Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kalindikhal - Part 9

24th July (Kalindi Base - Kalindi Pass - Rajparav) : Woke up at around 2:30 am. It was dark and bitterly cold, but the thrill of getting to the pass helped us get up and dress and pack quickly. God knows what the staff were doing all night -- we hope they slept -- but they managed to conjure up food and warm drinks all around. We started off around 4 or 4:30. Everything was bathed in an eerie blue pre-dawn glow (it was quite a bit darker than the pics suggest).

First light soon hit the surrounding peaks, turning them golden-pink.

We moved up an icy, crevassed slope between a dark, rocky outcrop and a huge white bulge.

Fresh snow made it difficult to make out the crevasses. After a bit we roped up, Vishnu leading, and moved on very cautiously. It was tough going, since we were wearing plastic mountaineering boots (and gaiters) for the first time and they're very awkward if you're not used to them (and to the weird, splayed gait needed to ensure purchase on the snow).

There's some ice-axe-anchored crevasse-testing going on in the rightmost pic.

The roping-up proved to be prudent. After some time, we found ourselves on the lip of a crevasse about a couple of feet wide. First Vishnu jumped across, then Vishnoi. Then, to complete the trio of V's, it was Vladlen's turn. As he hesitated on the edge, Happy turned to me and said "Yaar, teri guide ki bahut phat-ti hai!" ("Your guide gets really nerved out"). I was about to make a suitable retort when we looked around and found the guy had disappeared, rucksack and all, and faint shouts of "Help! Help!" were coming from the icy depths :P. Thankfully he'd jammed somewhere inside and not gone all the way in. The folks in front dug their iceaxes into the slope to hold him in place on the rope, and after fifteen minutes of mighty pushing and pulling he emerged, unhurt and surprisingly cheerful. To our eternal regret, we were so caught up in the moment that nobody took a photo.

The rest of the climb was a bit of a struggle (and my lack of conditioning showed), but we eventually made the couple of hundred metres to the pass itself, at 5947m. It was gorgeous -- there's no other word for it. Bright sunlight, blinding snow and an incredible view.

(Click on the picture, enlarge it if necessary, and scroll left to right to see it properly. It covers about 180 degrees. If I can get a 10-foot long print of this from the original file it should be a knockout.)

And here are the lot of us on top. Mukut, Abigamin and Kamet (7242, 7355 and 7756m, L to R) float over the clouds just above my head (I'm the leftmost guy).

After a few minutes on top, we decided to head down the other side to Rajparav. This involved clambering down a steep, snowy slope to a huge icefield that seemed to stretch on and on and on and finally roll over into infinity.

That's our advance party of porters in the right two pics, and the thin lines cutting across the icefield (enlarge the middle picture) are crevasses. We plodded on and on across this white desert, sinking in ankle to waist-deep with every step. It was also pretty hot, and we ran out of water, and had to refill our bottles from a shallow puddle of meltwater a couple of inches deep. The road to Rajparav lay along the right side of the icefield, but as the sun rose higher and higher the surface became more and more soft and treacherous. So we decided to pitch camp a little earlier than planned, just below the lip of the icefield straight ahead. There was no way to walk down, so we had to rappel down the ice. This was great fun -- we rammed a couple of iceaxes into the ground and anchored two ropes to them (the main rappel line, and a safety rope). There was a small snag -- the safety rope was too short, so Mahavir and Gagan Singh stood on a little ledge where the safety rope ended and unhooked the rapeller from it when he got there, so that he could climb down the last few metres on the main line alone. Vishnoi and I had rappelled before (down a three-storey wall of our hostel in IITK :)), so we went last, along with Vishnu, eschewing the whole safety rope business and trusting the main line alone.

Here's the rappelling scene -- the middle third of the picture is ice. Vishnu, the last man down, tied his rope to an ice screw which he had to do some fancy ice-climbing to recover later.

Little meltwaterfalls trickled down the rocks below the lip of the icefield, and we clambered past these channels to get to camp...

... where much fooling around was done.



Anonymous said...

El rel writes: Hey, great post! Enjoyed this the most, I think --- has a nice quality of drama, and the pictures are eerie. Went and got Uma's groundmat from Chandni today, courtesy bandh call being withdrawn.

dd said...

very nice post, this, and breathtaking pictures.

Rohan said...

thank you for the post - it has been a long wait. did you guys train for this? a few smaller treks leading up to it? i'm planning on kedartal when the snows melt in a few months - but this just seems like it would require me to be a lot fitter than i am.

expiring_frog said...

@rohan: I hadn't trekked for a year before this, but had been to Roopkund and Gochha La, both ~5000m, earlier. Two members of our group were trekking seriously for the first time and made it across, though one fell ill in Gangotri and that made the going quite tough for him -- I do not recommend this as a first trek. Personally speaking, although I'm reasonably fit, I could have done with a little more fitness on the hard days -- I didn't train and I should have. Yes, a lot of fitness is definitely required, and long hard uphill days on less extreme treks help you work out what you're in for.

Physically, K'khal was actually not more difficult than either of the two previous treks (though both of those are quite tough). The length takes its own toll and the challenge is as much mental as physical. Oh yes, moraines are awful to walk on.

Altitude is a big factor after some threshold, and I'm getting used to the fact that I'm going to be down at least one night with a splitting headache at ~4000m. Go slow. YMMV.

Kedartal sounds wonderful. Do post photos when you're back and let me know.

olidhar said...

hee hee, and i too sort of regret no one has a photo of that eventful moment.

the photo of the snowfield with the ants on it is very lovely. one of my great regrets that i didn't get anything like that. and i remember looking out for an opportunity and hoping for a human form on the huge white stretch so that the scale could come across a bit. i love the scale of things there, btw.

you seem to have had a sunny rajparav. not something that can be said for us. do you know, pass day was the last clear day we had? and it WAS crystal clear just about until we got to where we thought we wanted to pitch camp for the day, and then it actually started snowing itsy-bitsily. and thereonwards ever a very strong westward (faceward, therefore) wind with no consolation of sun. our pass day was very long, almost 12 hours of trekking, although snow conditions were perfect. so much so we did the pass without snow boots. quite a wonderful day. many moods of the mountains.

olidhar said...

and i see uma has her mattress. reminds me i have work to do on that end. i am home bandh call being withdrawn.

olidhar said...

your rappelling must have been fun. and very good exposure, and all that.

The Observer said...

The photographs are simply captivating!