Sunday, September 30, 2007

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.



Padmanaban said...

Hi Shilpa

We (Self & the wife) are planning this trek next month (June) and like you I dont feel I have done enough himalayan trekking (3 so far), but got talked into into it :)
Cant thank you enough for the detailed blog. Has helped with the mental prep.

Shilpa said...

Hi Padmanaban,

Thanks for your comments.
It is almost seven years now that I did Kalindi, but still remember all the days down to the last detail. It is indeed a great trek, but please be very careful throughout.

So what month are you going to Kalindi ? Wishing you and your wife all the very best.

- shilpa