MOUNT KOLAHOI – THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT

Peak of Mount Kolahoi
Peak of Mount Kolahoi

BY JUNAID BEIGH – An Alpinist

Mount Kolahoi – locally Gashi Bior “the Mountain of Light” – is also known as the Matterhorn of Kashmir. Its glacial waters are the source of Lidder river and its tributaries. Mount Kolahoi is surrounded by massive glaciers, wide and deep crevasses, bergshrunds and huge ice-falls besides other natural features making it technically challengeable summit. With enough technical knowledge about the mountaineering, one should also be mentally and physically very strong in handling critical situations.

Being the highest peak in the Valley of Kashmir, Mount Kolahoi is situated in south of Kashmir valley 5425 meters above the sea level. In September 2015, a team of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JKMHC) in collaboration with Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) undertook a climbing expedition to Mt. Kolahoi. The event was sponsored by J&K Tourism, Kashmir. Being part of the team, our expedition started with a joint briefing session with Mr. Mahmood Ahmad Shah who is the President of JKMHC and Mr. Sorab Gandhi, expedition leader and the team members of JKMHC and IMF in which various technical guidelines and issues were discussed.

When one looks at the history of climbing in Kashmir, it is more than 150 years old……… On Friday, 28th June 1912, Professor Kenneth Mason and Dr. Ernest Neve successfully climbed Mount Kolahoi for the first time from the Eastern Coulior Route, which was later renamed as Neve/Mason Coulior in the whole climbing world. They were a part of the British medical mission in Kashmir at that time. They also climbed many other peaks in the vicinity and other parts of the Valley.

Mount Kolahoi has always been an attractive climbing destination for the entire mountaineering world. In 1935 Sir Lord John Hunt summited Kolahoi from the newly explored South Face route.

Being an enthusiast of trekking and mountaineering I got an opportunity to explore my potential in 2005. It was my passion and love for the nature which compelled me to come into the world of adventure and to see Mother Nature very closely and to understand her very well. In 2005 I got myself registered with Jammu and Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JKMHC) – one of the country’s oldest Mountaineering Club. After my involvement in the adventure world I started my small journeys into the mountains and also started trekking as well. With every single trek Mother Nature taught me new lessons to understand the nature and thus the real meaning of life.  Years of experience in the mountains has taught me “IF WE RESPECT THE MOUNTAINS THEY WILL RESPECT US”.

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Reading about Mount Kolahoi through stories and incidents from different sources fascinated me. All of them made me think of this peak. To go a little higher to see the nature’s different face, I should now go and explore it

Mr. Naseer Ahmad Mir is one of the pioneers of the Valley in the field of climbing. He has climbed several peaks in the Himalayan region including climbing Mount Kolahoi 5 times from different routes. In 2010 I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Naseer Ahmad Mir and share his climbing experiences with me. He has been a great teacher and inspiration for me. I always used to seek his expert guidance and suggestions when I expressed my desire to climb Kolahoi Peak. He simply advised that to become a mountaineer and to deal with the hazards of mountaineering one needs to learn the climbing skills and one needs to go through some professional climbing trainings as well so that one is able to understand it. It took me almost two years to learn and complete all my climbing trainings and finally qualified in Advanced Mountaineering Course, which made me more confident and firm about my goals.

In 2014, JKMHC decided to go for an expedition to Mount Kolahoi after three decades and this expedition was going to be very special because after a long time JKMHC, once again, was organizing a remarkable and challenging expedition to this mountain. Few members of the Club had already climbed the Kolahoi Peak several times in 70s and 80s and also many other peaks of the Valley, but after 90s the turmoil period in Kashmir gave a huge setback to trekking and mountaineering activities and it affected the adventure tourism as well. Now once again we were able to rewrite the history, but nobody knew what was going to happen ahead as there was a devastating flood that hit the beautiful valley of Kashmir almost after 100 years. As a consequence JKMHC decided to cancel the expedition. However, we were still full of enthusiasm and craving to climb this peak, if not in 2014 then let it be 2015.

In early 2015, dates for expeditions were announced and September 2015 was for the big event, a climb to Mount Kolahoi. So I started the physical training earliest possible because to climb any mountain peak it is necessary to be physically and psychologically very fit in order to achieve our goal and we have to be strong enough to handle the situation very well without any problems or injuries and to be careful of some objective hazards of mountains. But still a climber cannot do much other than praying that everything goes well. And yes on the mountains there are rules which we can never change but only accept and we can never win the battle with nature. There is a history of many unsuccessful climbing expeditions where the teams had to return just a few feet from the summit and we have to live to accept that form of nature. There is a famous quote by legendary climber Ed Veisturs “GETTING TO THE TOP IS OPTIONAL GETTING DOWN IS MANDATORY”. Mountain will remain there always. There is always a next time for the climb. Thus demands going through a very hard practice of training so that we are able to avoid any injuries and to keep ourselves focused to the climb.

This expedition was indeed very special for us as it was to be a joint expedition with IMF. They had selected their climbers from different states of India and we were all satisfied by the selection as climbing is all about a great team work and team work always pays.

Now we were all waiting for the final date of an expedition and favorable weather window. Meanwhile our Club team started to make the final preparations because missing out small things could make enormous difference between life and death there on the mountains. On 4th September, 2015 IMF team reached Srinagar and we made the final arrangements.

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Junaid Beigh poses for a photograph on his way along with a group to Mount Kolahoi

Day One – 7th September, 2015

It was Monday morning. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir flagged off the 14 member Summit team by bus. The team left for Aru, 13 km from famous tourist destination of Pahalgam. By 2:30 in the afternoon we were in Aru. At an altitude of 2400 meters we met Mr. Ibrahim Raina facilitating the logistics and catering for the expedition. Aru is one of the most beautiful tourist resorts of Kashmir valley. Here we had the lunch, pitched our tents and made our camp for the first night.

Day Two – 8th September, 2015

Next morning around 9 am all the 14 climbers started their journey towards Lidderwatt, almost 12 km from Aru. By 12:30pm we reached Lidderwatt which is a lush green meadow and considered to be the Base Camp for various other treks in the vicinity. After lunch here we resumed our journey towards our Intermediate Base Camp (IBC) which was to be set up at Satlanjan at an altitude of 3435 meters above Sea Level. As we reached there by 2:45 pm the weather changed abruptly and it started raining. As prepared for such situations, we decided to stay here the night in one of the nomad huts which are rendered vacant. It is usual to see them vacant after September as all the nomads start retreating to their winter destination outside Kashmir Valley. It was totally a different experience for everybody to stay in these nomad huts.

Day Three – 9th September, 2015

Wednesday was an important day for all of us as we had to establish our Base Camp. After the breakfast we left from Satlanjan towards the Base Camp. As the day was clear sunny day, weather was favorable. After crossing few of the streams we just looked up to the North. Thus was our first glimpse of Mount Kolahoi!

It was really fantastic, mighty and breathtaking. Every eye was staring on the mountain. Our goal appeared to be very closer and we decided to have lunch here in front of this mountain. By 2:30pm we reached our Base Camp at 3725 meters above Sea Level. Nearby was the beautiful high altitude lake named DOODHSAR. We established our base camp and pitched our tents. After checking our equipment we sorted them in a proper order. Now, our real adventure began.

We had almost reached half way to our goal and there was little more hard work left to achieve our ultimate Goal. After relaxing for a while we were briefed about the further plans by our expedition leader Mr. Sorab Gandhi. It was decided to go for an acclimatization process the next day up to the Camp 1 and return back to the Base Camp in order to get our bodies well adapted at the altitude and avoid any kind of high altitude illnesses. As we had to climb the peak from the South face which was first climbed by Sir Lord John Hunt in 1935, we were also to do a recee of South Face of Kolahoi.

Group photograph of the trekkers to Mount Kolahoi
Group photograph of the trekkers to Mount Kolahoi

Day Four – 10th September, 2015

Next morning on Thursday, we were ready to go higher and gain some more height to get well acclimatized. We left the Base Camp at 9:15am and started walking towards Camp 1. After crossing the rock boulder area we reached the Northern Glacier of Kolahoi which we had to cross. But it was not an easy job because the current situation of the glacier was very bad. It was full of newly formed wide and deep crevasses and was challenging task for us. We fastened our harnesses and prepared other gear and start crossing over the glacier field. After negotiation with the ice fall, crevasses and steep slopes of glacier we finally reached Camp 1.  It took us almost 4 hours to cross the glacier. After reaching the Camp 1 at an altitude of 4750 meters above the Sea Level, we spent very little time there because we had to return back to the Base Camp. It was also breathtaking to see the first sight of beautiful Mount Nun& Kun and other peaks in that range from the Camp 1.

Then we started returning to Base Camp and by 7:30 pm we reached back.

Day Five – 11th September, 2015

We had been trekking continuously for the last 4 days. So our leader decided to take a rest for the Friday. Whole team had to make some food arrangements for the higher camp. We also had final briefing with the leader Mr. Sorab Gandhi about the further climbing plans and it was decided that Mr. Ram Singh, who had climbed this peak earlier, would be our climbing leader as he had well knowledge of the routes.

Day Six – 12th September, 2015

The Saturday morning we all wake up a bit earlier. Everybody was happy and excited too. The moment was very close of which we were waiting for years. Weather was also good – clear sunny day. We took one last group photo at the Base Camp and started our journey towards the Camp 1 once again. After reaching the glacier the area along Northern Ice-fall was continuously breaking and it was creating small avalanches. But we were fully focused on our goal. The glacier from the last 50 years has almost receded by 35% of its size. Due to global warming, environmental factors and pollution caused by the humans glacier is receding at an alarming rate.

By 3:45pm we reached the Camp 1 with the help of fixed ropes on the steep slopes of ice wall. Unexpectedly, the weather changed suddenly due to snow storm and strong winds. In this weather condition it was getting very difficult to establish the Camp. But after an hour of hard work in the storm we anyhow managed to pitch the tents. We dug some ice and melted it to get water for drinking and prepared the tea as well. At last, we established the camp and were praying for the good weather. Reaching so close to the dream with so much of hard work we did not wanted to turn back from here. That night we had hot soup and bread. Every one of us was really excited. Our climbing leader Ram Singh had decided that we would leave next day as  early as 4:00 am, for the Summit so that we could reach the Summit  in any way before 11:30am. This was to ensure that on the same day we would be able to directly return to the Base Camp instead of staying in the Camp 1.

Day Seven – 13th September, 2015

That Sunday we woke to conquer our dream – “the Mountain of Light”!

At 3:00 am every one of us was awake and by 4:00 am we all were prepared for the summit. Everybody put their headlamps on and started walking towards the South Face. It was decided that before the sunrise we had to cross the Southern Glacier and would be on the rocky area of South Face at the early sunlight to save ourselves from the falling rocks and be focused on our climb. Loose rocks were still falling with a very high speed. This hampered our climbing on the gradient of 75 to 85 degree. As we were fully focused on the climb, any mistake could have been disastrous. at that mountain. After the hard climb on loose rocks we were very close to the summit now.

On top of the world!

By 10:30 am we were on the top of our dreams – the Mount Kolahoi  – 5425 meters above the Sea Level. That was the moment of real happiness. I could not control my emotions as my eyes were full of tears. After reaching the summit we took some photographs. The views from there were really not only mesmerizing and enchanting but thrilling as well. As we had an opportunity to see most of the mountain ranges and valley systems, which otherwise, hardly anybody gets a chance to see clearly. After spending some time on the summit I realized that the proverb by SIR EDMUND HILLARY, “WE NEVER CONQUER THE MOUNTAIN BUT OURSELVES” fits quite aptly.

Trip of this summit was kind of self enlightenment where I found that one can test his mettle and might in the mountains and will realize his/her real potential in comparison to the surroundings. By 11:15am we started descending. It was more difficult than the ascending. After reaching the Camp 1 we took rest only for few minutes and had dry fruits and dates. We took the remaining gear as well and started to return back to the Base Camp. By 10:15 in the night we reached Base Camp where our expedition leader Mr. Sorab Gandhi was eagerly waiting for us. He greeted us with kudos for this historic achievement.

Thus ended the journey to “the Mountain of Light”. Now after a year I still recollect those rare moments of my life on the top of ‘my world that is Kashmir’. Hope to carry such missions in future also with another journey . . .

beighjunaid2016@gmail.com