If you have the will you will have the way
It was early in the morning, and I was in the mountains two days before starting an expedition. Suddenly I received a call from a Delhi number. “Hey Pankaj, this is Adriaan de Hoog, how is the weather up there for the expedition?” My client.
“It’s been raining for the last couple of days and the forecast is also not very good for the coming week” I replied. Yeah, we were all scared as this expedition was happening shortly after Utarrakhand and the adjoining areas had had a massive rainfall – about 375 % more than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon. Now the plan had become “plan for the worst and hope for the best”. So we changed the equipment and bought locally made brand new tents, which are especially made for such kind of weather in the western Himalayas. Unfortunately these types of tents are about 10-12 kg in weight, but it’s worth it if they save you from bad weather. We also planned for extra sleeping bags and pads, with extra rations as well. So with all of these extra supplies and gear, the number of potters required for the trip increased from 12 to 17.
On day one the clients arrived at Karsol Hotel, and in the afternoon we briefed them about the whole plan, including the escape plan. That evening after dinner I checked their gear and equipment. On day two, at 4am I received a call from the main town Manali (3-4 hrs away from where we were staying) from my fellow guide Manoj. He told me “our truck is stuck in Manali due to a land slide.” This truck was loaded with all the supplies, equipment and a guide, kitchen staff and potters. But the team showed some hard core labor skills and opened the road after 4 hours of hard work. So our supplies were 4 hrs behind us according to the original plan. We briefed the clients and hired a few more local potters for the day to carry the clients’ luggage and some of the equipment. We reached the first camping spot Kheer Ganga without tents and food. (Kheer Ganga is a meadow in Parvati valley at 2960m where Shiva is said to have meditated for 3000 years. The hot springs at Khirganga are extremely important for Hindu and Sikh pilgrims as well as many others who believe the waters have sacred healing properties. Kheer Ganga has few shops for tea and soup noodles with camping spots.) We had tea with a few game of poker until our supplies showed up. Once the supplies were with us we cooked a good dinner and enjoyed the late evening. That was a major relief for the start of the trip and we were also well equipped now.
On day three we crossed the Parvati River twice, once on a broken log bridge and once on a pulley bridge. A third crossing came on day four. This time it was Pandu bridge (In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, the Pandava (Sanskrit:पाण्डव pāṇḍavaḥ; also, Pandawa) are the five acknowledged sons of Pandu who built this bridge by putting a massive boulder on Parvati river.) It took almost an hour to climb up and climb down on the other side of the river and cross only 50 metres with 5 clients, 17 potters and 3 guides with all the supplies. However, everyone enjoyed this crossing as much as the previous two, as they all were filled with adventure and adrenaline.
On Day 7 we reached Mantalai at 4080 meters (Mantalai Lake / the snout for Parvati River was believed to be the meditation place of lord Shiva. Once, when he was in deep meditation, Goddess Parvati came down from that place and took rest at Manikaran. Lord Shiva too came down along the same path searching Goddess Parvati and found her at Manikaran taking rest under a tree. This path later became the river and was named the Parvati River.)
It was cold and drizzling in the morning with a magnificent view of fresh snowfall on either side of the mountain range in the valley. This was a perfect day to enjoy a rest / acclimatization day. We undertook acclimatization walks on the glacier to gain 4-5 hundred meters. Playing Frisbee on reaching the campsite and poker in the evening was a ritual now. The first glimpse of sun we had until now on this expedition was on day nine, as we were approaching the glacier (high base camp at 4500 meters) for the Pin Parvati Pass. We were gazing at the amphitheater vista of high rising peaks in the Pir Panjal range, as well as the Parvati River down in the valley. Eitan Levin (one of the clients) was as usual clicking pictures of little flowers popping out on the trail but at this moment he went crazy to click in the sunlight. I saw a big smile on the potters’ faces, while they were looking at the sun.
Aaron Frost (another client) was sitting on the rock watching the clouds settling down in the valley. Our stress was also settling down as the clouds were in the valley. No offence, but no one has enjoyed the sun as we did on this moment. So we thought “God is with us.” This didn’t last for long! As soon as we established camp on the glacier, sleet and snow started to coming down. So in the evening, we went on another acclimatization walk “to practice climb high and sleep low technique” in the wet snow above. Tomorrow was the big day, we were crossing the pass. But the night was too short for us to prepare an early morning breakfast and a pack lunch to start at 4 am.
Day 10, at 2 am, I peeped out from the tent to see that there was no star on the sky, it was completely dark. We started preparing the food and the day started with winding up the camp. We were done by 4:30 in the morning and started to approach the pass. Again we started in sleet and snow. But today it was not for long as soon daylight was breaking and the clouds started settling down in the valley like vampires that are scared of sunlight. Eitan was again looking for good landscapes to capture in the dawn. But he also got a warning from us, to not go off the trail as we were crossing some hidden crevasses on the glacier.
After waking on the glacier for a few hours and we ascended the steep gulley for an hour. At 9 am we were standing on the altitude of 5317 meters at our destination, the Pin Parvati Pass. Yes, “lord Shiva is with us”, there was Sun above in the sky and two amazing Pin and Parvati valleys on either side of us.
After applying sun block, hats and shades to protect us from the sun, we took a few group pictures and had some munchies. John Woods (one of the clients) was showing symptoms of AMS. So we immediately started descending down to the Pin Valley.
Now we were in the other valley (The Pin Valley of Spiti is home to the few surviving Buchen Lamas of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism, and this region is technically outside the influence of the monsoon because of the Great Himalayas.)
The sky was blue in this valley but the water in the river and streams was freezing cold. We crossed waste deep the Pin River just below the snout once and our lower body was numb like ice. John was feeling much better after descending. He had medication with hot soup and good Indian food for dinner. He was good on the next morning.
On day 12 we reached the road head and our vehicle was not there. We were at Mud village and we were still out of cell phone network coverage area. So this time we got information not from the phone but from a driver, who told us that there was a massive land slide on Pin River about 10 km downstream and the road had been blocked. “Oops it’s is not over yet!”
Now, we hired this driver with his car to drop us off at the spot of land slide. This guy named “Krishan” was here to drop his clients off about 11 days ago, exactly when we started the expedition. But he had become stuck with a few other vehicles and drivers here in Mud village with his SUV due to the blockage.
On reaching the land slide spot we saw a massive reservoir on Pin River as this slide had dammed the river. The road was submerged by the Pin River! We were able to see vehicles on the other side of this dam.
So, we had no choice but to cross the mud slide, as this was the only way out from this valley. We were thinking and planning how to cross this obstacle but meanwhile, Julian de Hoog (one of the clients) had folded his trek pants, tied his shoes around his neck, and managed to cross this waist deep swampy mud slide with a few cuts on his feet from sharp stones in the mud slide river. Everyone followed his route and reached the vehicle on the other side.
And the way was waiting to take us back home.
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We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character...
- Henry David Thoreau