Sunday, September 30, 2007

To Gangotri

23 - 24 August 2007

Once you've lived with mountains
You will return
You will come back
To touch the tress and grass
And climb once more the windswept mountain pass.
- Ruskin Bond

After our last adventurous trek to Bara Bhangal in the October of 2006, we had decided that we would choose a moderate trek for our next adventure. However as I was recounting the Bara Bhangal experiences to one of our trekker friends JP, in the November of 2006, he suddenly asked me "Kalindi Chaloge? (Want to join us for Kalindi?)". Kalindi was in there in our list but I had never thought it would be added to my trekking resume so early. I was but three Himalayan treks old.

I had a discussion with Sandeep that evening and he was more than eager for Kalindi.

Kalindi Khal (“Khal” is a mountain pass in the local Garhwali language) is at an awesome altitude of 5947 meters (19600 feet). The trek connects the two Hindu holy shrines of Gangotri and Badrinath. The trek itself is in a very remote part of the Greater Himalayas in Garhwal. The legendary mountaineers Shipton and Tilman had discovered this route in 1934. Traversing the Kalindi Khal requires a fundamental understanding of mountains, glaciers and high altitude trekking in general.

So Kalindi Khal it was, for this year’s adventure, that’s what we decided.

Finally after all the preparation, we started for our dream trek on the 23rd of August 2007. The following people were to be the “Super Six” team as we called ourselves.

JP, Harsh, Sandeep and Shilpa from Bangalore, Moiz from Mumbai and Yogesh from Delhi.

From left to right.

JP : Our leader - fondly called JP Bhai Yahoo waley , is a very experienced trekker.
Harsh : Our resident glacier expert .
Moiz : He is the boulder man, a mountain goat. He gets his energy from the surrounding boulders.
Sandeep : My husband - the motivator but always paranoid about AMS.
Yogesh : Our CFO and manager. Very enthusiastic about trekking.
Shilpa : Thats me.

All the members met in Delhi at the Comesum Food Plaza at Nizamuddin Station. We started for Haridwar by train the same night and reached very early in the morning the next day. The plan was to reach Uttarkashi the same day before 12 PM, get our “Inner-Line Permits” from the District Magistrate’s office and start for Gangotri by 2 PM.

We hired a Vikram (a six seater auto rickshaw) from Haridwar for Rishikesh, the foothills of Himalayas. It was five in the morning, and we realized that the auto did not have it’s headlight on. It was quite funny; we traveled the entire one hour in pitch darkness while discussing the ghosts that haunt the Kalindi Khal trail. Finally at about 7 in the morning, we hired a jeep, Mahindra Marshal, from Natraj Chowk at Rishikesh and started for Uttarkashi. Even this process was not without incidences. Harsh angered the driver of the jeep by making some really funny comments about the condition of the vehicle. The angry driver almost stopped short of telling us “Go take a hike” (no pun). After some coaxing, the driver did agree and we were on our way to Uttarkashi.

One of the things that had kept bothering us always had been the weather. We used to see reports of heavy rains in Uttarakhand. There were reports of landslides after Uttarkashi on the way to Gangotri, cutting of Gangotri from rest of India. The weather itself was not looking good from Rishikesh. It had rained the whole night and dark clouds still abounded a plenty. Everyone was keeping his fingers crossed.

Because of the new Tehri Dam construction, there is now a new route from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi increasing the distance between the two towns by 40 km. On our way we stopped to admire the massive man made reservoir.

We reached Uttarkashi at 2 PM sharp where we were met by Budhi Gusain who was to be our guide for the trek. Budhi was a smart young lad of about 25. I had spoken to him on phone before and knew that he had a Basic, Advanced and a Rescue course from NIM. Harsh,JP and Moiz had already been on a trek with Budhi and we were assured that we were in able hands.

Shambhuji hugged JP and started talking to him in a manner as if he was his son-in-law. From this time, we started calling JP, "Uttarkashi kay jamai raja". This added to the one more moniker which JP had - "JP Bhai Yahoowaley" since he always carried the Yahoo flag with him.

We had to visit the district magistrate’s office for the permit. This process did not turnout to be complicated and we got our permits on the same day.

The next day was a protest strike in Uttarkashi because of construction of the Tehri Dam (this is quite a contentious issue in Uttarkhand with opinions divided as to whether the construction of the dam will bring prosperity to the local people). The six of us got on to another jeep for Gangotri. This route is really breath taking, but at quite a few places, the road had washed off due to the recent heavy rains in the region. Thankfully there were no road blocks due to landslides. We reached the scenic village of Harsil as it started getting dark. Harsh, who had been to Gangotri earlier, had repeatedly been telling us about the famous apple orchards of Dharali, another small village after Harsil. So we took a small halt at Dharali and tried the “famous” apples. By the time we reached Gangotri, it was already 8 PM. We checked into a small hotel and went to deep slumber as everybody was really tired after the bone rattling rides of the entire day.


Acclimatizing in Gangotri

25th August

Gangotri is at an altitude of about 3048 meters (10150 feet). The plan was to utilize this day for acclimatization. We had breakfast, roamed about in town, which was surprisingly empty in spite of the pilgrim season and then started for the acclimatization walk. We crossed the Bhagirathi at Surajkund, and started on the trail towards Kedar Taal. The intention was to climb up the route for about 2 to 3 hours and then turn back.

We started around 11AM along the trail, did quite some climbing for 3 hours and then decided to descend down to Gangotri. By the time we came to Gangotri, it was around 3 PM. Our guides and porters had also reached Gangotri by then.

After lunch it was time to get some rest. We attended the evening “Aarti” at the Gangotri temple and prayed to Mother Ganga for a successful trip ahead.


On the easy trail to Bhojbasa

26th August

The actual trek started on this day. We had intended to start early and by the time we hit the trail, it was 7:30 AM. The destination was Bhojbasa which literally means “abode of Bhoj (birch) trees”, about 14 kilometers. The trail starts from near the temple and is quite well marked as it is used by lot of pilgrims who visit Gaumukh. It moves all the way up till Gaumukh on the true right of the Bhagirathi valley. We stopped at the check post after about 2 kilometers, where we had to pay some the forest fees. We got to see the Himalayan Goat - Bharal feeding on a ridge

We took our first break and had our breakfast at one of the dhabas on the trail. There are a few streams to be crossed on the trail and we were lucky since all the log bridges were quite intact in spite of the heavy rains.

We took our next break at Chirbasa (3500 meters, 11600 feet) literally “abode of chir or pine trees” and had some tea.
As we proceeded towards Bhojbasa, the majestic triumvirate of the Bhagirathi peaks (6856 meters, 22624 feet) appeared on the horizon.

We were now in true Himalayan country surrounded by majestic peaks on all sides. From Chirbasa to Bhojbasa there was overhanging moraine and sometimes there was a danger of loose rocks falling on the trail. Finally we reached Bhojbasa (3775 meters, 12500 feet) around 1.30 PM covering the distance of 14km in about 6 hours.

The camps were pitched in the valley by the river. There was the Lal Baba Ashram and GMVN TRH on one side, while near the river, there was a meteorological center which apparently studies the Gangotri Glacier. JP knew a local who used to work at this center and with whom he had trekked earlier. He was quite keen on meeting this guy again but apparently the guy was off duty for some days. While having tea, we discussed a few other hard treks with our porters. Some of them had been on the “Auden’s Col”, “Dhumdhar Kandi” etc and it was quite a thrill as we listened to their stories.

During the evening we went for a stroll around the camp and suddenly on one of the mountains, Sandeep saw a formation in snow which closely resembled the holy “OM” character. Everyone was quite surprised and being skeptical, didn’t want to believe it at first. But then it did look like “OM”. Budhi later told us that the mountain itself is the holy Hanuman Tibba.

We had been told that the camp site would be quite windy as we were not closely surrounded by any mountains. This turned out to be true and the evening was quite cold, more so because of the heavy wind.

The first day trek was easy and all us knew the toughest days are yet to come. With these thoughts we decided to hit the sack.


Strenuous climb to Nandanvan

27th August

Sandeep and I got out of our tents early in the morning. We were expecting to get the excellent views of the Bhagirathi peaks during sunrise. However, the peaks refused to show themselves. They were hidden under a thick curtain of clouds and all we could do was wait.

All of us started for Nandanvan (4370 meters, 14420 feet) at about 7:30. I was a little excited at the thought of seeing Gaumukh. Gaumukh (literally “Cow’s mouth”), is the snout of the huge Gangotri Glacier and is about 2 kilometers from Bhojbasa. This is where the mighty Ganga actually emerges from the glacier as a small stream. The trail till upper part of Gaumukh is quite broad and well marked. Along the trail there are marks indicating where the glacier snout had been in a certain year. The glacier certainly has receded by a lot of distance and whether this is due to global warming or it is the nature of the glacier itself has been a very big matter of debate.

The ice walls at the snout looked quite imposing. We decided to descend till the actual snout and then had to go down on loose rocks and boulders. As we descended, we got a very good look at the glacier face. The face looked like an amphitheater made out of ice walls. There was tons of debris comprising ice and mud that was falling off in the stream frequently. Huge masses of ice were seen floating in the stream and nearby there were “sadhus” who were having a bath in that icy water. We spent some time there and then decided to continue as our campsite was still a long way ahead.

Now started the tough part of the trek. We knew that throughout this trek we had to negotiate glaciers, move on boulders, tackle scree and glacial moraines and this is where it all actually began. The trail (or I should say the route, there was no trail from here on) to Nandanvan climbs up the true right of the Gangotri Glacier and we had to negotiate this part first. We were actually crossing the Gangotri glacier laterally.

I had always imagined glaciers to look like white frozen rivers which flow gently down and this is what I had seen when negotiating the small glaciers during the Bara Bhangal trek. However, I understood that here in true Himalayan country; glaciers are anything but white and anything but gentle. Glaciers here were a total mess! They looked like nuclear test sites rather than gentle snow fields. Glaciers are extremely active as they move slowly creating crevasses and other rubble.

As we climbed, on the way met some porters who were coming down from Nandanvan. They informed us that they are coming back from Vasuki Taal as some of their team members had decided to return after seeing the terrain their.

Now that wasn’t very motivating was it? I think I got a little scared on hearing that account, but then let all those thoughts pass and decided to wait till I saw it myself

We desperately needed a break and some energy, but Budhi kept on pushing us and asked us to continue for some more time. As we reached the point where the Raktvarna (Rakt – Blood, Varna – Color, literally Color of Blood, so called because of the red stones which make up the glacier) glacier joins the Gangotri glacier, we took a short break, had Fruity and some dates. Raktavarna glacier itself looked like it was in a big mess. The glacier had severely cracked at many places. The route for climbing Thelu (6006 meters, 20000 feet), Saife (6161 meters, 20215 feet and Sudarshan Parbat (6507 meters, 21600 feet) was over this glacier and we wondered how would it be possible to negotiate this glacier. There was a stream coming from the Raktavarna glacier (called Raktavarna Dhara, we were to learn later), which had to be crossed.

After this point, started an extremely steep and arduous climb for Nandanvan. We had to put lot of effort for taking even a few steps. Our porters were walking with us and each time they saw me feeling down and tired, some one would motivate saying "Bas madam ji aa hee gaya". The altitude was now taking its toll. We could feel the air thinning and the effect on our lungs and to top it we were also running short of water.

Finally after the tough climb, we reached on the top of the ridge from where we could see our campsite and life suddenly started looking easy again. Much ahead of the camp, we found a big rock and decided to spend some time resting there. We reached the camp site at Nandanvan (4370 meters, 14500 feet) at around 2.30 PM after covering a distance of about 10 km.

The effect of altitude was seen on everyone. All of us had as slight headache and nausea.

Sandeep and I decided to take a walk till a nearby ridge for acclimatizing.

JP and Harsh too had gone for a walk for acclimatizing themselves. We asked Moiz to join us, but he wasn’t feeling like taking a walk and decided to rest near the camp itself.

As we approached the ridge on our walk, we could see the huge Gangotri Glacier down below. The glacier looked really scary as we heard loud sounds made by constant rock fall and glacier activity. Harsh, was the official glacier expert amongst us. He seemed to have a lot of scary information about glacier behavior. I had been ignorant all this while and later thought it would have been better that way. Now that you understand the glaciers more, you can’t help but feel scared as you wonder what might be going on inside the glaciers belly.

The campsite itself was surrounded by some huge mountains from one side. Beyond the Gangotri glacier lay the high altitude meadow of Tapovan. The beautiful and majestic peak of Mt Shivling (6543 meters, 21468 feet) rises from Tapovan. Looking towards Shivling, to its right were the peaks of Meru (6602 meters, 21661 feet) and Bhrigupanth (6772 meters, 22219 feet). To the left of Shivling and towards the Kirti Glacier were the peaks of Kedardom (6831 meters,22542 feet) and Kharchakund (6632 meters, 21885 feet).

Our campsite was at the base of the Bhagirathi peaks and Nandanvan serves as the Base Camp for climbers attempting any of these peaks.

The weather was still not very good and all these majestic peaks were hidden behind a thick cloud cover. We kept our fingers crossed. This campsite was renowned for its views of Himalayan peaks, especially Shivling and we just couldn’t wait to see it.

Finally in the evening, the cloud cover lifted and we got partial views of the mountains around us.


The climb to Vasuki Taal

28th August

Last night, the weather turned bad. It had started raining sometime after midnight. We were woken up by the sound of rain lashing against the tent. I lost all hope of seeing the clear views of Mt Shivling. The rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping and just for a moment, I thought if we had to use our contingency day here.

But at around 8 AM, it had stopped raining. We got out of our tents and were ready to hit the trail again. Around 9AM, we started for Vasuki Taal (4890 meters,16200 feet).

As we started, I was a little anxious. Almost always when I had read about this stretch, it talked of the last climb which involved ascending using fixed ropes. Since, I had never climbed using ropes, I did not know what to expect and therefore the anxiety.

The start was slow. Walking at this altitude was making a big difference to our speed. Initially when we started, we had to traverse a very long ridge. The Raktvarna glacier was now on our left as we headed towards Upper Nandanvan, which serves as another camp for climbing Bhagirathi II. The slopes of Bhagirathi II were visible from a distance and we wondered how climbers braved these hazardous scree, rock and ice slopes.

On the way, we met a group of climbers who were returning from a successful summit attempt of Mt. Satopanth(7075 meters, 23347 feet ). Satopanth is one of the most popular mountains in this area and has been regularly climbed by different teams. Vasuki Taal serves as a base camp for Mt. Satopanth. As we congratulated them, they wished us luck and asked us to be careful on the treacherous route. At the place where the ridge ended, we had to descend down to the glacier floor. Raktvarna glacier had given way to Vasuki Glacier, another of the tributary glaciers of Gangotri Glacier. We took a small break at this point.

Moiz had a look at the route, came to me and said, “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is we are not far, but the bad news is look where do we have to go from here”.

I could now understand why some teams have returned back from this point. The descent to Vasuki Glacier and the next ascent to Vasuki Taal do look daunting.

The only person amongst us who was comfortable on these boulders and was more than happy to traverse them was our own Mountain Goat - Moiz. It didnt matter to him, if the boulders were big or small, loose or fixed - he just sailed on them.

The descent was indeed very risky. When we were actually negotiating the Vasuki glacier we could hear the sound of glacier cracking. I remember telling myself that I should get used to negotiating glaciers and the scary sounds that it keeps making.

The Vasuki glacier is very small when compared to the Gangotri glacier which we had to cross the day before. Crossing the glacier didn’t turn out to be as difficult as I had thought. The next part looked very tough though. We had to climb a ridge to reach the campsite at Vasuki Taal. There was no visible trail on the ridge. I had also read in all the travelogues that all the members of the group used fixed ropes here. Since it had been raining in the morning, the rocks had become very slippery which added that extra scariness to the climb.

Our guide and one of the porters fixed a rope. The rope was not long enough to reach the top. We had fallen short by at least 20 to 25 meters. Harsh and JP went first, then I and Sandeep followed by Moiz. While climbing, I did dare to look down and got the scare of my life. More than half of the way, we climbed using rope but after that our porters had to help us to reach to the top of the ridge as we did not have enough rope. The climb again was not as difficult as it had seemed.

After we reached the top, we could see our beautiful camp site in the shadow of the mighty Vasuki Parvat (6792 meters, 22413 feet). We also saw that there were few other tents pitched there. After going down till our camps we understood that there was a group from Slovenia on an expedition to climb Mt Satopanth. They had setup their base camp here. We reached our campsite at around 1.20 PM after walking for about 4 hours.

Joining the Slovenian team were a group of Indian climbers as well. One of them, Mr. Suresh Polekar, invited all of us to have tea with their team. Talking to Mr. Suresh and his members was quite an experience. They had a lot of experience in this area and they shared a few stories with us. They were quite motivating as well and told us that we should be able to finish our trek comfortably.

All of us still had a mild headache, and were beginning to worry a little about AMS.

One of our biggest worries was, one of our team members, Yogesh had still not arrived at the camp even after 3 hours. Budhi and two porters had been waiting for him at the point where the ropes had been fixed. Yogesh arrived at the campsite with Budhi after about 4 hours. His condition did not look very good and he was showing all the signs of AMS.


Acclimatizing at Vasuki Taal

29th August

Yogesh did not get any better during the night.Early morning around 3 AM, JP and Moiz went to the camps of the Slovenian team to call the expedition doctor. They kept on shouting for Mr.Jha ji and Mr. Suresh ji but did not get any response. Both of them had to return back. After coming back JP gave a reason as to why no one answered their calls. He said that probably on this campsite,nobody would come out for the fear of ghosts. After some time JP and Moiz gave another try and this time Suresh ji instantly came out of tent. Later on we came to that there was no one in the kitchen tent, where JP and Moiz had been shouting earlier. After this fact, we had quite a fun at JP's expense and the ghosts of Vasuki Taal still probably haunt our own dear JP Bhai Yahoowaley.

The doctor from the Slovenian expedition came to have a look at Yogesh and advised an immediate descent. We all felt bad, but that was the best thing for him. We saw him off as three porters went along with him. One of the porters would go all the way to Gangotri with Yogesh and two of them were going to come back from Nandanvan.

So today was our rest and acclimatization day. Everybody was feeling a little bit uneasy because of the altitude. So we thought we would take a good walk around our campsite today to help us acclimatize better. Possibly climb the ridge leading to Vasuki Parbat. Most of the time was spent talking to the other group who were to start for their Mt Satopanth expedition this afternoon.

Harsh was also building up signs of AMS. In the morning he had severe headache and once even vomitted blood. Everybody got really scared after this. Then he alone went for an acclimatization walk towards the Vasuki Parbat, hoping his body acclimatizes.

At this point, I would say that anyone who wishes to do the Kalindi Pass ever, should not take acclimatization lightly. Never overdo things or force yourselves. Then again, different people acclimatize differently and Harsh was one of the fitter members of our team.

We also took some time to explore the beautiful campsite. This was a beautiful campsite surrounded by mountains and the Taal itself was a high altitude lake. Vasuki Parvat, Chandra Parvat and Bhagirathi peaks were visible from this campsite.

As the cloud cover lifted, Vasuki Parbat was visible in its full glory. There was a glacier hanging precariously on one of the faces. Jha sahib, the liaison officer from IMF accompanying the climbers, told us that the glacier could collapse any day as more and more snow accumulates on the top. Vasuki Parbat has been unclimbed for a long time. The vertical face resisted all attempts of climbing.

The previous night was a full moon night and therefore the chances of bad weather for the next 2 -3 days were very high. Although we had plans to do quite a bit of exploration of the nearby ridges, we did not do much and preserved our energy. Budhi had told us that the next coming days are going to be more challenging.

We wished good luck to the Slovenian team and Mr. Suresh as they started for ABC. Mr. Suresh wrote all our names and contact numbers in a small diary he carried. I was surprised to see that some of the names in that diary had a big red mark against them and I couldn’t stop myself from asking Mr. Suresh about it. I wish I hadn’t. He told me that those are his climber and trekker friends, people like us, who he meets on climbs and treks. The red mark indicated, they were no more, they had perished in some or the other expedition. I looked around and saw a look of scare on all the faces. Our names were in the diary too.

The rest of the afternoon was spent talking to Mr. Jha, who had stayed behind at the base camp.


Amidst falling rocks

30th August

In spite of the acclimatization day, the mild headache and nausea was still persistent. The rest day was over and it was time to move on. Khada Patthar (5000 meters, 16600 feet) was to be our home for tonight. Budhi had warned us that the route from this point would be fairly tricky to negotiate and we would need help from all quarters possible. There was a small collection of stones at Vasuki Taal with prayer flags and an idol. This was the designated temple for trekkers and climbers. So we all went up there and prayed to the Mountains for good weather and to always be with us during the rest of the trek.

With Yogesh gone, the “Super Six” were reduced to “Fantastic Five” now. Before we started for Khada Patthar, we all huddled together, much like the Indian cricket team. This was to be our practice at all the following campsites. That was a real confidence booster.

The Chaturangi (literally “Four Colored”, so called because of the four types of colored stones that make up the glacier bed) Glacier was on the ridge adjoining the campsite. As we started on the route, initially Chaturangi glacier was on our left. We had to walk along a long ridge to cross Chaturangi. Walking on glacier was something we had become used to now. It almost looked like a common pattern, ascend on to some ridge, then descend down to some glacier and then climb up to our campsite. The descending part was always very risky and hard on the knees. The ascending part, although hard on your lungs, was still alright.

This long haul ended as the small Satopanth Glacier joined the Chaturangi Glacier. At this point we had to descend down and the descent itself was very risky with some of us descending on all fours. The Satopanth Glacier was flowing down from Mt. Satopanth which was on our right. Mt. Satopanth was one of the most beautiful mountains I had ever seen. It looked like a reclining man supporting his head with his arm. We were all amazed at the beauty of the mountain and took a break there just to appreciate the view. We could see the point where climbers set up an ABC.

The climb from Satopanth Glacier towards Khada Patthar was quite steep. As we climbed up the ridge, Budhi pointed our campsite on the glacier down below. Looking at the campsite from top of the ridge, all of us got quite apprehensive. The campsite was on the glacier ridge amidst rocky mountains. There were huge rocks on the mountains around us which looked like were just waiting to fall. After a small downward haul, we reached the campsite fairly early, at around 11.30AM.

One of these mountainous rocks near the campsite is called Khada Patthar (“Standing Rock”). We were still discussing about the risks on this campsite. There was no surface plain enough to pitch the tents. Rocks kept falling from the near mountain tops. This campsite was also very windy; even at afternoon also. However Budhi assured us that it was alright. The wind was horrible now and we just stayed inside our tents.

Later in the night, he told us of some trekkers getting killed on this campsite because of falling rock and avalanches a year ago.

The weather Gods had been with us till now. Generally every evening it would rain or hail for about an hour, never very hard. We were never bothered but were still apprehensive. One can never predict the weather in the mountains.

It was only sometime in the evening, we got out of our tents and decided to explore a bit. Some unknown snow clad peaks were surrounded this camp site.


Traversing glaciers that crack

31st August

The night was horribly cold and the wind kept howling outside the tent. Early morning, I heard Moiz, giving the cook recipe for “Poha” and was wondering if we were going to have Poha for breakfast. We were not disappointed. After breakfast, we started for our destination, Sweta Glacier at about 8:30 AM. We climbed up the adjoining ridge and could immediately see the Suralya glacier flowing below us which we had to cross. Mt. Satopanth and the twin peaks of Mt. Chandra Parvat (6739 meters, 22238 feet) were on our right and looked as if they too were ready to move with us.

We knew we would have to cross razor sharp ridges on this day and would have to probably cross them on all fours. As always, Budhi was leading the pack and I kept alongside him so that I could take his help to cross any sharp ridges today. However, we didn’t encounter any even after walking for some time. Budhi told us that these glaciers courses keep shifting and every year, the route keeps changing with no fixed trail. This was the first time I actually thanked the glaciers for their nature, as they had formed new routes for us. However, the shifting ice in the glaciers belly sometimes leads to huge crevasses. While negotiating the Suralya glacier, many a times we heard the sound of the glacier cracking. Harsh, our designated glacier expert wasn’t making things easy for us by giving us “gyan” on the cracking of glaciers.

At one place, we saw an amazingly beautiful emerald green lake and an equally beautiful ice cave nearby. The cave itself was very large, much like the railway tunnels that you normally get on the Mumbai-Pune route.

We spent some time appreciating the cave and the lake. None of us had the will to go down till the cave and explore it more. We were getting a little late also.

We finally reached the campsite of Sweta Glacier (5200 meters) around 2.30 PM. Although the surrounding was amazingly beautiful, the campsite itself was very scary. The camp was on the glacier bed very near a lake. We could actually see that the ice was very thin in this part. Behind the camps, there was one water stream flowing down from the mountains with a big bang sound. The twin peaks of Chandra Parvat looked imposing on the other side. A little further we could see a large hanging glacier, much like a water fall frozen mid way. There was nothing much around the campsite to explore, as it was all glaciers. In the afternoon, the weather was ok because of the sun but as the evening progressed it started getting cold. Our cook also asked us to have an early dinner so that we could call it a night earlier.


Long ridge walks and flowing white glaciers

1st September

Last night was the first time; I really had a severe headache. I thought, I was not able breathe in the tent at night. At this altitude simple things like getting in to the tent themselves leave you gasping. Thankfully, I was alright the next morning. As I walked out of the tent, I saw that the lake near the campsite was completely frozen. But I was so lazy; didn't have the will to go to the tent again for bringing my camera and click a photo. Our destination was the base of Kalindi Pass. I was excited because I was quite curious about the Avalanche Peak and wanted to see it with my own eyes.

We started around 8.30AM. I thought we would be walking on hard snow today as I saw flowing white glaciers. But I was so wrong. One should never think of avoiding traversing boulders on this trek simply because it is never possible to do so. We were again negotiating Sweta glacier and the thin air made things very difficult.

As we walked, we came to a point where the route splits at the head. There were two routes now, one going to the right and the other sharply turned leftwards. Harsh and Sandeep were discussing the route that turned right, with Budhi and where it would lead to. This told me that we had to go leftwards. The route that went right was essentially a short cut but has never been attempted, at least by trekkers. We could see that there were huge ice walls, crevasses lining
that route. Harsh was telling the group that some day, we would need to do that route as well.

As we reached the glaciers head, we got the first views of Avalanche Peak (6196 meters, 20238 feet) and Kalindi Peak (6070 meters, 20000 feet). The Kalindi Pass is between these two peaks. Budhi pointed out our campsite from this point. It looked very near, but it wasn't. This is always mystery in the mountains, distances can be so misleading. Walking at 5000+ meters was not an easy task and that too it the route wasn’t an easy walk.

I was a little worried about getting fatigued. On our last trek, Sandeep and I had learnt that in the mountains one should never overdo things and that’s exactly what we were trying to follow.

After sometime we could see our campsite and we reached it at around 2.10PM. Our camps were pitched on a small ridge which was separated from the Avalanche peak by wide glacier. The glacier bed was about 30-40m wide glacier bad and it curved a little towards the camp. All of us had read about this Avalanche peak and stories of many camps getting washed away by Avalanches.

It was really surprising to see that all the mountains around Avalanche peak were without snow and irrespective of very high avalanche rate; Avalanche peak is always covered with snow.

When we reached the camp, the sun was out we thought of spending some time outside.. But suddenly the weather changed and it started to snow a little. We huddled in one of the tent as we discussed the stories from the previous treks when suddenly all of us heard a big sound of falling snow. All of us rushed out of the tent immediately to see that there was a big avalanche coming towards us from the Avalanche Peak. It was the first time I was seeing an avalanche and I wanted to take a few pictures, but was really fixed at just watching the massive snow falling of the cliff.

True to its name, in the next few hours, we witnessed many avalanches emanating from the Avalanche peak. After sometime our guide joined us. He had a few boxes and utensils with us. On asking him, he very casually told us that he got them from a nearby campsite which was blown away by avalanches last year. I thought it wasn’t proper to get stuff like this, but refrained from saying anything.

Budhi had got his Koflachs (plastic mountaineering boots) and was trying them out at this campsite.

We had a very early supper and called it a night as we had to start very early, at 4 IS the next day.