"So what exactly happened to these guys?" asked Das. "I heard that they all became drug addicts and that the band is no more." Teru informed Das that while various members of the band have had their problems, Axl Rose is still around.
"So Slash is no longer there?" asked Das plaintively. Teru shook his head.
"That's really a shame. That guy was too good on the guitar. I used to love listening to him at my post." He stole a glance out the front windshield.
"Okay," he said. "That's it, the snout of the glacier. Can you see the pinnacles? Total ice. Absolute ice."
There it was, immense and gray and hulking, a 200-foot wall of boulders and gravel and muddy ooze. It plugged the entire valley from end to end, surrounded by 19,000-foot fangs shooting almost straight into the air. From a dark hole beneath the ice roared the Nubra River, roiling and chalky, laden with grit.
Base camp for the Siachen theater is tucked into the western side of the valley, just short of the snout. Little more than a dirt lot holding about 35 brown-and-green rectangular buildings, it is the nexus for the world's highest, most expensive, and longest-running military air operation. Two days earlier a glacial surge of ice and boulders had coughed out of the mouth of the Nubra and obliterated the steel suspension bridge leading to base camp. We turned onto a temporary bridge that the engineers had thrown up in 24 hours and rattled across, passing under a brightly painted sign that announced, HERE FORTITUDE AND COURAGE IS THE NORM. Up ahead was a tall pole that displayed a bright green flag.
"Green indicates there's no casualties on the glacier," explained Das. "A red flag signals that someone has been injured. Black means death." Our jeeps came to a halt. "Well, we're here," he said. "Welcome to the Siachen."
WITH DAS IN THE LEAD, our party set out on foot. The plan for the first day was to hike five hours to Camp I and rest overnight. From there we would follow a northwesterly route, passing through Camps II and III, until we reached Kumar Base, about 25 miles into the middle of the glacier. The whole trek, to Kumar and back, would take nine days.