Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

"True adventure lies in exploring unknown terrains, rest all are mere trails."

-Sharath Raj

It all started when one of my BRC course mate told me about the mighty Plus valley near Tamhini Ghat, a rarely explored but famous place among those who have been there. He showed me a few pictures which were jaw dropping. A close study of those pictures revealed the reason why very few events have been organized here.

Two huge rappelling patches of (300 ft each) out of which one was an overhang patch of more than 80% The difficulty of arranging transport to get down to a place which is in the middle of nowhere. Not much information (Directions & Route map) available online to plan for it.

With whatever little information we had, we planned for it.

The preparations started weeks before.

The day of Reckoning arrived!!!

Following equipment were mobilized for the same.

300 ft 10 mm green ropes, 150 ft, 10 mm white rope, 90 ft10 mm, 600 ft 8mm white rope (borrowed from one of our friend of another group), Carabiners, descenders, QD's, jummars, anchor bolts, harnesses, tubulars, Walkies, first Aid etc.

Food: Sufficient enough to feed us for 3 days. (Although it was a 2 day recce, we carried additional food for contingency)

Team: Harshad, Sharath, Ashish, Subhraj, Nikhil, Shashi.

The team gathered at CST station. Each member was armed with a rucksack, huge coils of ropes and equipments making us appear anything but ordinary on the crowded station. Our excitement was high, our spirits were extreme, but that day a rare silence was dominant too. The train arrived and we managed to find a few seats in the overcrowded train. Late by 30 mins as per the scheduled ETA we reached, Pune railway station where Shashi was waiting to join us for the recce. A convoy of two rickshaws took us to Swargate ST stand. The bus was at around 5 am and we still had an hour to kill. Everyone got themselves engaged in something or the other but Subhu even after a long sleep during the train journey, got cozy to have some more sleep at the ST stand proving his "Somnophilia" (sleeping beauty syndrome).

Shashi came running, "the bus is here!". We quickly got our stuff and the noise thankfully woke up Subhu and without asking much questions he came running behind us. We were lucky enough to have some rear seats available where we could park our luggage. It was a roller coaster ride and in no time the entire team fell asleep.

At 06:45 hrs - "Hey, I think it's the plus valley!" - Harshad shouted and we all sprang up to have a look but could barely see anything. Though Harshad wasn't sure, we made a decision to get off the bus and try our luck against Harshad's observation. The kind driver heartlessly applied the brakes (he was in love with the accelerator) and the conductor waved us goodbye. Though his face was still clueless about where we guys were heading towards that no man's land.

Harshad was right...It was the mighty valley of Tamhini ghat - "Plus Valley". While we were enjoying the beauty from the mouth of the valley, we quickly had our breakfast and started our final task of distributing the weight for everyone to carry not less than 10 kg in their backpack.

Sharath - Coiling the rope at the start point of Plus valley 07:15 hrs

Photo of Plus Valley, Tamhini Ghat, Maharashtra, Patnus, Maharashtra, India by Sharath Raj

The steep descend started with lot of loose rocks to negotiate with. After 5 mins of the descend we were astonished to see a carcass of a pulsar bike, it indicated a brutal accident which had taken place in the past. Although the silence was prominent we continued on the trail, witnessing the eternal beauty of the valley, the mighty walls with climbing bolts. The climbing walls tempted us to scale them and we decided to come back once we had settled down at the camping area. After an hour of heading straight on the trail we reached the T junction (+ intersection) of the valley. With a fair knowledge of the orientation we knew that we had to change our direction towards the right. The beauty of the valley got magnified with the sight of huge water cisterns with crystal clear water. From here we could see the dead end of the valley and knew our camping spot was approaching. Few minutes on the straight trail brought us to the huge plateau which was an idle spot for camping. We were in the cradle of nature with beautiful water cisterns around. Our joy had no bounds. Rucksacks were grounded, and we jumped inside the pool. The water was cold enough to withdraw the tiredness of the journey so far. We all were like hippos inside a pool of water, lying down lazily doing nothing when Harshad reminded us that we had to quickly start our camping setup so that we could do our climbing practice before the sun retired for the day.

The blueprint of the map prepared by Harshad 11:30 hrs

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The Tent was pitched, The Hammock was hanged, wood was collected, food ration was out and we were all set to start our cooking activity.

Subhu Breaking the wood for cooking

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As usual I was leading the cooking job and rest of the team were diligently under my command. And in an hours time the meal was ready; Rice and mix veg curry was on the platter. The sun had no mercy and showered us with all its energy. Taking shade under a small tree we started our meal. As usual praises followed for my recipe, these praises have now become more like a ritual than an appreciation cause whether you like it or not you have to appreciate any meal in the wild. The food made us lazier and the heat was forcing us to stay behind in our tents, so we decided to take a nap till the sun signed off for the day. Listening to each other's stories and exchanging views on the purpose of existence we retired for a powerful nap.

Our 2 BHK Tent :)

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Nikhil & Ashish sleeping below the Tree shade

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My Hammock - Waiting to cradle me

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16:00 hrs

After a while Shashi , the non-climber in the group sarcastically commented "Looks like no one is in a mood to climb and the "josh" shown was just in the moment" , to which Harshad roared back at him and it was a good enough alarm to wake us all up. Except Shashi, the entire team gathered all the climbing gears and ropes and started heading back to the bolted walls which were approximately an hour away from us. Armed with a walkie and a kukri we left Shashi behind to guard the post till we were back.

16:30 hrs

The wall was still hot and Harshad as always was more than excited to lead the climb. His request for lead climb and his excitement, both were an usual phenomenon which we generally agreed to proceed with.

Harshad reviewing the route before his climb

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"Belayer ready?" - Harshad enquired

"Ready!" - I replied.

"Starting the climb" - Harshad informed.

"Climb On" - I replied back.

Whether it is climbing or rappelling, a code of call signs are used to communicate effectively between the climber/rappeler to the belayer. No act is performed by the climber/ rappeler without the consent of the belayer on whom his life is depended and for the climber his belayer is everything.

Although the wall was a perfect 90 degree inclined one, the initial climb was easy. The luxury got diminished after climbing 25 to 30 ft. After reaching onto a ledge at around 40 ft, Harshad, did a traverse of approx. 15 ft. He got his quick draws anchored to a fix bolt since the next final climb of 15ft was an overhang with only crux holds to climb on. Struggling to find for a superior hold Harshad put all his energy on the difficult crux for more than 15 to 20 mins. I being his belayer without blinking an eye was prepared to arrest his fall which could have happened at any moment. Since Harshad had a habit of giving surprise falls, I was on my toes. Finally after a long struggle and draining all his energy, he signed off. " I Quit" He said. Having a look at my fellow audience I replied back - "ready to Rappel on". Harshad said - "Starting the rappel" to which I acknowledged - "Rappel on" and he was down in no time.

Lesson One - In mountaineering there is no shame to Quit at any point of time since you always have a next day to climb. The mountain won't go anywhere. You only have to tell yourself "It's just not my day today" and swallow your ego.

Next was my turn to climb, and Harshad was my belayer. The call signs continued, the same route was followed and after the traverse I got myself to the same problem (In climbing terms "Problem" means the path that a climber takes in order to complete the climb). I paused for few seconds to have a closer look at the problem, planned my moves and made my climb to the top. "Im there" I signed it to my belayer with a feeling of achievement. Every time you solve a problem you enjoy a moment of victory and the same emotion was going through me. After fixing a top belay setup, I rappelled down to the team.

Sharath negotiating the Crux move

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Next was Ashish's turn. He followed the same route and quite easily made it to the summit. His job was to remove all the Setup and descend back safely. This is one of the riskiest part of winding up the setup since your anchor points are removed and the impact of the fall factor increases with it. Ashish was cool and did it with great ease. Maintain your calm - That's the mantra in all walks of life if not, at least in climbing. It was getting dark. We quickly coiled the ropes, mounted our head lamps and started heading back to our camping spot. Within minutes the trail was pitch dark and we had an hour to reach back to our camping area. We spoke to Shashi over the walkie to find out whether everything was ok at his end and informed him that we were going to take an hour to reach him. Everything seemed ok for some time until Subhu, who was the last man on the trail heard a strange noise, some grunting of an animal and he alarmed us. The group came closer. There prevailed a deep silence, our eyes were wide open, trying to figure out any moving object in the dead dark forest of that valley. But we couldn't hear anything. We stayed together and walked ahead.

Lesson Two - The woods may have many surprises for you when you are surviving in the wild. Any such encounter must never trigger panic amongst the group members. Remain calm, stay together with the group and face the challenge.

In the meantime the camp fire was already lit when we reached the camping area. The diner was cooked along with a spicy soup. We had a long chat and later we all went to sleep.

The bonfire burning throughout the night

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

Day 2


"Wake up guys - It's a big day" said Harshad whose face was still tugged inside his bed sheet. He reminded us about the purpose of the day. The morning was so pleasant that we were behaving extra lazy. In a rhythm, each member got out of the tent to start the day or I would better say "to face the day".


Post all our morning chores, we headed towards the void which was barely 50 meters away. We reached a gorge which was around 40 ft below and was completely filled of water. Harshad and I lowered ourselves with a belay, from two different sides to have a closer look at the gorge for some better anchors but were disappointed to find none. We climbed back to the ledge and keeping the gorge on our left hand side we proceeded further. Struggling because of some bushes we reached an open plateau with a huge boulder which was suitable to be used as an anchor point. Ropes were uncoiled, gears were taken out and the preparations started. It was noted that the depth of the gorge was not visible from any side of the plateau, hence the question of the descend length conquered our minds.

Team at the setup Point

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The anchor was ready to take us to the bottom of the gorge. A 300 ft 10mm rope was attached to the anchor point.

I closed my eyes for a sec to remember the spirit, took the dead end of the rope, coiled it a few feet, said to the team "Here we go" and threw the rope into the void.. swewwwwww. The rope was unwinding down so rigorously in such great speed that it was astonishing for us to watch , still it took more than 10 secs for it to stop with a jerk at the anchor station. Trust me, the jerk was scary.

Watch Out!!! The rope is on its way

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The full length of the rope was consumed for the patch and since the base was not visible we were not sure whether the dead end of the rope had touched the base. Hence we decided to pull the rope back and to tie a knot at the dead end of the rope to safeguard the rappeler to stop his descend at the end of the rope in case the descend length was more than the length of the rope. The thumb rule says - "Whether your rope touches the base or not, it is always safer to tie a knot at the dead end of the rope, to avoid rope starvation"

We started pulling the rope to tie the knot. Despite using the jummar to pull the rope, the weight of the rope was so much that a normal person would exhaust all his energy to pull the 300 ft giant and his reliever would exhaust too. Finally the rope was up again. While I was tying the knot at the dead end, I felt that the rope was wet. On further investigating the rope, we concluded that the rope was 10 ft wet which clearly indicated just one thing, "The landing zone was in the water and not on the land!" Now the question was how deep was the water?? How far we would have to swim to come out of the water??? Our senses triggered us to plan for the worst and we felt an urge to decide for a constructive sequence, primarily the First & the Last man.

Rope line straight to the center of the pond

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The primary objective of the first man was to do the naked recce of the route, communicate all the challenges to the team, decide a suitable landing zone and sanction his clearance for commencing the activity. Alike the first man, the last man too had to execute vital tasks like coiling and winding up the entire setup, preparing his own rappel line all alone and descending without his belay depending only on the main line.

Thus the following sequence was charted.

After the knot was tied at the end of the rope, the route was live again. Armed with a Walkie, few carabineers, slings & jummar, Harshad was all set to go. Trust me, however experienced a person you are, still your heart would miss some beats when you are about to lead such routes, especially when the landing zone is not visible and the terrain is unknown. Such moments make you stand out of the queue and then you lead and people just follow you!

Ashish lined up Harshad on the main rope, anchored him to the belay and said "Sharath - The belay is with you"... "Roger" I acknowledged back. We all gave him a salute - a mark of respect in EDAS for the act. To which Harshad replied "see you soon buddies" and he started to disappear into the void.

Harshad - Rappelling down

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The descend was slower than normal. "The rope is damn heavy" Harshad radioed. The 300+ft rope which was hanging below was appearing heavy due to the gravitational force. Harshad had to use all his energy to pull the rope and pass it through the descenders. Also it was a 10mm rope which gave more friction in comparison to 8 & 9mm ropes. After a few minutes, the belay rope was running faster with the descend and I cud feel the heat between the rope and my gloves. For almost 15 mins, we could not hear anything from Harshad when finally he responded to our RT calls - "Guys - Everything is under control" He informed us that it was almost a 250 ft overhang patch which he had encountered and had finally stationed at just 2ft above a huge water body. We discovered that the huge pond below plus valley was nothing but the Devkund pond and Harshad was hanging in the middle of it just two feet above it. He was enjoying one of the finest surprises of his life and he was enjoying it thoroughly. He asked us to hold his belay, while he fixed a jummar and removed his shoes. He signaled to us that he was going to set himself free from the rope line and before doing that he was going to throw all his gears and walkies to the shore so that he could swim easily without any drag. So for almost next 15 mins we couldn't hear anything from Harshad until I found that the weight on the belay turned null. We concluded that he had jumped into the water and was off to his rally point. After few minutes, the RT rang .. " Im there..Safe & fine" Harshad reported his status. Hurraaaaaaay...It was a moment of joy and accomplishment. Harshad informed us that the water was deep and one needs to swim at least for 20 ft to reach to the shore. But since Harshad had the dead end of the rope with him, he could pull the rappelling person towards the shore. We pulled up the belay rope to start with the next guy. Shashi was lined up and there he went. For almost 7 to 8 mins Shashi was not visible to Harshad and when he was visible to him, he was not visible to us. From this we figured out that the initial 50 ft was a convex patch while the rest 250ft was a concave patch along with the overhang. With almost 15 ft left to descend, Harshad started pulling Shashi towards the shore to ensure that he landed out of the pond. It took close to 20 mins to clear the line followed by which the same drama of pulling the belay repeated. With every descending person, the individual activity handled on the summit increased and it was a herculean task to pull up the long belay to the summit. By now I wanted to plan out the last man's descend. Hence I asked Nikhil to stay back while I prepared my plan and Ashish who was the fourth man, too decided to stay back with me till the last man's descend plan was finalized. Hence Subhu who naturally was now third in line went down while Ashish took the belay as I started to plan out my descend plan. i.e. 'The last man descend'. Following arithmetics ran through my mind.

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

Subhu at the overhang section of the descend.

Subhu being pulled to the shore by the base team to avoid him land into the pond.

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

"The length of the descend & the length of 10mm rope is 300ft, however if this rope has to be used as a "U" setup then the rope's length would reduce to half of its actual length which would only cover 50% of the patch."

Ashish informed me about the 600ft rope which we were using as a belay, but he also reminded me about the damage in the rope after 450 ft. The guy who gave us the 600 ft 8mm rope had informed us that the rope had two cuts after 450ft. We still got it along since the patch length based on the information available was not above 350 ft, and we had thought that we would use it as a backup rope. The bottom line was that even this rope was not ideal to be trusted upon since the core of the rope was damaged from inside while the outer was still intact.

Rope Load distribution:Core loads 60% of the entire weightOuter loads 40% of the entire weight

We also had a 180 ft 10mm rope which was not even considered since the rope's length was not even one way of the descend length. In the back drop, Subhu also descended and now we were left with Ashish, Nikhil & myself on the summit. We informed Harshad about the dilemma and asked him to wait till we figured out a plan.

The blueprint of last man descend Plan which I prepared

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

After 1400 hrs

It was scorching hot. After lot of discussion, the following plan was charted to be executed. The 300ft rope would be joined to the 8mm white rope. The 8mm white rope would be double folded thereby reducing its length to half of the usable length i.e 450/2 which is approx. 225 ft.

"See you down buddy " I said to Nikhil with a tight hug and sent him down to the rest of the team. "Nikhil is here" minutes later Shashi confirmed that Nikhil had touched the base. "Stand by for further action" Ashish informed Shashi and turned towards me "Shall we start".

"We should...It's already 15:45 hrs" I replied.

We started to pull up the entire rope to recreate the setup as per the new plan. Since we wanted a full proof plan, we decided to do a rehearsal of the actual descend before Ashish descended down. If the plan failed the last man would not be stuck alone. With only 2 people onboard the task of pulling all those ropes became tiring in the heat. We covered our faces with a head wrap and sunglasses to avoid sunstroke and dehydration. The water available in the can had reached its boiling point...Thanks to the sun that was in no mood of having any mercy.

Ashish, Myself in the scorching heat

The green rope was ready to be launched.

"Watch out" I alarmed the team at the base.

There it goes.....

"Have both the ends of the rope touched the base" I enquired with the base team.

'Negative. It's almost 75 ft short from the base"

As expected the line was not sufficient to meet the descend length.

"Whats Next" Ashish asked me expecting for an alternate solution.

"Let's Think" I said after pausing for a breath.

Few minutes later the walkie beeped... It was Harshad on the RT.

"Go Ahead Harshad" I acknowledged him.

'I have a solution, but....' He hesitated to continue

"But what" I probed him.

"But it's a bit risky" Harshad began to elaborate his plan which was to involve the remaining 150ft of 8mm rope which had the damaged portion. He asked us to secure the damage portion with a thumb knot over the damage area to avoid the load to be transferred to the damage section of the rope.

Harshad always has a Plan B...especially weird ones during such crisis situations.

"Negative...It's way too risky" I immediately replied back.

"Yes I know" but that's the only solution to meet the length" Harshad replied.

I reminded Harshad that the core of the rope already had two break points. If it was a case where the outer was damaged, then we could have assumed that it might have been due to some sharp edge which might have come in contact with the rope, but the core was damaged in this case which meant only one thing it was definitely due to the sheer load factor which the rope has failed twice to take resulting in the two break points. Although we could have secured the damage area with the THUMB KNOT but what if there was another break while we descended through it. None of us could anticipate that.

Harshad agreed to the point and said "You guys take the call wisely but remember the time is running out"

I acknowledged back and told him that we would get back to him in 10 mins.

Lesson three: While one is exploring an unknown terrain, it is very likely that one may land up in such situations where the entire plan fails thereby forcing you to take some risks. Remember.. risk is something which is only to be taken when it is inevitable. Retire from the distress; check out for the feasible and the most executable contingency plan,let the hidden survivalist in you think and the magic which resides within the nature will join you along.

Ashish turned towards me" What's our contingency plan"

We have two options

Plan A - Check out for an alternative route Plan B - Abort the mission and return back out of the valley to the start point.

"Great..I only wanted one plan instead we have two" Ashish replied back in a comic tone or a bit sarcastically I couldn't tell.

But the plan has got its limitations - I continued

Fetching a new route would definitely take time which would simultaneously reduce our trek time to return back if the plan A pays no result. In that case we will have to back out of the valley in pitch dark and the possibility of find a suitable transport option would diminish to null.

" we have a time bound plan...and I am very much fond of time bound activities...Thanks to my boss"

This time Ashish was purely sarcastic.

We informed the base team about the plan and without wasting much time started hunting for other routes and yes the magic happened!!!

100 mtrs across the valley we could see a small rope tied to a rock. We were cent percent sure that someone might have attempted from that place.

The image of the rope being tied to the rock at the other side of the valley

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

I asked Ashish to immediately reach out to that place while I did the winding up of the ropes.

In 10 mins, Ashish reached and there came first good news of the day.

"Bro...Seems like this rock has been used as an anchor point to descend down" Ashish informed me through the walkie.

He also remarked that he couldn't see the landing zone from the patch.

Since I was on the other side, I decided to figure out the landing zone from my end....Hence anchoring myself to a sling, I descended a bit to check for the landing zone.

"Yes...100 ft down there is a landing zone" I informed Ashish with a sense of achievement.

The new dilemma of the situation was that after descending the 100 ft patch we had to find an anchor point from the landing zone for the next descend of 200ft if we didn't find a point to anchor from then we would be stuck there as it was impossible to climb up the patch again.

I was at a distance of more than 150 ft, I roughly figured out a boulder at the landing zone which I thought could be used as an anchor point. I informed this to Ashish who gave me a concurrence for the execution.

Without wasting anytime, I lifted the huge coils of ropes to reach the opposite side of the valley. Again the uncoiling was done. We used the 300 ft rope as the main rope in the U setup while the 8mm rope as the belay rope.

17:15 hrs

The patch was live to be inaugurated and it was decided that Ashish would rappel down first and I would be the last man again.

Since we are evacuating from the summit, it was our responsibility to ensure complete wind up of the setup up area and that no stuff was left behind. At this moment we realized that we have too much stuff to take along. This caused our rucksacks to weigh double of its actual ideal weight. We had an entire set of gears, ropes, water cans, our personal stuff and God knows what not. While Ashish got himself lined-up on the main Line, I was busy with the winding up process. "I'm done dude" Ashish informed me that he is ready to go. I looked at Ashish and then at some stuff which he had forgotten to keep in his own bag. "Seems like you are missing your flight" I sarcastically poked him with a dirty look, to which he responded with his peculiar Mickey Mouse smile! "There you are" I anchored a belay rope to his harness and reviewed whether his line was safe for action.

It was the last time for the day when I could see his face clearly in daylight and it was the first moment of the day of being left alone on an unknown territory when my entire team was down. The descent speed was average and was consistent which meant the patch was pretty idle to be rappelled on. While I was still controlling his belay, my eyes were looking around for any stuff that we would be leaving behind if gone unnoticed.

In few minutes, My walkie beeped.

"I'm there" Ashish informed me.

Though I knew we still had a long way to reach down but this update from Ashish made me feel great. It was the first progressive action after getting dead locked for hours without any action.

Ashish descending the 100 ft, clicked from the base.

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

I quickly got up from my belay position to remove the belay setup. I informed Ashish to move aside from the patch since I was about to set the belay rope free. It would be pulled down by the force of gravity which I feared would drag along the loose stones that were abundantly scattered over the edge of the ledge.

The belay rope was down in no time and Ashish started coiling it, while I was readying myself on the main line to begin my rappel.

"Dude at least we are not going to die tonight without water!" Ashish informed me through the walkie. "We have a huge pond hidden in the middle of this no man's land !" His excitement had no limit.

We both were constantly talking on our walkies while, the team at the base was on total standby mode . There was nothing that could be done on their end apart from sending some RT calls and receiving updates.

I started the rappel through the main rope without the use of any belay. Within few minutes I was down and I was again with my Wing Man - Ashish. It's a great feeling to be with someone, it's comforting no matter how bad the situation is, and if that company happens to be your "best buddy" then there is nothing like it!

"You guys are there! ...We can See you!" Harshad radioed us from the base. The landing zone was a "V" patch where both the walls of the valley met each other. From the edge we could see that the entire team at the base were looking up at us as if they were "star gazing". Everyone at the base appeared too small due to the height which was still to be descended.

"Bro I will manage coiling the rope ...Will you take charge of the next anchor Point?" Ashish enquired, distributing the task.

I started to scan the entire landing zone but could not see anything reliable to be used as an Anchor Point.

While the time was on a running spree like Usain Bolt, the sun too had signed off for the day and we were yet to discover an anchor point to descend the 200 ft deep valley.

There was nothing visible near the landing zone on which we had landed; hence I decided to venture out on the other side of the V patch,this involved climbing of 10 ft patch. Since I could see a ledge nearby, I was sure of some potential anchor points. Before trying this patch I thought of reaching out to Ashish, who has busy coiling the long rope and was struggling with the tangles.

"Bro..." I called out to him "I am sure we are getting the experience of a lifetime to cherish and I would always expect that Life should continue to surprise us with many more moments like these..But One thing which I wanted to say is - Thanks for staying back with me when you had a choice and a chance to descend before. You purposely stayed back knowing about the potential challenges I may encounter " I said to Ashish and hugged him for a while.

Trust me - friends like these who never ever leave you behind are precious gifts from God, and I can proudly say that I have many of these in EDAS!

'What happened to you all of a sudden?" He inquired with curiosity.

"Nothing much...We are about to experience the toughest moment of the thought I should tell you this before we are about to face it.....No matter what...We are gonna touch the base tonight..." I said to Ashish.

"Yes matter what..we are going to make it tonight and I'm glad that we both are together to share this moment" Ashish said.

A strange kind of confidence passed through our exhausted minds and we were all set to beat the worst by now.

Immediately I mounted my headlamp and said "Let's do this!" . I started the descend towards the 'V point' with my rucksack while Ashish continued coiling.

After reaching the V point which was filled with water that was knee deep, I started to climb the patch. Although the patch had comparatively good holds, but the wet shoes & the heavy rucksack were making it tough to climb. I managed to reach the ledge and immediately started checking for anchor points using the focus light of my head lamp. I saw something which was shining off the edge of the valley. I dropped my rucksack and started moving towards the shining object. The ledge was getting steeper, I knew I was moving towards the very edge of the valley, hence each step was taken cautiously , my eyes were still fixated on the shining object.

I was barely 3 meters away when I finally figured out what it was!

"Eureka! Eureka!" I started shouting on top of my voice.

"What happened dude?" Ashish curiously asked me.

"I found it bro...It's a proper bolted anchor and belay station being installed by someone" I answered back to Ashish.

I informed the base team about the discovery and there was a huge 'hurray' from them.

I attached my sling to one of the bolts and started inspecting the others one by one"

Lesson Four - When you use any anchor points /bolts installed by someone else, kindly inspect it meticulously for flaws since you might not know the history of the installation. Bolts are subjected to weathering effect.

These were 5 rings bolts which were installed in a diamond formation and a rope coil was passed through all the rings to form a web anchor point. Since the valley is usually flooded with water, these bolts were installed at the edge of the valley over a height of 15 ft to avoid contact with the water flow. The bolts appeared intact but the ropes coiled through it had withered, hence I used a 9 mm sling rope to form a coil through the bolts as an additional back up. In the meantime Ashish signaled that he was done with his coiling. I reached out to him with a rope to pull up all the ropes so that we could climb the patch effortlessly.

Sharath after setting up the last anchor

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

"How are the bolts?" Ashish inquired as soon as he climbed up.

"Intact, but the ropes had some damage so I installed our rope through it"

" spine is paining badly" Ashish said while stretching his back.

"Same here" I told him and started to uncoil the 300 ft rope to be used as the main rope. Although we were completely drained out by now, we didn't have much time to sympathize about it.


It was really unsafe to stand over the steep edge of the anchor station, hence I anchored myself to the bolt over the edge and started pulling the green rope while Ashish was busy uncoiling the 8mm rope which was to be used as the belay rope.

I installed the 10mm green rope in "U' setup where the middle point of the rope was anchored. I alerted the base team that I was about to the throw both the edges of the rope to the base.

"Watch out & Clear the base" I told the base team.

"Roger" they confirmed back.

I promised lord Ganesha for a coconut in exchange of our safe descend and threw the rope off the edge.

There was a huge noise that the rope made in the silence and then there was pin drop silence that followed.

"Both the rope edges have touched the base with a perfect slag of one feet" Harshad informed us.

Harshad also informed us that we were damn lucky as the rope had barely touched the base with the length of only one foot that was left out.

I thanked Ganesha for his mercy and turned towards Ashish "Your Flight is ready"

Ashish started to cautiously move towards me by negotiating the exposed patch. While I was about to fix the belay point to his harness, he was suddenly hit hard by something on his face and his foot slipped. He instantly grabbed my harness and I caught him tight. Since I was well anchored to the belay station we could arrest our fall. I pulled Ashish, held him tight and immediately placed his belay over his harness.

Now there was buzzing everywhere around us and something hit me on my face too.

"Holy shit!! Honey bees!!" - I exclaimed.

"Freak...We need cover!" -Ashish yelled, hiding his face under my arms.

"Hold-on and do not move...Turn off the headlamp!" I responded back.

It was the scariest moment of the day when we were being pushed to the edge of the valley towards grave danger. Facing a honey bee attack under zero visibility; we were just holding and covering each other tightly to prevent being attacked on the face and to maintain stable position. The only sound which was heard was the noise of the bees and that of our heavy breathes.

We informed the base team that we were under honey bee attack and requested zero RT calls"

RT calls release disturbing radio frequencies for Honey bees, this could have provoked them further. Our technique worked out very quickly. In Less than a minute, the buzzing sound of the bees started to fade away. I turned on my Headlamp and got Ashish to a better position.

The moment I turned on my headlamp, I heard the buzzing return. I realised that even the light was provoking them hence I had to turned off my lamp. I informed Ashish " Bro, we have to do this in pitch dark since the light too is provoking them"

Without making much noise I got Ashish lined up over the main rope and told him to use his lamp only after descending 100 feet.

We hugged and kissed each other warmly as I said to him " All the best bro!"

"Come down soon!" Ashish said to me caringly.

"Of course I would! ...No plans to have dinner with the bees here!" I joked back.

"Belay ready" Ashish asked me.

"Yes" I confirmed that the belay was on.

"Rappelling start" He suggested of his departure.

"Rappel on" I waved him off.

I could see him disappearing from my sight into the dark void. The base team looked like fireflies as all of them had their headlamps on.

In the circle Left above Sharath and right below Ashish descending down - Clicked by the base team

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

In less than 30 secs I lost him from sight and there I was all alone on that hostile territory.

Assuming that he was on the overhang patch as the belay rope had got heavier and faster, I started to respond back by providing steady slag for his belay.

There was a rare silence that surrounded me and the only noise that fell on my eardrums was that of the flowing water from the edge. It was an absolute moment of isolation as I silently waited for Ashish to reach the base. After 15 mins of the descend, there were loud hurray calls coming from the base. There was no pressure on the belay rope suggesting that Ashish might have had touched the base. Still as a mountaineering practice I couldn't leave the belay until I had received a confirmation that the rappeler was off the belay. Despite having the threat of the bees I used the RT to confirm whether Ashish was down and that he was off the belay.

"What's the status?" - I radioed to the base.

" Ashish is at the base bro!" Nikhil jubilantly responded back

"Copy. I'm pulling the belay" I responded.

" Roger" Nikhil confirmed.

The news of Ashish reaching the base motivated me to the very nerve. I was so highly charged that I didn't even feel the pain or any load while I was pulling the belay up all by myself.

19:50 hrs

Once the ropes were up again, I went back to pack my bag with all the pending stuff to be carried along. I was struggling badly to wind up the patch under zero visibility over the edge of the cliff as any use of light would have been a signal enough for the bees to return back. I threw the belay rope down to control it from the base. I lined myself up on the main line and checked whether the belay was ready. I was desperately waiting to start my move when unnaturally my walkie beeped.

"Stand by Sharath.. There is a problem down here" A well-founded voice of Harshad came through my walkie.

I inquired what was the issue, to which Harshad replied "Your belay is entangled somewhere with your main rope and you will choke midway if you make any descend"

"Holy shit..what's going on?" I asked myself.

"You will have to pull back your belay to fix it" Harshad advised me.

"Roger that..Pulling up" I confirmed back. I used my sling to anchor myself back to the bolt and started pulling up my belay. I could clearly hear the buzzing sound of the bees coming closer and then going away again. At that moment I was not at all bothered about the bees but was worried about the belay rope which was making my day stretch even longer. I got the maximum length of the rope, it didn't show any signs of tangles. I coiled the dead end and threw it once again to the base.

"Check the belay" I asked Harshad to check the belay

"Negative...It's the same story" Harshad replied.

"Seems like one coconut to Lord Ganesha was not a fair deal in the bargain" I said to my consciousness.

Pausing for some breathe and thinking for a while I turned my walkie on.

"Harshad...I am removing the belay and leaving it on the base"

I continued "I will rappel on the main rope without my belay"

" It's a huge overhang without any support to transfer your weight onto.. your heavy bag will turn you upside down" Harshad warned me about the possible challenge that I would encounter while negotiating the overhang portion of the descend.

"Copy ...You pull down the main rope to control my descend and with the other hand I'LL keep the rope close to my chest to hold the weight of my bag to avoid being pulled back"

"All the best" Harshad signed off .

I immediately coiled the belay rope and threw it to the base, removed my sling from the bolts and got over my main rope.

"I can do it" I motivated myself and informed Harshad over the walkie that I was starting my descend.

Without the use of the headlamp it was difficult to figure out my leg moves but still the initial patch was doable. After descending for some 30 secs, I started to feel the distance between my toes and the wall widen.

"Yes..there comes the overhang"

As soon as I lost my foothold from the walls, my bag started pulling me back. With my left hand I was firmly holding the rope to keep my upper body straight while I tried to maintain the center of gravity near my waist without it shifting to to my shoulder instead. With every feet that I descended my forearms started pumping badly. I knew I was optimally using my energy and tried to maintain the steadiness of my descend as far as possible. The lights from the base team's headlamps were blinding my eyes but I had no leisure to use my hands to operate the walkie and inform them about the visual disturbance that they were unknowingly causing. The descend continued and when I was less than 80 ft away from the base, my arms started to feel unsteady due to the lack of energy. It is at this moment that my line swinged a bit and my position shifted, now I was directly under millions of droplets of water that were falling from above. The droplets fell all over my face rebooting my dropping energy. It rejuvenated me to fight back for the last battle in which I was only few feet away to win.

I screamed louder to warm myself up. I had just 20ft left to descend, when the hurray calls from the base team started echoing in my ears.

"Take those torch beams off my eyes" I shouted and started to laugh aloud.

"Subhu had a doubt whether it was you or someone else descending down hence we flashed the lights on you" The first stupid joke that I heard that day was cracked by Shashi.

Everyone laughed out loud and I my feet finally touched the ground.

I couldn't make out any faces due to the flashlights blinding my eyes, but my eyes were searching for Ashish. Someone came hugged me and said "Finally we are down". It was Ashish whispering into my ears.

"Yes we are down!" I hugged him tight. The entire team clustered around us to share the joy and it was a perfect moment of celebration!

Its was 20:35 hrs, I immediately checked my watch

"Bro...I am cooking kheer for you" Shashi informed me.

"And bro ..i'm preparing the take rest" Subhu followed Shashi.

Although it was my KRA to cook, the team decided to spare me from any task for the night.

While the entire team was busy preparing the dinner, I and Ashish were lying on the rocky bed near the shore of the huge pond, gazing at the point far above us where we were immobilized for hours.

Our Life guardians

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

White light of Sharath's head lamp at the "V" point spotted from the base

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

Circle above - The "V" point from where we started our second descend -Left bottom seen is the entire team at the base

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

Left to right: Sharath, Shashi, Nikhil, Subhu, Ashish & Top right corner Harshad

Photo of Plus valley Recce - A True story of courage, passion and brotherhood - Written by Sharath Raj by Sharath Raj

It was a moment to be lived, an experience of a lifetime, a bond of friendship, trust of companionship. The crisis situation had evolved us to a new level of handling disasters with appropriate decision making skills without panicking or getting stressed out. Proving once again to us our ability to survive against such odd situations. Although the learning is not yet over, the syllabus is vast, at times the teacher is strict and you need to be a diligent student because you cannot afford to fail in her exams as there may be or may not be a second chance given.

There are many new places still left to explore, and in the bargain the nature I am sure will continue to give us many more experiences and would teach us more things about survival. Remember, with every such encounter with the nature, there is an experience, and in every experience there is a lesson taught which will stay with you for a lifetime.

My golden mantra which I always prefer to follow in all situations is - "Check all challenges, but take only those which you are bound to, rest are evitable" - Sharath Raj

- A true story Written by Sharath Raj

Content Edit Courtesy - Amruta Deshmukh