On a prayer and wings of steel

Champion mountaineer Harbhajan Singh is no stranger to the peaks of the Himalayas as he gets ready for yet another first — skiing down the world's highest peak. Sanjeev Singh Bariana reports how the gutsy sportsman is preparing for this feat

Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh

Mountaineer Harbhajan Singh these days is polishing his act to ski down the Mt Everest, one of the most treacherous mountain peaks of the Himalayas. Harbhajan Singh, DIG (Jammu), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), is a no mean accomplisher, having already scaled the Nanda Devi peak and Mount Abhigamin, both in Garhwal Himalayas, Mana Peak, Mt Nunkun and White Needle in Janskar range, Mt Pinnacle and Mt Pyramid in Sikkim and Mt Stok Kangri and Mt Kasket in Ladakh.

"Except for unconfirmed reports of one-odd successful venture down the Everest on skis, there have been no reports about any team skiing down the world’s highest mountain peak. Though there have been reports of death of two mountaineers, who attempted skiing down the Everest peak from the Chinese side, a couple of years ago. Our team has started training exercises for our attempt next year," says Harbhajan Singh.

The gutsy mountaineer has led three expeditions to the Mt Everest. Six of his team members reached the top during his first expedition in 1992. He had to abandon his attempt at the last moment when a senior team member P.S. Papta developed pulmonary complications.

"We were at a height of more than 8,000 metres on both the occasions, which is only 848 metres short of the peak. We are trained to vacate the height in case of an emergency and though carrying along sick is a part of our training schedule from such a height, we can even leave them behind in emergencies, but we could not leave behind our team member and I gave orders to carry him back to safety," the mountaineer adds.

"I again went in 1996 and in 2006. Both times during the last leg of the expedition, however, our team had to back off due to inclement weather. On one occasion, the team lost a member, who had ignored the warnings and went up the mountain," he further says.

"Will-power acts as fuel to the fire of training before any expedition. The toughest part of the training is to gauge the mood of the mountain, particularly in the last phase when the air becomes too thin to breathe. An able mountaineer should know when exactly to terminate his expedition in case of inclement weather," he adds.

Harbhajan Singh is a basically a sportsman. He has represented Punjab in athletics at the national level. He also won the gold medal in judo at the national level in 1980 before joining the ITBP. As a part of his job, he has trekked difficult terrains of the Himalayas along the borders, particularly the China border.

"My life changed suddenly when in 1987, I got an order from the then ITBP Director-General that I had been made the team leader of an expedition to Mana Peak. He had seen me handle the trainning of the sepoys on ground. Mana Peak may not be the highest but technically speaking it is one of the most difficult terrains. I expressed reservations on account of my short experience. The DGP said in case the trip was a failure the blame would fall on him for picking a wrong person. In case I was successful, I would be a public hero. He was absolutely correct because our successful scaling of Mana Peak was followed by at least 17 more successful expeditions."