beautiful! peaceful! sweet! sunshiney! bright! blue! green!
on the first day, we met at the bus depot in dharamshala. the 6 of us took a looong bus ride to barot, quietly chatting and trying not to vomit as the bus rolled from side to side along the winding, pot-holed road. about halfway through the journey, we climbed on top of the bus
and enjoyed the rest of the ride from the roof! at one point when we passed a small hindu temple/shrine, everyone on the bus threw coins into it, while our bus zoomed past. we camped at the edge of a rushing river, amidst cows and goats and children.
by day four of the trek, our bond sealed, we put our life in each other's hands.
i keep walking.
we were the first group to attempt
this pass this season.
upon waking at dawn, we climbed 350m in 30 minutes. a passing shepherd (there's lots of those when hiking up here) warned us that if the snow went above the sole of our shoe, we should stop and turn back....so when i sank in up to my crotch, we decided to keep going
. chomping away through snow, sachin and ishaan made a path for us on our way up to the pass. a nice break from the snow brought us to the first of the mud walls. i didn't think much of it, climbed up, slipping a bit...NOT looking down. we hit snow, the pass in sight! the view ahead...all around....totally mind-blowing. nothing but pure white crisp snow, white fluffy clouds, and intensely blue sky.
we crunched our way through ice and snow on a slope...that was a straight 1800m slide to the bottom (or, death). we hit the pass, we made it to the top! flavia, fabrice and i ran to the very highest point once we got there, 3970 meters! the three of us stood there on the peak, exhilarated, exhausted...until sachin yelled "come back guys, NOW!" just as the snow started falling! our original route down the mountain was closed, so instead of turning around, we headed "down that river...it goes south-ish, and the village we want to hit eventually is on a river, which must be this one."
...and now the adventure begins.
we start climbing down towards the frozen river, through more ice slopes to nowhere...and then we hit a mud wall. this mud wall has become the bane of my existence, and my hurdle, my crutch.
..and still just a damn mud wall. we're all leaning on this 55 degree mudslide, trusting our lives to...chance! at one point i slipped about 3 meters, catching myself with my walking stick and a rock that luckily was in the way... i've never been so close to my own death
. we finally got to the shelter of a forest....yea right! i was looking forward to the trees, seeing them in the distance as an oasis must look after wandering in the desert...but the crazy steep slope continued straight through, except that now there was snow on top of dry leaves on top of the mud. we rested a bit on the trees, and then continued to climb down...down.... then sachin turned around and said in a very grave voice, "this next part is very dangerous. be very careful. go slow." WHAT?? we slid down a vertical grass wall, hoping that the grass we were holding onto would hold our weight, or that we could catch ourselves on the occasional tufts of grass and earth.
the bottom of the wall deposited us onto the glacier that we proceeded to navigate for the next 8 hours. we followed the glacier / frozen river between two steep mountain sides. at this point, we were just looking for civilization
and a flat place to pitch a tent. we were getting hysterical by this time, slipping and sliding all over the place. dignity had become a foreign concept as we fell repeatedly on our asses. i decided that it was more efficient to just go down on my ass, instead of wasting energy trying to stand up, falling, standing up again... [fabrice called his method "semi-controlled sliding."] up ahead, there was a cliff where the porters and the guides were sitting. as we approached, we could hear rushing water...a huge waterfall! we had to climb around the waterfall, on a rocky wall.
i froze, and sukhdev (the elder porter) showed me step-by-step where to put my feet, as rocks and mud were crumbling beneath each step. after 8 hours
of slipping, then bounding through, then enjoying, then dreading the glacier, we saw salvation
! a muddy reed-covered slope! ...yay? our group split up, and we decided to walk through the river the rest of the way, instead of trying to balance ourselves on the mud. sachin made bridges for us to cross the river at some places, and had to basically pull me over some rocks when my body just wouldn't do it. we finally spotted civilization up ahead! we set up camp just in time for thunder to crash above our heads and lightning to rip open the sky....then the sweet sweet rain. a perfect end to a perfect day
it would have been so easy to die...one wrong step, one loose mud patch, one strong breeze...and then you'd slip down the mountain, falling a free 1800m down the mountain...or you'd fall through the fluffy part of the glacier [where the snow was more in drifts than dirty, packed-down ice] 4m below to the rushing river. at many points, skill was not part of the deal - it was all luck.
just remember...if you die by falling down a mountain, keep your eyes open. you won't survive anyway, so you might as well enjoy the trip.