Today we had a challenging target: 30km / 2700m D+ crossing of the Kuari pass at 3700m from the Birahi river valley into the Dhauliganga river valley. I had a wonderful night rest in the store room of the road side shop at Durmi village. Warm and absolutely silent – extremely peaceful. The 7am alarm woke us up and 15min later we were walking on the road to the village of Pangna where we would get into the trail.
The morning was very cold as usual, the sun rays not yet entering the base of of the valley. We could spot small farming settlements along the Birahi river below. The road was under construction and the workers, many from Nepal, were living in small road side tents. A friendly tractor driver picked us up halfway and dropped us at a small shop in Pangna were we had tea and a few bread buns to kick start our system.
From Pangna we got into a trail into the valley were we crossed the river using a long suspension bridge. On the opposite side a nice, frequently used rock path hair pinned up a ridge towards the last village of Pangna some 6km away, a solid 700m uphill climb from the river. We met several mules en route carrying heavy sacks of river sand to Panna for house construction.
Soon the first sun rays hit us and we dropped long pants and jacket as body was heating up. Nothing like shorts and tee to fast hike up steep Himalayan terrain. The Birahi river valley lit up beautifully in the morning sun, lush green forest on Western slope and barren grass on the Eastern side. By 10am we reached Panna, a farming Hamlet of 70 families spread out across the East facing valley slope at 2400m altitude.
A young boy greeted us and invited us into his home at the top of the village. We sat on the terrace with mesmerizing views on the valley below and snow peaks of Northern Nanda Devi subsection. Tea, chappatis, egg bun filled up our tummies for the long traverse ahead. The boy has studied his college degree in Dehradun but wanted to live and work at his home village in this heavenly location.
From Panna we started another 700m steep ascent along a hair pinning rock path to cross over a ridge into an uninhabited side valley towards the pass. We crossed the uninhabited summer dwelling of Sartoli where I had stayed 2 years ago with shepherds surrounded by 700 sheep. Sartoli is a large open bugyal at 3100m from where you get the first glimpse of the Kuari pass still 10km away.
From here the path contours through forest of oak and rododendrom below the ridgeline high above the river below. The West facing valley slope is partly covered with frozen snow. Along the way we descend below a vertical rock face from where a half frozen water fall drops down. Soon after we again we climb up steeply again till the path contours to the base of the Kuari pass where we cross a small river.
Snack break – bakery biscuits and time to quench our thirst with cold stream water I dip my feet in stream and wash my socks and dry them on my backpack in the warm afternoon sun. Feet are sweating a lot in shoes and I keep switching socks every day. We now go for the 4th and final steep climb to the Kuari pass at 3700m, a tremendous 2700m elevation gain from the Birahi river valley below.
Even tough mid winter end of Jan, the South facing slope below the pass is mostly clear of snow. From the top of the pass we get treated on mesmerizing views of the virgin valley we climbed up through on one side and the high ranges above Badrinath on the other side. The trail now contours East along the North facing slope completely covered in frozen snow. We use hiking poles for better grip and gloves to keep hands warm from freezing wind.
It s late afternoon and the warm sun rays help us in managing the cold wind blowing here. We contour about 1.5km through the snow covered slope sinking one feet deep inside. Lucky the path is pretty clear so we stay on track. We cross a high point above a ridge where we suddenly get into a clear trail made by many footsteps from groups who visit Kuari from the Joshimath side. It s much easier to walk now then making your own path through virgin snow.
A while later we get off track and plug in knee deep into fresh snow. At one point Leo dips in chest deep unable to get back out. Luckily we get back into the trodden trail and now – with the clock hitting 4pm – we move in second gear to reach the base before darkness. For a good while the path remains covered in snow and footsteps make it easy to stay on track. As we drop altitude the rock path slowly appears from underneath the snow blanket.
Mid way there is a split – one trail goes to Auli, the popular tourist spot above Joshimath. The other trail heads straight down the valley to Tapoban, the shortest route. The rock path now hair pins down beautiful forest, no one around. With time running out we jog down the slope, short cutting the hair pins. As we descend a mesmerizing sight appears in front of us. A full moon is rising above the snow covered 7000m+ Dunagiri peak colored orange by the sun set set above the colorful village of Tapoban.
At night fall we touch the first village of Raighadi. With no shop or dhaba we push on towards the Joshimath highway another 3km ahead. The full moon is lighting up our path. We descend further down till we hit the highway near Tapoban where – starved after an intense traverse – we find a small dhaba. We indulge in coconut balls, chai, cream rolls, hot soup, chikkis, peanuts and chowmin to replenish the lost calories.
After regaining our senses we settle down in the primary school above the highway. The Dhauliganga river valley is surprisingly silent off season in winter. The full moon lots up the entire valley, only the brightest stars are visible. I open my map and start planning the next traverse while blogging the happenings of the day. We are back into network zone after two days. I review the beautiful clicks of the day shortlisting the best ones to share with the world
Trans Hima 2020 – 59 Durmi to Tapoban – part 1 Today we had a challenging target: 30km / 2700m D+ crossing of the Kuari…Posted by Peter Van Geit on Monday, 8 February 2021