Day zero trek to the Jobra camp went by smoothly and my shoes were ready to go. They easily supported me along with the moderately heavy bag I carried.
The trek poles were shunted in the bag, to be used only during the final days.
We reached our camp, took them off and had no worries in the world. A unique experience was about to unfold.
How my shoe broke unexpectedly
Day 1 began with a briefing about a long walk ahead with relatively flat to moderate rocky land with a small steep section coming up before the much-awaited river crossing on our way to Jowara camp.
I was busy wondering how the drone shots will be captured, which angles to take etc. and I told our guide Santoshji to help me cross the river before everyone else, so that I could set up my device and capture those moments.
Mid-way through the journey, we could see the steep section coming up with a deep valley beside it, hugged by high slopes and of course the relentless sounds of the river flowing by.
We took a rest stop and just when the IH team started moving I could feel that my right shoe suddenly had a weird floppy feeling beneath it. Looking down, to my horror, I saw the right sole had come off. Now, these shoes are said to have a waterproof body, with an insole to protect the toes and ankle which is then covered by an outsole that provides the grip. This outer grip had come off.
I took a moment, and my mind went on overdrive thinking of the possibilities: “This sole would be unusable right? Then these shoes cannot cover the difficult stretches of the path coming up (it was just day 1). Can we get a replacement (rental) shoe from the Ground team? How will we get in touch with them? Can I do this trek on these shoes? Will I be sent back? Of course not.”.
However, I calmed down and turned around to reach the Trek lead and co-lead (Ms. Sucheta & Mr. Aditya) and held up my shoe, unable to string words together.
We three got into a discussion and Aditya had luckily picked up some nylon strapping rope. This was not one of those ropes which could easily tie around things but those with which boxes are tied up (flattish) and hence it was difficult to use.
With an effort where 3 pairs of hands pulled, huffed, and puffed and somehow tied up the shoe with the sole, with Sucheta promising to put some strong glue (fevikwik) once we reached camp (will that hold?).
We discussed that if the shoe can somehow make it through the rocky terrain, the icy sections of the pass day could be covered easily because the micro spike attachments will cement the sole into the shoe.
A fellow trekker took my bag up since this shoe would not be able to support the combined weight of me and the bag.
The struggles of walking with a broken shoe
I took out my trekking poles and started walking. The sole kept flopping around. I knew that I could not rely on this shoe for any grip and started using my arm and the poles to push me up while using the shoe as a supporting order to reduce the application of any horizontal force which would pull off the sole fully.
Suddenly, I saw my other shoe’s grip also flopping around the edges but thankfully still attached to the shoe. I was cursing the manufacturers under my breath.
We had however reached the steep section. I still had not tested this new set-up and it was already time to push it to the limits.
Gingerly, I stepped on the rocks, using the trek poles to pull me up more than my shoes. It was energy sapping and I realized that this trek was not going to be simple for me. However, we cleared it, did the river crossing where we had to take off the shoes again.
After that, Sucheta told me the camp was near and so I decided to finish the last leg on a pair of slippers that I was carrying. To be honest, it was a party under my foot with rock edges jabbing much harder through the thin surface than I’d want them to and I grudgingly realized how much of a cushion these shoes provide. Nevertheless, we reached the camp, took off the shoes and we decided to use the adhesive and kept our fingers crossed.
Cut to Day 2, we decided to offload the bag, since adding more weight was counter-intuitive and checked on the shoe.
The sole was attached but the edges were still tenderly holding on. We got some synthetic twine from the kitchen (Thank God for IH’s Green Trails) and decided to tie-up both shoes. This worked well coupled with my trek poles.
After a few hours, I saw that the twine was slowly withering into splinters as the jagged rocks slowly did their job of cutting them and eventually the ropes tying them together became a jumble of splinters. I kept adjusting them, re-tying them but I knew this will not last long. The sole was still attached but the edges were flapping away.
On the way, my fellow trekkers were picking up random pieces of rope, metal wires etc. and giving them to me so that I could use them for my next day.
Somehow, we reached the final camp before the pass. In the evening we tied the micro spikes on the shoes, and to my relief the spikes ensured the sole was stuck well to my shoe. We did an ice trial and it worked well. I knew the pass could be done easily.
Crossing the pass with a broken shoe
On the final day, again we tied up the shoes. Initially, there was a lot of rocky terrain and ice interspersed, thus preventing the use of spikes. I somehow slipped and slid through the ice with poor grip but still managed as the incline was not high.
Soon, the spikes were on and with a breath of relief I covered the next climb and reached the pass smoothly.
After a lot of fun, introspection and rest we decided to cover the descent (which is notoriously steep).
Soon, we saw that the ice patches were over, and rocks lay ahead and that meant it was time for the spikes to be off.
The ropes tying my shoe were already splintered away to a threadbare state. Slowly gingerly walking, I fell behind the pack and had Aditya as my company along with two others who were having a difficult time climbing down.
I used my prior trek knowledge of walking side-ways, following a zig-zag path, using the trek poles to create the grips, resting my arms on them, and then taking a step to ease the process, all the while covering a steep descent.
Soon we reached a large frozen patch of ice which was quite steep and led up to a patch of boulders and then a steep fall into the water. Slipping on it was not an option.
Aditya could be seen ahead helping the others and I saw Sucheta waiting at the edge helping another person start on the edge of the ice patch.
In my infinite wisdom, I decided to cross them and entered the patch, thinking I’ll somehow kick the ice hard (as taught in our briefings) and create a path and make it through. Two steps in, I slipped and started gathering speed – Aditya ran laterally along and cut into my way, dug in his trek poles and his legs to arrest my fall. Meanwhile, I dug in my trek poles and used my heels to reduce my speed. Luckily, the combined effort worked, and I stopped. I got up and found that one of the poles had formed an S-bend on it. However, my shoe’s grip had completely come loose. I held it up for Aditya and Sucheta to see and all three of us had a good laugh. I tried to take a step ahead, but I realized I had no grip, and one of my trek poles was unusable.
Sucheta and the others went ahead while I and Aditya stood there figuring out what to do next. I suggested I could walk barefoot but the idea was shot down by him.
We took a few more steps where Aditya created the cuts in the ice for me to walk on, and I kicked with all my might using my left (still intact) shoe. However, this proved to be incredibly tiring. We decided to do a control slide to the edge of the ice patch, to a section that was flatter in comparison. We slid down and got up.
A fellow guide came up to me and said, “Let’s run!”. At this point, I was so exhausted that reason had left me. I ran with him to the end of the ice patch.
On introspection I realized, when running there was little to no time for me to think or wait for the grip to hold and given the flatter surface, it ensured quick passage. Finally, we reached the rocky terrain. I chucked off the grip into the green trails bag. Finally, we reached the camp after a few hours, somehow straightened the damaged trek pole, and crashed for the day.
On the final journey to Chatru, I decided to forego tying my shoe with the grip. After the icy river-crossing, my foot was numb and I snuck it into the shoe for warmth and just kept walking. The rocky terrain was cushioned by the shoe, the grip was given by the poles and I limped onwards to the final base camp. The day went eventless, and we finally reached the camp.
We rushed to visit Chandratal where my shoe issues took a back seat thanks to the picturesque Spiti Valley and the beauty of the lake in all its glory.
My realisations after safely completing my trek with a broken shoe
That night we witnessed an evacuation on the mountains (my first such experience) from another team and I realized how unforgiving mountains can be if not treated with respect and how lucky I was and how much the IH team supported me and helped such that I had managed to complete this trek without any incident.
A trek is a challenging affair where you test the limits of your body’s endurance. While spending hours every day, focusing on fitness and slowly gathering all the different things needed for the journey, I paid very little attention to those two pieces of equipment which are perhaps the most important on a high-altitude trek.
They were relatively new (2 treks old, 2 years), a pair of the high-end produce from a reputed brand and had never failed me on previous treks like Pangarchulla Peak or Buran Ghati where they survived steep climbs, sharp rocky terrain, freezing cold waters of different streams and even stood firm (with microspikes) while cutting their way through ice. Of course, they were taken for granted to survive a slightly easier trek in the form of Hampta Pass. Moreover, from a visual inspection I could see no weaknesses.
One can never predict what is around the corner in the mountains just as I had no clue that my shoes would be my biggest challenge on this trek.
The fact that I could cover an entire trek despite that and the events which transpired because of that damage made this experience much more memorable and fulfilling for me. It gives me more confidence to come back on another trek/expedition to the mountains.