Sunday, 3 January 2010

Preparing to Bivouac

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India; October 11th; Day 20; Kalyani; 2714m


Trek: 8hrs 7mins starting at 10.02
Low: 2714m at 18.07
High: 3683m at 10.05
Descent: 1501m
Ascent: 546m

Today was a beautiful walk - if long. And we should have started earlier, but we waited and waited until the sun had reached our tents and dried them off before starting. We had breakfast outside and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. It makes such a difference to everyone’s well-being and mood! before breakfast I had wandered around taking some shots and I was the last to leave the camp when we finally got going.

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Almost immediately we reached the tree-line. As always the first trees are bent and twisted by the wind and often photogenic. James and I spent so much time messing around with cameras that we missed a fork in a trail and almost went the wrong way.

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The porters were whistling us from far away and we had to backtrack a bit to find the fork. It wasn’t obvious where this trail was so we just bushwhacked our way across the bush in the general direction of the porters in the distance. We could see that there was a river to cross and Keith and some of the porters were waiting at a very precarious bridge. keith was patiently waiting so that he could video us crossing the bridge but even then he had to wait longer as James continued to mess around!

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Once on the other side it was quite a stiff climb up the other side and I couldn’t believe how breathless I was. I think it was the lack of porridge for breakfast that made me feel so lacklustre too. Fortunately one of the porters held back to ensure that I didn’t straggle too far nor lose the trail. It was a couple of hours before I felt comfortable. Maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was the disappointment of abandoning the high route.

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The whole route today was photogenic and I spent a lot of time taking shots. It turned out therefore that I spent much of the day walking alone. It’s a fabulous feeling imagining that you have the wilderness and the world to yourself.

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This first part of the trail was following a river valley down, but the trail itself was traversing high above the river itself. from time to time the trail descended into gullies where we had to cross side-streams and then clamber up the other side. We descended through many woods too. First Birches, the hardwoods, then Rhododendrons and then Bamboos. The shade here was very welcome. Unbelievably we still had some uphill stretches to deal with and some places where we had to scramble over landslips.

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Eventually the trail descended right down to the river and continued along the river bed. I had glimpsed Keith and James ahead of me a few times and now I saw Keith again. I waved, he waved and then he waited for me to catch up. James was nowhere in sight. We then walked together for the rest of the day.

Soon the trail left the river and climbed the bank. It started gently raining as we passed into the mossy green darkness of a forest Looking back we could see a rainbow. from time to time the trail climbed up to empty meadows before falling back into the woods.

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Once again the trail came back down to the river and we crossed another rickety bridge to a place with a shack and a Temple. Nobody was around. We followed the river bed again for a while before crossing our 3rd bridge of the day The trail then disappeared into the woods again and we spent a little while taking the wrong fork before clambering up to rejoin the proper trail. The trail went on and on and up and down until we began to wonder if we would reach our destination before dark. We were thinking that it starts to get dark about 6 but that we should perhaps think about stopping at 5 so that we could find a place and get a fire prepared. We had no tents or sleeping bags with us.

It’s possible we thought that we’d gone too far or taken a wrong turn. We also thought that James and the Cook and Maneesh were somewhere in front of us.

As the day lengthened we began to keep an eye for likely spots to bivouac for the night and at 5.15 we found the perfect spot. It was just before the fourth bridge, underneath a huge rock with a nice sandy spot beneath. It was next to the main river with plenty of driftwood for fire and also next to a side-stream for fresh water.

We had enough clothes and food and we had the ability to make fire. Soon enough we had a lovely fire going and a huge pile of driftwood to keep us going through the night. We were just settling down, after about 40 minutes, when Keith was shocked by the sudden appearance of our oldest porter appearing above the rocks behind us. He was wearing his familiar coon-skin hat and was dangling a headless bird in one hand. He was laughing and cackling like mad. He was also amused at our endeavour and told us that the campsite was another hour down the trail.

Reluctantly we got our stuff together and left our fire to burn out in the sand. I’d rather been looking forward to spending a night in the wild, but now we had to finish our walk at the darkness crept in. The last hour was a bit of and up and down slog through a gloomy forest. It was just about dark when we arrived.

Jan and Jim and Adriana were still behind us somewhere as were several of the porters. We managed to set u our tents in the dark and as soon as it got really dark our guide Ajay got 4 porters together to go back up the trail and find them.

It turned out that they had reached a fork in the trail at about 6 and not being sure of the direction had just sat down and waited. They waited for an hour and a half in the dark before they were found and it wasn’t until 8.30 that the straggled into camp. We of course had been sat around the fire keeping warm

Dinner, though late, was enjoyed by everyone, and all seemed to be in a good mood after our various adventures. This was probably aided by the fact that Jim produced a bottle of Brandy ahead of his birthday tomorrow.