Sunday, July 26, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 4.Summit Day (Pathalnachni to Roopkund lake)

I don't know what it was that woke me.Maybe it was the wind or the uneasiness of the sleep itself.As I opened my eyes and looked around my mind couldn't make sense of where I was.I saw that I was in a sleeping bag.I could see a silhouette beside me.Realization slowly dawned on me then.I was on the Roopkund trek and today was the summit day.My mind still foggy I lay there.Around me the tent shook now and then as the wind outside crashed on it violently.I slowly looked at my wrist watch which I never took off during the whole trek.The light green tint of the hour hand told me that it was 3 am.I groaned as I realized it was time to get up and get ready.I was laying in the sleeping bag with five layers of clothing.I had a T shirt on top of which I wore thermals on top of which I had two sweaters.On top of all this I had a jacket.Below I was wearing a thermal pant plus my trusty Solognac trek pant.I was reluctant to get out of this cozy sleeping bag but the thought of Roopkund lake pushed me out of that warm cocoon.I had a slight headache and the biting cold was not making things easy.I unzipped myself from the sleeping bag and started getting ready.The sound of me rummaging around in my bag disturbed satya who started muttering something in his sleep. Satya was my roommate back in my hostel and I knew his sleeping habits.We were to start for Bhagubasa at 3 30 am so I was not worried about disrupting his sleep.In any case I wanted him to get up as soon as possible.

As I stepped outside my tent the freezing wind cut across my face immediately numbing my cheeks and lips.I shone my torch around the tents.There was no sign of life anywhere.Apart from the faint light coming off from the master tent everything was dark.Far away the snow covers on the mountains were giving off a dull whitish glow.I felt a stinging sensation on my lips.Running the tip of my tongue over my lips I could feel that were broken in many places.I made a mental note to take some lip balm from Abhishek.

Abishek was my childhood friend.I had two childhood friends with me here on this trek.The other being Bhanu.Together we had been on many trips and we understood each other very well.I couldn't have asked for a better set of people to accompany me.Bhanu exuded intelligence and abhishek was the practical mind.I could trust both with my life.

I made my way around the tents to the dining tent to see if there was anyone already there.There was none.I went inside and sat on one of the chairs.After a few minutes I could hear footsteps approaching I looked out of the tent and saw a torchlight shining on the tents.I could see that it was aman, one of our guides. He went from tent to tent and woke up everyone.Slowly, reluctantly everyone got ready.At around 3 45 am we were ready to depart.

We trudged off.Nine figures wrapped in heavy warm clothing shining our torches in the darkness.Initially the path was steep and went over a rocky terrain.Our head guide Durga was leading the group with Aman bringing up the rear.All around us we could see nothing just the faint glow of the mountain tops far away.Once I stopped and looked behind me.The lights of the torches bobbed up and down as they made an arc over the slope of the mountain side. Angkan who was Bhanu's friend from work was the only one wearing a headlight.In terms of gear he was the best prepared in the group.But the disadvantage I found with a headlight is it makes looking at the face of the person who is wearing it very difficult what with the light shining brightly in the pitch black night.For two hours we walked in the darkness in silence.There wasn't much talk except for the cry of halt now and then.At around 5 am the sky turned bluish.There was a bit of visibility now.I could make out the faces of others as they huffed and puffed over the rocks.Beside us the vast mountains presented themselves.The layers of mountains looked breathtaking in the morning light.

We encountered stretches of snow around us on the mountains but none directly in our trail.We came across the first stretch of snow on which we had to walk somewhere around 6 am.Their frequency increased as we reached nearer to Kalu Vinayak. Around 6 30 am we reached Kalu Vinayak where we took a long break and had our first leisurely view of the snow covered mountains around us.After a good rest we started again.After walking for 15 mins we came across a curve on the side of the mountain such that we couldn't see ahead of us.Here Durga called for a break and we wondered why.When I went a bit ahead I  saw that the entire path ahead was covered in snow. Here Durga told us we will be wearing our crampons.We all sat down on the rocks on the side of the trail and one by one Durga and Aman attached the crampons on our shoes.It took almost 45 minutes for the entire process to get over.

With my crampons attached,I planted one step on the snow ahead.Pressed firmly against it.Then took another step.This way I moved ahead.This was only the second time I was walking on snow the first being in Kashmir.So naturally I was thrilled.The trail was now entirely covered in snow.As we walked to my right the mountain sloped away to the top and to my left it sloped away below where in some areas the snow cover broke to reveal the rocky terrain underneath.The trail cut across the mountain side.One slip on the snow and a person can go sliding on the snow to the bottom.If you are lucky maybe you get caught somewhere and it halts your progress.Otherwise the injury can range from a few fractures to even death. Durga assured us in case of anyone slipping and sliding down he would come after us and halt our slide.He had an ice axe with him and he explained that he would come sliding after us, then hold us first with his left hand and then slam the ice axe into the ice thereby stopping both.Though this comforted us a little bit I wondered what he would do in case two people slip at the same time.Also we all were separated by some distance.What if he was ahead and somebody at the back slipped.These kind of thoughts swirled in my mind as I walked carefully on the snow my eyes fixed only on the trail ahead.

Somewhere around 8 am we could see the camp of Bhagubasa in the distance.The numerous colorful tents were in contrast with the black and white background of rock and snow.
At 8 am we reached Bhagubasa. It took us one hour to reach the actual camp  after the first sighting.We took some rest here. Durga was initially reluctant to give us much time.But we all were adamant in taking our time.He gave in and he himself sat down.He took out some apples and five stars.I was not interested in eating anything so I chucked the apple and the five star into the depths of my clothing.This was to provide a pleasant surprise later on.

At exactly 10 am we started off.Now the group was reduced to 7 persons from 9.Satya and Nitesh decided to stay back at the camp as both were not feeling well and did not want to take any chances.We all were already very tired as by that time as we had completed 4 hours of trek but the thought of finishing what we came to do kept us going.Now everywhere I looked I saw only snow.The only other colours apart from white was black of the rocks,the blue of the sky and the blood red jacket of Aman.

At one point we spotted a fox on a snow covered plain field below.It appeared from some rocks and  sauntered along the field.It roamed a bit and then disappeared among the rocks from where it had come.All this while we stood there looking at the animal in amazement.This was no zoo.We just saw a wild animal in the wild.The thought thrilled us.As time wore on the leading position in the group kept changing between bhanu and myself.Abhishek and arun formed the middle section.The rear was bought up by angkan accompanied by Aman.At some point I stopped to take a break.I could see bhanu just a few metres behind me.He came and stood beside me.Abhishek and Arun were trudging slowly.Their steps measured and careful.Behind the blood red jacket was moving back instead of moving forward.We rightly assumed that Angkan must have turned back.This was confirmed by durga when he rejoined us from the back.

The one big problem today was sitting down to take rest.The problem was the snow.The cold would numb our back sides.But we sat down nevertheless.We were getting so weary we didn't bother.But sitting increased the chances of slipping so we took very small breaks and kept walking.In this manner we trekked the treacherous slopes of snow slowly inching towards our goal.As the trek wore on the others fell behind and there was only a porter and myself at the front. Rahul,the porter had joined us from Bhagubasa and quickly progressed to the head of the group.He would lead the way for me and then stop ahead till I reached him.As we progressed the frequency of stops began to increase.The angle of the slope also increased greatly.I was panting heavily now.Now and then a cough came out as I grappled with the thin air.But I kept going on.By now I had no idea how the others were faring as there was considerable distance between us.Rahul kept encouraging me by saying frequently that our goal was very near now.I was utterly exhausted but I kept going.Of one thing I was and am very much proud.At no point of time did I get the thought of quitting and going back.

As we neared our goal we met a few trekkers coming back.They passed by us with some encouraging words.One person even asked me If I needed any help or If I wanted some water.I politely declined and thanked him profusely for his offer.I learnt one thing here.Up on the mountains everyone is a friend.

The final stretch was upon us now.The slope became gentle and I was huffing and puffing as I was ambling over it.Meanwhile Rahul went ahead and spotted the lake and gave me a cry of jubilation.He shouted that I was near the lake finally.Controlling my excitement I increased my pace and reached over to where he was standing and there it was.

Roopkund lake.

In all its serenity and beauty.The lake itself is not big.Its a small lake.From where I was standing it looked even smaller.It was completely frozen now.Also there were no signs of the famous skeletons.Everything was covered with snow.It looked heavenly.To give you a complete picture.I was standing there in five layers of clothing.A beanie to cover my head.A muff to cover my ears and nose.A pair of sunlasses over my normal specs to protect my eyes from the bright snow.Gaiters over my pants.Waterproof gloves over my hands.And a intensely cold wind was blowing.In this attire I looked at the lake.And It looked heavenly.I would be lying If I said that I did not feel a sense of achievement.For the time being this was my Everest and I climbed it.I felt mighty proud.

To our front lay the frozen roopkund lake.To our right was the Junargila ridge.It was unclimbable that day because of the heavy layer of snow on it.To the left layers of snow covered mountains stretched away as far as the eye could see.Here everything was black and white.The black of the rocks and the white of the snow.

After the initial wave of excitement passed away and gave way to exhaustion I sat down on the snow and started taking pictures.After 20 minutes bhanu and durga came.Durga was visibly happy but bhanu,as is his style,simply gave a weak smile.Soon abhishek and arun joined us.Both were mighty tired but gave small shouts of hurrahs.It looked as if no one was interested in taking a pic because of the conditions we were in.To make matters worse the wind kept blowing.I kept yelling everyone to assemble so we could take a group pic but initially my words fell on deaf ears.A bit of angry yelling soon woke them up from their reverie and we took a few pics.

After sometime Durga took out our lunch.It was roti and some vegetable.I removed my gloves and immediately they became numb with cold.With my freezing hands I took the roti.It was stiff because of the cold.I thought if I eat it, it will never reach my stomach.It will get stuck in my throat itself and choke me.So though I was starving I declined to have lunch.Then I remembered about the apple Durga gave back in bhagubasa.I took it out and cut it into pieces by my swiss army knife.I gave half of it to bhanu and I had half of it.That was the best apple I ever had in my life.

We spent only a total 30 minutes at the top.We reached at 1 pm exactly four hours after we started from Bhagu basa and we started our descent at 1 30pm on the dot.

So that was it.We had reached the roopkund lake. After looking at the pictures of the lake for two years I finally looked at it with my own eyes.

In person.

I was happy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 3 (Bedni Bugyal to Pathalnachni)

Day 3

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~4km)
Change in Elevation-from Bedni Bugyal(3354MSL) to Pathalnachni (3800MSL)
Scenery-Through grasslands initially,then through rocky terrain and then stretches of snow here and there.
Duration- Around 2-3 hours depending on your speed
Difficulty- moderate

For accounts of Previous days  -Introduction
                                                  -Day 1
                                                  -Day 2
In Detail
Day 3 was the easiest of all the days of the trek.We were to cover a distance of around 4km in about 3 hours.We were pretty relaxed in the morning and had our breakfast leisurely.The morning produced some spectacular views of the snow clad mountains surrounding us.But it was Mt Trishul which took the limelight.It shone majestically as the sun's rays reflected off its bright coat of snow.Today we were to trek to Pathal Nachni which was going be the base camp for our final push to the Roopkund lake.This was decided on the previous day.Since GIO(our trek agency) had the concept of a running camp we had two options for our choice of base camp.Either Pathal nanchni or  Bhagubasa which was further away.Pathal nachni camping was on dry ground as opposed to Bhagubasa which was on complete snow.Mr Durga gave us the liberty to choose our camping spot.After a brief discussion amongst ourselves we wisely choose Pathal nachni.
      We started off by 9am from bedni bugyal.There were two options for us, either we could retrace our steps from yesterday(where we descended to reach the campsite )and catch the trail or we could take a tougher shortcut to climb a steep section and reach the trail a bit ahead.We chose the latter.We passed by the enchanting bedni kund lake.The water of the lake was shimmering with a bluish tint reflecting the perfect cloudless blue sky above.As we had lots of time on hand today we stopped by the lake and took some pics.A lake in the midst of mountains is truly a spectacular sight.Only Mr Durga's insistence compelled us to leave from that spot and we trudged off onto the trail again.
      We left the grasslands behind and a rocky terrain welcomed us.We reached Ghora Lautani after an hour into the trek.This place was called so because this was the last point where horses could reach,Beyond this point there was no food for the horses and they couldn't be taken any further.So the horses returned from here.Hence the name Ghora(Horse) lautani (return).
      There were stunning views everywhere and we kept stopping to take pics.We finally reached our campsite around 12 noon.We spotted our camps from a distance and the location, for the first time  did not look good.Our camps were to be clustered very near to each other.There was a small hill just behind our tents which we found out a bit later was the 'potty hill' (I overheard this description from another trekker from another group) Even our Toilet tent was set up on this hill.This was a bit annoying but we had no choice here.Reluctantly we headed into our tents and got ready for the rest of the day ahead which meant slipping into 4 layers of clothing.This was going to be the harshest night of the whole trek so I was not taking any chances.In addition to the 4 layer clothing I had 2 layers of socks on my foot with a plastic cover in between the two layers.During the night I wrote thermal socks over these.This kept me warm and I did not feel a thing.
Our camp site of Day 3
      We spent the afternoon talking.Now and then bursts of rain completely enveloped the area.So we only came out when it was clear.We had our dinner in the evening itself because we were to start very early in the morning at 3am.So we had our dinner at 6pm and were into our tents by 7 30pm ready to sleep.The next day was going to be the most important day of the trek when we push for the final ascent to the roopkund lake.We were very excited and I slept with visions of myself standing beside the roopkund lake.