NAZRA EMAMDEE

IRFAAN FOOLCHAND

VERTEX EXPLORATION – MAURITIUS (PHOTOS)

A Level Two mountaineering experience having been achieved at the Centre Peak of Trois Mamelles, a gap bridging 10 metres abseiling exercise was required to smoothly make it into a Level Three Vertex Exploration’s mountaineering experience for the Trois Mamelles’ West Peak. West Peak in the Black River District, is located at an elevation of 560 metres above sea level. Once we got off the car, the gigantic rocky sight of West Peak uncannily welcomed us for a day packed with adrenaline. Geared up with our climbing packs, ropes, helmets, harnesses, rappel devices, pulleys, locking carabiners, climbing shoes, go pros, food and everything mountaineering related, we crossed Rivière Papayes and started the chilled walk amidst the sugarcane fields to the foot of the mountains. End of September 2020 was pronouncing the beginning of a mighty summer. Walking vigilantly over the carpet of dry and slippery sugarcane leaves, the team of thirteen trained climbers soon made it to the serpentine trail where they now and then kicked clouds of dry soil in the air during the mild ascent. Like a pack of wolves, the front line was made up of the strong climbers. The centre consisted of all the neophyte climbers following which were the rest of the strong climbers. Last and alone was the lead climber. Once on the slope, a brief decision making and quick hydration session was required to set up the pace and actions for the upcoming challenges. The lead climber whistled to gather everybody and allocated a list of tasks to be fulfilled by the strong climbers, after which everybody dispersed to fulfill their duties.

Being amongst the neophytes, I started the gradual climb using both hands to grip on the secured rocks and thrusted my whole body weight upwards while figuring out the best place to fit my feet in gaps. My sense of reasoning allowed me to evaluate if what I was holding onto was capable of bearing the 40 kilos I weighed or whether it would send me into an avalanche. Few times I rasped my skin against the sharp rocks and the thorns of the aloes. Any textured natural elements were of use to lock our grips and prevent us from gliding down with the dry soil. The grips of our shoes locked on the textured rocks or against the roots of the thin trees spared by termites, while our fingers clenched onto the cracks of the basaltic rocks, the roots of the trees or the thick loops of the creepy plants. At one point the trail led us to a labyrinthian passage where we had to build a rock sculpture to indicate us the correct path for our descent. Soon we reached the saddle between the Centre Peak and the West Peak. The front line climbers were already at the purgatory, setting up the gears to send us all to heaven or hell. The wind had started to raise clouds of dust that pricked our eyes and sent chills down our spines despite the blazing sun. There the team was reorganised, for the forces and skills of all the strong climbers were equally deemed valuable for the rigging of the ropes. From the intersection, we then all took the right tail of the Y and had a 100 metres decent hike until we reached the steep ledge of the peak where things started to get a little sketchy.

Utmost precautions were required then onwards as a mere wrong decision pertaining to the placement of the feet could send a rock into avalanche and hurt anybody relaying on the ledge. We climbed on top of the ledge while being belayed by the lead climber from the top – a technique used in mountaineering to prevent a climber from falling down in case the latter slips. The ascent was steep enough to trigger my panic attack for my tactile sense went into riot with my receptors being in their state of paranoia against the smooth untextured ledge. With heavy breathing, the first challenge was overcome only for us to learn that a flat boulder as sharp as grim reaper’s scythe had been dislodged and landed at the foot of a tree at which our rope was residing. The rope was spared, but the tree cut neatly into two; the sight of which reminded us of how gnarly mountaineering really is. Like mountain goats with two shepherds, we courageously made it to the second ledge. With one of the shepherds having the mouth of a sailor, we were not spared from insults in case we dislodged a rock or carelessly ventured to start a tumbling avalanche of domino effect while putting everyone at risk.

Then came the deadly black face of the peak that seemed to be the haven of grim reaper himself. From nowhere a harsh cold wind accompanied by a cold drizzle began to rise and to whip our mental faculties. The lead climber put on his climbing shoes and began scaling up a narrow crack by carefully placing pieces of protection in between the cracks. Once he reached up, he had to set the ropes to get the other climbers up. But because there was no natural or man-made anchor present to tie the rope, he had to rig the ropes using a combination of gears, skill and pure wit to improvise a secure anchor point from which to belay the climbers waiting below. While on the ridge awaiting for my turn, I clutched myself to the rocks to shield against the cold wind that was whispering mantras of discouragement into my ears. On my right and left sides, death lingered to the ground where Rivière Papayes serpentined like mercury. Corps de Garde slept as a corpse. My body was quivering against the cold for I had come prepared for summer, unprepared for the sheer cold. The helmet was not enough to protect my ears against the cold and soon I felt feverish with a horrible headache. From there I witnessed the fears of the neophytes as they were instructed to the top of the ridge.

When came my turn, I was wearing my heart on my sleeves. My heart was pounding against my chest sending my heart rate into a tornado. While I held onto the ropes for the climb, my somatosensory senses were sinking into death as I suspended with my harness into oblivion. My fingers were surrendering to fear and becoming loose. 560 metres off the ground with no footing, I felt insignificantly small at the apparent intersection of life and death. The motivating voice in my head that helped me ground was slowly fading away and dying into an abyss. My heart was resolutely trying to pump life into my lifeless body while my teary eyes blurred my vision. I yet tried to focus on the face over the ridge whose lips I miserably failed to read against the blurriness and deafening winds. My body felt as inconsistent as water and yet with the use of my hands alone and the fickle voice in my head, I managed to reach the ridge whereby a hand gripped the harness across my waist and pulled me to the surface of the summit where I breathed back to life. Once the team of thirteen made it to the top, we sheltered against the rain and celebrated our triumph to the top with hot cups of tea, dalpouris, chunks of sugarcane and pudding. We spent about two hours over the summit awaiting for the blankets of dark clouds to dissipate from over the menhirs. Clouds of gloom were also crying over Le Morne, whose majestic shadow was seen reflecting over the sea. The white-tailed tropicbirds performed a show for us spectators. Down the fields the trees appeared eerie with long Daliesque shadows. It all boiled down to a mere countdown until time for the indecent descent to purgatory again. We made it down with bruises and blues, but revived and with subjective opinions about hell or heaven.