The night sky was filled with a zillion stars as I looked up from my campsite at the primary school in Wan village. My Bluebolt quilt kept me warm and cosy from the cold wind blowing through this valley mid Jan at 2500m altitude. A black fury doggie was sleeping next to me, both of us enjoying mutual body warmth. I was blogging, shortlisting photos, sharing GPS logs with base team, Skyping mom in Belgium and catching up on the latest international news.
My trusty alarm woke me up at 7am and 30min later I was packed up and indulging in a cream roll and steaming black chai in the local dhaba. Kept my powerbank charging overnight as it was fully drained. Plugged in my phone while having breakfast and packed up two egg buns for lunch. Next traverse was to a 1000m climb over the Ali Khal pass at 3500m to cross over to the Kali Ganga river valley to the villages of Balan and Himni.
I set of by 8am as the first sun rays were hitting Wan. Goodbye to the kind dhaba owner who had been serving me tasty food for 2 days while passing through. A wide path contours up on the Eastern valley slope above Wan towards the hamlet of Ranga. I was hitting first snow at 2600m so I was a bit worried what to expect near the pass at 3500m altitude. Snow is beautiful but 1. slows you down more as depth increases and 2. makes you lose the trail covering the landscape with a uniform blanket.
The cobbled rock path crossed over a small ridge at 2750m from where it descends into a small side valley before hair pinning up steeply on a ridgeline. The path leads to Bedni Tal and Roopkund so is gradual and pretty clear. Soon snow started covering the path as we climbed up through shady forest on the West facing slope. At 3200m the path diverged left towards Bedni Tal and I proceed along a smaller mud trail contouring Southeast above the valley slope.
Until now I had been following footsteps on a wide rock path making it easy and fast to climb up. As I continued along the other trail I was the one now opening the snow covered path. I put on my Bluebolt waterproof socks to keep my feet dry and comfy. My pace dropped significantly as I was sinking in the snow with every step. As the slope turns West I hit foot deep snow and the path climbs up steeply to Ali Khal. I start slipping down on the steep snow covered trail and take my hiking poles. With 4 points of contact Mr. Van Geit transforms into a mountain goat scaling up with easy.
The pace remains slow as I sink knee deep inside the snow. As I approach the pass I get treated on beautiful views of the snow covered Ali Bugyal covered with a thick white blanket. The sun is shining intense blinding the eyes. I enjoy the heat while the snow remains firm and unmelted in the cold climate at 3500m. Stunning views reveal the high ranges of Northeast Gangotri (Chauk Chamba…) towards the Northwest and Southern Nanda Devi subsection (Trisul…) on the Northeast.
I descend 400m from the snow covered bugyals into a virgin uninhabited valley. Everywhere footprints of animals are visible in the 3 day old fresh snow. I cross a bridge across a small stream making its way through snow covered landscape. Climb up again on the opposite slope and contour through desolate forest over a small saddle at 3100m. The path all g the Northfacing slow is covered again in snow so I check my GPS recording to periodically to stay on track. A deer has walked ahead of me leaving it’s footprints in the pristine snow blanket.
The snow covered drops down from the saddle through remote forest into the Kali Ganga valley. At 2900m the path contours South towards the first settlement of Balan visible from high above. On the opposite side of the valley I can see Himni village along the road head. My target for today: dinner, recharge, breakfast and packed lunch. I love Uttarkhand with it’s thousands of small hamlets making it easy to hike minimalist valley to valley carrying no extra food.
The valley slope is now East facing slope exposed to the morning sun. I suddenly step from my white winter world into a warm summer landscape clear of snow. My pace increases five fold in the now clear path. I settled down along the trail at 1:30pmto have my lunch with lovely views on Balan Hamlet below, a 500m drop into the Kali Ganga valley below. Below Balan I descend further till 1950m crossing the stream to climb up to Himni on the opposite side of the valley.
From the bugyals above Balan at 2700m I get mesmerizing views on the snow capped peaks of the Southern Nanda Devi subsection. A broken rock path descends into Balan, a fairly large settlement spread across the valley slope. I spent the night in Balan during my Trans Himalayan 2019 journey while traversing 30 passes across Uttarakhand. The hamlet has been electrified meanwhile. New electric poles are powering every individual home.
From Balan we cross the stream and follow a path which descends into the Kali Ganga deep below. A new road is being built connecting Balan with Himni and the rest of the world. The old path being destroyed in the process. As soon as I step onto the road I lose the satisfaction of hiking in the mountains. From the road I get a bird’s eye view on the Kali Ganga which cuts deeply into the valley forming a narrow gorge.
The road contours into a side valley and the nair pins up to Himni. A nice rock path short cuts the 400m climb to the village at 2400m altitude. There are several road side dhabas and shops at Himni. A man is preparing fresh chowmin and I settle down for an early dinner at 5pm. No mobile network in the valley except for Vodaphone and Bsnl rendering my two SIM-s Airtel and Jio useless.
No power in town so unable to charge my phone. I complete my offline Worfpress blog, ready to post wherever I get network. At 5:15pm the sun sets behind the horizon and temperatures start dropping. I layer up with fleece and puff jackey. I look for a flat, peaceful spot to pitch up my tent. Tomorrow s target is to proceed East crossing over the next 2 passes towards Barkandi and Badiyakot into the Pindari river valley.
The skyline above the Kali Ganga valley turns deep red-orange as the night falls. Forest fires are raging the dry grass slopes on the opposite side of the valley. Some hundred lights appear in the valley marking Balan village. Finally lights switch on! Power has come and I charge up my phone while warming myself at the wood fire of the small kitchen. The kind dhaba owner takes pity on me and offers a nice room with wooden floor to stay for the night. I dream off peacefully in a place that feels like home