Next plan is a 3-4 day traverse across 4 passes from the Gangotri (Bhagarathi river) valley to Kedarnath. Malla – Kalaipir pass – Pinswari – unknown pass – Gainwali – Munsri pass – Guttu – Unknown pass – Sonprayag. I was expecting to hit snow on all passes between 3400-3700m. We grabbed a cup of tea at a road side shop and we’re lucky to get into a share taxi towards Malla, a 30km ride from Uttarakashi along the Bhagarathi river valley.
We grabbed breakfast in a small dhaba, packed up some food for lunch and we were on our way. A new road hair pins up to the last village of Shilla. Lucky we were able to follow the old village route, a wide cobbled pathway, and much shorter route. At Shilla a nice wide path climbs up steadily through majestic pine forest to the ridgeline above.
Being winter there are less fresh water sources and my co trekker Palani was soon thirsty climbing up with a dry troath. The path soon got partly covered in snow running on the north facing slow with less solar exposure. Being wide and with footsteps of one person hiking up before us it was easy to stay on track.
The path climbs up 2200m out of Bhagarathi river valley at 1400m and touches the ridge at Chuli at 3600m where it contours around a peak. Palani had it visibly tough on his #nd day in Himalayas and my usual 30K daily exploration mileage would easily drop to half. As soon as we hit the South facing slope of the ridge snow cover was much less even at this higher altitude.
It was running pretty late now with the sun slowly setting down and I was worried whether we would make it to any kind of shelter to spent the freezing night at this higher altitude. With stunning views on the sunrise coloring the skies bright orange we pushed along the contouring path hiking intermittently in and out of snow.
Darkness set it with a deep red sky in the west and as per Survey map we were close to the deserted summer dwelling of Gotu. I quickly checked for a suitable house to stay in. One had a dead corpse of an cow, not that interesting for peaceful night stay. I finally found a nice empty house in good condition, with sufficient firewood to prepare dinner.
We settled down inside and started making a fire with camphor, dry grass and small branches. Attempt after attempt to light up the wood proved futile. Maybe at 3400m the oxygen level was simply too less or the freezing cold prevented the fire from sustaining? We tried again outside the house with more grass and finally the wood too fire.
We scraped some frozen snow from the front of the house and started melting if above the fire. It took significant time to melt and one pot of snow which gave us just half the volume of water. First priority was to melt some drinking water for Palani who was severely dehydrated. After three weeks of winter trekking I had built a remarkable ability to speed hike without water for entire day.
Next pot of frozen snow would become yummy hot Knorr soup with ginger, corn and pepper. Food tastes so delicious after a full day of endurance workout. It took nearly 40 min to get the frozen snow boiling with constant blowing of fresh oxygen. Night temperatures were dropping fast. Next dish on the menu was yummy oats with ghee and sugar.
Meanwhile a beautiful firmament of stars was clearly visible above us at this altitude of 3400m. By the time we finished oats it became freezing cold and we snuggled inside our cosy sleeping bags inside the home where it was much warmer. Still by early morning it became very cold even inside the home. Palani had a tough night even with multiple layers of clothing.