Friday, 6 July 2012

Lion Peak - Retreat plus R & R

After the heady euphoria of climbing my first peak, I was eager to get back down the glacier for the simple reason that we did not have much food left! But when we woke up the next morning our little summit camp was plastered in freshly fallen snow, we were enveloped in cloud and could not see very much. Prudence dictated that we wait for the weather to clear before descending the crevasse ridden glacier. In the event, we had to wait the whole day. We brewed tea and nibbled the few almonds and other dried nuts we had left, and lay around in our sleeping bags chatting. Being stormbound in a small tent with your fellow climber offers plenty of time for conversation, especially if neither of you have your ears plugged with the ubiquitous pieces of audio devices so prevalent these days. Back in 1985, neither of us had the luxury of owning even the humble Sony Walkman, so we were oliged to converse.

Occasionally, I would poke my head out of the tent to see if the snow had stopped falling, then fall back into my siesta. We spoke of various things, none of which I can remember now....but the day passed pleasantly enough, except for the hollowness in our stomachs, which of course increased the tendency for producing flatulence: this in turn called for more incense sticks to be lit by Ravi and we inhaled a potent mixture of clean mountain air flavoured with body emissions and "aggarbatti"(joss stick) fragrance!

We spent a lot of time watching the clouds roll up the glacier

The next day, 31 August dawned not so bright but fair enough to move. We also had no choice as we had run out of food! Moving as quickly as we could with our heavy packs, we were soon at the Camp 2 site. We paused briefly here and then kept going downhill till we arrived at the Hawa Mahal camp in the afternoon. We had managed to leap across most of the crevasses unharmed, though I did slip on the ice once and took a small tumble and hurt my knuckles. You can see why I've named my blog The Accidental Climber...I seem to attract mishaps all the time! Thankfully, they are mostly minor in nature and rather embarrassing to report. As for the more serious incidents, so far I have survived to tell the tale!

Ravi strikes a farewell pose below Lion

I am ready to go down

Ravi takes the plunge!

Bir Singh and Rinzing now came up to help us and by the end of the next day we were camped at the snout of the Bara Shigri where it flows into the Chandra river. Bir Singh was a young lad of 16 from the village of Urgus in the Miyar Nala and was portering to earn some money in his school holidays. Rinzing worked out of Manali through a trekking agency. We had met them earlier with the Bengali expedition and they had agreed to help us when we were done with our climb. Both were extremely fine gentlemen and very very strong. They were also very bold, unlike the two porters we had brought out of Manali and who had rather inconveniently abandoned us in the middle of the Karcha Nala.

Thanks to Rinzing and Bir Singh, my journal for 2nd Sept reads : "This morning we left the Bara Shigri glacier snout at 6:30 am and walked quickly to the Karcha Nala which we reached at 9 am. Crossing it was a piece of cake. I brushed my teeth and had a head wash on the other side."

16 year old Bir Singh

Rinzing Lama

Ravi Kamath

Bir Singh fording the Karcha Nala

Rinzing helps Ravi across.
Dharamsura and Papsura glitter in diamantine splendour in the distance.

We walked leisurely to the tea shop at Batal which also doubled as the bus stop. Here we bumped into Ravi's old friend Tashi who was  chaperoning a group of French trekkers to Chandratal, the lake that is considered the source of the Chandra river. And so an idea was born : why don't we make a quick dash to the lake ourselves since we were running ahead of schedule in our plans? The French group left the tea shop at 10:30 am, Rinzing boarded the bus to Manali at 11:15 am with most of our luggage and the three of us settled down to lunch before boarding the bus going to Kaza at 1:50 pm. The 11 km to the Kunzum La (the pass that divides Lahul from Spiti) was covered by the bus in an hour as it grunted its way slowly up the gravel road with its short and steep switchbacks. We got off the bus at this 15,060 ft (4590m) pass, posed for a few photos and visited the little shrine, then marched for 3 hours, mostly downhill, to reach the tranquill waters of Chandratal at 6 pm.

Shrine at the Kunzum La with the peaks of the CB (Chandra Bhaga) group behind

The dry and arid landscape of Spiti from the Kunzum La

One of the CB peaks from the pass

Bir Singh with Spiti background

Unfortunately, it was cold and windy as we put up our tents on the shores of the lake, though this did not deter a couple of ducks from flying around the far shore. Bir Singh woke us up at the crack of dawn (5 am) with a welcome cup of tea and we were packed and ready to go by 6. An hour later we came across the camp of Tashi's group - they had trekked up from Batal with their mules. They offered us tea which we gladly accepted. They were an obviously well run outfit - one of them was enjoying the luxury of shaving with hot water! We thanked them for their hospitality and sped on our way, munching on puris and peas bought from Batal the day before. We soon intercepted the road descending from Kunzum La and continued at a crackling pace. We were just in time to hop onto the Kaza - Kulu bus at Batal; A nice lunch followed when the bus stopped at the Chatroo tea shop and we were in Manali by 5 pm.

The rapid transition from the serenity of Chandratal to the bustle of Manali was a little distressing, though  adequately compensated by a princely repast of mutton curry and rotis at Lakshmi Dhaba!

For Ravi this was the end of his mountain holiday. Before catching the bus back to Delhi he took me to visit his old friend Nalini. Nalini lived in the very first (at least in those days) cottage on the right hand side of the road as you drove in from Kulu. The cottage was called SNUG and was a charming structure, very traditional and very old world. Nalini herself was full of  old world charm and it was a delight to meet her. She was originally from Mumbai (then of course still Bombay), and had been the principal of a school there. She was one of the earliest women to complete a mountaineering course at the Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Manali. She had so fallen in love with Manali then (the early 1960s) that she decided to sell off her property in Bombay and settle down here with her two other friends Shashi and Gautam. Hence the name of the cottage SNUG : the U linked their initials together! Gautam was no more, but the name did not change.

Ravi with Nalini in her orchard

Nalini treated us to tea and biscuits and a stroll in the little apple orchard at the back of the house. She was a great storyteller and filled us in with the goings on in the little town and of course some of the gossip. It was a wonderful afternoon interlude, but we could not linger: Ravi had his bus to catch whilst I had to prepare for the next phase of my adventure : a trek across the Sara Umga Pass, where I would ascend from the Tos valley and descend into the Chota Shigri glacier. Bir Singh had agreed to accompany me on this walk and I looked forward eagerly to the delights of an unhurried stroll through gorgeous alpine scenery and to cross the challenging 16,000 ft pass...

The Hadimba Devi shrine in Old Manali