Failure and redemption stories are perhaps the best examples that showcase triumph of the human spirit. Here is one such story of Ruchi Arora, who failed at her first attempt to Chandrashila. Instead of brooding about her failure, she grabbed it by its horns and took it on. Here’s how her story played out.
How Ruchi’s love for the mountains began
Ruchi was introduced to the mountains at a very early age by her parents. “As a child my parents took me to visit many Goddess temples that are located on the mountains. Nanda Devi, Vaishno Devi and Chamunda Devi temples are the few temples we frequented. I instantly fell in love with the mountains. I was fascinated by the idea of actually scaling the mountains someday,” says 23- year old techie, Ruchi Arora.
The first failure
Ruchi first attempted the Deoriatal – Chandrashila trek in the winter of 2016. However, her poor decisions regarding her choice of clothing ultimately cost her the entire trek. “When I roamed around the Deoriatal lake towards the end of the second day, I wore just a single layer of fleece and slippers. It still felt warm at the time. But by the time I returned, it was well after sunset and my feet felt very cold. As the night progressed, I developed a splitting headache and I started shivering uncontrollably. I got really anxious about the whole situation. I decided that I would discontinue and descended to Sari the next day,” recalls Ruchi.
The second attempt
When Ruchi got back to the city, she knew one thing with absolute certainty. The Chandrashila incident wouldn’t deter her from trekking again. Her friends gave her plenty of inputs regarding her next trekking destination, but Ruchi had made up her mind, unless she successfully climbed Chandrashila, she wouldn’t embark on any other trek. In about a week’s time she signed up for the Deoriatal – Chandrashila trek again.
Training for round two!
Ruchi was determined. She was coming back stronger this time! To start with, she upped her fitness routine. She ditched light cardio and yoga and took up running seriously. Running at a stretch was hard in the beginning, but Ruchi kept at it. Gradually she felt her stamina rising. By the end of three months, Ruchi could easily cover 4 km in less than 30 minutes.
“I was certainly feeling very different from the last time. Running gave me so much more confidence. I felt like it was also gradually conditioning my mind to deal with the difficulties up in the mountains. I was really looking forward to my second attempt,” says Ruchi.
A personal cheerleader
Ruchi was so excited about her first big trek that she went ahead and got a customized mug that read “Chandrashila summit, 12,083 feet”. This mug was to serve as her personal cheerleader. Even though she failed to reach the summit the first time, Ruchi was not demotivated to leave the mug behind. Infact, she maintained that the mug served as a great source of inspiration to make it to the summit again.
Nostalgia at Sari
Being in Sari again was a deja-vu moment for all the right reasons. “I was so excited to be back. I just love the energy of Sari. Its infectious. I could feel my own energy levels getting elevated. I couldn’t wait to embark on this journey again because this time, I knew what to expect out there,” says Ruchi.
Deoriatal Lake again!
Sari to Deoriatal, now that was the start of Ruchi’s real redemption story. In Ruchi’s words, the first day of the trek wasn’t all that tedious as it comprised of a short stretch of around 3 km with copses of rhododendrons mushrooming along the trail and beautiful views of Sari below. In about two hours, her entire group made it to Deoriatal.
There is an old adage that says, “Once bitten, twice shy,” and Ruchi strictly adhered to it. She bundled herself in two layers of fleece nearly half an hour before sunset to prevent her body heat from escaping and wore shoes at all times.
However, the moment she reached the campsite by the beautiful lake, Ruchi started feeling nervous.
“Out of nowhere this nervousness just set in,” says Ruchi. “I just recollected the splitting headache I had the last time and the tears I shed. All of a sudden there were a lot of ‘what if’s’ floating around in my mind.”
Ruchi didn’t breathe a word about her growing apprehensions to anyone. However, Trek Leader Indrajit noticed the slight change in her demeanour and suggested that she partake in the group games to ease her nerves. “My Trek Leader was right. Channelling my nervous energy into the games, especially the rope games helped me calm down to quite an extent,” says Ruchi.
Once all the fun and games were over, Ruchi gathered the courage and headed off to the Deoriatal lake by herself. “I just sat on the shore of the lake and quietly recollected all the good moments from my last trek. They were not all bad, like the camaraderie I shared with my previous co- trekkers. How we sang songs and did a good job of picking up the litter. They used to call me the Green Coordinator,” Ruchi recalls with a smile. “Focussing on those joyful memories gave me hope that I would create even better memories this time around.”
Ruchi even caught a glimpse of Chandrashila. “It looked so far away. Right then I wondered how I would finally reach there,” says Ruchi.
The climb ahead
Ruchi found that her confidence was slowly returning by the morning. She had her usual morning tea from her “Chandrashila” mug which perked her up a little more. Ruchi was ready to go!
She had a long trek ahead of her. The trail has gentle ascents and descents. The second half especially involves ascending through dense forests.
Ruchi was utterly captivated by all the wonderful sights she witnessed during the 16 km stretch from Deoriatal to Chopta. “Everything was so different from the landscapes I am used to back home. I was seeing snow-capped mountains for the very first time. You can’t get enough of the colourful rhododendron trees,” says an excited Ruchi. “During the second part of our trek, we walked through dense forests and saw a lot of exotic birds. We even passed through breath-taking meadows like Rohini Bugyal. I really felt like we were featuring in the pages of some spectacular nature magazine.”
Receiving handy tips from her trek leader
However, Ruchi faced some difficulty while trekking through the gentle ascents and descents of the trail that takes nearly eight hours to complete. “It was the first time that I was attempting such a long stretch. I was getting restless in between and breathing heavily,” says Ruchi.
Trek Leader Indrajit immediately noted Ruchi’s struggle and shared an invaluable bit of trekking advise with her. “In order to conserve their breath, I teach my trekkers to sync their breathing with their footsteps,” says Trek Leader Indrajit. “Ruchi was quick to execute this tip. She immediately started inhaling with one step and exhaling with the other. She continued that way for the remainder of the stretch and didn’t experience any shortness in breath thereafter.”
Ruchi didn’t make it to Chopta with the first group of trekkers but she still felt that she had the perfect day. “Just getting to Chopta was a big sense of accomplishment for me. It was a longer trail as compared to what the previous batch had completed and I was feeling so good about myself,” says Ruchi.
Penultimate day jitters
On the previous day of the summit trek, Ruchi was feeling much more confident than she had been since the commencement of the trek. She didn’t feel the tiniest twinge of apprehension as she drank from her Chandrashila mug that morning. After all, this wasn’t like last time, she was going to make it and arrive with a bang at the summit.
Her confidence was soon shaken when a few of her co-trekkers chose the wrong time to make jokes at her expense. “Everyone had noticed my mug since day one of the trek and they all knew the story behind it. A few of my co- trekkers suggested that I take out my mug only upon the completion of the summit climb lest it jinx my trek this time around as well. They started cracking jokes about whether a hailstorm or snow or rain would show up the next morning and foil the climb.
“I know they were just trying to pull my leg but I got nervous anyway. I came here to succeed and I didn’t need to deal with a second failure at Chandrashila,” says Ruchi Arora.
Learning to let go of your doubtful self
Although Ruchi tried to remain unfazed in front of her co-trekkers, she could feel her anxiety mounting and it was then that she decided to confess her fears to Trek Leader Indrajit. “Ruchi was suddenly very concerned about the weather conditions on the summit and whether we would be able to make it there the next day,” recounts Trek Leader Indrajit. “I immediately sensed that she was nervous. Suddenly she wasn’t that strong bubbly girl who I had known her to be. She was vulnerable. Her eyes welled up with tears. I completely understood where her fears were coming from. It was quite natural.
“I stressed on the fact that people rarely come back after a failed attempt and I really admired her courage for coming back. I told her that there would always be someone or something that is always out to bring you down, but you can’t let them get to you. I assured her that all that was needed from her end was her strong determination and that we would accomplish a successful summit climb.”
Ruchi feels that her talk with Indrajit that morning helped her shut out all forms of negativity be it her own thoughts. “Jit is a very inspirational Trek Leader. He really boosted my morale that day. I decided to be in the moment and tried hard to shut off any unnecessary fears about the weather or what people said. I would try my best to reach Chandrashila summit tomorrow and in the eventuality that something unforeseen occurred, I would definitely be back a third time,” says Ruchi.
Sweet, sweet success and even sweeter redemption
At around 3:45 a.m. the next morning, Ruchi gathered in a circle with her co- trekkers. They all seemed wide- awake and excited, headlamps strapped on, unmindful of the ungodly hour and Ruchi had to actually pinch herself to ensure that she wasn’t dreaming. This was it. The climb towards redemption was officially starting… NOW!
Armed with a trek pole, Ruchi followed Indrajit’s ‘sync breath with footsteps’ method from the very beginning of the climb and found that she was actually enjoying the ascent without struggling. She was in fact among the first few trekkers. Ruchi couldn’t help noticing how breath-taking the view was. Above a resplendent full moon and a constellation of stars guided them while below the night lights in Sari made the whole village look like a smattering of stars on Earth. As she went further uphill, daybreak approached and for the first time Ruchi saw the sun and the moon juxtaposed on a sky that was neither light or dark, separated by just a spear like demarcation. To be able to witness that spectacular moment by itself was worth re attempting the trek for Ruchi.
Getting the right technique
By the time sunlight filtered through the clouds, Ruchi had already reached Tungnath. Chandrashila wasn’t too far away now. With every step, she felt her confidence increasing further, fuelled by the desire to reach the coveted peak. A few scissor bends later, Ruchi felt that she didn’t need the support of her trek pole. That didn’t mean that the paths were easy by any means! In Ruchi’s words, the scissor bends were steep and slippery with clover grass, with hardly any space to walk. Along two such bends, the Indiahikes technical guide assisted the trekkers but Ruchi managed to manoeuvre herself along them like a sure footed mountain goat.
“My technical guide told me that I have a good instinct for knowing where to step and where not to. It felt so great hearing that from him. My confidence was just soaring by then,” recalls an elated Ruchi.
After successfully navigating her way through the tricky scissor bends, only the final stretch stood between Ruchi and the Chandrashila peak. And to Ruchi, that stretch seemed like a never ending one. “I could see the summit, but no matter how much ever I walked I still didn’t seem to be getting there,” recalls Ruchi. “So I kept my gaze fixed on the red flag on the Chandrashila summit and told myself that I would just need to cover a few more metres before I reached there. That kept me going.”
Made it to Chandrashila!
Finally, the summit got closer and closer. Ruchi was just 10 steps away from the peak and there was a feeling of relaxation that washed over her whole body. “I just kept smiling as I reached the summit and there were tears of joy rolling down my cheeks. I finally did it! It was such a big moment for me,” says Ruchi.
If there was one person who was happier than Ruchi about her summit success, it was her Trek Leader Indrajit. “I know how it is to fail a trek and come back and reclaim that success. It’s truly an amazing feeling. I am so proud of Ruchi,” says Indrajit.
For her strong will and perseverance, Ruchi Arora was given the Spirit of Trekking award by Indiahikes.
“I don’t have any regrets about failing the first time. It helped me become so much more focussed during my second attempt. I was able to give it my 200 percent. Now I am confident, that whatever I take up, I will see it through to completion,” says Ruchi.