Day 4: October 1
Having slept like a log through the night, I woke to the unmistakable sound of light rain falling on the walls of the tent. Not exactly music to the ears knowing that the morning’s hike upwards was now going to be done in the wet and slush.
We instantly knew it was going to be a cold day. The rain had stopped by the time we stepped out of our tents but the remnants of the wet weather clung onto our tent tops and sides, adamantly. When you’re in the mountains, morning chores become a stunted version of the more luxurious ones you are used to at sea level. First, it takes immense courage to brush your teeth and wash your face in the icy cold water: alternative – center-fresh and wet-wipes.
The rain from last night had turned to snow and the hills around seemed to look even more impressive covered in a fluffy white covering. The frost on the meadows was twinkling like crystals clinging onto the ground. The valley was shrouded with a cloudy mist, rising up in swirls – the effect was positively ethereal.
We had a tough trek ahead and the air was getting thinner. So Raj Bhaiyya decided we should have a warm up session before breakfast. The fun exercise did take away a little of the chill we had around us.
We started our trek at 8.30 am. Trekking up from Pathar Nachauni till Kalu Vinayak would be on a very steep trail. And we would be climbing up from 12,770 feet to 14,550 feet in the next 2 km.
The initial climb was gradual. We were mostly clambering over small hills and taking short cuts over grass land. And then the actual climb began – steep and slow. For the first time, nobody was waiting for nobody. No one spoke and we were just walking in single file, following each others’ footsteps. All of us were engrossed in our own struggles – some were struggling with their legs, some with their breaths and a lot with their minds.
The mist had not lifted and during some stretches we could barely see the person in front of us. We kept resting after taking 10 steps, but Raj Bhaiyya kept pushing us from behind with his reassuring words “take deep breaths through your nose, drink water”. A few had already complained of headaches and nausea the previous night, however, none of us had any serious health issue till date.
As we huffed and puffed our way towards the top, our band of ever-amazing porters and ever-jingling mules began to pass us along the trail with relative ease, pushing our luggage onto our next camp.
Even in this cold weather, we were drenched in sweat but the air was cool. Whenever we stopped for a break, we would get a chill from the cold sweat so we just kept on chugging along. We had been cut-off from the rest of the world long back, however, it was during this stretch, for the first time, that I had that feeling of solitude among the mighty Himalayas.
Through the thin air we could listen to a distant sound of ringing bells. Was it the sound of the jingling bells from our mules? To our relief, it wasn’t. Kalu Vinayak was only a few steps ahead and it was the simultaneous ringing of scores of bells by our enthusiastic ‘fast trekkers’ who had reached way ahead of us.
By 10 am the difficult part was over and we had caught up with them. We had reached Kalu Vinayak temple. Kalu Vinayak temple has a a black Ganesh idol enclosed in a stone shrine. As in most of the Uttaranchali temples found in the Garwal and Kumaoni regions, a lot of bells are hung around the temple.
The feeling of relief on reaching the top was immense. As we waited for the rest of our group to complete the killer final climb, we had the opportunity to sit down and take a well-deserved breather. From Kalu Vinayak, on a clear day, the trail to Roopkund is visible. And a clear view of the the mountain ranges – Nanda Ghunti, Kali Dak, Trishul, Chanyakot and Chaukhamba. The clouds obstructed our 180 degree view of the Himalayas, but it was still one of the most beautiful feelings.
From Kalu Vinayak the trek to Bhagwabasa was a cake walk because of the gradual descent. The path was paved with rocks, cut into small slabs and there was occasional snow along the path.
Our destination Bhagwabasa was less than 2 kms away from Kalu Vinayak. On the way there was a cluster of stone huts and we later learnt that, earlier, those huts were rented out to trekkers for the night. However, now most of them were in a dilapidated condition and abandoned.
By 12 pm we walked into Bhagwabasa (14350 ft). The background was amazing – Bhagwabasa is set in a valley against a row of snow capped mountains. The sky was a deep blue and the white peaks were reaching towards the billowing clouds.
The earth is in her glory here – you get to see some of the most magnificent peaks – Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Chaukhamba – and we suddenly felt so insignificant. These mountains have lasted here for an eternity. They are the lords of the land and we were merely visitors.
The camping ground had several rocks that lay scattered all around. The whole area was uneven. There were around 20 tents, a couple of larger tents and a few fibre glass structures. Our tents were not ready as a few trekkers were yet to reach from Roopkund, and their luggage lay in the tents. By the time we had our lunch, the Roopkund-bound trekkers had returned and had vacated the tents.
By 2 pm the weather changed and it started to drizzle with small flakes of snow floating about. But not for long. Later, we were called into the mess tent and were given crampons – a plastic addon, with metallic spikes at the bottom, that would be providing us the much-needed grip while we trekked on the snow the next day. The trek leaders showed us how to attach the crampons onto our shoes.
Around 4.30, the clouds gathered again and snow began to fall, now with more force. The air was fresh and chill. Though, we were a bit worried about how this snow storm would affect the next day’s trek, we could not think of anything else except the present.
We had a little time pre-dinner to walk around the camp. The high clouds had already covered the tall peaks behind the Roopkund crater.
Raj bhaiyya pointed out the trail going all the way up from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund Lake and further on to Junargali Pass. The trail was clear. We could even spot a zig-zag path that looked really scary from here. We were to cover this 3 km trail, early in the morning before the snow melted.
The setting sun was shining feebly across the frigid snowy landscapes far below and the expansive snow-capped mountains high above. The moon was slowly moving up now giving an almost blue-tinged tone to the snow.
The infectious support staff, with their friendly banter, helped to alleviate some of the aches and pains that were creeping into our limbs after a tough day’s climb. Another great meal capped off a fantastic day on the trail en route to Roopkund.
Roopkund Lake lay only 3 km away from the camp. I still had to pinch myself knowing that I was just a night away from my dream encounter with the skeletons!!!! Tomorrow is summit day.
Day 4 in a nutshell
- Day 4: Pathar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa via Kalu Vinayak
- Distance: Around 5 kms
- Altitude: 12700 ft to 14350 ft
- Terrain: Steep ascent from Pathar Nachauni to Kalu Vinayak and downhill trek from Kalu Vinayak till Bhagwabasa.
- Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
- Time taken: Around 3.5 hours