Monday, October 30, 2017

Rupin Pass Trek - Part II - Crossing the Pass

Day 4
Jhaka (8,700 ft) to Dhanderas Thatch (11,680 ft)

Today was supposed to be a long arduous day both in terms of distance (~12 km) and the altitude gain. So we started at sharp 8 am with an aim to reach the campsite by 4 pm. The trek leaders were concerned about the pace of a few slow hikers and hence we were given instructions to take less halts and walk together.

On way to river crossing
The weather was getting a bit warm but since the first 2 hours were through a forest, it was a very pleasant hike till the river crossing. By the time we reached the river, I had started to feel cold whenever in shade...the temperatures were finally falling. The river crossing was a bit hairy as we had to walk on a narrow path on the mountain side replete with loose rocks and dirt till we found a makeshift bridge to cross the river. Out local guide took each hiker one by one over that wooden plank bridge.

Soon after, we encountered some wooden logs and he picked up a big one in hope that others will pick a few too - idea was to build a bonfire at the campsite. Surprisingly those already carrying 15+ kilo backpacks decided to add more weight on their shoulders and soon we had enough wood for building a fire in the evening.
Huddled together for warmth :)

The trail after the river crossing was a bit more open and hence a bit warm again but never too hot for discomfort. The altitude gain wasn't felt as the long distance meant that slope gradient was not high. We walked for another 2 hours and finally  reached the lunch point by the river side. It is a beautiful spot - we could even see the waterfall in the distance (the site of next day's camp). The breeze was fairly cold now and sun wasn't that strong even though it was almost 1 pm. Huddled up together for warmth, we enjoyed the lunch of chapati & subzi and continued to wait for the rest of the group to join us.

I was feeling quite cold and needed to get moving. Though the rest of the group reached within 20 minutes of our arrival. I knew that they will want a longer break and the pace will continue to be slow. So, I requested the trek leader to allow me to go ahead with the porters - he finally relented and at 1 pm we were on last leg of the hike for the day with UK and 2 more hikers.

The porters were carrying 30-40 kilos of load and walking much faster than some of us carrying just a day pack. The wind had picked up speed, sun had vanished behind the clouds and proximity of trail to the water made it even colder. I was now feeling cold in my fleece and rain jacket - thankfully the continuous walking kept me warm enough. The trail had big stones and boulders but was still mostly flat. After about 90-100 minutes of this flat hike, we reached the ascent portion - porters decided to take a rest before tackling this climb and other 3 hikers were busy taking pictures. Since I was still feeling cold, I decided to continue with the climb, albeit slowly.

Because of rocky terrain, the trail wasn't very well marked - especially in the portion where it cuts across the side of the mountain. Again loose rocks and dirt made it a bit scary - I was cursing myself for not carrying a trekking pole today. Thankfully the porters caught up with me soon enough and got me back on the portion that was less rocky. Soon the trail turned green with grass and as I walked up to the campsite, it continued to become more beautiful.

The campsite was a marked area next to the flowing stream - we could see many more tents a bit up ahead. It was a little after 3 pm and the weather had become very cold for the thin protection I had on. The moment porters erected the kitchen tent, I sought shelter inside it and a few minutes later we were greeted by a shower of ice pellets. The ice pellet shower didn't last long and some of our tents arrived -  I got help from another hiker to erect a tent or two. The intention was to keep moving to get warm and also because weather was getting cold, I was in need of a shelter (I had to leave the warm confines of kitchen tent as more staff had arrived and they needed the space).

Hikers and Staff erecting tents
As soon as we finished one tent and started working on another one, other hikers started to arrive and they too joined us in the bid to get tents set up. Within 15 minutes or so, all the tents were up with help from the porters and kitchen staff. We were asked to change into warm clothes but my off-loaded bag hadn't arrived and I continued to hide in my tent. To be honest I was now missing the home stay :) and continued to do so till my bag arrived!
Bonfire at the camp site

The cold evening was perfect for a bonfire and around 6:30 pm or so, we all gathered around the fire - singing songs, cracking jokes and simply having fun. After soup, while some of us went back to our tents, few folks hung outside to enjoy the beautiful sky lit with billions of stars.

The day could have been shorter if I could have walked at my pace (the way I did post lunch) but I had also enjoyed the leisurely hike pre-lunch. But now I was feeling a bit tired and decided to retire soon after the dinner - the most sumptuous meal of any day complete with a hot dessert!

Day 5 - Dhanderas thatch (11,680 ft) to UpperWaterfall camp (13,120 ft)

The hike for the day was short (3 hours) but that also meant that it was mostly ascent with fewer flat patches in between. The morning was fairly cold and while we were ready for the 8:30 am departure, no one was in a hurry. We waited for the sun to hit our campsite and then started dismantling the tents. Today's plan was for - staff and porters and hikers - all to walk together.

Finally we took off at 9:45 am, and within minutes the ascent was upon us. Compared to what I have experienced on other hikes, it wasn't hard or long enough. Within 20 minutes we reached a stream crossing (now a waterfall actually) and UK was the first one to attempt it with help from our local guide...and he slipped on the ice covered rocks - thankfully he didn't get fully drenched or suffered any major injuries. I am always scared of slipping on ice and was very nervous but then our guide got a brilliant idea of flipping the rocks upside down - thereby exposing the non-icy portion to us. Thanks to his idea and his hand-holding (literal), we all crossed this waterfall/stream - one by one.

After the crossing, we took a short break till everyone caught up with us and in another 20 minutes we encountered a wider steam-crossing. Thankfully the water was running at speed, sun was out and there was no ice on the stones laid out to make the crossing easier. We took another rest after this before starting for the final ascent. Because of the frequent breaks, the climb didn't feel that hard - we finally got to the "top" of the waterfall - though the place where water starts to fall was a bit farther from camp site and we saw it only in the evening.

Campsite of Upper waterfall
Despite numerous breaks, we were at the camp site by 12:30 pm and got busy with setting up tents. This campsite was also next  to a stream and thanks to the wind, it had started to get colder by now. So we all wore thermal base layers and I decided to rest up a bit till lunch was served. Since we were at high altitude today, sleeping isn't a good option - it can reduce the oxygen intake and exacerbate altitude related issues.

After lunch, I just couldn't stay awake and dozed off in the sitting position till someone informed me that tea is ready. After tea, we went for an acclimatization hike to the waterfall. We got an amazing view of the valley from there - it was a prefect place for a photo shoot and that is exactly what happened :)

Post walk, we had soup outside the dining tent - It was now getting quite cold and foggy...we could barely see a few meters because of lack of light and the fog. Thankfully, we were served an early dinner (7 pm) because next day we were to cross the pass and hence the planned start time was 5:30 am.

After another great dinner, as soon as we retired, it started raining - atleast that is what it sounded like to me. But then I heard someone screaming - it is snowing!!!! Yes, we got snowfall that night...some folks were so elated that they decided to hang outside to enjoy same and take pictures.

I stepped out a couple of times to get the snow off my tent balcony but thankfully it was not that heavy a snowfall, so I slept off after some time without the fear of tent collapsing on me due to weight of the accumulated snow.

Day 6 - Upper Waterfall (13,120 ft) to Rupin Pass (15,250 ft) to Ronti Gad (13,420 ft)

I woke up at 3:30 am so that I could use the toilet tent without interruptions and was ready before 5 am but the tea wasn't. I approached the kitchen tent to find our lunches being packed and tea getting  ready. We got the tea at 5:20 am along with the breakfast, so definitely 5:30 am departure was ruled out. Also most folks weren't ready even at 5:45 am - infact one person arrived at 6 am for breakfast because he was sleeping!!!! I got quite pissed at that time - it was to be a long day anyway and it would be tougher to climb in melting snow. Only thing that I didn't like this whole week was how most  hikers took the start time as a suggestion and how the trek leader didn't take any action to change this behaviour.

First  halt of the day
Finally, we started at about 6:15 am - it was a tough climb due to cold and altitude and snow wasn't helping matters. Despite finger numbing cold, I had opted to hike without thermal base layer (as advised by trek leader). I had a fleece, a down jacket and rain jacket on top. Bottoms were hiking pants and rain pants and my body wasn't feeling very cold except for hands and feet -  two pairs of merino wool socks were not able to keep my feet warm. On hands I had merino inners with waterproof insulated gloves on top and even then my fingers were numb.

We progressed slowly with our local guide leading the way. At about 7 am, first ascent was over and sun had caught up with us. The sun warmed us up immediately and I had to take off my fleece top and also remove one pair of socks. We took a break here - waiting for everyone to catch up. For once, I didn't mind waiting - previous night's snowfall had changed the whole landscape - it was even more beautiful and I liked watching snow sparkle under the morning sun.

Sun and snow the whole way. 

After this long break, we continued towards the pass. The trail now was mostly flat with a bit up and down. The only issue was that it was either rocky or had big boulders - neither are easy to navigate with snow. We had a few smaller breaks on the way but only for others to catch up - we didn't really take or need a long rest anywhere.

Whole group at Rupin Pass
Then we reached the final ascent - this was the toughest part of the trek for me. It wasn't as difficult as some other treks but it wasn't easy either, primarily because of the melting snow. Had we started at 4:30 am, this part would have been much easier - but at 9:30 am, it was a tough climb. At a few places, the ground was so slippery that even with both hands and feet on the ground, I found myself slipping downwards. Thankfully the assistant guide helped us in these situations by literally holding our hands and helping us through the rough patches. AA, UK and I reached the pass at 10 am along with 2 others.

It felt great to be done with the climb but the wait in subzero temperatures with wind chill and sun hiding behind the clouds wasn't easy either. Last hiker arrived at 10:45 am after which our guides and trek leaders did a small Puja before we commenced the descent. The descent in initial part was a bit treacherous (again because of snow) and I took a short fall while another hiker took a full tumble. I only received one bruise on my elbow but my understanding is that his whole back was bruised. Fortunately, no major injuries so we continued walking.

The weather had turned cold again and it showered ice pellets on us the whole way to Ronti Gand - lunch break wasn't a great one either as chapatis were kind of frozen. Plus I had started to get a strong headache due to one hour wait at the top in cold & windy conditions. At one point my headache was so bad that I lost my footing - AA offered me some paracetamol and thanks to same I was able to reach the campsite by 2:05 pm.

While I wasn't physically tired, my headache was killing I asked staff to help me erect a tent and just crawled inside it. After a while UK got me a sleeping bag and someone else gave me his water (I had run out of same). Everyone was in the camp by 3:30 pm, good 30 min before the ETA that our trek leader had in mind.

I felt better after changing into warmer clothes for the evening and getting couple of cups of hot tea inside me. And I was back to my normal self after soul filling soup :) We were served another great meal tonight - it was our last dinner together as a whole group. Today was the first day that I  felt actually tired but I found myself unable to sleep - I was a bit saddened at the thought that the trek was over and that tomorrow we will be back in civilization!

Day 7 - Ronti Gad (13,420 ft) to Sangla (8,800 ft)

The final day of the trek had arrived, it was all descent and hence we were all taking it easy in the morning. We took group photos, enjoyed the special breakfast of puri-chhole, had a round of debriefing and started for Sangla at about 10 am.
Last Group Photo @Ronti Gad

The walk was quite easy except in a couple of places where the rain had made the ground quite muddy and hence slippery. Our assistant guide again helped us through these two rough patches. About an hour into the hike, we all got cell-phone signals and people got busy on phones - to manage this we were given a "phone break" :)

We resumed the hike on the trail that went through villages, next to apple orchards and finally we reached a river crossing at about 1:30 pm - other side of the river was Sangla. Once everyone arrived, we crossed the bridge and after a few minutes of uphill climb, we reached the car park where the cars to drop us to Shimla would arrive.

As we waited for the vehicles, we bid our goodbyes to the staff, exchanged phone numbers and made promises to stay in touch. The vehicles arrived shortly - total 4, so 5  in each vehicle - a comfortable arrangement. We took the vehicles to "Himalayan Dhaba" - a lunch point picked by TTH and immediately after lunch we boarded our respective vehicles to Shimla (at about 3 pm). Some of us were staying in Shimla for a day - we met there again and enjoyed some more time together but others had plans to proceed to onward destinations soon after reaching Shimla - so we bid our goodbyes after a dinner at one of the dhabas en-route.

Thus ended a wonderful week in the Himalayas - yes there were really cold nights and some tough climbs and occasional irritating moments but there were also wonderful people (both hikers and staff), good food and great scenery that made this trek really special for me. Sometimes things just align right for a wonderful experience and for me this hike had perfect alignment of all variables!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment