Monday, June 14, 2010

Into the wild

"We're all put to the test... but it never comes in the form or at the point we would prefer, does it? . This is where civilization end and survival begins." - Charles Moses (Played by Anthony Hopkins, The Edge(1997) ) .

(source of images: from internet)

As he turned around, he realized that the slow moving fog he saw earlier has engulfed him. His headlight was of not much help, it was not penetrating the thick fog. That is why they call it the smoky mountains; this IS really smoky, he mused. He had just gone to pee, some 100 feet into the forest from, the trail to the camp and was about to return to the camp site by the same trail. As he tried to find the trail, he realized that it is not so easy to find a small trail at night. He tried hard to hear the faintest of the sound of his teammates. There were none. He moved slowly. With every step he made the fear of getting lost crept into him. He heard a movement some 30 feet in front of him. He raised his head and looked ahead. Two eyes were gleaming at him from the thick forest. It had a red glow, reflecting from his headlight. He froze. Words echoed in his mind, "If you see a bear, don't run. It can easily out run you. They don't want to attack you, they are just looking for food with you. Stay calm, walk away". He gulped and gripped his pocket knife tighter. "Ok, if I am going to fight a bear, then so be it." He tried to see how big it was. As he stared, he could see a faint brown color . He looked once more at its face. It made a sudden move to the left, he jumped back as a reflex, just in time to see the spots on the side. It was just a deer. He smiled sheepishly. He couldn't stop laughing his head off and started looking for the trail and finally found it. He headed back to the camp and reported, "I just saw a deer". Ben,his trek mate, was like "you just passed first standard" with the "Jackie-chan" smile. I smiled back. "okie."

From the beginning
Manu : So Lauran, how long is the trail ?
Lauran : Hmm(biting lips, thinking) .... About 7 miles.
Manu : Oh that is it ?
Lauran passes a knowing cute smile at the first time hiker.
Lauran : Don't worry, we are going to give you some pretty good challenges. So, you are all set to go ? Can we go through the stuffs in the backpack and make sure you got everything.

I was meeting group leader Lauran, for the shake down of the backpacktrip organised by TRiP at UF. Anyone who knows me, would be knowing the lazy boy I am when it comes to getting of my desk and doing something physical. So this came as a surprise to many of my friends when I fought my way, bribing Girish with 2 beers to get his spot, into a trip. The reason ? A couple of hundred fireflies decided to blink at the same time. You see, I always had an amazing respect for this little creature which carried around a flash light of its own.
Here is a link of the video of what that means .

(counter clockwise from top left : at UF, at mountain top,near stram,map,in the forest)

So twelve of us went to the smoky mountains to see this amazing once a year activity and then climb the Mount Le Conte, 6th tallest peak in the Eastern US, at 6953 feet.
The first day we setup the camp right inside the forest, made our own fire from leaves and matchsticks. I thought at first that it is going to be easy. You have the matches and dry leaves, so what is the big deal about it? It turns out,the leaves, though feels dry is not fully dry. So when you try to make fire, the matches didn't really light up the leaves. Soon we were running out of matches. Lauran and Jared (Group leaders) decided that they are not going to help us, so that we will figure it out on our own. Finally Marie came to the rescue. She is a pro in trekking . To spot her in the college, look around for a girl with a sweet smile and a T-shirt that says , "Geology Rocks". Finally we got it right. Then we had a mouthwatering meal with Tofu and onions, thanks to Lauran. Then we set up the tents, right in the middle of the woods and got ready to sleep. Rejisu and Arun setup the tent for us though I messed it up after "studying" how Marie did it. :D. Right about then, Jared called all of us for a team meeting.

Jared : So before we can all sleep, collect all your food and we should place it in the bear bag.
Us : What ?What is a bear bag ? there is a bear in the forest? !!
Jared : yes there are bears. Also Smoky mountains has a lot of visitors. Thus bears associate people with food. So if you have any food, we will keep all of it one bag and hang it far away from the tent. The idea is, even if a bear comes, it is not going to bother the people but will roam around the food and will go away unsuccessful.
Us : OKKK !! .. so we should take all our food items right ?
Lauran : yes, take anything that can possibly be of pleasant smell, peanut butter, Nutella , granular bars, chocolates, candies, tampons, toiletries, trash. Keep them in the bear bag.
So we slept that day, with the fearful dream of waking up, with a bear licking us. :D

(bear bag, breakfast, packing up again)

Next day morning, we woke up had breakfast did our bathroom routines and .. wait how did you go to bathroom ? Well, we do it like the cats do it. Go some 200 feet away from camp ground, in a totally different direction of the river, so that you don't contaminate your water source.Then, making sure we are not near any other trails, dig a hole with the shovel, do it into the hole, use sanitizer and tissue, clean up well, put that also in the hole and cover the hole properly. Some of my friends didn't want to come to the trip, just because this was inconvenient. But I don't think it is such a big deal, to miss an awesome trip like this. It is kind of uneasy, but that is the whole point of staying in the forest.
Next day we hiked all the way to the top of the mount Le Conte. It was hard on the legs and back. But there was an amazing waterfalls on the way. The water was so pure, and it was so cold that if you dip in it you will feel your brain freeze. I kind of felt dizzy after 2 minutes in the water, it was that cold. We take the mountain water for drinking too. Then we use iodine to kill bacteria in it and bleed the water from the bottle a little to get the drinking neck purified.

(brain freeze, at the fall, fall from a distance)
Then we hiked all the way to the top. We saw the sunset from the top of the mountains. Made a dinner, which falafel and chocolate dessert. It was sooo awesome. Again, thanks to Lauran.

Next day for getting down, we choose a different path, rainbow trails. I think it was called so because of the variety of plants in the trail, in different colors, making it look like a rainbow from a distance. The trail was loose and rocky. So it hurt the legs, my knees are still in pain.

All in all, this was the second best trip that I had ever been to, topping Shimla, Skandagiri and Kumarakam. I want to thank the trip leader Lauran, co-lead Jared and the official Jackie for making this trip such a pleasant one. They were so considerate of the first timers, responsible and were really cool even under real real pressure. (I was with atleast one of them at all times and I really learned a lot.) Their sense of preserving nature is so commendable. They made sure that not one of spilled around anything in any of the camp sites, we carried all the trash downhill, even bits of paper, the plastic strip on top of plastic packages in short anything that we brought with us. They also made sure no one went out of the trail, so as not to make new trails and impacts the woods. The way they ardently stick to the principles, picking up even the tiniest of the plastic or paper in the camp site, even when it was easy to do the other way round is beyond praise. Way to go guys. You rock. Jai Ho guys ( just like Jackie says hurray in hindi ). :)

Hats off to our group leaders, Lauran(lead), Jackie(official from UF), Jared (co-lead)

Picture Courtesy :
Arun Purushu

For more trip pictures see,