22nd July (Khada Patthar to Suralaya Glacier, 6km): I started out early today, and moved ahead with Vishnu. We got onto the glacier fast. The glacier was covered with rust-coloured rock. We'd heard the name "Raktabaran" ("blood-coloured") applied to one of the ice-rivers here. It could have been this very one (Update: according to a map I've just located, it wasn't), possibly as one of the four colours of the Chaturangi (which literally translates to "four-coloured") glacier. As is no doubt evident, my glacial geography is rather weak. Vishnu had passed this way a couple of weeks ago with another team, and he scouted out the trail of markers, little piles of stones, that he'd placed then. We moved ahead at a rapid pace, and I enjoyed the feeling of being at the front for once. After a while, we caught the most fantastic view of Satopanth, gleaming blinding white only a short distance away.
Vishnu was going to guide an army expedition up the mountain right after our trek. He pointed out the route to the summit: up the snow ridge starting between the two large black horns (standing out in the middle picture).
I think something about the views of the peaks today invigorated us. I can speak for myself, at least -- normally I'm pretty slow and steady, but today I felt like racing ahead all the time.
We also passed some interesting ice mushrooms -- large flat rocks carried down by the glacier under which the ice has partially melted, leaving them perched on frozen pillars.
And then this interesting little traverse of a knife-edge ridge of ice: normally, a glacial ridge has a sheer drop to on one side and rubbly, gentle slope on the other -- one walks just below the edge on this rubbly side. For this short stretch of maybe 20 feet, both sides were sheer, slippery ice. Vishnu marched out onto this edge, balancing like a tightrope walker...
... and keeping himself perched upright God knows how, hacked out some footholds on one side with his ice-axe. This took quite some time and the rest of the party turned up as he was finishing the job. I went across first, minus pack and (throwing dignity to the winds in the light of the abysses on both sides) on all fours, putting my hands on the edge and my feet in the footholds. The rest followed in identical fashion, except of course some, or possibly all, of the porters who tightroped across (with packs) like Vishnu.
I hate being a plainsman :(.
I'm to the left of the ridge, and Ajay about to cross it on the right, in the left picture. The right picture is what we'd have fallen into on the other side if we'd slipped. We had a gala time chucking pebbles into this pool after we'd crossed over.
The sheer walls of ice flanking these ridges were quite spectacular. Here's one angle on them:
Our camp was on the glacier itself, on a rock-strewn sheet of ice with a little hole for water nearby.