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Crossing the Himalayas: From Leh To Kathmandu

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The 28-year-old French adventurer Eliott Schonfeld, winner of the GEO Adventure contest, crossed the Himalayan chains on foot and on horseback from August to December 2017. After four and a half months of trudging in trans-Himalaya, he gradually got rid of the modern comforts & paraphernalia. The aim was to replace the products of modern civilization with their natural alternatives adopted by the local communities of the Himalayas.

Drinking water from a mountain stream in Ladakhb
A return to nature. Drinking water from a mountain stream in Ladakh

My body is tossed in all directions as Rinpoche, a horse farm owner, maneuvers his 4×4 on the broken stone roads that crisscross the Ladakh range. My heart and head hurt like being caught in a vice. Going from Paris(with an elevation of 35 m) to the 3,500 meters of average altitude of this high desert plateau, it takes time and I think I am not yet acclimatized. But for now, it is not vertigo that worries me than the new world around me. 

August 10: Choosing The Horse in Ladakh 

I spent a few days in Leh, the regional capital of Ladakh Union Territory of India, to find someone to sell me a horse. I witnessed the Trans-Himalayan mountains up close.

Changthang Plains of Ladakh
Changthang Plains of Ladakh
A lady from Changthang plateau of Ladakh
A lady from Changthang plateau of Ladakh
A child playing with his father in Ladakh
A child playing with his father in Ladakh
Tso-Moriri Lake
Tso-Moriri Lake in Changthang plains of Ladakh
Stok village of Ladakh
The village at the end of the road. Stok village of Ladakh.
Ladakh is a magnificent high altitude cold desert… but very sparsely populated. Before clicking this image, I walked for weeks without meeting a single soul. Then, seeing the village of Stok – the green patch at the end of the gentle slope – I felt immensely joyful.

They are no longer on the horizon, but vertically, erected like a tangible wall, and too high, much too high. Why did I decide to tackle such monsters? For me, who had spent all my life at sea level should have started with the lower altitudes. After two hours of driving and deep contemplation, we reached the horse farm. I see a tent in the shape of a teepee, and all around, thirty horses grazing peacefully.

Ladakhi horse standing on meadows
My Ladakhi horse

The introductions were brief & the farm owner offered me a horse. The horse was white & not very big. Rinpoche helped me to saddle the horse, gave me some pieces of advice and the animal’s rope, then left me to my fate. 

In front of me, around 2,000 kilometers of trail awaits me to Nepal. I calculated that it would take me five months to get through it. Before I start, I decide to baptize my steed. He needs a name that is familiar & comforting in the midst of the unknown universe that I am about to explore. It’s decided, his name will be Robert. My Ladakhi horse would be called Robert.

Drinking water straight from a river in Ladakh
Drinking water straight from a river in Ladakh. We walk about 8 hours a day, so we are often thirsty.

September 4: Robert’s fall in Spiti valley

We had been progressing on high altitude trails for a month now. Robert never gave up. As for me, I ended up taking the plunge and felt at ease when we reached Spiti valley, a cold mountain desert in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the most perilous mountains since the beginning of the expedition. 

Base of Parang-La pass
Climbing towards Parang-La pass. I arrived at the base of the Parang La pass on the afternoon of August 28, 2017. In front of me was 5,600 meters, a high rock giant. I would have preferred to start the ascent after a good night’s sleep. Problem: It was impossible some grass at the base which was essential to allow Robert to sustain himself. So we had to climb, on sheets of ice melting. After skidding and sliding for four hours, we finally arrived safely at the top of the pass.
Climbing Parang-La pass
Climbing Parang-La pass with my horse
My horse reveling in abundant tufts of grass in Spiti valley
Robert reveling in abundant tufts of grass after descending from Parang-La pass. After descending from the top of the Parang La pass, Robert was able to revel in abundant tufts of grass, and I admired the breathtaking view. I was lost on the roof of the world. There was an ideal place to pitch the tent and get a good night’s sleep. The crossing of the Parang La pass also marked the end of Ladakh and entry into the state of Himachal Pradesh.

I crossed the Manirang pass(also spelled as Manerang) on one fine morning, a pass at an elevation of 5,590 meters. The landslides on this route are normal, and you have to remain focussed on each step. Four hours walking continuously… and an obstacle blocked our path — a gigantic rock was in the middle of the descending route. To move ahead, there was no choice except to climb over it.

We ventured on the rock surface and progressed a few meters when suddenly the rope that connects me to the horse yanks me back. Robert had lost his footing, he was sliding down the slope. Panicked, he struggles to get up, but that only accelerated his fall. My heart was racing. At this rate, it would fall permanently into the abyss and crash 20 meters below. I pulled the rope with all my might, but to no avail, I had to let go of the fear of being dragged myself into the void. 

But a miracle happened: Robert landed on a narrow ledge from where he can no longer move or risk falling into a deep gorge. I tried everything possible to get it out of there but with my 60 kilos weight did not make the cut. There was only one thing to do: descend to the last village I encountered, 20 kilometers before, and 1,000 meters of elevation drop. 

I reached there at night, exhausted and in tears. Watching me in distress, the villagers decided to organize a rescue mission. Two men, Tanzin and Karma, offered to accompany me with ropes.

After an exhausting return trip, we left for six hours of night climb. We arrived at the accident site, at 2am, I pointed my flashlight on the ledge, I scanned the light beam down the slope, expecting the worst. Robert was there, unharmed. He quietly turned his head towards me, with an air that seems to say: “But what have you done for the past ten hours?”

Bewildered, released from an immense weight, I exploded with laughter and went to hug my trek partner. I’ll never know how he got out of there alone, getting away with a few scratches. As for me, I had walked 60 kilometers, 20 hours straight, with 3,500 meters of cumulative elevation… for nothing! Whatever. Considering the relief I felt, it was worth it.

September 27: Waking Up From Oblivion In Kinnaur

But what took me? How can I be so stupid? I’m going to cross the roof of the world and I’m not carrying a pair of gloves… As I climb the frozen mountain range(Kinnaur Kailash range) that separates me from the pass of Charang-Chitkul pass or Charang La, I curse myself out loud. I’m paying for being thick-skinned. Because I was using my bare hands to climb, I no longer felt my fingers. Of course, I did not take crampons or ice axes either and I had to kick in the ice to create required traction.

Glued against the wall, I assessed my progress. It took me some hours to climb just 200 meters from a vertically packed ice slope. I told myself that I did well to sell my little Robert to a horse breeder a few days earlier. No matter how well he showed his talent as a tightrope walker, he could never have climbed such a thing. I finally reached my goal, at 5,300 meters above sea level, I was at Charang-La pass. 

Climbing the steep Charang-Chitkul pass
Climbing the steep Charang-La pass

As I caught my breath, I observed the thick layer of snow covering the ground. I was not the only one to have successfully climbed that day. Pugmarks of a snow leopard, all fresh, dotted the ridge before disappearing on the other side. Amazed, I touched the imprints of paws’ of the grey ghost, so beautiful, so pure. Then I scanned the surroundings, hoping to catch a glimpse— not a single soul found in sight. I hoped I didn’t scare him off. The Himalayan grey ghost lurks, I can feel it. Even invisible, he accompanies me. 

Pugmarks of a snow leopard near Charang-Chitkul pass
Pugmarks of a snow leopard near Charang-La pass

October 1, 2017: Going Incognito in Baspa valley

I had been walking very close to the Indo-Tibetan border for three weeks now. I had absolutely no permission to venture in these troubled terrains. Because of the territorial conflicts between India and China, the region is tightly controlled. Tourists and Indians are required to obtain permits to do any activity on the border areas. Traveling alone is prohibited. 

I managed to sneak through the last military posts by walking during the night. It seemed to be playing a cat and mouse game with the Indian army patrols. More than the detours that I was forced to make, the anxiety of getting caught made every step more painful.

According to my maps and the villagers of Chitkul, the route is restricted up to the Lamkhaga pass (5,280 meters).  After crossing Lamkhaga pass, I would be back in the free zone. The weather was perfect, the sky was of a serene azure color. I was walking at a leisurely pace, at a distance, I saw two silhouettes. Two trekkers, bags on their backs, were heading in my direction.

As I was about to greet them, my head spun. They were not trekkers, but soldiers. They were not two, others were behind them. I ran towards a big boulder. A minute later, I heard the sounds of the boots of the first patrolmen, around 20 meters from me, in camouflage dress, weapons on the back. It was the Indian Tibetan Border Police(ITBP), the sentinel of the Himalayas. 

I curled up as much as possible in my hiding place. Getting caught here would be fatal, I was aware of it. I was trekking without due authorization, with a satellite phone and a camera. I could never make them swallow that I was unaware of the restricted area. I would have ended up in prison. I was trying to calm down. The march of the soldiers continued. Twenty or thirty men had already passed.  When will it stop, damn it? It was like the whole army of the subcontinent was hidden in these mountains.

After a while, silence fell. I stood still for another fifteen minutes, then got out of my hole. At a distance, the Indian army men went up the valley and trekked to the exact place where I had planned to pitch my tent. I realized that this situation, which could have turned serious, has become a godsend for me — the army men had mapped a track in the deep snow, which made my ascent infinitely easier. One soldier even dropped food just before the summit: caramels & a packet of noodles. The army mend does it to lighten the load and use it on their return journey. 

Summit of the Lamkhaga pass(5280m)
Summit of the Lamkhaga pass(5280m). The pass forms a drainage divide between the Baspa valley of Kinnaur & the Harsil valley of Uttarakhand.
snowfields below Lamkhaga pass
Immaculate beauty of Lamkhaga snowfields. Jalandhari Gad glacier of Harsil valley. This soft white coat is not only pleasant for the eyes, it marked for my a return into the unrestricted zone. For several weeks, I had been traveling along the Indo-Tibetan border. An area prohibited to tourists unless accompanied by a permit authorized by the Indian government. From now on, our adventurer will no longer need to play hide and seek with the military patrols of the region. Phew!
A nomadic man near Harsil village.
A nomadic man I met near Harsil. I met this Indian nomad as I was walking towards the village of Harsil, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Oddly, there was only this gentleman and his son, I do not know where the rest of his family was.
Himalayan goats near Harsil
Himalayan goats near Harsil. These are the biggest goats I had ever seen! This herd of extraordinary herbivores belonging to the Indian nomad, I decided to help him milk them. A nice way to thank him for his hospitality.

October 20, 2017: Paradise found in Nepal  

On my raft, I assume myself for Tarzan. The langurs &  the white and black monkeys that populate the jungles of the middle Himalayas, jump from tree to tree while I raft on the Mahakali, river marking the border between India and Nepal. 

Rafting in turquoise waters of Mahakali River
Rafting in Mahakali River. After the high peaks, the rapids. I traveled 200 kilometers on the Mahakali River. A trip made on a raft which I built himself using pieces of wood and some tubes.

I started my descent a week ago, letting myself be carried by the currents. I still had 200 kilometers to sail to Banbassa, the Nepalese border post. I finally landed in Nepal on a riverbank.  I started my exploration deep into the forest, where I came across natural pools, large holes in the polished rock filled with turquoise water, and linked together by the pearled necklace of the waterfalls. Paradise, I tell you.

Turquoise waters of Mahakali river
Turquoise waters of Mahakali river
 Sun rises over the Nepalese jungle near the Makhali river
The sun rises over the Nepalese jungle near the Makhali river

I loved to explore, like a tracker, for the traces of wildlife that swarmed around me. Here, a wavy line on the ground indicated the passage of a snake. There, handprints, tiny feet: probably a bunch of macaques. Farther on, between the trunks, the gigantic web of a Nephila Pilipes, a spider with long legs, capable of capturing small bats in its nets. 

Nothing makes me happier than blending in such wilderness. I certainly feel very small, vulnerable amidst nature. But the feeling of this insignificance, instead of frightening me, releases me. It teaches me not to make humans the measure of everything anymore.

Rafting in Mahakali river of Nepal
Rafting in Mahakali river of Nepal
A raft on Mahakali river banks
The Naked Explorer & his raft on Mahakali river banks. It was the simplest device that went down the Mahakali river, stopping regularly on deserted beaches. 
Perfect places to pitch the tent and observe the traces of monkeys … or tigers!
Natural pools in Nepal
Natural pools

What terrifies me would be an entirely “civilized” world, where the city, the road, and the cement would have thrown their grip on everything. And where a man would only meet himself. That’s what I was thinking, lying on a bed of palm leaves, by the fire. A string of green dots lit up in the warm air. The fireflies had started their ballet of stars, while hundreds of little beings, carpeted in the trees, were singing the big night concert. That evening, I slept well.

November 10, 2017: Meeting the people of Rautes: The Last Nomadic tribe of Nepal 

Before I started this expedition, I had a dream: to meet the Rautes. This nomadic tribe, whose name means “kings of the forest”, lives in the remote jungles of western Nepal. These are hunter-gatherers who track down the monkey and feed on wild fruits and tubers. 

After ten days of research & miles & miles going around in circles, I was on the verge of giving up when luck struck me. From the top of the hill that I had just climbed, there was indeed one of their encampments that I discovered at the bottom of the valley. Shelters, made of branches and foliage. Under one of them, a man was cleaning peppers. A woman came back from the forest with some trunks under her arm, and a  teenager who was cutting something out of a large piece of wood.

Children of Raute tribe bathing & playing by a stream
Children of Raute tribe bathing & playing by a stream

The children, who were playing in the river, finally noticed my presence. Intrigued – I must have appeared to them as an extraterrestrial – they surrounded me. It provoked the adults, who looked suspicious and started talking. They were very small, dressed in a light dress that revealed parts of their body. They finally lead me to the royal tent – because the Routes have kings. A man even more naked than the others came out and stared at me straight in the eyes. I greeted him in a solemn way, then shook his hand, impressed. It is the first time that I shake the hand of a king. It is also the first time that I have seen royal testicles. What a day!

Children of Raute tribe of Nepal
Innocent children of Raute tribe of Nepal
A Raute tribe couple harvesting the wheat crop
A tribe couple harvesting the wheat crop. These two villagers I met near the Rautes camp were harvesting wheat without machines, they use the oxen to crush it, and the wind to separate the grain from the chaff.
Raute tribes' camps
Raute tribes’ camps
An old Route tribe man with a child
An old Route tribe man

December 6, 2017: The Final Offload

I left the wood and stone hut that I built for the night and extinguished the brazier ignited by friction. Handmade bag on the back, goat skin on the shoulders, the bamboo fire starter, on one hand, I feel metamorphosed. I had set myself a challenge: replace all of my Western things with their natural counterparts. Not only did I manage to take it up, but in addition, I absolutely did not have the impression that it is limiting. On the contrary, I felt more free, independent. I learned to settle for the basic & minimum, to build what I needed to survive.

Terraced fields of wheat in Nepal
Terraced fields of wheat in Nepal. Terracing allows the Nepalese to practice agriculture on the steep slopes of the mountains.
A Nepali lady & her wooden pipe.
A Nepali lady & her wooden pipe. In this photo, it is not Captain Haddock, but a Nepali woman. I met her in the Dailekh district, in the western region of the country. The venerable lady was taking a break to smoke tobacco packed in an artisanal pipe.

If I had been told a few years ago that I would be able to manage on my own in nature (and what nature!), I would not have believed it. After three days of a final ascent through the rocky peaks of the Dolpo region, in northern Nepal, I finally reached the Phoksundo

Dolpo Shey Phoksundo lake of Nepal
Dolpo Shey Phoksundo lake of Nepal

Phoksundo is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen: an aquamarine crescent moon set like a relic in the galaxy of the Himalayan mountains. I sat in front of this splendor and allowed myself all the time it takes to soak up this moment. I felt good and would have gladly stayed there for days to meditate … if only I could. But the first snowflakes began to fall. Winter was coming. I was thinking about going back, going back to college, and going on with my life. Once again in Paris

Undulating ranges of the lower Himalayas of Nepal
Undulating ranges of the lower Himalayas of Nepal
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Blog Garhwal Trekking

Kedartal Lake – A Trekker’s Dream

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Kedartal, as the name indicates its Lord Shiva’s lake. The legend says Shiva created this lake as a contribution to River Bhagirathi. The lake is believed to be the origin of Kedar Ganga, a tributary to Bhagirathi which joins the river at Gangotri. But, in that landscape, you happen to see Kedar Ganga originating from a glacier which feeds the lake too!

Sunlit peaks of Mt Thalaysagar and Mt Bhrigupanth above frozen Kedartal Lake
Kedartal with views of Mt Thalaysagar and Mt Bhrigupanth

After an injury at Chadar trek, I was thinking that my left hand is gone forever! Very depressed, I was pushing hard to get some movements in the wrist. I had never thought I could go for a trek within 4 months of injury.

Gangotri peaks around Kedar Kharak campsite
Craggy peaks around the Kedar Kharak campsite

I still decided to make it to Kedartal lake with only one hand operational. Initially, it sounded like madness but, later I didn’t regret. It was hard but wasn’t as hard as I believed.

Gangotri To Kedartal Lake Trek Route

Day 1: Gangotri to Bhoj Kharak

The trek starts from Gangotri and the trail is steep uphill including numerous switchbacks through the birch forest. Birch trees are referred to as Bhoj trees in the local language and so the first campsite inside the Bhoj forest is named Bhoj Kharak.

Bhoj Kharak is one of many campsites on the Auden’s Col trek route.

The trail is well marked, other than all uphill terrain there is nothing much to talk about. Just a few meters before the campsite the Spider Wall crossing is interesting. Almost vertical granite with a couple of inches wide footholds and quite a deep valley below … Well… it is not as scary as it is mentioned in all websites. But, yes! one needs to be careful.

Glimpse of Mt Bhrigupanth and Mt Thalaysagar peaks from Kedar Kharak campsite
Mt Bhrigupanth and Mt Thalaysagar seen from Kedar Kharak 

Day 2: Bhoj Kharak to Kedar Kharak

The second day of trekking from Bhoj Kharak to Kedar Kharak is comparitively easy on knees but tricky and very interesting! Steep climb, blue sheep pushing lose rocks from top, we dodging those falling rocks, crossing sliding zones, river crossing at places. I loved it. What is the fun in just walking and walking? It is fun to get some dust and dirt.

The real heroes are the porters. I envied them, their immunity towards the cold, altitude and the terrain. When our team, well equipped with Vibram sole trekking shoes and saying “mein guide ke sath hi jaoonga” (I will go only with the guide), these guys were walking in a pair of flimsy slippers with no grip at all and carrying a backpack of the size of an almirah! I heard they carry about 30 to 50KG! They deserve a story of their own.

We had started late in the morning and got to experience some snowfall at the end. I was in an open area, there was nothing to hide and strong cold wind brought snowflakes. Snowflakes were ramming to my face. The lightweight poncho wasn’t of any use, it was flying in every direction except to protect me from snow and wind. The romantic looking snowflakes which come in slow motion aren’t so in reality, they seemed too hostile and felt like ripping my facial skin.

In the mountains, you can hardly do anything but accept the situation- if hot sweat, if cold shiver!! There was no option than walking ahead. Fortunately, the storm was brief and the last stretch of the trail is almost flat and opens up into a beautiful grassy meadow with views of high peaks and blue sheep grazing around.

Himalayan Blue Sheep at Kedar Kharak
Himalayan Blue Sheep or Bharal at Kedar Kharak

Since Kedartal has not gained much popularity as Roopkund the campgrounds are sparsely occupied. Kedar Kharak campsite is one of the best. Wide grassy ground gently sloping down and once a while the pretty visitors- Himalayan Blue Sheep grazing lazily. The campsite has good old mountains around, space, peace, quiet and some craziness. Only a group of Indiahikes had camped and ours. One of the best campsites ever!

A herd of blue sheep arrived and the whole campground came to life! People with cameras tried to approach them in all possible angles and postures. Others just stood around and took videos and pictures with mobile phones. Watching the sheep a thought came to my mind- on treks our existence comes down to that of these sheep. We want to survive, eat and sleep. Nothing else matters.

Moraines and Glacier zone below Kedartal
A massive glacier on one side of the Kedar lake. Took this picture from the lateral moraine separating lake and glacier.

Day 3: Kedar Kharak to Kedartal Lake

On the third day trail from Kedar Kharak to our final destination- Kedartal was rocky, harsh and looked never-ending. For me, the tension of reaching somewhere before the weather got bad was mounting. Today I was better prepared with waterproof pants and wasn’t relying on the poncho only. But, there was no snowfall or rain, it was a very pleasant day! After going up and down on the rocky moraines the final steep climb through the loose rocks and slushy slippery mud kind of induced the effect of altitude.

Almost at 16,000ft air is thin, crisp and dry. Climbing 4 steps makes you huff and puff! I went up like a zombie, every two steps I stopped and looked up to judge how much more! Finally, I was there!! Dumbstruck!!

The view was stunningly beautiful in “high altitude colors”- white and thousand shades brown. Well, there was blue of the sky at times when those cottony white clouds moved. It looked like magnificence redefined! I forgot about my tired limbs and tried to capture the sheer scale of the mountains with my mobile phone. Some pictures I captured are here though any camera cannot do justice to the spectacularly magnificent grandeur of the place. I went around the place and clicked pictures … so many of them!

Camping beside Kedartal Lake
Frozen Kedartal and our camp

The romance of staying in a tent pitched right beside a frozen lake and watching the moon-rise is beyond words to express. The moon slowly rose up from behind Mt Bhrigupanth. It was just a night after a full moon and the light-filled everywhere! I sat there on a rock on the lake bed and looking at Mt Thalay Sagar when others tried to do some long exposure photography.

A porter came for water and asked me gently … “Madam Ji, kab tak yahin baithi rahegi?” (Madam, How long will you sit here?). My response right away was … “Marne tak 😅” (Until death). Soon thick clouds covered the place, dampness was felt by the skin and it was time to get inside the tent.

At high altitudes, I cannot sleep. And while trekking above 8,000ft I just don’t get sleep for a week or so. And hence I keep coming out of the tent every night just to look around, and the star-filled sky. At Kedartal I came out to check twice at 1 AM and 3 AM. The first time there wasn’t much the mist had covered most of the mountains. But, the second time was dreamy.

The moonlight had lit up the whole place. But the thin curtain of clouds masked the sky and the light was diffused and dimmed. The stars were hiding. The enchanting and otherworldly beauty of the mountains soaked in the dim moonlight was like a dream. Trust me!

A moment’s sight of Mt Thalay Sagar shining under the moonlight was worth freezing me for a few minutes. I don’t have words to explain it. It made me forget everything else and I was eternally happy! I could stand there and watch forever! It was bitterly cold but the haunting beauty of the landscape was hypnotic. I thought of making friends with the bitter cold.

Kedartal & surrounding peak of Gangotri range of Himalayas
Hard to say goodbye! But, we had to … looking back at Kedartal …

Staying back at places like Kedartal is not an option. The next morning we had to leave. With tons of memories and a camera full of pictures we left.

Even though Kedartal is not ravaged like Roopkund or Goecha La the plastic still has made its presence. I could see some Pepsi Cola bottles on the surface of the frozen lake. Oh! When are we going to learn? Well, another drill on the sliding zone and descending the steep downhill trail finished our memorable trek. At Gangotri, while we settled the dues etc I finished two big fat aloo parathas effortlessly.

The jinx! Unfinished Moon Peak, unwell on Goecha La trek and injury on Chadar!! I broke the jinx!! I finished Kedartal with no issues! Yey to me!!

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn – John Muir

A blog by Kusum Sanu.. She is author of Scrapbook-A Travel Blog. She is a solo traveler, photographer, and a trekker. She believes in minimalistic living and doesn’t just visit a place but tries to truly live it.

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Auden's Col Blog

Why Auden’s Col Trek Should Be On #1 Expedition Trek List?

Home » Blog » Garhwal

Last 25 days I have been to the most exotic yet most secluded corners of Indian Himalayas. I have hiked and climbed one of the most challenging and dangerous regions during this expedition. I was extremely lucky to witness some incredible landscapes and was lucky to see it’s fascinating yet unique wildlife.

Auden’s Col Expedition

My expedition was in Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand. It was roughly around 180+ km covering all major valley in the region including Gangotri National Park, Rudragiyara Valley, and Rudraprayag Valley. And I, along with my team was the first one to summit the infamous- Auden’s Col this year.

Auden's Col & Mayali pass trek route map
Auden’s Col & Mayali pass trek map

From hailstorms to snowstorms; From lush meadows to the infinite ocean of snow; From insane bad weather to crystal clear sunny days; From high altitude glacial lakes to starving for a glass of water, From life to death and everything in-between, I have seen everything during this expedition.

It started from one of the mighties places for Hindu pilgrims, at Gangotri and ended at another mighty adobe, at Kedarnath- The home of Shiva. In between, I have hiked to Kedar Tal, Patangini Pass, the infamous- Auden’s col, Mayali Pass(which I couldn’t summit because of an excessive amount of snow), Marsar Taal and Vasuki Taal.

Summiting Auden’s col was a very personal and emotional achievement for me as I was coveting this for so long and finally, it had happened.

If I’ll flaunt my achievement by saying it was my lone effort for this giant achievement, it would be so naïve and dishonest of me. I owe every bit of success of this expedition to mountain legend and big brother, Sonu bhai @raachotrekkers. Without his and the team’s immense efforts, nothing would’ve been possible. I genuinely thank you for doing what you are doing for years and years, Thank you bhai ji!

Glacial lake just before the final ascent of Kedar Tal.
This glacial lake you encounter just before the final ascent of Kedar Tal.
Taken at Kedar Tal region.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to share these incredible landscapes I was able to witness in my most honest and humble way.

Gangotri to Kedar Tal

My clock read 4: 20 PM. I quickly wore my shoes and had to come out of my tent to wipe off the huge amount of snow accumulated above my tent. And then I looked up the sky it was all hazy and cloudy in all its glory!

The last 4 hours had been completely rough. Snowfall and thunderstorms have dominated the afternoon. Today’s climb was pretty intense and after about 7 hours of some super steep climbing, we reached the base of Patangini Pass at around 4920 m above sea level. There was not a single cloud in the sky, and hardly any wind when I reached the campsite.
Within no real-time, the weather has decided to change. Black gloomy clouds started hovering over and it didn’t take too long to stated snowing heavily. It lasted for about some 4 hours. The landscape outside was completely white-out. This is what Life in the Himalayas is all about, the unpredictability.

Camping while snowstorm brewing at Kedartal
Taken at Patangini Pass base camp en route to Auden’s col

I came out of my tent to get some water for myself. As the temperature outside was way below zero, there was no ready water source nearby. We had to melt the snow to get some water for ourselves. But the view outside was an absolutely thrilling one and make you feel worth all these hardships in the mountains.

Kedar Tal

A few days back I wrote about Mt. Shivling, Mt. Thalay Sagar, and Mt. Meru being my crush mountains.

Kedartal Lake surrounded by Gangotri group of Peaks. The mountain you see right in the middle is mighty Thalay Sagar (6904 m). Left to it is Mt. Bhrigupant (6772 m) and at its base lies the beautiful glacial lake Kedartal (16,116 ft.).

Thalay Sagar is a mountain in the Gangotri Group of peaks in the western Garhwal Himalayas, on the main ridge that lies south of the Gangotri Glacier. It lies in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, 10 kilometers southwest of the Hindu holy site of Gaumukh (the source of mighty Ganges). It is also the second-highest peak on the south side of the Gangotri Glacier (after Kedarnath).

But the fascination starts here, it is more renown for being a dramatic rock peak, steep on all sides, and a haunting dream for mountaineers. It is adjacent to the Jogin group of peaks and has the glacial lake Kedartal at its base which is very popular among the trekking community.

Climbing History Of Thalaya Sagar Peak

A team of Japanese first attempted the summit in 1955 but unfortunately, an avalanche hit them just before the summit and resulted in fatal death of all climbers. In 1985, again a Japanese team has first made the successful summit from it’s North Face. And after that in 2008, a mountaineer from Bengal named Basanta Singha Roy became the first Indian to summit the peak.

From that day till today only a handful of mountaineers have climbed Thalay Sagar and the rest of us (including me) have done this in our wildest dreams!

If you’re climbing to the glacier as notorious as Auden’s col, what route would you prefer?

Would you take the typical route which starts from Gangotri and attempting Auden’s col via Rudrigayara Valley or you would rather take a longer route which goes all the way to mighty Kedar Tal first, then you climb 5100m to a pass called Patangini Dhar; cross the ridge, negotiate an infinite ocean of snow, reach Auden’s Base and then attempt the summit from Gangotri III side? I chose the latter.

It was a longer route which first takes you to Kedartal first and then you march towards the mighty Auden’s Col. It also serves as kind of an acclimatization climb (though calling Kedar Tal hike as an acclimatization climb is quite unfair due to the difficulty of the route to Kedar Tal).

Also, the trail to Kedartal was very messed up due to the immense amount of untimely snowfall the region has received and the trail after Kedarkharak was also affected badly with avalanches and landslides.

blue emerald water of Kedartal lake
The bird-eye view from Tal and Mt Thalay Sagar rising right in front of you from its base was a sight to get yourself completely blown up by the beauty.
Taken at Kedar Tal.

Generally at this time of the year, one would expect the Tal to be in its beautiful turquoise blue color but because of heavy snowfall, Tal was completely frozen. And trust me, it had its own charm!

Exploring Kedartal

If you will ask any mountaineer which is that dream Mountain which you want to conquer, the answer will be likes of Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Denali, etc.
My dream mountain is right there in the rightmost corner of this picture, it is called Mt. Thalay Sagar. Yes, two mountains in Himalayan ranges have fascinated me like anything in a recent while:
1. Mt. Thalay Sagar (6904 m)
2. Mt. Meru (6660 m)

Kedartal lake against backdrop of Thalaysagar peak
So Close Yet So Far!

Now I will need a life or two to describe how beautiful and fascinating Mount Meru is. I probably will talk about it sometime later. Its infamous “Shark’s Fin” route which was first summited by Conrad Anker & Renan Ozturk, and it’s stories give me utter goosebumps.

On the other hand, Mt. Thalay Sagar is like a dark horse, rather an underdog. Thalay Sagar is located 16km Southwest of Gaumukh Glacier. If you hike to Kedar Tal, you can see it right there in front of you. Thalay Sagar rise right from its base to sky-high at Kedar Tal.

Thalay Sagar is a rarely attempted peak in the Garhwal region. A team of Japanese first attempted the summit in 1955 but unfortunately, an avalanche hit them just before the summit and resulted in fatal death of all climbers. In 1985, again a Japanese team has first made the successful summit from it’s North Face. And after that in 2008, a mountaineer from Bengal named Basanta Singha Roy became the first Indian to summit the peak.

From that day till today the only handful of mountaineers have climbed Thalay Sagar because of the difficulty it’s route possesses.

As I rightly mentioned the word “dream” as I don’t know how many lives I will take to summit it (if at all this ever happens). But is it even a dream if it’s not out of your reach?

P. S. A very close friend of mine and a professional mountaineering guide Som Nath also shares the same dream. The only difference is, right now he just came back from Deo Tibba Summit Expedition and now he is scaling the Stok range; summiting Kang Yatse II.. while on the other side, I am right here, writing this silly post, eating chips, shamelessly dreaming about submitting Thalay Sagar one day!

Porters: Superheroes of Himalayas.

Porters- the most underrated fraternity working and living since ages in mountains. While people around the globe have slowly started recognizing the importance of a Sherpa in mountaineering, porters, however, remain unsung.
While the work of a sherpa and a porter is closely aligned, there’s a significant difference when it comes to the responsibility they share. Porters are the community lives in the mountains who make their living out of carrying loads in the mountains.

Porters are the reason why every single trek/expedition ever succeeds in high altitude Mountains. Be it a moderate-high altitude hike or extremely high altitude mountaineering expeditions, it’s almost impossible to succeed in any expeditions without porters. They are the real backbone of mountaineering, and I mean it big time.

Everything you see in the mountains that nature didn’t put there – a porter did. For people like us, the trail can be hard, the air thin, and the gears are really heavy. Porters are accustomed (naturally gifted I would say) to the altitude and thin air (many even have different physical characteristics from you and me – special adaptations to cope) and spend their lives carrying loads in the mountains. Their physic is naturally gifted to sustain the inhuman weather conditions that you and I hardly can.

a porter carrying load up to the basecamp of Patangini Dhar
Superheroes of Himalayas.

Next time if you happen to meet a porter when you’re in the mountains, give them a huge smile, ask them if they need something and pay them good. They are the most interesting fraternities one can find in mountains, having so many stories from the corners you and I only can imagine.

Kedartal to Kedar Kharak

Nature, the earth, this whole wide landscape can teach us what our school can’t, what our job can’t, what our everyday life can’t. They can make you realize certain things after which you can never think those things in the same way.

Being here, in the middle of this calamity-turned-magnanimity, watching a beautiful sunrise unfold over Mandakini Range, my tiny brain unable to comprehend nature.

But, when you realize you are just a small dot, you feel liberated. Liberated from the chains of life – job, bills, and everything. Even if for a moment, this feeling of liberation is most satisfying. You feel a sense of calmness.

To put things into perspective – the human eye is the widest ever lens – there is no other lens/ camera that can see as wide as we do in a single frame. Yet, my eyes could not see beyond 0.0001% of this Mandakini Range spread over till my eyes could see and beyond.

Every time you witness such magnanimity – watching a sunrise or a sunset, among most of these untouched regions, you come on terms with several unstated facts.

sunrise over the Garhwal Himalayan ranges
Taken at Kedar Kharak campsite, Garhwal Himalayas

That you are just a speck in this entirety. You are even smaller. You are perhaps nothing.

Patangini Dhar to Auden’s Col

This Col in the picture connects Gangotri range on the right to the Jogin range on the left, two of the biggest mountain massifs in the Uttarakhand region of Himalayas.

The approach to Auden’s Col was definitely exciting as hell because the infamous speculations about this Col stand really high amongst all the climbing sections across the globe.

The last evening we have set up our camp right at the base, and it was scary because we faced a crazy snowstorm a day previous to this, we haven’t really seen the Col till the morning thy day and we weren’t really sure if we will be able to attempt it or not. But luckily the weather opened up to wonderful daylight and that soft snow made it an amazing ascent for us.

Bad weather at such high altitude in the mountains is literally a curse, you should do whatever to please the Mountain Gods and really hope for good weather windows while you are approaching the summit. Respecting the mountains is really the most important thing.

As you can totally see in this picture the scale of what we are in front of these huge mountains, bad weather can easily take your life in such hazardous situations. One should always be respectful to nature.

Climbing up the Auden's Col glacier
Approach to the Auden’s Col

From my side, I sang a few songs to please Mountain Gods. We did face extreme snow blizzards and crazy bad weather when we were 2 camps prior to the Col but luckily it all went well on the day it mattered the most. I must say the Mountain Gods do enjoy my songs!

The Final Ascent To The Auden’s Col: The D-Day

I was literally day-dreaming this moment for the last two and a half years.
So there I was, upon the base of Col. I could feel the clouds within my reach. Exhausted and exceeding my limits- physically and more importantly emotionally, in a blissful state of oblivion.

I woke up freezing in extreme cold, it was pitch dark outside, even after adjusting my eyes I couldn’t make out what’s going on outside my tent. I looked at my watch and it was about 2:30 at night. I could hear the wind blowing mercilessly outside my tent. Even after all the possible attempts of warming my body I just couldn’t stop shivering and it continued through the day until we camped on Khatling Glacier.

Seeking mountain’s permit, putting one step after another against the cold wind, crossing crevasse one by one slowly, only aiming to go higher towards the peak which seemed near but at the same time so far.

The battle was less outside and more inside. It took away almost everything from me. And there was not much left after hiking and climbing for many days, missing out on peaceful sleep due to spending many nights at an altitude above 5100 meters. Above all, one has no appetite, eating food was already an achievement at this height.

Steep climb to the Auden's Col
Picture is taken at Auden’s col base.

One can see a huge ridge at the distance in this picture, it’s Col. The Col connects Gangotri range- I II and III to Jogin Range I and II at the altitude of 18,200 ft.

Rabbit’s Ear

When the snowy, slippery and steep path opens up to this view, the best we can do is to cherish the moment in silence. We often fail to express true joy in words as it can only be felt and lived.

I invariably notice little flora and fauna during my expeditions, ask questions about every wonder of nature that falls on the way, but almost always fail to vocalize the feelings when I see the magnanimous and humbling vistas like these.

It is moments like these that keep inspiring you to climb more and more, venture into the absolute wilderness, see more and come back to the mountains. Because once you have lived with them, for any period of time, there is no going back.

This sharp rock face standing tall in the frame appears to be as a rabbit’s ear from a distance when you are approaching the Col and hence the name.

Verticle rock-face at Auden's col
Rabbit’s Ear

It does sound cute, but reaching this Col was one hell of an effort. We started at around 3:30 in the night from the base, which looked so close but it took us more than 7 hours to reach the top.

The snow was so soft that we almost went waist-deep in it at some patches, the oxygen levels are very low at the height of 18000 feet, so taking every step in that deep snow was way more than tiring, and to top it all the huge crevasses were hidden below us under this soft snow which was the definitely the most dangerous part.

Suddenly reaching to this point unexpectedly was surely the highlight of that climb to the Rudrigiyara Valley.

Descending Auden’s Col

The descent from the Auden’s col is among the most fascinating thing I have ever done in the Himalayas. I will keep this section right up with the likes of Pandu Pull crossing in Pin Parvati Expedition. But this section challenges you more technically due to its terrain.

Once you cross the Auden’s col and descent down, you encounter a steep vertical gully. One needs to negotiate this long vertical descend to enter into Rudragiyara Valley. Once you cross this gully, you straight away get exposed to gigantic Khatling Glacier.

The gradient of the gully is almost 70° so you just can not simply descend down using your crampons & microspikes and do rappelling straight away.

As this gully is almost a kilometer long, you have to fix a rope to get the support and make your way all the way down. In some cases, you have to use carabiniers to ensure extra safety if the snow level is higher.

You get the bird’s eye view of Khatling Glacier from here. The landscape was totally obscured by haze and the visibility had started decreasing slowly- notorious Himalayan weather after all!

Rappelling down from Auden's Col
Descending Auden’s Col. You can spot a few hikers at the distance, tells you the scale of the giant.

Auden’s Col to Khatling Glacier

Khatling Glacier: An ocean of crevasses

Once you cross the Auden’s col, you enter into infamous Khatling Glacier. It resides on the south ridge of Bhilangana Valley which separates Rudurigiyara Valley from Kedarganga Valley.

Khatling Glacier is an ocean of snow terrain invaded with infinite (I mean it!) crevasses & hidden crevasses. It’s a long 19 km glacier with various challenges imposed with it.

panoramic view of Khatling glacier
This picture was taken while crossing the infamous Khatling Glacier after (safely) descending from Auden’s Col. We got a clear window of a couple of days to safely negotiate glacier in relatively good weather.

If you’re on Auden’s col expedition, Khaltling Glacier is one of the biggest challenges because of its crevasses. And if the weather is bad and if it snows while you’re on it, it becomes more dangerous as fresh snow covers the crevasses and you absolutely can not spot where these crevasses are. It looks like a flat surface but once you step on it, it breaks rigorously.

With all these revolved around this, Khatling is also one of the prettiest regions in Garhwal Himalayas. Being completely out of the shadow of civilization, it has some of the most spectacular and mesmerizing landscapes to offer.

Walking on Khatling glacier
Khatling Glacier

Only a handful of climbers have hiked to Khatling Glacier by now (and this secludes me to hike this) because of its remoteness, involvement of technical climb, and various risk involved in it. I genuinely feel very fortunate to be among these few.

Khaling Glacier and Crevasses

A crevasse is a very common term used specially in glacier navigation field. Crevasses form as a result of the stress generated when two semi-rigid pieces above a plastic substrate have different rates of movement.

Crevasses are a major safety concern, especially when traversing glaciers. The Indian Himalayas is home to some of the giants and renowned glaciers of globe. Khaltling glacier is one such long and deadly glaciers which connects Kadar Ganga Valley and Rudrigyara Valley.

Deep crevasse in Khatling glacier
A deep crevasse in Khatling glacier

Khatling Glacier is full of Transverse and Longitudinal crevasses which is a result of shear stress from the margin of the glacier and longitudinal compressing stress from the lateral extension.

A large crevasse in Khatling glacier
A large crevasse in Khatling glacier

Crevasses often have vertical or near-vertical walls, which can then melt and create seracs, arches, and other ice formations. crevasse may be as deep as 40 metres, as wide as 20 metres, and up to several hundred metres long.

The most tricky thing here is the hidden crevasses that are buried under the hefty amount of snow and many times very tricky to identify.

The Gateway of Bhilangana Valley: Khatling Glacier

The Bhilangna valley is situated in the Tehri district of Uttarakhand. This area falls under the bio geographic zone 2B-Northwest Himalaya (Rodgers et al. 2000). Ridges of Vasuki-Tal, Sahasra Tal, and Masar Tal surround this valley from east and west respectively. Similarly, mighty Khatling glacier and Tharti division lie in north and south respectively.

Unnamed peak surrounding Khatling glacier
Unnamed peaks surrounding Khatling glacier

Khatling is an important glacier of Garhwal Himalayas which is also the source of river Bhilangna. The icy glacier of Khatling is surrounded by magnificent snow-capped Himalayan peaks such as Jogin group (6466m), Sphetic Pristwar (6905m), Barte Kauter (6579m) Kirti Stambh (6902m) and many unknown peaks.

This lateral glacier situated in Tehri district is the source of river Bhilangna. The moraines on the side of the glaciers look like standing walls of gravel mud.

The Route To Bhilangana valley

There are several routes you take to reach this valley- the conventional route is to reach Ghuttu and ascend via Ree and Gangi another is via Mala Village, Uttarkashi but it’s a very long route takes additional 6-7 days of hiking.

This valley is the gateway to many secluded corners like Masar Tal, Vasuki Tal, Shastra Tal, Mayali Pass, and also the gateway to mighty Khatling glacier.

Unnamed peak of Khatling Glacier in Gangotri group of mountains
Unnamed peak around Khatling Glacier

There are few Unnamed peaks in this region which are virgin and don’t have much information about it. One in the frame is among the same.

Turn back from Mayali Pass 

The Art of Turning Around

The art of knowing when to turn around is a humble art.
And most important in my opinion. I understand the frustration of returning back especially when you have invested a lot into it. Not just the finance part but for your mental, emotional, and physical investment.

For instance, me being always stuck in my otherwise 9 to 5 world, it’s almost impossible to plan and execute such high altitude expeditions again.

Last year I had to turn back from Mayali Pass (Western Garhwal Himalayas, Uttrakhand) because of excessive snow conditions. The trail lead to the pass had more than 3 and a half feet of snow along with the very bad weather conditions which make the hike very difficult as well as dangerous.

Towards Mayali pass
Towards Mayali pass

When the “what ifs” seize to hijack your amygdala, when it stops feeding you with illusions like “ then these unwanted screams in your head start boggling.

The art of turning around is about taking control over that voice in your head that so desperately is trying to convince you that “the weather will change”, “it’s not that bad”, “you invested so much into this already”, “coming back another time is going to be so painful, so better get it over with now!”.
.
When you master the art of turning around then there is no doubt. It’s easier said then done, to be realistic in a situation where you have invested so much. Practice makes perfect and I heard this quote of Dalai Lama.

“If you can do something about it, don’t worry. If you can’t do something about it, don’t worry”.

Dalai Lama

There are few clear cut indications when you need to turn around apart from special conditions like absolute scarcity of water resources, bad weather, physical injury, wrong gears for the terrain, and the list goes on. Maybe I’ll attempt this again in the coming years, just maybe.

Blog by: Brijesh Dave

Categories
Blog Garhwal Kinnaur Mountaineering Sangla valley

Lamkhaga photostory: The Chitkul-Harsil Trek

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Lamkhaga photoblog

Lamkhaga Pass (5284m) is one of the most beautiful and challenging treks I’ve done so far. This 8-day trek connects the beautiful village of Chitkul in Sangla or Baspa valley of Kinnaur, Himachal to Harshil (Gangotri region, Uttarakhand) through some of the remote regions, usually not accessible for the civilians.

The amount of fresh, deep snow made hiking at higher altitudes extremely difficult. Spending two complete days navigating through knee level snow (& sometimes till the waist) was a gruesome process, but it’s the stunning mountain views that were truly the highlight of the trek!

Autumn in the Himalaya | Lamkhaga pass trek
Witnessing the onset of autumn in the Himalayas! Lovely contrast of fall colors against the snowy summits with clear blue skies, something I didn’t expect before the trek.
Lamkhaga climb | Lamkhaga pass trek
Lamkhaga climb | Lamkhaga pass trek
Day of crossing the pass | Lamkhaga pass trek
Day of crossing the pass: Probably the photo where you will find the least number of colors. You look around and everything is white. The sun rays above us were a sign of good weather but gave us a decent amount of Burns (coupled with the reflection of snow) which made us look like we just stepped out of a chimney!
The vista | Lamkhaga pass trek
When choosing to do at least one high altitude trek in the Himalayas per year, the main deciding factor for me, obviously, is the number of peaks in the trail. Next, wot I look for is different landscapes and terrains. It helps if we have more variety like this one: from lush Meadows, glaciers, large snowfields to high altitude deserts (devoid of vegetation)! This gives more options for landscape photography, even though this particular one is less perfect in terms of visual balance. But then that’s the challenge: you need to capture wot is out there!
Postcard perfect scenery | Chitkul | Lamkhaga pass trek
Postcard perfect scenery of Chitkul, Baspa valley Kinnaur.
The unnamed peak | Lamkhaga pass trek
With due respect to all religions, isn’t it easier to worship these natural wonders instead? Nature is the only thing we’ve got and gives you the reasons how we exist. There’s something God-like about the way these mountains stand out. I get the feeling that sometimes we are missing out on the obvious!
Crossing layers of snow | Lamkhaga pass trek
Crossing layers of snow.
The landscape | Lamkhaga pass trek
My personal favorite from the trek. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to capture the wide mountain vistas that you would think the best option is to put on a wide angle lens and cover everything. So often, a snippet is enough where the viewer can stitch the rest of the scene with the help of their imagination. Diffused lighting falling on dried grass, thanks to the optimum cloud cover, help bring life to the scenery.
Contours, textures and shadows of a mountain. | Lamkhaga pass trek
Contours, textures, and shadows of a mountain.
The baspa valley | Lamkhaga pass trek
This photo is a fine example of the impact political tension, between countries along international borders in the Himalayas, have on us. Just a few kilometers away from one of the last Indian villages along the border lies this beautiful valley. And it’s off limit to civilians. There’s a major chunk of the Himalayas which we will never be able to explore in our lifetime due to the same reasons. I’m concerned that my wish to see Nanga Parbat and travel Gilgit Baltistan will forever remain a dream.
And as I say this, there’s a small lump of cloud eager to get in the frame on a clear sky!
The mountain vista | Lamkhaga pass trek
Of all the things that give me a high, I would prefer one of the mountains’!
Boulder strewn trail | Lamkhaga pass trek
Moraine, glacier, snow, peaks, clouds and the sun factor: components of every high altitude Himalayan trek which make it otherworldly!
Bhagirathi river | Lamkhaga pass trek
30-second long exposure of River Bhagirathi, one of the main tributaries of Ganga. Even though it’s not my first time in the region of the Ganges, it’s the first time I had the gear to take a long exposure shot of this legendary River. If you want to see this River in it’s greatest and ferocious form, head to the mountains. Head to the point of origin where it flows out from a glacier snout in the surroundings of some giant peaks which would leave you speechless. And observe how nicely all the small streams and rivers flowing from every other mountain connects to this River to form the larger sum.
The snowscape | Lamkhaga pass trek
You can spot the human for a reference scale!
Unnamed peaks | Lamkhaga pass trek
Unnamed peaks
Perfect mountain vista | Lamkhaga pass trek
Perfect mountain vista
Lower Kyarkoti. Harsil Valley | Lamkhaga pass trek
Lower Kyarkoti. Harsil Valley
Unnamed peak on Kinnaur Garhwal range | Lamkhaga pass trek
Unnamed peak on Kinnaur Garhwal range

Blog by: Shyamal Bhat

Categories
Blog Garhwal Mountaineering Trekking

Lamkhaga Pass Trek – May 2018 Expedition Blog

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Chitkul to Gangotri/Harsil Trek

Lamkhaga Pass (5282m) (Chitkul to Harsil), May 2018
This Himalayan high pass divides Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh from Uttarakhand in India. We followed the following route:
Chitkul to Rani Kanda
-Rani Kanda to Dhumti
-Dhumti to Gundar
-Gundar to Lamkhaga advance base camp (Kinnaur side) (One may break this climb till base camp 1 and next day to advance base camp…….we skipped)
-Advance base camp to Upper Kyarkoti after crossing Lamkhaga pass (Again, you may camp at Lamkhaga pass base camp of Gangotri side followed by trek till Kyarkoti…….we decided to continue beyond base camp and camp at upper Kyarkoti)
-Upper Kyarkoti to Kyarkoti
-Kyarkoti to Gangnani
-Gangnani to Harsilsn
This is a remote pass and very few groups have finished this. Thus it could be a good option for all those who loves to visit the under-explored! Raacho Trekkers team did the first recce of the route from Kinnaur side in 2014.

First day camping at Ranikanda near Chitkul[Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
First day camping at Ranikanda near Chitkul
View of Baspa glacier snout[Lamkhaga pass trek]
View of Baspa glacier snout
Huge icicles near Baspa glacier ice cave[Lamkhaga pass trek]
Huge icicles near Baspa glacier ice cave
Baspa glacier ice cave [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Baspa glacier ice cave [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Baspa glacier ice cave [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Baspa glacier ice cave [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Climbing up to the Lamkhaga pass base camp
Climbing up to the Lamkhaga pass base camp
Lamkhaga pass base camp [Lamkhaga 2018]
Lamkhaga pass base camp
Baspa Glacier. Chotakhaga pass is visible in the background.[Lamkhaga pass 2018]
Baspa Glacier. Chotakhaga pass is visible in the background.[Lamkhaga pass 2018]
View from base camp [Lamkhaga pass 2018]
View from base camp
Water pumped out off the glacier beneath the tent......trying to reset the tents [Lamkhaga pass 2018]
Water pumped out off the glacier beneath the tent……trying to reset the tents [Lamkhaga pass 2018]
Trying to dig out some water from beneath the glacier at advance base camp[Lamkhaga pass 2018]
Trying to dig out some water from beneath the glacier at advance base camp[Lamkhaga pass 2018]
Climbing Lamkhaga pass [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Climbing Lamkhaga pass
Lamkhaga pass top
Lamkhaga pass top
View of Uttrakhand side glacier
View of Uttrakhand side glacier
Jalandri Gad amphitheater [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Jalandri Gad amphitheater [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Jalandri Gad stream making way through the glacier [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Jalandri Gad stream making way through the glacier
Descending into the Jalandri Gad valley [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Descending into the Jalandri Gad valley [Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Origin of Jalandri gad stream. Jalandri Gad is a right bank tributary of Bhagirathi river
Origin of Jalandri gad stream. Jalandri Gad is a right bank tributary of Bhagirathi river
The ridge[Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
The ridge
Upper Kyarkoti... Jalandhari gad valley[Lamkhaga pass trek]
Upper Kyarkoti… Jalandhari gad valley
Meadows of Kyarkoti. Harsil valley Uttrakhand[Lamkhaga pass trek 2018]
Meadows of Kyarkoti. Harsil valley Uttrakhand

Blog by Upasana Ray

Categories
Auden's Col Blog Garhwal

Auden’s Col Expedition & Khatling Glacier Trek Blog

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Patangini>Auden’s Col>Khatling Glacier Trek Expedition

Auden’s Col is a mountain pass, it is approachable from Gangotri and one can trek up to Kedarnath following Auden’s Col and Khatling glacier. Auden’s Col gets its name from J B Auden, a famous British geologist. He first explored the region in the year 1939. It connects the mountain peaks Jogin I (6465m) and Gangotri III (6580m) and is at a height of around 5242m. Auden’s Col separates two glaciers on either side – Khatling glacier on the south and Jogin Bhamak on the north.

The Three Passes Trek Of June 2018

It couldn’t have meant more than en route the three pass trek covering Patangini Dhar, Kedar Tal, Auden’s Col, and Khatling glacier (due to the fierce Bhilangna river in spate we couldn’t cross over to complete the last part of Mayali pass… and of which Auden’s Col I couldn’t cross without much help). But too much predictability and it’s no longer an adventure. And maybe that is why we throw ourselves to the elements to feel real, raw and alive. I’m glad I did.

Auden's Col & Mayali pass trek route map
Auden’s Col & Mayali pass trek map

All this wouldn’t have been possible without the expert organization of Raacho Trekkers. The coolest staff, the food was to die for (think mangoes and cake and pasta and thukpa at higher altitudes) and OMG did I mention the tents? We had a 2-inch foam mattress and it was like a real bed every night. I can’t do enough justice talking about our experienced dedicated leader Sonu Negi. Those who know him, know of his leadership, initiative, and knowledge of the terrain, wildlife, and what he is capable of those who don’t if you are to do a high Himalayan pass do it with Raacho trekkers – you will be in safe professional hands.

Cloud Carpet. Gangotri National Park. Uttrakhand[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Cloud Carpet. Gangotri National Park. Uttrakhand
High meadows. Gangotri National Park[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
High meadows. Gangotri National Park
Near Bhoj Kharak campsite[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Near Bhoj Kharak campsite
Approaching Kedar kharak campsite[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Approaching Kedar Kharak campsite
En route Kedartal. Gangotri National Park.[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
En route Kedartal. Gangotri National Park.
First sightings - from left Bhrigupanth at 6772 m and ThalaySagar at 6904 m.[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
First sightings – from left Bhrigupanth at 6772 m and ThalaySagar at 6904 m
Manda range from Kedar Kharak campsite[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Manda range from Kedar Kharak campsite
Views from Kedar Kharak campsite[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Views from Kedar Kharak campsite
Approaching KedarTal. [Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Approaching KedarTal.
Kedartal and ThalyaSagar. Gangotri National Park.[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Kedartaal and ThalyaSagar. Gangotri National Park.
The magnificent Kedartal and Thalaysagar peak[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
The magnificent Kedartal and Thalaysagar peak
wonder what made this so smokey..[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Wonder what made this so smokey..
Contemplating by the Kedartal Lake. [Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Contemplating by the Kedartal Lake.
The day my shoes broke near Kedar Tal.[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
The day my shoes broke near Kedar Tal.
Manda range, Bhrighupant, Thalay Sagar. Gangotri National Park. [Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Manda range, Bhrighupant, Thalay Sagar.
Gangotri National Park.
Raacho Trekkers team member Rajeev on the way up to Patangini dhaar...the day Manish taught me the zig zag[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Raacho Trekkers team member Rajeev on the way up to Patangini dhaar…the day Manish taught me the zig zag
How many can you spot?[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
How many can you spot?
On Patangini dhaar 5085m[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
On Patangini Dhar 5085m
Vineet leading the expedition[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Vineet leading the expedition
Audens Col 5490 m[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Auden’s Col 5490 m.
Advance base camp before the Auden's col[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Advance base camp before the Auden’s col
The Gangotri range[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
The Gangotri range
The day after Auden's Col on Khatling glacier
The day after Auden’s Col on Khatling glacier
Somewhere along Khatling Glacier
Somewhere along Khatling Glacier
Endless Khatling Glacier
Endless Khatling Glacier
Waterfalls in the Bhilangana valley
Waterfalls in the Bhilangana valley
Green meadows of Bhilangana valley
The beautiful Bhilangana valley… full of wildlife and variety of birds species
Me, myself and the wild and tame creatures in Bhilangana valley.[Three passes trek : Audens-Mayali-Patangini Dhar]
Me, myself and the wild and tame creatures in Bhilangana valley
Last campsite in Bhilanganga valley
Last campsite. Bhilanganga valley
Old wooden house in Bhilangana valley of Uttarakhand
Houses of Bhilangana valley Uttrakhand
Painted house in Bhilangana valley
Houses in Bhilangana valley
A wild herb called Rubharb found in Bhilangana valley
Rubharb!!!! the original variety not wild but wild
Makeshift bridge over Bhilangana river
Makeshift Bridge over Bhilangana river
View from the Bhilangana campsite
View from the campsite.


Blog by Sridevi Nair

Categories
Auden's Col Blog Garhwal Mountaineering Trekking

Auden’s Col Trek : Via Khatling Glacier & Mayali Pass

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Auden’s Col is a pass in the Gangotri Group of mountains that connects Jogin I (6465m) and Gangotri III (6580m) and is reportedly situated at an altitude of around 5400m. It also binds two glaciers on the opposite sides. One is Khatling glacier and the other one looks like the glacier belonging to Jogin I.

Auden’s Col Trek Expedition: A photoblog

Auden’s Col is approachable from Gangotri and one can trek up to Kedarnath following Auden’s Col and Khatling glacier. The pass is named after John Bicknell Auden of the Geological Survey of India, who first discovered it in 1935 and crossed it in 1939. Mr. Harish Kapadia and Mr. Romesh Bhattacharjee from the Himalayan Club repeated Auden’s explorations in the late eighties.

Normally pass and the Khatling glacier is heavily infested with crevasses. However, we crossed the pass in early June and encountered few crevasses due to heavy snow cover. To read more about the expedition, please read this blog written by Neelima Vallangi on National Geographic Traveler. Sridevi Nair has also written a brief account of Auden’s col trek expedition 2018

In between the Gangotri III and Jogin I, lies this amazingly beautiful pass which hides the crevasse-ridden Khatling glacier on its other side that one requires to cross while getting down. We crossed this as a part of tri-pass-route (Patangani Dhar-Auden’s Col-Mayali Pass).

 Expedition’s highlights

  • Auden: John Bicknell Auden, brother of the famous poet Auden, was a Geographical Survey officer. He discovered the Col in 1935 and finally crossed it in 1939.
  • Col: the lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks, typically providing a pass from one side of a mountain range to another.
  • Auden’s Col is one of the toughest and most challenging treks in the western Himalayas and definitely the most treacherous pass in the Garhwal Himalayas.
  • It’s not a popular trek due to its level of difficulty.
  • The Col is at a height of 5490 m – 18,000 feet. (That’s high).
  • The terrain is strenuous and the trail passes through moraines, narrow cliffs, Boulders, and difficult ridges.
  • The pass links two glaciers on the opposite sides, viz Khatling glacier and Jogin I glacier. The pass and the Khatling glacier are heavily infested with crevasses.

Gangotri to Auden’s col via Patangini Dhar

Sudershan Parvat, Garhwal Himalayas
Sudershan Parvat
A male Bharal ( Himalayan blue sheep )
A male Bharal (Himalayan blue sheep)
The sun sets over Mandakini range
The sun sets over Mandakini range
Kedar Tal ( Gangotri National Park )
Onwards to Kedar Tal (Gangotri National Park)

Kedartal lake

It is a snow-fed lake surrounded by Thalay Sagar (6,904m), Meru (6,672m), Bhrigupanth (6,772m) and other Gangotri group of peaks, and is the source of Kedar Ganga, which in Hindu mythology is considered to be Shiva’s contribution to Bhagirathi. Kedartal is 17 km from Gangotri. The route involves a steep rocky climb along the narrow Kedar Ganga gorge for 8 Km to Bhojkharak. From there it is 4km to the next available flat area for camping at Kedarkharak, and a further 5 km to Kedartal. The route passes through scenic Himalayan birch forests but is made hazardous in places by falling rocks, high altitude, and segments of steep ascent. Kedar Ganga originates from Kedartal and meets the Ganges in Gangotri.

Bhrigupanth - Thalay Sagar - Jogin towering over Kedar Tal
Bhrigupanth – Thalay Sagar – Jogin towering over Kedar Tal
Mandakini peak [ Gangotri National Park ]

Mandakini peak [ Gangotri National Park ]

Thalay Sagar peak (6904m) [ Gangotri National Park ]
Thalay Sagar peak (6904m) [ Gangotri National Park ]
Thalay Sagar peak (6904m) [ Gangotri National Park ]
Thalay Sagar peak (6904m) [ Gangotri National Park ]
Bhrigupanth and Thalay Sagar [ Gangotri National Park ]
Bhrigupanth and Thalay Sagar [ Gangotri National Park ]
Kedartal lake [Thalaysagar peak visible in the background] - Auden's col trek
Kedartal lake [Thalaysagar peak visible in the background]

Auden’s col to Kedarnath via Khatling Glacier & Mayali pass

After crossing Auden’s col, there are two exit options. The first one is to exit through Masar Tal – Mayali pass – Vasuki  Tal to Kedarnath. The other is to exit through the trek route which is from Tambakund, Kharsoli, Gangi to Village Guttu. Village Guttu is a day’s journey from Haridwar or Rishikesh.

Climbing Auden's col [The three passes trek Auden's col - Mayali pass - Patangini Dhar]
Climbing Auden’s col
The Auden's col blog
The Auden’s col
Huge icefalls near Khatling Glacier [Auden's col trek]
Huge icefalls near Khatling Glacier
Auden's col snowfield
Climbing Auden’s col
Sheer vastness of the Khatling Glacier [Auden's col trek]
The Sheer vastness of the Khatling Glacier
Mayali Glacier
Tiny humans on Mayali Glacier
Descending Mayali Glacier
Descending Mayali Glacier
Masar top, Enroute Mayali pass [Auden's col trek]
Masar top, Enroute Mayali pass
Most beautiful minefield - Khatling glacier | Auden's col
Known for its notoriety as being highly crevasse infested and taking a couple of days to cross after getting down the treacherous Auden’s Col (5300m). Doing it in June, somehow we got exceptional weather and totally snow-covered glacier which meant we couldn’t know where the crevasses were (those are fully visible in post monsoons). We just followed our local guide’s footsteps and crossed it in 4-5 hours straight. Khatling Glacier, Uttrakhand. June’17
Mayali Glacier below Mayali pass | Auden's col trek
Mayali Pass, Uttrakhand, June 2017

Our guide told us that he had come here three times before. The first time when he came 10-12 years back the glacier used to start right away from the point where you see us standing (in this pic) till it joined the surrounding mountains. But now it has receded as much as the black line you can see somewhat in the middle. It has left a glacial pool (uncrossable as it breaks) which makes the crossing much difficult as one needs to skirt across the moraine field on the right hugging the slopes and then join the glacier after it receded point.
Maybe with the rate of global warming, this glacier might only be in photos over the next 10-12 years.

Auden’s Col Trek Itinerary:

  • Day 0: Reached Gangotri (2940m), acclimatization day, visit the temple
  • Day #1: Trekked to Bhoj Kharak (3415m)
  • Day #2: Trekked to Kedar Kharak (4315m)
  • Day #3: Trekked to Kedar Tal (4760m) and back to Kedar Kharak
  • Day #4: Trekked to Patangini Dhar base campsite (4540m)
  • Day #5: Crossed Patangini Dhar (5085m) and reached Dhabba Camp Site (4685m) in Rudugaira valley
  • Day #6: Trekked to Rudugaira / Auden’s Col Advanced Base Camp (4975m)
  • Day #7: Crossed Auden’s Col (5490m), trekked on Khatling and reached Khatling campsite (4970m)
  • Day #8: Trekked rest of the Khatling, crossed waterfall area (4300m) and reached Khatling Base camp (3765m)
  • Day #9: Crossed Bhilangna river (3480m), and reached Chowki campsite (3630m)
  • Day #10: Trekked to Masar Tal (4550m)
  • Day #11: Trekked to Masar Top (4695m), Crossed Mayali Pass (4990m) and camp (4335m) near Vasuki Tal
  • Day 12: Trekked Vasuki Tal (4210m), trek to Vasuki Top (4480m), and descended to Kedarnath (3530m)
Auden's Col & Mayali pass trek route map
Auden’s Col & Mayali pass trek map

[The three passes trek ] photoblog by Anshul Chaurasia