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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kedar Tal Trek - Part 3 (Final)

Part 3 - Finale
[Part 1 can be found here.]
[Part 2 can be found here.]
12th June, 2011.

I woke up to the sound of rain. That night it rained for a long time in our camp in Bhoj Kharak. Thankfully it wasn’t a heavy downpour.

One of the very few things that I dislike about mountain camping is that you tend to wake up early at altitude (even if it does not rain). You’re subconsciously up by 3 or 4 in the morning and then you keep tossing and turning inside your sleeping bag. The absence of a proper pillow (next time I will carry one) makes going back to sleep a difficult proposition. By around 6.30, I got out of the tent finally, as someone said “good morning” with the soothing announcement that tea was ready outside. A morning tea is a great thing, even though the 6.30 AM idea is difficult to digest for someone who is used to waking up at 9 O clock.

As preparation for the day, I wandered up and around a bit, in the direction we went to collect firewood the previous day. While returning, I saw them fog. That morning I found myself watching fog racing up the valley and engulfing our camp. Racing fast - for a fog. Here’s a video of the Usain Bolt fog.

Fog engulfing the valley:


By the time I got back into camp, all were up and running around. We went to collect water from the waterfall nearby, and presto, the water was clean, unlike the previous evening. The flow is less in the morning, and it is after noon apparently that it gets all fast and muddy.

We started a bit later than yesterday, by around 9 in the morning.



After the first elevation, I bid adieu (mentally) to my fellow trekkers, after the experience of the previous day. There’s no point in playing ketchup.

Today, I was going to walk at my own happy pace, taking snaps and videos, talking to myself, fantasizing about climbing the Everest, writing a best seller book, becoming a philanthropist billionaire, and the like (ok, ok, throw a couple of naughty things in there too, if that makes you happy). It’s so easy to be with yourself out here - you just need to stop and let the others go – and you get solitude. I find it difficult to get it where I live. In Bangalore, if you stop, all you will get is a traffic block and blaring horns, accompanied by profuse and loud literature.


I saw a bunch of guys, with roasted faces running down against the flow of traffic, and later came to know that they had climbed Mt. Jogin. They had a rough time, and the NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) guys, focused on climbing Mt. Thalaysagar were planning a rescue mission for them. Thankfully, they managed to get out safely without external aid.

Soon Kishan came up and promised to stay with me, like yesterday. I told him clearly and with confidence that I did not need any help. And as a bravado signature, I lit up a cigarette. He insisted, and I gave him a cigarette. He insisted again, and I thought I could use some company, because my fantasies had dried up due to exhaustion, so I was cool with that. We left the tree-line, somewhere here. And I saw Thalaysagar again, and it seriously upped my tempo. Kishan's T-shirt tagline too helped in my change of attitude.




I set some decent pace for the next kilometer or two, and Kishan was impressed. He said, “aaj bahut ache chal rahe ho aap”, and I felt thrilled. He was motivating me by massaging my ego, but then again, no mountain guide has ever motivated me by massaging my ego in the past, and I obliged, said thanks, and felt happy. (The fact is, with my sad gait and smokes, I never gave any mountain guide any opportunity to motivate me by massaging my ego.)

The path was relatively easy today, with little climb. We saw a bunch of Ibexes (mountain goats), and I remembered the previous night’s conversations about Ibex meat, its taste and stuff. We had all agreed (me too wholeheartedly, despite the no vegetarian that I am) that it’s a sad thing to come here, and Eat a part of it. I was trying to take snaps, and a whole bunch of Ibexes started to run, and I wanted to scream to them that I meant no harm.

These moments, and some that where to follow, I consider as high points of this trip. To watch an animal in its habitat is a gift. To see what it does, how it reacts to you, and possibly how its reactions change, once it gets to know you (figuratively). It opens up a museum or a zoo of sorts, where YOU feel like the prisoner. It’s their world. Period. And you are just trespassing, watching, trekking, whatever you may want to call it. For the Ibex, you are the curio. I loved the thought, and quickened my pace. And then I came to the "mud mountain" that Tilak had warned us about.



That’s precisely when Kishen came up and said “slow down”. And he was going to help me through the “mud mountain”. And I realized this stretch was treacherous. You have the Kedar Ganga flowing down below you. You have an unstable trail in front of you that’s about half a foot wide, if you’re the optimist. You have a stony, rocky terrain separating you from the river on both sides.

The same Ibex that I admired was my enemy in this 400 meter stretch. It’s like this - one funny Ibex feels a bit jittery in the morning, comes on top of this stretch, and feels funny again. This Ibex then kicks the ground or something, and a small pebble flies off to gorge below. This pebble, meets other pebbles and rocks on its trajectory down, and soon we have a bunch of stone missiles coming at us at 9.8 m per second. You have to watch your foot, look up for any movement, and walk. Lots of trekkers have discovered the perils of such stretches the hard way. It’s like you’re walking with difficulty, and “whoosh” a rock hits your head and you are a “bhootThump” to the gorge below, and a bunch of rocks cover your body on the way down. It would help to increase the irony, if the trekker was listening to “Rock you like a hurricane” on his or her iPod.

There was a bit of glacial crossing, and Gautam was there to help me, as Kishan went ahead. He was of great help and carried my luggage for a few 100 crucial meters. I'm not sure if his name was Gautam, but I will let that pass. It's funny in a way that I'm not sure of his name, because I would have remembered his name, had I had a bad experience.



Toward the end of the trek, there was this elevation to compensate for the day’s flat trek. I made that elevation with great difficulty, and I saw the camping ground, (people who came in an hour before me, which made my cockles happy, coz I was 1.5 hours late yesterday).



I saw Tilak running around to feed salt to the Ibexes. Apparently Ibexes dig salt.





I had a decent lunch with the amazing food that our cook conjured up – that included yummy aalo fry. Dried shark fry (DSF), carried all the way from BLR spiced it up. And then as the thought of resting came up, there was this head ache – sort of throbbing inside your head. Anyway, I ignored the advice about AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and went to sleep. I woke up when it started raining, and I yelled to Tilak and Saurav who had gone scouting. They came back (or so I thought), and I went back to my book and sleep. Siesta.

I woke up by 5.30 in the evening and saw Saurav and Tilak coming back again. And it was like déjà vu. [While you were sleeping] They had gone ahead, as though, what we did that day was not enough. And Tilak kept saying it was wonderful. I was crabby as ever. I saw the snaps and they had gone as far as the acclimatization drive would take them. Tilak’s photos were super cool.

The snaps that we took at Kedar Kharakh were beautiful.


The moon came early in the evening. I rued the inadequacy of my camera, but then hey, you can’t have everything. Unless you’re the photographer types, it’s better to enjoy the beauty of the moment, and worry about your Facebook image later.


I wasn't too happy with the altitude gain. From Gangotri, which is at 3,200m, we had climbed to Bhoj Kharak yesterday which was at 3,800m. Kedar Kharak, where we were standing today was around 4,400m. Kedartal would be another 500m or so vertical and 3-4 kms horizontal. I had a word with Kishan, and he agreed that we needed a day to acclimatize. We had climbed a lot in the last few days, and a bit of rest can help. I looked at the stony path in front of us, and confirmed my thoughts that a day of rest will help. I went to sleep thinking I will be bored to sleep the next day, acclimatizing. I needn’t have.

13th June

As usual, I woke up by around four in the morning, tossed and turned, and finally got out of the tent by 8. And I saw that tents were being packed, and I was like, what the hell is happening guys? Somewhere in the night or morning, the plans changed. We were trekking to Kedar Tal that day. I did not like it, but you don’t argue at 4,300m. I was the weakest link, and that thought kept nagging me.

The path laid out for the day was nagging too – all through the next few hours, all we did was walk on boulders.

Today it was Traipan’s turn to walk along with me. He is an amazing mountain goat who has climbed Mt. Sudarshan, a 6,500 m peak. Traipan has farms back home in his village near Uttar Kashi, and “guiding” is sort of a part-time occupation for him. I think he can climb much better than he can grow potatoes – talk about comparative advantage. I would become friends with him because of some commonalities, but I did not know it then.

The day’s trek, as I mentioned before, was a maze of rocks and boulders.



I did not get lost because of our guide. I was getting confident that I could make my way out of it because of the cairns (heaps of rocks kept as path indicators) strewn all along the way. My confidence, (and in fact our team’s collective confidence) in our capabilities would be put to test in two days, and we would come out of it in less than flying colors.

Here's a video of the path:
The path evened out after a point, and I happily walked on drinking in some of the best mountain panoramas, I have ever seen. And as usual, at the end of the trek, there was an elevation – I think God has them elevations planted at the end of every day’s trek. Today’s wasn’t deadly though, and I made it with relative ease.

Immediately after the elevation, I saw our camp, set in the backdrop of Mt. ThalaySagar and Mt. Meru. Ok, that’s all good, but where the hell is Kedar Tal? I walked up to the idling trekkers and asked them this question. They asked me to walk a bit up and look down. I did so, and there it was, at the bottom of a sheer drop, the object of my fantasies over the past few months.


Words cannot describe the beauty of it. I remember thinking, this is it – beautiful. But that wasn’t it, as time would tell, as Kedar Tal unraveled itself and showed its different faces to us in what could be benign gestures truly befitting a Himalayan glacial melt.



The beauty! I thought that was Einstein on snow.



We idled a bit toward evening, and then it started, what arguably could have been one of the highest parties in the world inside out tents. Traipan gave us good company, with his mountain lore.



Smoke at the moon!


Dinner was great, but then AMS struck, and all of us loved it. Our cook had managed to get us some Aaloo Muttar Sabji (AMS), and it was yum. And we went to sleep.

In all this happy tales, I was getting a bit bogged down by the amount of time we were spending away from the real world madness. No e-mails, phone calls, nothing. I checked with Saurav, and he was ok with coming back the next day. The other part was that reaching Kedar Tal in itself gave a huge sense of accomplishment. Why push it for a few days more?

Some of the other trekkers were also for the idea of returning the next day. However, we still had a few days left, and Tilak got us all convinced that we can try the advanced base camp of Mt. Jogin the next day, with some ice-axe and rope action. Exploration of Mt. Jogin area was also part of our initial plan.

At night, temperatures dropped like a cricket sitter. Two t-shirts, decent thermals, jacket and the sleeping bag were found to be barely enough. And I woke up at 3. That’s not the time you want to answer nature’s call. I opened the tent a bit, and a bunch of just frozen particles fell on my head from the roof of the tent and made me wet. Thank you very much.

14th June
Somehow all of us made it to the other side of the night with great difficulty. After breakfast, we had a quick chat for plan of action for the day. We decided that we would walk as far as we can go that day. I decided to just walk as much as I can without targets. I went down and took a few shots.


So off we went travelling along the left side of the lake toward the ridge bang into Thalay Sagar. These are shots of prayer mounts erected by mountain expeditions.


If you’re climbing these kind of mountains,

you sure need to pray a lot. Kishen told me of an expedition in the late 90s to scale Mt. Thalaysagar. It was a Korean family, and their 17 year old son was up there hanging in a suspended tent trying to drill holes into the rock face to fix ropes. He did it for days on end, supplies arriving through ropes. Most of the party perished. But you cannot blame them for trying the scale this beauty.

This is a picture of Kedar Tal from the other side.


Close-up of the icefall on the mountain.


Here’s a video. Sort of my parting shot for the trip. I turned around after shooting this and stubbing a cigarette butt out.


I was a kilometer away from the camp, when it started to snow lightly. And I was thinking “great, this was left.” As I reached camp, I was a bit concerned about our party which went further up.
Thankfully, all of them my co-trekkers show up in a few hours, totally spent, after an exhausting day above 5,500m. The first to come was Saurav, who came outside the tent and said “Sajish, I’m totally tired”. He needn’t have said that because his face scared me already because of its total lack of blood. They had gone up to the advanced base camp, there was powdery snowfall, and the rest were slowly but surely dragging themselves back to our base camp above Kedar Tal. Lovedeep had his tale to tell - he was tired and dozed off while coming back, without realizing - a grim reminder (though on a minuscule scale)of what happens to many climbers who die on the Everest.

We had Magi instead of the regular lunch. The rest of the day went by without events.

In the evening, the moon came out from behind Mt. Meru. I couldn't do justice.


By mistake, I caught the moon falling down to earth. :)

I remember dinner being a quick affair. Thankfully, that night's sleep was better.

15th June, 2011.
Today we return. 10 minutes before we leave, I walked up to the point where I could bid Thalay Sagar and Kedar Tal a close-up goodbye. There was nothing more to see, just a parting kiss. However, what I saw surprised me. In a nutshell, the whole place had conspired and saved the best for the last.









We trekkers started early, with the confidence that we can find our way using cairns, common sense, and directional logic. We did well for some time, till we came to a dead end. So we backtracked and started going on a different route, which Tilak was confident about. And then we did something totally crazy. We split up. Tilak, Shwetha and yours truly in one direction, and Saurav and Lovedeep in another. We went round and round in circles, got ourselves wet in streams, jumped boulders that tested our knees, and ended up a long way from home. In the end it all worked well, and all of us, the trekkers and the support crew (who started and hour later) met somewhere up Kedar Kharak.

We smoked, talked, laughed and went down again in record time. I was feeling slightly energetic, not having to go through the ordeal of my fellow travelers the previous day. Guess I just ran across the mud mountain with a “F U Ibexes, I don’t care, I AM going back to my life.” chant on my lips. Ibexes had become chums by then, daring to wander close to us.


We saw a bottle of Antiquity that someone had left in the open, and I decided to save antiquity for posterity.


Kishan getting us some Bhoj Patra bark:

While coming down I wondered how we managed to climb up this kind of elevation, especially the Gangotri-Bhoj Kharak stretch on the first day. If you ever make this trip,I can guarantee in writing that the journey down will rip apart your knees, if nothing else.

Long story short, we reached Gangotri that evening, taking all the rest breaks and stuff. Tada.

Irony at Gangotri. He lacks what he is shaving off.


On the drive back, our driver asked this lad to fill some water for us.

He saw me with my camera and struck a cute pose.


Here's the most amazing high altitude cooks in the world -Rathish. He traveled with us on our way back. He had shaved and cleaned himself up in Gangotri and was clearly on the way to seeing someone, judging by his blush when we questioned him, and the repeated missed calls on his phone.


Why oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?

15 comments:

  1. The red pill...is breathtaking.

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  2. Very informative and well written...

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  3. I m planning a Kedartal trek this year... Can I get any additional info on the descent as its something u have just zoomed thru?

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    1. Hi Kanchan,
      The descent is something that we actually zoomed through in a day, which is why the blog reflects it. We came back the same route we trekked up. All the way from Kedartal, we literally scrambled back and reached Gangotri by 5 in the evening, after taking sufficient breaks. The part from Kedartal to Bhoj Kharak was pretty easy - the rocky stretch between Kedar Kharak and Bhoj Kharak is the only part where we took it slow. From Bhoj Kharak to Gangotri is a downhill knee-breaker. A punishing reminder of the first day's steep climb. I remember massaging both my knees that evening. All the best for a successful trek. Let me know if you have any further questions.
      Sajish

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  4. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your travelogue. Yet another place I must visit before I die :)

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    1. Thanks Kannan. The places keep adding up don't they? :) Incidentally, I just went to your blog and saw Dodital, a place I want to visit in the next 12 months!

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  5. Hi Sajish

    It;s very well-written.A vivid depiction of mountains, trekking routes...one gets the ambiance of such altitudes right from your words only...truly a remarkable travelogue based on a thrilling trekking trip....loved it!

    I'm also planning a trekking trip like this.My itinerary would be like this -

    Day 1: Uttarkashi to Gangotri, trek to Bhoj Kharak (11th June)
    Day 2: Bhoj Kharak to Kedar Taal
    Day 3: Kedar Taal to Thalay sagar BC
    Day 4: Thalay sagar BC to Kedar Taal
    Day 5: Kedar Tal to Bhoj Kharak
    Day 6: Bhoj Kharak to Gangotri

    I want to hire a guide and one porter personally for 6 days as I'll be traveling solo.Do you have any contacts of any guide based out of Uttarkashi or Gangotri? Any information will be highly appreciated :)

    Thanks in advance

    Sudarshan

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    1. Hi Sudarshan,
      Thanks for the encouraging feedback. We used 2 guides (they are relatives) and a bunch of porters, as our team was bigger.
      7579057128 - Kishan - was the lead guide. You might not be able to reach him, as he is in Har ki Dun right now. Traipan, his relative, and a very reliable guide and climber, was also with us on our trek- 9756623875. He is based out of Uttarkashi and should be able to arrange things for you. (please drop my name if you speak to him - he knows me as Sajish from Bangalore - I could use some brownie points for some of my future treks:)

      As for your plan, Day 2 could be rather strenuous, but possible.

      Have a safe and successful trek Sudarshan! Personally, I'm itching to go somewhere in July!!! :)

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    2. And, forgot to add, please let me know how your trip went.
      Thanks,
      Sajish

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  6. hey sajish
    beautiful blog ..planning this trek in july end ...what do u think doable ...have trekked in the past but not for a long time now ...

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    1. Thanks. Have you factored in the monsoons for the July trip? I'm not sure, but the season could get tricky.

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  7. Hi Sajish
    This is the best Kedar Tal blog among all the blogs that I had read.Greatly inspired by your blog.I've plans for KT in the early Oct this year.Is that possible for me as a first timer? Have done some small treks like Vasudhara Falls ect..What do you suggest.?

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    1. Hi Anirban,
      I would say just GO FOR IT. KT is beyond beautiful. As for October weather, the veterans at Indiamike.com should be able to give you a better response. As far as the hesitance of having done only the smaller treks is concerned, who cares? The mountains never care if you're a veteran or an amateur. I trekked to Tapovan on my first sojourn, in 1998 - I was a fool, but as they say, it's all in the mind.
      Let us know when you're done with the trek!

      Sajish

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  8. Hi Sajish......thanks for a very informative.breezy blog. My wife n I, in mid 60s,experienced trekkers, will do Kt from 6th Oct on, just by ourselves, no guide/porter.
    carrying our tent/bags/food/GPS. I imagine the trails are noticeable to follow. Howcome you got lost returning from KT to KdrKk?
    .........thanks and Cheers......Austin

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  9. Wow! All by yourself!!! We got lost because we tried to take detours or so-called shortcuts. Btw, the rocky maze back from KT looks all the same -it's easy to get lost. It's not a problem if you have the general direction in mind. All that said, all roads lead to Kedar kharak. Let me know how your trip goes. All the best Austin. Thanks!

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