, slippery and scree-filled terrain that tested our resolve. At times, we had to rely solely on bare hands to scale daunting rock walls that seemed insurmountable. The absence of equipment like crampons, ice axes made the climb all the more challenging, demanding unwavering focus and precision with each handhold and foothold.
The mountain presented a formidable challenge, with its rugged topography, treacherous gullies and numerous cliffs that posed a constant threat of deadly rock-falls. Negotiating ridges with nothing but our bare hands was an exhilarating yet nerve-wracking experience. The sheer adrenaline rush of clinging to the rock walls, inching our way upwards, was a testament to our determination and trust in each other’s abilities.
Undeterred, we pressed on, crossing several ridges and ascending steep rock walls that seemed to have hardly any holds. The struggle was real, but our shared goal kept us moving forward. Finally, at 10:20 am, after hours of relentless effort, we stood triumphantly atop Mount Tatakooti, gazing out at the world below from the lofty summit.
Our celebration was brief for ominous cloud formations in the west urged us to begin our descent. We opted for a route via a gully to the southeast of the peak, which carried the risk of rock-falls but offered a path, with relatively better foot hold, down to our next destination – the expansive glacier, Sheen Khazan, the origin of the Doodh Ganga river.
The descent was fraught with unforeseen challenges. At certain points, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, but the skill and teamwork of our group members proved invaluable in navigating these precarious situations. As we descended to the north-western edges of the glacier, some of the group members considered descending via the snout of the glacier, only to abandon the plan upon witnessing rocks and boulders perilously tumbling off the cliff.
Undeterred once again, we adjusted our course, heading northward, passing a couple of steep shoulders and, ultimately, zeroing in on a relatively less dangerous gully for further descent. However, nature had one more test in store for us as it started pouring down, making the terrain even more slippery and testing.
Despite the adverse conditions and the unprecedented challenge of climbing with bare hands and using no ropes, we persevered and managed to reach our base camp at around quarter to four. Exhausted but filled with a profound sense of accomplishment, we were greeted by a welcome sight: hot cups of tea prepared in advance by our pony-wallahs.
After rejuvenating ourselves with tea, we packed our rucksacks and loaded them onto the ponies. As the day turned into night, we embarked on the journey back to Dodepather. The darkness added an additional layer of challenge to our return, but we relied on our headlamps and the experience gained during the ascent.
It was an arduous journey back, and it grew dark as we trekked through the wilderness. However, our determination saw us through, and we managed to reach Dodepather in pitch-dark conditions at around 9:00 pm.
This expedition marked a significant milestone, for it was perhaps the first time that any group had climbed Tatakooti from its north-western ridges and descended from the south-eastern gully, nearly traversing the Sheen Khazan glacier. Our journey was not only a test of physical endurance but also a testament to the spirit of exploration and adventure that drives us to push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of mountaineering.
Shahnawaz Khanday is assistant professor with J&K’s Department of Higher Education and an avid trekker who loves to read and travel.