Friday, May 20, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-VI (Climbing in Lake District)

After having spent a couple of weeks in London, I got a call from the Outward Bound Trust that I had been enrolled in the Executive Course at their Ullswater School in Lake District. I had to report to Squadron Leader Lester Davies. The School would arrange my pick up from the railway station. Accordingly I purchased a return train ticket for £ 30 from London to Lake District. I have now forgotten the name of the small station.
The train journey was through the English countryside but it was a slow train compared to the fast French trains. We could enjoy the scenery on the way. One of the instructors from the School called Jerry had come to receive me. As it was a small station so he easily spotted me and we got into his van for onward journey to the School which has a wonderful location. It is right on the banks of the big Ullswater Lake. The entire campus is lush green. The School is located in a traditional building. It has living quarters for young trainees and also a number of guest rooms for senior people. There is a ration store, equipment shop, and all other ancillary facilities needed in an Adventure School. They have area for physical training, a jetty going into the Lake for kayaking and boating. I was allotted a guest room. There were other senior people who were also staying in guest rooms. Normal courses last for a month or forty days but the Executive Course is only for a week. It is specially designed for top Executives who want to get a feel of the Outward Bound. We were only 10 persons in the course and some of them were from London. After meeting the Warden we were introduced to our instructors. I had already met my instructor Jerry. Incidentally, his wife was the secretary to Chris Bonnington, the famous British Climber who too was living in the Lake District. He told me that Chris Bonnington knew me as he had climbed in Kishtwar area of Kashmir. Jerry’s wife had told him about my coming and he had proposed to invite me for lunch to his farm house.
The first problem I faced in the hostel was about the bath-room. They had common bath-rooms. When I entered to have a shower, I discovered that there was no privacy and everybody was naked having a shower along a row of showers. Not being used to this type of common bath-rooms without any privacy, I approached the warden. He gave me a key to a special single bath-room but asked me to keep it locked after use and return the key at the time of my departure. During first two to three days we were familiarised with various Outward Bound activities. Lectures were given on the use of compass, maps, and other equipments. Some rock-climbing and slides on a rope were also practiced. We also did some kayaking in the Ullswater Lake. The School owned a jet boat and some of us were taken for a joy ride on the Lake which is quite big. We had a night out. We were divided in groups of two and given tents, sleeping bags and all other equipment. We were also given some rations and walkie talkies. However, we had to use the walkie talkies only in some medical emergencies. We were left late in the evening in different spots in the wilderness where we had to camp and sleep. Early in the morning we had to find our way to some specific spots where we would be picked up. It was a thrilling adventure. Especially the night out was an experience. In the morning we did find the right spot and were picked up. Back at the School we had a hot shower and a nice breakfast. The finale of the course was the climb of Helvellyn, the second highest mountain of England. I thought it would be a good climb to try. I had heard a lot about climbing in the Lake District. Before embarking on this venture, I was taken by Jerry to Chris Bonnington’s house for lunch. It was a nice drive through the English countryside. The farm house was a small hut but very elegantly decorated inside. Chris Bonnington and his wife were very happy to receive me. The lady gave us good lunch. We talked about Himalayas and Chris mentioned about his forthcoming climb of the South-West Face of Everest. It was going to be a tough climb. While peeling an apple Chris cut his finger and seeing the blood his wife became quite panicky. She started running around looking for band-aid and medicine. I thought if she could only imagine where Chris was shortly going to be climbing would she ever allow him to go? Human nature is same everywhere!
The approach march to Hellvellyn starts from across the Lake. After collecting our equipment and rations we were taken in boats across the Lake. The first days trek was not very long. We set up camp in a bowl surrounded by some low ridges. It was a nice small meadow. Night was somewhat cold. There was a drizzle in the morning. Living on dry rations and warming up tinned food on a small gas stove was a new experience for me. Usually, back home we would have a kitchen tent where meals were cooked during expeditions especially on trekking ones. It was only on very high camps that we used dry rations and tins. The School store had issued us a lot of dry rations and from my standards it was too much! The next day trek was quite tire some and cold. It was continuously raining. We were trudging along a flat and then started climbing a sloping ridge. After an hours trek from the base we reached a flat. I was shocked when they told me that it is the Hellvellyn top! I told them that back home we drove 4-wheel drive vehicles on such slopes! A mountain in our area means a sharp peak with snow on top. We had over 40 people on the top. The normal course of 30 and the Executive Course of 10! It was a crowd on the top! Due to continuous rain we did not stay long and rushed down. After walking for sometime we camped for the night. This was our second night out. I felt very cold. In these parts the cold is more severe. It is because of chill factor. The breeze from the sea increases the intensity of cold manifold. Next morning we got up and trekked to the road ahead. Before boarding the transport we had a very hot meal in a restaurant.
We were scheduled to leave after graduation ceremony next morning. John who had met me during the course and was working in Rediffusion Company in London had driven in his own car. He offered me a lift back to London. He said it would be shorter than train. We would be using the motorway and we could stop for lunch in the way. Graduation ceremony was a simple affair compared to our parts where for every event we have some or the other VIPs. We took leave of the Warden and staff and I invited all of them to visit Kashmir sometime in future. The drive back to London was very smooth. I told John about my unused train ticket. He asked me to go to the station and get it refunded. I went to the station next morning and informed the man sitting on the ticket counter. He took my ticket and gave me £15. No refund forms, no receipts. He just believed me and refunded the money! Total surprise compared to procedures back home!

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