Those were the days of makeshift camping equipment - backpacks that were always hopelessly out of balance, cutting constantly into shoulders and straining backs; sleeping bags that provided little warmth and soaked up moisture like sponges, and World War II surplus pup tent halves that weighed a ton and leaked like a sieve if you touched them anywhere. Of course, at the time, Jack and Norm and Hugh and I thought we were marvelously equipped and provisioned. In the manner of all high altitude Himalayan expeditions, we had even hired a porter to help carry our supplies to our base camp at Dhalsari.
Everything went well at first. We camped in the pine forest below Mugru the first night and reached Dhalsari late Saturday afternoon where we paid off our porter, pitched our tent and went to bed dreaming of the glorious triumph that was to be ours the next day.
The first hint of trouble greeted us when we arose in the morning. None of us had realized that from Dhalsari, on the flank of the Nag Tiba range, we couldn't tell which mountain we were supposed to climb. An argument ensued. Hugh and I wanted to go right, across the stream and then up the hill opposite our campsite to a spot from which we could get a better view. Norm and Jack wanted to loop more to the left towards the nearest village before heading up.
We finally agreed to split up and meet on top of the ridge that rose up behind the village. That was the last that Hugh and I saw that day of Norm and Jack and our lunch and all our drinking water! We arrived at the appointed meeting place. There was no sign of the other two. After waiting a while we began to think that they must have come out at a point higher up the hill and so had missed us. We climbed higher and then higher still.
After a couple of hours we were sure of two things - we weren't going to find Norm and Jack and we were on the wrong mountain. We were also getting hungrier and thirstier by the minute. I can no longer remember if we reached the top of our hill. I do remember clearly practically running down the hill, back to our tent where we fell thirstily on the only drinkable fluid we had - several tins of evaporated milk that we were saving as a treat to celebrate our conquest of Nag Tiba.
Hugh and I had just drunk the last can when Norm and Jack returned and we finally found out what had happened to them. They had met a villager who had told them the way up Nag Tiba. Assuming, foolishly, that Hugh and I would be smart enough to ask someone too, they had continued on their way through the ever thickening mist all the way to the top. At this point the clouds had lifted just long enough for them to see a higher peak nearby.
They too had climbed the wrong mountain! This mistake was some consolation to Hugh and I but not enough to mollify our righteous indignation over having had our lunch and water absconded with. Norm and Jack were not only unwilling to admit their sins but actually had the temerity to be upset themselves because Hugh and I had drunk all the evaporated milk!
By the next morning we were all friends again but the weather was deteriorating. We made our way down to the Uglar and back up to the pine forest in an increasing drizzle. Unable to get a fire going we pitched our tent and went to bed hungry. There were four of us in a pup tent meant for two. Even though we were all 12 or 13 years old we had to sleep crossways to fit inside the tent which left our feet sticking out the side.
At four in the morning we awoke with the certain knowledge that something was very wrong. It had begun to rain very hard during the night and the water, pouring directly off of the pup tent, had soaked through our sleeping bags and onto our now frozen feet.
There was nothing for it but to get up, pack up as best we could, and set out in the rain and dark. Dawn found us back on Tehri Road just past Seakoli. We stopped to share a small can of cheese, the only food we had that didn't need to be cooked. We had been carefully hoarding it for just this moment. We had not eaten since early the previous day so we opened the can carefully with cold, trembling hands and cut the contents into four sections. Jack's hands were so numb he dropped his piece in the mud. He begged us to let him have some of ours. We refused and told him to wash the mud off of his piece, a suggestion that he seemed to find quite unacceptable. The cheese tasted wonderful but the memory is clouded by the look of reproach on Jack's face.
Ironically, the last time I talked to Jack he had forgotten all about the cheese. Perhaps there is some justice in life! [From Gil]
To be continued.