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 :

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 :

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 :

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


Unknown said...


Very nice and detailed blog. Reading this, I can only dream of going to such places.
Just for my information, how to you guys manage to find local guides and porters. This is normally not found on internet.
Where are you guys going next?


Unknown said...

really nice blog..... felt like i was doin the trek myself while reading .. anyways can u plz provide me the guide's phone number (ved) ...

Unknown said...

Can anyone have any contact no of guide for Sara Umga pass?

Unknown said...

Can anyone have any contact no of guide for Sara Umga pass?

david koelle said...

Hello from US
Fantastic account of a tough trek! Inspiring! David K

Unknown said...

Reach tosh village by cab and from there kutla is an easy hike.stay in any camp in kutla and you can meet local guys there.They will surely guide you there