Friday, 1 January 2010

Over the Pass at 5011m

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India; October 9th; Day 18; Masar Tal; 4568m

Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4568m at 15.04
High: 5011m at 10.40
Descent: 621m
Ascent: 298m

Woke up at 6,10 this morning after hearing James moving about. We all camped closely together yesterday! I stuck my head out of the tent to see a snowy world and an orange bar on the sunrise horizon. I quickly dressed and grabbed my camera and tripod and clambered out. It was bitterly cold and I only managed a few shots before retreating to my sleeping bag for another hour. It took this long to get my hands and feet warm again!

Fortunately the sun reached our tents early and this warmed us up too as well as drying out the tent itself. As we usually do we had breakfast sitting outside and marveled at the spectacular view all around.

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As we were packing up a delegation of porters came down to see us and tell us that they didn’t want to go over the pass. These were mostly the new porters from Kedarnath and Gauri Kund. They are very young too and probably not as experienced as our guys from Mall who have been with us for two weeks or so. We go and see our guide Ajay and persuade them, tell them, that we are continuing. none of us can bear the thought of returning to Kedarnath and this part of the trek is the highlight of the whole trip. Once we are over the pass then it’s clear that they will not want to return this way and will be keener to continue down on the other side.

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It turned out though that almost immediately after we were all packed and ready to go that we ran into difficulties. The fresh snow from last night was lying on frozen ice and it made walking up the slightest incline was difficult and dangerous. Keith managed to creep his way up the first slope and helped to plant an ice-axe to which we attached a rope. Everyone was then able to use the rope to assist them upwards. Once we were up here then the trail was easier and mostly just gently undulated up to the pass.

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the scenery all around us was gorgeous as we made our way towards the pass at just over 5000m. It had taken us just short of two hours. At the pass we waited for the whole party to get together again before continuing. Our oldest porter produced a bag of coconut pieces as an offering and a blessing. Our new and younger porters now seemed to be in good spirits.

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Almost immediately after we started our descent on the other side we came to paces where we had to use the rope again to help us down. Twice we fixed a line for this and a third time it was so steep we decided to individually belay everyone down one at a time. i went first and was astounded when two porters grabbed the rope and started sliding down. I yelled at them as they were pulling me out of line - I was aiming for what seemed a safe spot - and they let go and slid down, packs and all, so finish sprawled at my feet. We were now on the edge of a snow-covered glacier and we had to cross this to reach the valley side opposite. We have to avoid using the glacier to continue now for fear of crevasses but we have to cross somewhere. The porters seem to have no fear and they stride off across the pristine and glistening snow. I untie myself and follow.

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It was a nice easy walk across the glacier and Keith soon caught up with me. He too had had some shenanigans on the belay rope. We heard later that Jim had put his foot down and instructed the porters to behave. It took quite a while for everyone to get down and when I looked back I could see the group huddled at the top of the rope for quite a while.

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After crossing the glacier the trail traversed along the valley’s edge. The slope was steep and it made progress very slow. It was then that we were surprised to notice another party coming in the opposite direction. That meant we could join up to the trail they had cut (and vice-versa) and save ourselves some work. keith cut some steps in the snow so that we could get up to their traverse. They where an Indian trekking group carrying full packs and several of them seemed to be struggling. A number of packs had been put down and the guides were helping the stragglers across and then going back for the packs. We chatted for a while and then continued on our following the trail they had made.

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After a brief stop for some lunch we continued as the trail climbed until it finally reached a cliff-edge. The views from here we wonderful and we could see a lake below. Was this Masar Tal? If it was it meant that we would have to go over this cliff and descend to it. I thought perhaps there might be an easier way and advocated waiting for the guide to reach us. The evidence did show though that the group we had just passed had come up this way so after waiting 15 minutes Keith decided to go over.

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The trail was very steep and the snow and rocks made it difficult as we followed a route underneath a cliff. Keith got a long way ahead of me but following in his footsteps made it easier for me until the trail became more rocks than snow and I couldn’t see where he’d been. I couldn’t see Keith either. Eventually the trail descended towards the lake which was surrounded by a huge boulder field some of which were as big as houses. It was difficult and dangerous scrambling over these but I did in the end manage to creep along the shoreline and reach the head of the lake. Keith was waiting here and we waited together for everyone else to arrive as we were not sure if the campsite was around here or not. It looked unlikely as it was just a rock field. In time a string of porters could be seen coming down and when they reached us they told us we still had some more to go.

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We continued descending, first over the rocks and then over earth and grass as we re-crossed the snow-line. When we reached the campsite we started to discuss whether we should press on to Chauki - remember we had lost a day by camping at the pass - but decided that it was too late and we didn’t really know how long it would take the others to reach us.

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As we were discussing this another group appeared up the hill and an altercation took place between our porters and their guides about using the camp ground. They even planted poles and placed luggage in some of the tent sites which I subsequently went round and removed! They were trying to persuade us that their was another place just 5 minutes away but after our experience of being moved on the last time I was adamant that we were staying. It seemed that they were trying to pull rank (caste) on our porters but we stood firm. I didn’t believe that their was another place just down the hill (as we would discover the next day).

In the end both parties camped here without any problems.

Eventually everyone dribbled into camp - it had been a long day - and everyone got set up and pitched just as it began snowing. Again we had dinner in our own tents which I find a bit lonely and uncomfortable. Of course it was another early night.