Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sara Umga and Animal Pass - Part 2

Kuta Thatch to Sara Umga Pass Base (4270 mts)
The general direction of the Sara Umga pass was clear from Kuta thatch, but I still couldn't see the pass and I was hoping once we reach the base, we could see the pass. I also guessed that there would not be much climbing involved today and it was going to be relatively an easy day (how wrong was I). When we started for the day, the initial route was again through a well trodden trail which was surprising. We walked for some distance and reached Sara Thatch another place which can be a good campsite. We could now see that the valley on the right of us had opened up, and the expanse of the Sara Umga glacier could be seen. Sathya explained that beyond this glacial valley was the massive Bara Shigri glacier. After our trek, his plan was to cross into Bara Shigri glacier and find a route across the Gunther's Col (a very rarely traversed route). We negotiated a short boulder zone and then the valley opened up again. We had crossed multiple streams today, but this was much easier as wading in the streams was rarely above the knee. After a while, Ishu mentioned that we would have to take the route which goes down towards the Tosh Glacier and we would then have to walk on the glacier bed. There was another one way which went up and climbed a small ridge. Sathya mentioned that since we had time, we take that route, visit another glacial lake up there and then descend down to the glacier from there.Well as a certain Mr. Frost said and I quote "Two roads diverged in a wood, and --", we decided to follow Frost's philosophy and took the road that led to this mystical lake.

We did reach a small lake created by glacial melt but realized that the actual lake which was shown in the map was behind another ridge and this would take some more time. Sanju and Ved went around to recce the route, where we could get down, while we rested at this lake. They came back after a while and said that there was no route down from here. So we decided to traverse our way back and climb down from wherever it was possible. This was the most treacherous part for me. Descending down moraine was never my strength and on top of it, I did not have my shoes as well. Neither Sandeep nor I are experts in descending and we were finding it very tough.

Ishu helped Sandeep get down while I had to take help from Sathya and Anu to get down to glacier bed. This took a lot of time but we were finally on the glacier bed. After this, it took us around 45mins to reach the camp which was to be our base for the Sara Umga pass. We had not gained any altitude today. The pass was not visible from the camp, but what was troubling me was, I could not see any route to climb up to the pass. The pass seemed to be hidden somewhere up and there was a lot of scree on the route. Later in the evening, I could hear Sathya and Ved discussing on the route which we could take to climb up. I realized now, why is this not a very popular pass amongst trekkers. It looked very daunting from here. I was a bit anxious but Sandeep assured me that with a strong team and experienced trekker like Sathya, we should be able see it through.

Strava Link : https://www.strava.com/activities/709679251

Sara Umga Base – Chota Shigri Basecamp vi Saara Umga pass (5020 mts)
I knew it was going to be a long day but didn't know it would be so long and also did not realize that it was going to be one of the toughest days that I have seen on a trek. We started at around 8:30 AM with all the energy we had. We negotiated the boulders near our camp and reached a point where Ved decided, we should start the climb. Suddenly, I could see Sandeep coughing and feeling out of breath. I got worried as we had not even started the climb. But when Sathya started talking to him, I realized that in spite of everything, Sandeep was feeling extremely anxious about the climb. Sathya took Sandeep's sleeping bag and asked Ved to carry Sandeep's rucksack. I was still worried, but there was no where to turn back now. The initial climb of around 150 mts looked extremely daunting. When you climb through moraine and boulders, there are chances of falling rock hitting team members climbing below you.

This was the challenge in this treacherous section. I was with Ved and I kept telling him that I was continuously losing grip and falling. Sanju was with Sandeep and he was helping him climb up. I knew Sathya was keeping a watchful eye as all of us were negotiating this climb. One mistake, one small slip and down you fall in the glacier. We were making slow progress but it was alright because we were being very cautious with each step. The altitude was not that much of a problem, but the daunting terrain was. Ishu reached the top of the climb, kept his load back and came back to help us. At one point I was just hanging on to a ock, I was on all fours and completely sprawled on the rock face, refusing to move. It was only when Ved came and gave his hand,that I got back my bearings and started my climb again. Finally with the all the help from our wonderful friends, we managed to make it to the top of the 150 mts climb. We were all happy and were celebrating as though we reached the top of the actual pass when in fact we hadn't covered even 20% of the climb.

There was much to be negotiated, climbed, crawled that was ahead of us. They say that in the mountains things always are further than they appear and sometimes much harder than they look. That could not be far from true today. We climbed further up on a little more firm ground, maybe another100mts thinking that we would be able to see the pass, but ended up staring at a huge sea of boulders. The best part about today (in fact the whole trek) was that the weather continued to be kind to us. Even now, the sun was in its full glory and we were glad we were not climbing in rain, sleet or snow. While we were negotiating the boulders, suddenly we heard a noise, as if one of the rocks was going to give in. Ved asked us to make a move fast and get away from here, because once the rock fall starts, there would be no way of getting away. We would all be crushed under those heavy stones. We all made a hasty scramble from this place. At some point, I realized that I did not have any water since starting and was feeling extremely thirsty, but there was no water in site. Finally we came across a stream but the water was very muddy, but we could not help it. We had to have this water as there was nothing else in site. From here, I could see the beginning of the snow field and thought it would take us no more than 20 minutes to reach the top. Again how wrong was I.

This last section was the big daddy of them all. Moraine, rocks, boulders and on top of it, the glacier below was melting making it all very unstable. It took us another hour to reach this snow field. To top it all, the pass was still not visible from here.
Finally Ved asked me to put on my shoes with the broken soles as it would be very tough to walk on the snow field in mere sandals. I followed his order because my feet were starting to feel numb and cold and found it to be surprisingly easy to walk up the snow fields in my shoes. After a while, I could see huge crevices on snow field, all of them were open but still looked scary to me. I knew that the pass and the glacier were heavily crevassed so extra caution had to be taken. With this in mind, Ved asked us to leave the snow field and climb up the rocks on the left of the field. At this point, my shoes gave in and both the soles came off. Still I continued to walk in those shoes. Finally after five and half hours of hauling up, we found ourselves on top of the pass in perfect weather. It was at this time only that I relaxed a bit and began to take in the surroundings. What marvelous views, there were mighty mountains all around. We congratulated each other and thanked God; we had climbed up till here without any bad incidences.
We began our customary photo session and also did a small pooja on the top. Sathya's GPS showed the pass to be at 5019 mts. That meant we had climbed more that 800mts today on a tough terrain. Even from the point where we were standing, we could see many crevices on the other side of the pass. This was technically the Spiti side and the vast expanse of the Chhota Shigri glacier was before us. I wondered if this is Chhota (small), what would the Bara (big) Shigri glacier be like. As always, getting on to the pass is job only half done. We had to climb down as well and this was equally challenging as climbing up. The descent was gradual but the risks posed by those crevices was very high. I have never seen crevices in such huge numbers. Even while getting down from Kalindi Khal, the crevices did not look so scary. But here, we had to zig zag our way a number of times. We were following the steps of Ved. He was leading and continuously checking for a trap using his ice axe. Sathya was marching in the rear making sure everyone walks safe. At one such time, I saw that Ved crossed over, but just as Sandeep stepped, the snow gave in and he slipped. The snow around him caved in and he was sitting in an awkward position propped up on what looked like a snow mound, with his legs hanging into the deep crevice. My heart was in my mouth. Sathya immediately asked everyone to clear the area. Ved gave Sandeep one end of the ice axe and Sathya held his other hand and and pulled him out safely. This was the scariest time of the trek. This is something which could not be avoided and reminded me that trekking in the Himalayas comes with its own risks. Everybody was relieved to see Sandeep get back on his feet safely. It was only later that Sandeep told me that he still gets nightmares about the incidence. The crevice, he said, went down till Patal lok. From now on we were doubly careful and the going slowed down as we made sure that no one was left behind on his own. Once we crossed the creviced zone, the walking became relatively easier and we started to make a faster progress.

The only thing is there was no end seen to the snow field. The glacier just seemed like never ending. After walking for about 7 km from the pass, we came across a big rock jutting out of the snow field. It was around 4:30 PM and we decided to have our packed lunch here. The day was still not over and there was still a very long way to go. I knew that a boulder zone would be waiting for us somewhere near by as the snow field ended. We decided to move ahead as we wanted to hit the camp before sundown. I was with Ved and Sandeep was with Sathya. The others decided to go ahead. We had to be true right of the river, so when the glacier endied, we got down to the boulders on the right.

Negotiating these huge boulders again seemed like massive task given that we were tiring with every step. However, we had decided not to take any breaks and continued to walk to the campsite. We were making slow but steady progress and even if I was tired, I knew there was no option but to walk. After crossing the boulder zone, after about an hour and half we could see cairns pointing the way, which told me that we should be nearer camp now. Sandeep and Sathya were a little behind us. It was starting to get dark but there was no still no sight of the camp. We were on the true right of the river and the entire bank was filled with boulders. There was not a single place which was flat ground. So there was no chance of the campsite being nearer. After a while, Ved decided to speed up further and I tried to catch up with him. I was thirsty,hungry and tired. Finally I asked Ved, “camp kab aayega” but I knew he also didn't have the answer. I was worried a bit about Sandeep and knew he would be in an irritable mood himself. Finally, I saw some color among all the brown surroundings and realized that it was the our campsite. It was still a considerable distance away, and finally when we reached the camp, it was 7 PM. It had already gotten dark by this time and I was worried about Sandeep and Sathya. Ved left his rucksack at the camp, at decided to go look for them. Finally, in another 20mins Sandeep and Sathya arrived at the camp and I felt tremendously relieved.
What a day it had been. We had walked for around 11 hours, were exhausted, hungry, thirstly but there was a lot of happiness all around. It was celebration time and Ved prepared “Kheer” for dinner today. The campsite is at the base of the Chhota Shigri glacier. It has a small camp where a person from the glaciology field stay. He goes up the glacier once a week to get readings.
After spending a good amount of time in the kitchen tent we decided to call it a day. Both Sandeep and I could not sleep properly today; partly because we were very tired but mostly I think, because were were sad that this was going to be the last night on the trek.
Strava Link : https://www.strava.com/activities/709679348

Chhota Shigri Base Camp – Chhota Dhara road head.
We all woke up little late as we knew it was a short walk to the road head. I prepared poha for everyone today (I had to get back to the habit of making breakfast again). It was an easy walk till the Chandra river where we had to cross it using a pulley mechanism (or “Jhula” as the locals call it). This was first such crossing for Sandeep and me and it did look a little scary in the beginning. But finally managed it. There is a HP PWD rest house in Chota Dhara. We had another round of breakfast here as we waited for the bus from Kaza to take us to Manali. Sathya and Ved boarded a bus for Batal where they were planning to stock up on their rations. They were both planning to explore the Bara Shigri glacier in the coming days. The trek ended as we boarded a bus for Manali.

Looking Back
This was the first trek where we got excellent weather through out all the days. We had a very strong team, where each one always made sure everybody was safe. We had the company of our friend Sathya (after the Chadar trek), which made the trek even more enjoyable. From lush green valleys, meadows of wild flowers, winding glacial streams to boulders, snow fields, huge glaciers, truly this trek will remain one of my favorite treks.
I have always felt emotional and have had a feeling of humility after reaching the pass on almost all of our treks. The feeling of nothingness in the middle of the majestic nature all around, is always overwhelming for me. I know mountains are dangerous and will always be, but somehow within me, I always had this feeling that the same mountains have protected us during our difficult times on the treks.
A famous mountaineer has said “My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” That’s exactly how I felt once we were back to civilization. Cleansed, purged and energetic.

Sara Umga Pass and Animal Pass Part 1 is here

See Sathya's blog on the trek here

More Photos
Shilpa's photos

Sathya's photos

Monday, September 5, 2016

Sara Umga and Animal Pass - Part 1

“The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.” ― Reinhold Messner

So many places to visit, so little a time. There are so many treks that we have been wanting to do. This year, we were wondering what trek to do. Visit the Miyar valley and cross over to Zanskar over Kang La, or do the Auden's col, or go to Kinnaur and do the beautiful Bhabha pass, trek across Parang La and go to Korzok. Sandeep suggested we do the lesser known and much less frequented pass in the Tosh valley, the Sara Umga and traverse this pass to cross over to Spiti. So started the frantic efforts to get more information about the route and to figure out how to organize the Sara Umga Trek. Unlike a few popular routes in this region, there isn't a lot of information about the Sara Umga trek that is available. Also, we did not have trekking partners and the costs of doing this through an agency (for just the two of us) were exorbitant. We reached out to our friend Sathya for inputs and what luck, he said he would plan on joining us if things worked out for him. They did, and I thank our lucky stars, we had an experienced trekker like Sathya as our trek partner. He had attempted the route earlier, but had to return back midway, due to snow conditions. We talked to Sathya's friend Ved and the trek was organized with him as the guide. He would organize the support staff as well. So phone calls were made, tickets were booked, trek wear brought down from the attic, washed and cleaned, rucksacks packed and we were all set. The only thing I did not do, is check my trek boots (which I was to regret later – bitterly).

Reaching Tosh
Sathya's wife, Anu dropped the three of us at the Bangalore airport. There was a general strike on that day and no taxis were available. Bangalore to Chandigarh is a long domestic flight and as we boarded the flight, I realized that were were heading to the Himalayas and was so looking forward to this trip. We reached Chandigarh at noon. Since we had a good amount of time to kill, we deposited our rucksacks in the cloak room at ISBT and went for a stroll at the Sukhna lake. Later in the evening we caught the bus for Manali. The morning was noticeably chilly as we got down at Bhunter. At around dawn, we got a bus to Kasol and this is where we met Ved and the support staff (Anu, Ishu and Sanju). All the rations/utensils/tents etc were already procured by Ved. After a hearty breakfast, we hired a jeep to take all of us to the village of Tosh, which was the start point of the trek. On the way we spent sometime at Manikaran which has hot springs and a Gurudwara. Tosh is very small village but has tons of small and big cafes and is possibly the hippie capital of the region. Lots of foreigners visit this place to find solace in the smoke of a different kind. This is the last village in the valley.

Tosh to Budhaban (2834 mts)
We started at around 10.30 AM from Tosh. The trail begins from the village center and gradually climbs up. As we left the village behind and reached the top, we reached a place called Kutla. We decided to have some tea at a small shop here. As we were waiting for the tea, I looked at my shoes and realized that the soles were coming off. I got really worried at this. When I showed it to Sandeep and other group members, they suggested to go down to Tosh again and get them fixed. But Ved suggested that I could walk with my sandals on, for a couple of days and reserve the shoes for the more hardy days later. With that, I got into my sandals.

From Kutla, the trail is again well marked. We reached Budhaban just after 1 PM after a very easy climb. The campsite was a beautiful meadow on the true right of the Tosh Nala. We had lots of time to explore around and we did just that. It started getting cold later in the afternoon and we thought it might rain in the evening. We called it at an early night as we were slightly tired from the bus journey.

Strava Link : https://www.strava.com/activities/709679140

Budhaban to Sharam Thatch (3492 mt)
The first thing which I remembered in the morning was, it was Sandeep's mom's birthday. Of course, we could not wish her directly. It had not rained in the night and the weather was perfect. We started for our next campsite of Sharam Thatch (meadow) at 8:30AM. The initial climb was through thick forest and on a well marked trail. Since it had been raining in this part for the last couple of weeks, the trail was muddy and slushy. After some time, the climb opened in a huge meadow which was extremely beautiful. Sathya was saying we could have camped here yesterday. We were walking in the beautiful Tosh valley and making steady progress. After walking for another couple of hours in beautiful settings, we stopped to have our packed lunch and took a 30mins break. The entire route is on a well marked trail. There was a small but fast flowing stream that we had to cross on a single log that Gaddis had placed there. Sandeep lost his balance in the his first attempt and was about to fall in the stream, but managed to cross it in the end. The campsite was a beautiful meadow and it was again one of the best campsites I have ever been on.

It was a very relaxing evening. Sathya prepared nice coffee on his MSR for all of us. I was just loving this trek so far, what with these amazing sites. However, till now no there was no sight of any of the huge 6000ers and we were well below the treeline. Later in the evening, Sandeep and Sathya discussed with Ved about going to the Animal pass and if we had enough rations for one additional day. It was decided, that we would take an extra day and visit the Animal pass from around Shamshi or Kuta Thatch.

Strava Link : https://www.strava.com/activities/709679179

Sharam Thatch to Kuta Thatch (4179 mt)
Typically, folks who do this trek would camp at the beautiful Shamshi Thatch, however, we decided to go up a little and trek till Kuta Thatch. This was because we wanted to do the Animal pass as well. Also, most of the teams which come to explore the Tosh valley, attempt Animal pass from Shamshi Thatch (which is the right thing to do), and go tracing the the same route back to Tosh. Animal pass is closer from Shamshi Thatch but since we wanted to go ahead on the same route, we decided to attempt Animal pass from Kuta thach. We started for Kuta Thatch at around 8:30 AM. The initial walk was through a huge field of wild flowers.

The trail was going over ridges and it was a steady climb. Between the ridges we had to cross multiple water streams. While crossing one such stream Sandeep stepped on some slippery stones and had a fall, twisting his ankle. I was a bit worried and we got out our medical kit. Sathya had some ayurvedic oil which we used immediately. After resting for a few minutes he was back walking, albeit with a slight limp. I knew he was in pain but would not say it. We asked him to reduce some weight from rucksack but he did not agree.

I was relieved that he could walk at least. When we were climbing up the trail, suddenly on our right the Tiger Tooth peak emerged magically. Since the weather was perfect, we could see it clearly, in its full glory.

We reached the amazingly beautiful Shamshi Thatch and were wondering if we should camp here. However, we decided to stick to the original plan and continued further to Kuta Thatch. Sathya and Ved had to check the maps and GPS to locate a convenient camping site. We had left the tree line behind and now we were traversing a boulder zone.
As we left Shamshi Thatch, we started gaining height rapidly amidst the boulder zone. We had to again cross a few streams and I looked back at Sandeep who was walking comfortably and I was at relieved to see that. We were ascending on the true right of the Tosh glacier. We could see the snout after a while, from where the Tosh Nala emerged. This is when at a distance, I saw few guys coming from the other side. When we met, we spoke to them came to know it was group of porters and with them was a 75 year old American who has been trekking and traveling in India for the past 30 odd years. I was thrilled to meet him and was really inspired by his love for the Himalayas. Presently, he had been continuously trekking for the past 25 days and had come over from Dharamshala after crossing Indrahar and Kugti passes. Finally after ascending a little more, we reached what looked like a potential camping site at around 3 PM. It was a nice flat ground with some green and water was available nearby so we decided to camp here. We could see majestic peaks towards the North from beyond the Tosh Glacier. Some of these were the Devachan, Papasura and Dharmasura.

Strava Link : https://www.strava.com/activities/709679214

To Animal Pass (4750mts) and back
Today's plan was to hike up to the Animal pass and come back to the same campsite. I had read that the pass was at around 4500mt, so thought that it would be a climb of around 400 mts. We did not have to pack anything today and I had taken a small backpack with a wind jacket and gloves. Except Ishu, who decided to stay at the camp, the rest of us started on the climb at around 8:30 AM. None of us knew the route and we were going to rely on Sathya, his GPS and his map reading skills. The initial climb was on a trail going southwards, but the trail was lost after some time. Sathya was continuously going ahead of us to recce the route. After a while, we had to climb up a small boulder laden route and soon we reached the top of a small ridge. Sathya brought out the maps and GPS to check our location and we realized that we were generally in the right direction.

After walking for around 45 mins, we could see a beautiful glacial lake and that confirmed that we were in the right direction as the lake was marked on the map. Sathya also pointed at another route which is typically taken if you come from Shamshi Thatch. The lake itself is at around 4500mts and we were on a ridge, a little above the lake. There was still some way up to the pass, so we realized that the pass was possibly much more higher than what we had read in the regular itineraries. We started climbing again leaving the lake behind. We could see a path that was going from near the lake, but that would have meant descending down and then resume the climb again. We did not choose that route and continued to climb from the ridge. Even after climbing for some time, there was no sign of the pass and now we were negotiating really big boulders. I was worried about Sandeep, but he was confidently coming showing no signs of pain. It took us more than an hour to negotiate this boulder zone. The route after this area was manageable.
Finally, we reached a place which looked like the ruins of an ancient amphi-theatre of the gods and we could see what looked like the pass from here.

After a few minutes of climbing we knew we had reached Animal pass. The GPS showed the altitude at 4759 mts. It was exactly 12 PM, so it had taken us quite some time to climb up the 500 odd meters from our camp. The view from the top of the pass was out of this world. Sathya was explaining the region beyond the pass and we could see Indrasan hidden amongst clouds. The other side of the pass was the Malana valley and it was a huge frightful drop from the pass. I could understand why normal trekkers just come up till the pass and do not really intend to cross it. Sathya mentioned that there is an ice wall that needs to be negotiated and the Malana Glacier to be crossed in order to reach the Malana valley (which obviously was never our intention). We spent a good amount of time taking pictures and the doing the customary pooja on the pass and it was time to head back to the camp.

I was dreading the crossing of the boulder zone, but this time, Ved decided to go to the lake and take the route beyond the lake which we had seen earlier. We descended down to the lake and spent some more time at this beautiful place. Sathya was carrying his MSR and he and Ved prepared some nice coffee for all of us. Really the best coffee at 15000 feet.

We began our descent from the lake and it was a much easier route compared to the one we had climbed up. In another couple of hours we were back at the camp (at around 3:30 PM) to be greeted by Ishu with some hot tea. It had indeed been an awesome day.

GPS readings from my Garmin messed up today.

Sara Umga Pass and Animal Pass Part 2 is here