Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pindari and Kaphni Glacier Trek: Part 2

Day 5: Khatia → Dwali
Jan and I wake to a whole lot of snow accumulation on the ground! Determined to continue the trek, we set out down towards Khati. Jan wonders out loud whether we'll be able to see the trail. I assure him we will, having no idea whether this is true. His boots cost 20 bucks from a store in India and definitely aren't waterproof, so I lead the way breaking trail down towards Dwali. Walking through the shin deep snow on the trail feels good, but the thought of how wet my legs and feet will be is not inspiring. A few slips later, and some very careful walking on the icy switchbacks 100 meters above the river, we're back in Dwali. Jan heads down towards the warmer Khati. I stop for lunch with the group of Indian Navy families from Mumbai, who've returned from Phurkia without making it to Zero Point. Then I set out for Phurkia, hoping the storm won't stop me from seeing the Pindari Glacier. About 45 minutes in, the men who run the guest house in Phurkia are heading down the trail and turn me around. It's too snowy, and avalanches are running across the trail. Shit.

Good morning! Greeted by half a meter of snow and counting.

Everything is shades of grey now.

Waterfalls were everywhere when the snow started melting

Bridge closed for snow.

Forest trail

Day 6: Dwali → Phurkia → Dwali
Anand Singh of the guest house in Dwali assures me that I can make Zero Point (at the glacier) today. He packs me a lunch and I set off. The trail to Phurkia is slushy and muddy, but good because the Indian Navy crew broke through all the snow. I find Phurkia abandoned, and continue up, beginning to break trail through the snow. After I pass the remains of the second avalanche across the trail about two kilometers past Phurkia, I realize, "What the hell am I doing breaking trail through this solo." So, disappointed I head back down to Phurkia where I take a nap on the porch of an abandoned guest house. Just before I've made it all the way back to Dwali, I see Babaji heading up. He tells me he will be at Phurkia tonight, and Zero Point tomorrow.

The trail ahead.

Breaking trail

Babaji is a figure of local legend in the valley, a holy man who has been living at Zero Point just below the Pindari glacier for many years. Madhu is friends with him, and had arranged for me to stay at Zero Point with Babaji, so I plan to head up the next day.

Don't forget

Day 7: Dwali → Phurkia → Zero Point
Today I hike half the day up to Zero Point. I find Babaji and his assistant there, digging the place out, and collecting the water from the roof. The scene with the water pouring into a dozen different buckets is quite strange after hiking through silence all morning. Babaji welcomes me and I spend the rest of the day relaxing. He cooks really well. I eat curry with cauliflower, the first change from potato since starting the trek.


Babaji's place

Babaji's place in context

Day 8: Zero Point
I wake at five AM to the sky just beginning to get light, and the nearly full moon setting over the peaks. After a tea with Babaji, I head the last kilometer to Zero Point. It's a pretty epic scene. The trail just sort of drops off at a humongous drop into the Pindar river, and you look out across to the Pindari Glacier. You're surrounded by 6,000+ meter peaks! Babaji puts me to work carrying drinking water. The water source is a good 10 minute walk away, and carrying two 10 liter containers at 12,000 feet wears me out quick. Porters for the NOLS mountaineering course Madhu is working come a couple times dropping off gear for the course. A storm rolls in and I spend the afternoon napping. At one point I look out to see a family of wild goats playing around in the snow. In the evening, Babaji invites me to watch him perform his prayers. He prays to Nanda Devi (same name as the peak), the local name for the goddess Parvati. He also takes me into his cave, a sort of rock shelter that the house was built around, where he began praying 19 years ago.

Me at Zero Point

Sunrise view from Zero Point

The Pindari Glacier

Day 9: Zero Point
NOLS arrives today! Babaji keeps me busy with endless water runs. The excersize feels good, but intensely tiring. When the NOLS group arrives the area turns really busy. It's gone from two to twenty people in just a few minutes. Madhu and Dilip (the other Indian instructor) get down on their knees and touch Babaji's feet to show respect. He is their guru. The NOLS group has some interesting characters. Ben is from Chicago, and currently on a gap year before going to Harvard. He is very enthusiastic about the gap year thing and is super excited to hear about my year. His is really interesting too - When he returns from NOLS he is planning on biking fro the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. I also meet Seychelle, who graduated last year from Penn! The best part about Penn, she tells me, is that "wherever you are in the world, you will have a friend from Penn." It's awesome to catch up with Madhu, hear about his plans for the next few months, and tell him about my travels.

A hut in the valley near Zero Point

Storms move in around a peak.

Day 10: Zero Point → Khati
I wake up before sunrise today to pursue the trail that goes towards the pass above Zero Point. I follow the trail for a while, traversing across an enormous cliff face, before finding it too snowy to continue. I had hoped to climb high enough for a view of Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India. The view of the glacier and surrounding area is awesome though. I head back down and eat my last breakfast with Babaji.

Beginning of the Pindar river

For some reason I think this is day 11, and I told mom I'd be back in 9 or 10 days. Oops! So I'm in a hurry to get to a phone before she calls in... Whoever there is to call here. I remember there has just been a phone installed in Khati, 25 kilometers away, but it doesn't do international calls. I have to wait a long time for Madhu to finish with instruction, but I get the number of Rochi from the kayak trip in Kerala.

Sunrise under the peaks - It hurts to smile because of my sunburnt and frozen skin

By this time it's one in the afternoon. I hike the 16 miles to Khati in five and a half hours with a ten minute break in the middle. It's all downhill except for a huge climb just before Khati. Ouch! In Khati I find Scott and Bonnie and they help me get to the phone. Mother contacted. Disaster averted.

Nanda Kot - 6861m (22,510 ft)

To be continued...


Unknown said...

this is my favorite thing to read.

Unknown said...

Mine, too. Especially the devoted son part. It warmed the cockles of my heart to read what you went through to spare me needlessly worrying. Now that I read the descriptions, though, I realize this was probably even more dangerous than I imagined. Traveling alone with avalanches crossing the trails! It's all beautiful and exciting but I'm just glad all's well at the end. Love you, Ma

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