Monthly Archives: July 2016

Roopkund Chronicles – Day 6 Pathar Nachauni to Loharjung

Day 6: October 3

On May 12, 2005, high-altitude mountaineer Ed Viesturs reached the summit of Annapurna, the deadliest mountain in the world in terms of summit-to-kill ratio. In doing so, he became the first American and the sixth person ever to climb all 14 of the 8,000 m peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Ed Viesturs [Photo Courtesy Pinterest, National Geographic]

Ed Viesturs [Photo Courtesy Pinterest, National Geographic]

He is famous for his conservative approach to climbing – he once turned around from a mere 300 feet from the summit of Mt. Everest!! He is also famous for a popular and inspirational mountain quote, “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory. A lot of people forget about that. “. He wrote this in his memoir – No Shortcuts to the Top.

This should be the philosophy that underlies all mountain treks. After all, it’s only if you get down safely that you get to go back another time.

Pathar Nachauni camp

Pathar Nachauni camp

We were to begin our long ‘mandatory’ journey back from Pathar Nachauni to the base camp, Loharjung, today.  For going up the 22 km from Loharjung to Pathar Nauchani we took around 17 hours, spread across four days. The return journey was to be completed in a single day. We were to walk for 16 km and we were bypassing Ali Bugyal and Didna village and taking a different route via Bedni Bugyal, Patal Ghaeroli and Wan. We would descend from 12700 ft to 8028 ft (3908 m to 2447 m) in a single day. Incidentally, our return route was also the alternate route from Wan village to Bedni Bugyal.

This was our last day on campground. These tents had been our homes for the past few days. Even though I had some trepidation about staying in a “tent”, I was wonderfully proven wrong.

Our march from Pathar Nachauni begins

Our march from Pathar Nachauni begins

We started from Pathar Nachauni at 08.30 am. The first couple of hours were easy. We were retracing the same steps we had taken a few days back. We passed through Ghoda Lautani and passed onto the other side of the mountain.

The journey back – somewhere between Pathar Nachauni and Ghoda Launtani

With the promise of a much easier day on the trail with plenty of downhill stretches as opposed to uphill slogs, we thought we’d just sing and walk – we were proved wrong in a couple of hours.

On our way we met a lot of people headed up to Roopkund. There were frequent exchanges of “congratulations” and “all the best” amongst us.  At around 10 am, we got our first glimpse of Bedni Kund.

First glimpse of Bedni Kund

We had to climb down a moderately steep path to reach Bedni valley. We remembered we had seen a few trekkers from another group climb that route on our way to Roopkund. And we thanked ourselves that we did not have to climb that way. Climbing down was not that difficult. We had stepped on to the green carpeted Bugyal lands and were leaving the snow behind us. We passed the colourful camps we had seen on our way up and reached the Kund. Near the Kund were a couple of stone temples.

Stone temple at Bedni

Stone temple at Bedni

By 10.45 am, we had left the grass lands of Bedni behind. From thereon, begins the steep descent to Neel Ganga. The path was paved with cut stone.

The descent from Bedni begins here

The descent from Bedni begins here

Raj Bhaaiyya asked us to lengthen our poles. Climbing down was harder than we thought as we had to concentrate more, and had to keep a constant vigil on where we placed our foot. Descending constantly is not easy; it takes every ounce of energy and breaks your knees down. I was already feeling a bit sore beneath my toes.

 

The forest was dark and once in a while the sunlight took a peak through the canopy. But walking within the silent woods gives one an enchanting feeling…. the dry leaves crumbling beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the forest trail.

Oak forests of  Ghaeroli Patal

By 11.20 am we reached the forest camp in Ghaeroli Patal and had our mid-meal. After a quick rest, we were moving again by 11.45 am.

FRH at Patal Ghaeroli

FRH at Ghaeroli Patal

It was a shortcut time for a few – they abandoned the stone trail and went on a sliding spree across the mud and roots.

And I guess the ‘short cutters’ gained a lot of distance as we could see them far away down in the valley.

Spot the trekkers

Spot the trekkers!

There were small openings in the forest, and as you climb down, you get a peek of the villages through these openings. By 12.45 we got our first glimpse of Wan village…though it looked quite far off.

By this time we could listen to the rushing waters of the Neel Ganga River. We reached the river by 1 pm and spent around 20 minutes resting and dipping our sore toes in the cold water.

At Neel Ganga

At Neel Ganga

From the Neel Ganga River, it took another 30 minutes to climb to a ridge above Wan village. From there began the long journey across Wan village to a place where a vehicle would be carrying us back to the Loharjung base camp, 15 km away.

Walking into Wan Village

Walking into Wan Village

The village of Wan, with its numerous chickens, fluffy dogs and beautiful children with cheeks worthy of biting into, looked like any other Uttaranchali village.

We found villagers going about their tasks; it was evening, so most of the women and men were returning home after their chores. Children hovered around greeting us with Namasthes and then asking for chocolates and pens. One smarty guy wanted my water bottle!

Kids at Wan vollage

Kids at Wan village

As we neared the road head, we met a couple of ladies. One of our team members struck a conversation with them and one turned out to be the ‘Pradhaan’ (chief) of 8 villages, Usha Devi. She offered us fresh produce, juicy cucumbers from her field and tea. A head strong lady, she talked a lot about her life in the village and how she had worked towards getting a road built to the village, stopped people cutting trees on the mountainside, travelled to Lucknow to get her voice heard and to Delhi to give a speech on environmental issues.

Smt Usha Devi (left)

Smt Usha Devi (on the left)

By 3.30 pm, we’d reached the road head and our jeeps were waiting for us. We reached our camp in Loharjung by 4 pm.

When I finally limped up the staircase of Patwal Lodge and flung my backpack onto a corner of the dormitory, the realization that I had actually completed the Roopkund trek dawned upon me. At once, I felt fully drained, yet totally alive.

There was a special dinner ordered for us and we were given our certificates of completion, besides being asked to speak about our experiences.

The next day our jeeps came early and we began our long journey back to Kathgodam and then Delhi and back to our respective homes.

The full team at Roopkund [Courtesy Shivam Singh]

The full team at Roopkund [Courtesy Shivam Singh]

For the next few days, I was wincing whenever I had to climb up or down a step, a deep tan had taken over my face and my hands, my lips were chapped, and I had blisters on all my toes. I had walked 53 km in 6 days over mud, rocks, ice, grass, snow and horse dung, at low oxygen levels, with bare minimum amenities, without taking a bath and yet when I closed my eyes, I felt a calmness and serenity within. At night (and sometimes during the day!), I often hallucinated that I was marooned in a deep sea of white clouds, looking out at endless vistas of mountains stretching as far as my eye could see.

Our guides (clockwise from L to R) Amar, Pushkar and Raj

Our guides (clockwise from L to R) Amar, Raj, and Pushkar

This journey would never have been completed without the help of the friendly support staff from TTH – be it our guides, kitchen staff, porters and even the mules. Last but not the least these adventures wouldn’t have been as fun as it had been without the awesome company we had!

Uma, Ammu, Nithin, Ani, Sabari, Sree  and us – let’s climb another mountain!!

 

Day 6 in a nutshell

  • Day 6: Pathar Nachauni to Loharjung
  • Distance:  16 km
  • Altitude: 12700 ft to 7575 ft
  • Terrain: Gradual descent from Pathar Nachauni till Bedni Bugyal. Steep to moderate descent from Bedni to Neel Ganga. From Neel Ganga to Wan gradual descent.
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time Taken: Around 7 hours

 


Roopkund Chronicles – Day 5: Summit Day

Day 5: October 2

What had become one of the longest days of my life would also become one of the most memorable days …. considering the way it all kicked off in the wee dark hours of a cold October morning. Today is the day we had been waiting for, preparing for, dreaming of, and believing in. Today is summit day.

Up and at it before 4 am, the nightmarish reality of having to deal with the cold weather, dark surroundings, slippery ground and the anxiety of the unknown became all too real. We had to start the trek to Roopkund early in the morning while the snow was still hard. As the sun comes out, by mid morning, the snow melts and becomes soft and your feet start sinking in. Also, as it gets warmer, the hard ice gets slippery and it slows you down.

The snowy trails

We got into our many layers of wool, gobbled down some breakfast, and strapped on our backpacks, head torches and crampons. We were not carrying much items today – just a few energy bars, an apple each and two bottles of water. By the time it was 5 am, there were already a number of groups ahead of us on the way to the mystery lake. From the camp till the Roopkund crater above, it’s a 3 km ascending hike through rock and snow.

It was scary in the beginning – it was dark and cold and we were not very sure of what lay on the path. We were advised to walk on the middle of the trail, and were told to try to step on the foot prints of the person in front which was difficult to find in the dark. The call “come on trekkers” from Raj Bhaiyya further boosted the confidence and determination to hit the target.

The first 1 km was a gradual ascent and not very difficult. As I turned back I could see a serpentine trail of head torches stretched across the line. As we trudged up, the altitude did hit us, and some of us were finding it a little difficult to take deep breaths. The wind picked up and we were thankful to have the extra layers as we staggered through the high mountain gusts. At a few places, the snow had become hard and was cut into steps. Every time I go on a trek, I find myself grateful to those who have gone before me and have smoothed a trail for me.

The only range that matters is the Himalayan range

It was past 6 when the sun came out and hit the mighty Himalayan range. As for the view, it was magnificent. We could not see the rising sun but the rays glistened off the snow capped mountains and they appeared to be on fire. The Chaukhamba and several other mountains regaled in the most beautiful morning sky I had ever seen. The colours were different than anything I had seen before. And the feeble warmth acted like a cosy layer.

Spot the trekkers

We had to climb through some tricky switch backs (the zig-zag line we had seen from the base camp), then a steep granite step surface, and a final steep climb over a snowy flank to reach Roopkund lake. There were times when unknown hands came to help. This is the kind of camaraderie we found throughout the trek. There were guides and support staff, even from other groups, who were always ready to lend a hand of help. On one stretch of vertical switchback I was literally dragged across by a guide from another group for 10 m – that actually translates to 100 m on plain ground.

The switchbacks on the way

The last stretch was exhausting and where we found our strength for that, I do not know. For the first time I learnt something very important; during mountain treks one faces danger, but dangers of a special kind – the dangers within oneself – vertigo, breathlessness, muscle fatigue and allowing ones nerves to get the better of one.

There were times when I wondered if this trek would ever end, but it did and the feeling of relief was fantastic. After the last scramble, the slope leveled out and we arrived on a ridge. And then the moment came when you find the geodetic marker, this time it read “Roopkund Lake 0 km” – that was the moment we were working toward for the past several hours. It was exactly 8 am.

Roopkund – 0 km

All of us stood there panting in the crisp Himalayan air. I don’t know what the others felt, but amidst the high fives, handshakes and group hugs, I was having a bout of emotions – relief, happiness, excitement, a bit of hunger, and so much pride. I’d reached what feels like the top of the world both physically and mentally and it’s now mine to enjoy. Not just me – we were a group of 26 trekkers and all of us reached the lake. At 15700, this ain’t no Everest but it still is a summit of reckoning – and one we were all proud of having climbed.

We spotted a skeletal remain on the ridge – a heap of bones placed on a rock. Raj bhaiyya said that both human and horse bones were found around the lake. On one side of the ridge was a small stone temple with figures of Nandadevi and Bholenath inside.

Climbing down to Roopkund

Ahead of us below in a snowy crater appeared a few clear splotches of water – the Roopkund Lake – or whatever remained of the lake that was now partially frozen and covered up in snow. In summers, the bones and skulls are exposed – as of now they remained buried in the snow.

Team at Roopkund

To reach the bottom of the crater we had to climb down 50 ft. The steep crater walls had inches of snow covering the surface which deprived us of any sightings of more skeletons. We did find one skull arranged in the typical skull and cross-bone symbol near the lake. After a few customary photos and groupies we decided to perambulate the lake.

The 500 odd skeletons were discovered way back in 1942 by a park ranger. All the corpses had similar blows to the head and shoulders – short deep cracks on the skull and shoulder bones as if the blows had all come from directly above. It was found that the skeletons belonged to two kinds of groups. So was it a war that happened in the high altitude battle field?

As it turns out, all the bodies dated to around 850 AD. And DNA evidence indicated that there were two distinct groups of people leading experts to believe that the group comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals. According to local legend, the King of Kanauj, along with his wife, servants, dance troupe and many others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine. While crossing Roopkund during a raging hail storm, the entire party of pilgrims were killed. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery.

View of Junargali from Roopkund lake

As we climbed up from the lake to the ridge, we found that the sun had fully risen and the glistening on the whiteness of peaks had reached all the way to the valley. Junargali was ruled out for us as we had reached late. We knew that getting to Roopkund is meaningless if you don’t climb up to Junargali. Two of our early arrivers climbed up to Junargali, accompanied by a guide. Junargali is a sharp ridge line that towers over Roopkund –  a 250 ft steep climb from where we were standing. From Junargali , at 16,000 feet, you get clear views of Trishul and the adjoining mountain peaks.

We sat by the stone temple and had our breakfast.

The return journey was not very easy as we had thought; the snow had started to melt, making the trail slippery at a few places. One should be very careful when stepping on hard ice as it tends to get slippery. The snowy gradient looked dangerously sloping from this height, and the thought of climbing down those switchbacks was scary.

At many places we had to negotiate the snow by squatting down on the ice. And while we were struggling to keep up with the slippery snow, we found Pushkar Bhaiyya sliding down the snow flanks on his back!!!. A few of our adventurous fellow trekkers tried the same; some managed to slide past without tumbling, a few took a few soft tumbles.

DSC03070

In broad daylight the vistas looked so different. Did we climb up along these trails just a few hours back?

Dangerous steps on the way

But after a few vertical slopes, we reached back on level ground. We could spot our camp in a distance.

Bhagwabasa camp

By 11.15 we walked into Bhagwabasa camp. Had a quick lunch, gathered our things and set out to Pathar Nachauni, our night camp, where we had stayed a night before. By 12.30 we had reached Kalu Vinayak and by 2 pm all the trekkers had reached home.

Most of the evening was spent at the dhabha in front of the camp, mulling over our accomplishment over endless cups of piping hot tea and plates of bread omelette.

That night, sleeping under the stars at Patharnachauni camp, I kept tossing and turning in my sleep bag. What an impressive physical, mental, and emotional accomplishment! Up there somewhere, Roopkund lake lay unmoved by our valiant effort of getting to her, a frozen little droplet surrounded by snow decked with the bones of a tragedy no one knew nothing much about. Click here for Day 6.

Day 5 in a nutshell

  • Day 5: Bhagwabasa to Roopkund to Pathar Nachauni
  • Distance:  11 km (Bhagwabasa to Roopkund and back: 6 km; Bhagwabasa to Pathar Nachauni: 5 km)
  • Altitude: 14350 ft to 15700 ft
  • Terrain: Steep ascent
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Time Taken: Around 3 hours from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund. Return took 2 hours. From Bhagwabasa to Pathar Nachauni it took 1.30 hours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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