Monday, 24 October 2011

Walking along the streams of Western Ghats - Palani - Vadagounchi - Permunal peak an exploratory trek

Drenched in the melody of the birds; caught in the beautiful sight of the peacock’s; walking beside the huge mass of icy water; loving the aroma of the wet sand; adoring the misty atmosphere; admiring the peak which is penetrating into the sky, a bunch of CTCians started their exploratory trek into the Palani hills. None had the wisdom to predict or the guts to reject the “love and adventure” which the Western Ghats had on store for us.

The outline of this two day adventure was to hit the Permual mountain peak lying at an altitude of around 2,250 mts cutting through one of the side-stream of the Palani hills which is less known to mankind and waiting to be explored. Starting our trek at an altitude of 400 mts to hit the peak, the trek had all flavors which a trekker would aspire for and term it as “this is a trek to be cherished”

Bouldering and splashing in the charming streams:

Like every other exploratory trek this mission also started along the gorgeous stream passing through the wet and lovely woods; jumping on the boulders, running on the grasslands, diving in the beautiful water pools, bathing in the rejuvenating waterfalls.

The size of the boulders as we started our hike started increasing and at most of the places it was wet and gave us numerous challenges to proceed ahead. Unmindful of these huge boulders and slippery rocks we kept heading ahead to discover those beautiful pools and streams which was flowing through the valley. Splashing in the ice cold water pools we moved into the woods to trek along the side of the stream. A perfect beginning until we started facing our encounters.

Encounter with a huge waterfall:

Walking along the ice cold stream and climbing the greasy rocks roughly in the afternoon of a misty day – witnessing the numerous small waterfalls we first discovered that the stream is dropping from a height of almost 25 mts with a big pool in front of the fall – it was a moment of surprise watching this master piece of nature unfurl in front of our eyes. The mere sight of the falls attracted us and provoked us to jump inside the pool and in no time the experienced swimmers were at the base of the falls to feel the spine chilling water hitting them hard. Indeed, the lifelines of CTC treks are these beautiful waterfalls hidden deep inside the forests.

After admiring the beauty and taking couple of pictures I now decided to swim across to hit the base of the waterfall and I should confess “the spine chilling water re-energized my entire body; rejuvenated my inner soul; my body was crying for something hot but my heart never wanted to leave this ice cold water which was breaking my body into pieces, I was completely engulfed with chillness and after sometime getting hit by the waterfalls I reluctantly decided to swim back to the shore to continue the trek. Indeed, this was a sweet encounter to cherish unlike the other ones which were waiting for us in the day.

Innumerable blockades and the rock-hole encounters:

Even in the wildest of our imagination we would have never thought that we are going to face soo many blockades which would stand as threat for us in proceeding ahead. There were places where we had to throw our bags into holes and sneak through them to proceed ahead. Indeed, these challenging moments made the trek even more en-thrilling for the entire squad.

We had to sneak into few holes in the rocks to move ahead, we almost became like rats to crawl through these holes in the mountain. The innumerable blockades did not permit us to trek forward. Once, we encountered a place with mammoth slippery boulders which never permitted us to move ahead and we have to spend around 1 hour to just find a way to get rid of this blockade and finally few climbed up that slippery boulder and we had to pull the group using tarpaulins as the rope. It was one of the best encounters which I have come across in the recent times in my trekking life. While perching on to the rock I realized that if I slipped from there I will fell down just to be broken into pieces but the thrill was rewarding – worth the risk which some of us took.

Endless night on top of a waterfall soaked in chill water; shivering body; witnessing the first flash flood:

The sun was settling down for the day so was our body which wanted rest after a tiresome and arduous trek precisely when we encountered a beautiful cascading waterfall slipping through the mountains carrying chill water. Watching this beauty unfold in front of our eyes amidst a dense jungle in between the mountains was one of the best moments of our entire trek. Indeed, these sceneries pull us again and again to these natural hot spots.

We almost settled down for the day after preparing and having some hot soup and noodles when the nature warned us with lighting and thunder storms creating wearisome in our minds.

I and my tent mates spreading out a tarpaulin sheet were lying on the top of the cascading water fall close to the stream and witnessing the glittering stars doing the magic on the sky and slowly the stars were engulfed with pitch dark clouds and around 9 p.m it started to drizzle. Within no time it started pouring down ‘cats and dogs’ and we had no other option except to cover ourselves with a tarpaulin sheet. Slowly the ice-cold water started to trickle inside our tarpaulin sheet and completely drenched our sleeping bags and our clothes. Now completely soaked in the chill water our body slowly started becoming cold and there was no sign that the heavy down pour will rest now. I opened up the tarpaulin to see what is happening outside, the stream which was running almost 6 feet away from our side earlier has come closer to the place we were lying down.

Soaked in the chill water and shivering in the frosty breeze our bodies slowly become numb with rains showing no mercy hitting us very hard. Now slowly we started to realize that the water is flowing underneath our tarpaulin sheet and if we continue to stay here we will be washed away in the flash flood. Within no time we just wrapped up whatever we could get in our hands and rushed to an elevation in between the rocks. It poured and poured and we witnessed how flash flood occurs in forest right in front of our eyes. There was not even an iota of dry place for us to even sit throughout the night we had to literally squat underneath the tarpaulin with the heavy rain slashing us apart.

The next day early morning we were shivering with cold had no other option except to wrap up our bags and to continue our trek. Although it was tricky for us to cross the stream we were able to do it and we started our hike through a estate to reach the palani ghat road. Quickly preparing and having tea we left to the Vadakounchi village in a narrow human trail.

The ice-cold bathe in the spilt waterfalls:

Following the trail which is taking us to Vadakounchi we encountered another appealing waterfalls which invited us to take a dip and splash out with no second thoughts almost all jumped into the pool and took bath in the water fall. The chill water flowing from the valley above refreshed our entire body and gave us energy to proceed ahead, with heavy heart we had to leave this beauty and had to trek ahead to reach the remote village in the Palani Mountain.

Deadly hike to the Permual mountain peak braving the bloody leeches and heavy down pour:

It started pouring again when we decided to start our trek from Vadakounchi village. The villagers were starring at us in a weird manner and I can silently sense them saying “are these guys insane to trek to Perumalmalai peak in this pouring rain”. For the kind of spirit we carried with us this rain or for that matter even a thunderstorm could never stop us.

Un-battered by the heavy rains we marched through the heavily leech infected area and within one hour of our trek almost all our legs were bitten by the blood thirst leeches and every one’s leg sported in red colour, with leeches perching on to our skin. Yet, we did not want to give up and we kept hiking towards our target to hit the Perumal mountain peak, within 2 hours of non-stop trek inside the pine forest we reached the peak. It was a moment of glory for the team making this trek successful after passing through several challenges and hitting the peak lying at an altitude of about 2,250 mts.

Still the mission is In-complete:

Due to paucity of time the explorers were not able to complete the trek as planned and missed the 150 meters high waterfall discovered during Ex/4 mission. “Cannot be explored” or “Incomplete” are words which a true CTCian is averse off. With the unconquered palani valley left to be explored am waiting to capture its beauty with my third eye and pen the thrill coupling it with my imagination while walking along with a couple of like minded CTCians lead by the “trek guru”.

Am waiting to fly with the peacocks, sleep beside the waterfalls, listen to the humming birds, walk inside the pine forest, fly high in the smell of the wet woods; stare at the herculean bison’s; escape from the flash flood and take bath in the sky high waterfall. Nature is waiting for me as my heart is still dreaming for Palani exploratory 2 mission….

Happy Trekking,

Durai Murugan

Friday, 7 October 2011

Marathon in mountains – a trek of a life time

Welcome to the "Death Mission" was the call to “separate the boys from the men” of CTC, as this trek was considered to be the most deadly trek stretching the limits of human mind and body. I swear every bit of these words is nothing but bloody truth. This mortal mission which began at 10.30 p.m on a Saturday night killed our two nights sleep; tore our feet; twisted our ankles; sprained our knees; broke our backs; left few deadly souls to vomit; distorted an undying spirit to faint; ruined the knees of few seasoned trekkers and made one  limp throughout the trek - to the core made 10 trekkers to “hit the wall” at regular intervals; yet, nothing could stop the rock like spirit and the steel like hearts of the 14 iron men of CTC, from marching ahead to complete a dreadful whooping 47 Kms of trek in 26 hours.

The initial night trek to reach the Southern peak at Nagala

The baby steps of this trek started off   with 24 trekkers  pushing themselves from the southern base of Nagalapuram at 150 Mts altitude, at around 10.30 p.m. Initially we had to negotiate with few bushes to find our way and  trek ahead. Navigating successfully into the dense bushes, the initial acclivity  till we reached the first water point at 550 Mts altitude was like a 100 Mts dash on a hilly terrain forcing two souls to “hit the wall” within just 2 hours of the commencement of the trek. Indeed, this was the fitness meter in disguise, which kept ticking to see if they would survive the rest of the marathon. A Few realizing their bad shape, resolved to rest at the first water point, while the remaining 18 trekkers marched ahead to reach the 880 Mts southern peak of Nagalapuram which is the highest point in the Nagalapuram range.

It was around 3 a.m when we reached the Southern peak and most of us were very tired.  The cold breeze with all its quiescence went up our nostrils and rejuvenated our tired souls. . Before I could let the idea of taking a 10 minutes break sink into my mind, I realized the top gunners were already rushing down.

Now, saddled with fully grown grasses, we had difficult time walking.  It blocked us from moving ahead and buckled our knees down. But nothing could stop us. We kept marching ahead towards the water point where the other souls were resting. It was around 5 a.m in the morning when we reached this water source and it was time for us to take a power nap. Almost all of us slept like a log, wherever we found a little space and our minds quickly understood that this one hour was going to be the longest repose we would get for the day.

A day of 24 hours trek – a sweet torment:

 I still cannot believe the fact that I was able to trek on this day i.e. 2.10.2011 for 24 hours covering almost 42 kilometers. This day will remain green in my memory for the challenges it posed starting from trekking on the rough stony terrain, climbing to the peaks through dry streams, walking on the ridges, discovering fainting, spewing which was a very rare thing with seasoned trekkers,  the muscle cramps, the hamstring attack, the way my fellow trekkers were left limping , the night trek in Tada Mountain, the never ending trail, the night dip after completing the trek and for  the sound sleep we had on the Tada check post. It stills remains a hangover and has become an unforgettable part of my subconscious mind. I wake up at midnight climbing a peak, only to realize I was dreaming.

The sun rose up in a blink of an eye showing its notorious head, warning us that it was  going to burn us alive. With the will power we carried with us to complete this marathon, we were able to shun it aside as one of the least threats, thereby remaining uninhibited by the pricking heat. After the power nap another 2 souls wanted to retire from the trek since they were not able to trek without proper sleep. Now we were a 16 men army still carrying  the undying will power and spirit with which we started to complete this marathon.

Before I could realize that I had to get ready for the trek the guys in front started running up the mountains after the power nap and now it became difficult for me to catch their speed. One of our seasoned and inspirational trekker was not feeling comfortable to move ahead in that pace and it was a very sad moment for me to see him dropping at that moment. With a heavy heart we had to leave him behind and start running to race with the guys ahead of us.

Now we had to trek up and down in the mountains, negotiating with the big rocks and the sharp stones until we reached the top of the Nagala Mountain, where we had a decent trail to follow. In fact, we were able to move at a faster pace now, owing to the small group size and comfortable terrain. So, we crossed the Nagala top in no time.

At the end of the ridge, we had to climb down to fetch some water for us to continue the trek. We filled our bottles under the scorching sun and resumed our trek. At this point yet another trekker was not able to maintain the pace of the team and he had to exit through the western valley following a stream. Now the squad comprised only as many as 14 trek-mates as against 24 who started off with us.

We had several miles to cover and the sweltering heat took our spirits through dreadful moments. The “Come what may go” attitude was the driving force behind most of us to proceed ahead, with the unaccomplished dream of becoming “iron men” in our minds, we started proceeding unmindful of the pranky weather and the hilly terrain.

The last 17 kilometers – an epic journey which tested our endurance:   

Having fetched water from the third water point, dropping down from one of the dry Nagala streams, we started hiking from 350 to 650 Mts to reach the top of the Nagala peaks. Having crossed the initial 30 kilometers came the most dreadful moments which none of the 14 trekkers can dare to forget in their lifetime.

First it was one daring soul affected with loose motion unable to move forward fainted on top of the peak which left us clueless;
Second it was yet another die hard soul who broke his knee and struggled to move forward;
Third, it was the turn of a previous successful marathoner who started vomiting;
Fourth, few more guys started complaining about muscles cramps, hamstring pulls.

Now panic started to spread across the team and the team now got panicky since we were now severed from the rest of the world, with all these tricky things at hand which are difficult to manage even in normalcy. There were even gossips of an early exit, dropping this mission half-way through.

It was then that we resolved to take a 30 minute power nap before we could decide on the next course of action.  All of us slept like dead bodies with no movements on top of the peak and it was only after the 30 minutes break that people started getting back to their senses. Spirits were up again and despite the silence, I could still listen to the CTCians echoing “We will do it, come what may go”.

Indeed, this undying spirit of these 14 trekkers was the notable highlight of this entire marathon. Perseverance  even when I faint, when my knee is broken,  when my ligaments are torn,  when my ankle is dislocated,  when I vomit and drain down; this mind over body game has made  CTCians carve a niche for themselves as the survival masters, the conquerors and the real explorer’s - time came once again to reiterate this firmly and strongly. Hats off to the spirit of these souls who came across all this  turmoil but yet completed the marathon successfully. Now the pride is all yours !

From this peak we firmly started moving towards the top of the Tada Mountain and trekked through some very good grass lands and discovered a very old trail. Following this trail holding torch lights in our hands we almost trekked for two hours with no sign of any water source. We ran out of water and we desperately needed water to energize ourselves and proceed further; but there was no sign of water anywhere and it was a never ending trail all along.

Soon we were lucky enough to hit a dry stream and after a few minutes of bouldering in the dry stream we found water trickle in between the rocks. We drank it like thirsty dogs to quench our thirst; but that was not the end of it - the marathon was still  not over; we had crossed some 40 kilometers and had a long way to go to finish our trek.

The night started falling and this was going to be the second night without sleep; our eyes were drooping involuntarily  and it goes without saying that we were surviving only with the water we had. We trekked untiringly and finally reached a scenic water pool on top of the Tada Mountain; few jumped inside to refresh themselves while the rest did not have the  energy to do so; so they went into deep sleep in the arms of mother nature hugging the rocks.

It was dark and the next challenging move was climbing down to reach the Tada main stream via dense and thorny bushes. As soon as we started, we realized that one of our co-trekkers was missing. Few went in search of him and finally they found that he slept nearby the water pool not realizing that the rest of the team had left to reach the Tada main stream; one can understand how tired he must been for not even realizing what was  going around him. After some tuff negotiations with the dense bushes, the thorny plants and sliding through the dry rocks we reached the main Tada stream and took a dip in one of the pools to clean and refresh ourselves.

With an extreme sense of satisfaction on completing the marathon successfully, which is beyond one’s word and imagination, we started proceeding towards the Tada check post to get into our cab but we were unable to contact the driver; we saw a nice platform at around 12.30 a.m and we slept there till 4.30 a.m not  realizing that it rained in the night only to be woken up by the other trekkers after which we moved to the cab.

At end of the marathon mission this is what I have to tell you “My skin is torn, I am loving it; my muscles are aching, I am enjoying it; my foot is pierced by the sharp stones, I am relishing it; my ligaments are broken, I am cherishing it. For, these are those feelings which will never allow me to forget this deadly marathon and will stay in my heart forever”. 

How to get yourself prepared for a Marathon - few survival tips:-
For those who dream to complete Marathon in mountains here are few tips from my experience:

>> Preparation is the key – start preparing at least 3 months in advance. Have regular schedules and be reassured that marathon will not happen in a week’s time. I have witnessed even people who have done multiple DOA’s, DFS and completed marathons going down, because they were not prepared. Only hard work pays.

>> Participate in difficult treks – it is imperative for one to participate in most of the difficult treks to get used to difficult situations and to understand Eastern Ghats and its difficult terrain.

>> Do more of cardio exercise – going to gym and working out with weights will not help you. I have never gone to any gym. I trained myself on  the sands of beach and on the roads, walking and jogging. My office is 9 storeyed  and I used to carry my bag with loads of books daily several times up and down to get used to climbing and develop the needed endurance. 

>> Dieting and proper rest plays an important role – don’t smoke and stop drinking at least for one month prior to your marathon. Eat more fruits, vegetables to build your stamina levels. Avoid junk and oily food items which kill your energy level.

During a marathon trek:

>> You can never push the entire stretch of 47 odd Kms in a single go. Therefore, always have short targets in mind and keep yourself motivated to achieve the short targets and pat yourself once you achieve them. Don’t get bowled out having huge targets in mind - be realistic.

>> Just because the strong guys are running in the front don’t push your limits; understand your fitness and speed levels and stick to your speed. The key to finish marathon is sticking to your speed. But don’t be slow and drag the entire team behind, if you are dragging the team you will be sent out in the middle. If you try to run with the fittest you will get exhausted in no time and that will force you to exit; therefore understand and maintain your pace.

>> Keep yourself hydrated throughout the trek. For the sake of calling yourself as an “iron man” not drinking required water, energy drinks and chocolate bars will only dehydrate you and at the end you will hit the wall.

>> Carry a comfortable, small back pack which lies comfortably on your shoulders. Never carry too much weight; it will drain all your energy.

>> Wear comfortable shoes which can breathe, be flexible, have ample shock absorber, which gives you comfort while walking on stones and gives you the grip to walk on rocks. Good shoes will also ensure that you won’t drop out because of blisters.

>> Relax your muscles at regular intervals – your muscles and joints are bound get tired and hard during this strenuous activity; so you should relax your muscles and stretch them at regular intervals to avoid cramps and muscle pulls.

What makes CTC’s marathon special is that  unlike the regular marathon’s, wherein you have people standing with energy drinks to boost one up, here there are only limited possible water points; so one can’t afford to drain one’s  water out. Trekking will not happen on a flat surface knowing each and every turn which we need to take;  we would be trekking with a GPS in hand to guide us. Therefore, if we miss a direction or way, we have to trek and come back again and find our way. If there is an injury there is no easy exit; one has to trek for kilometers to get back to civilization.

After hearing this story unfold before you what else are you still waiting for?? - come let’s train our body, mind and soul to push our limits and complete the next marathon. I am confident you will feel the goodness of “life before marathon and life after marathon” .

Happy trekking!

Durai Murugan