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Travelogue - Uttaranchal

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The Roaring Mountain

By Kavitha Reddy , October 2010 [ [email protected]]

Roaring winds from Mt Nanda Devi East was crashing  the tent at Camp-1 (5200 meters); one lift would take the tent down 300 meters  onto the other side of the ridge. Ice axes, 3-feet snow stakes and walking  sticks that were used in anchoring the tent loosened out in no time. I used all  that was in the tent to hold the 3 corners and stood firmly at the 4th,  I knew I was losing ground and had to get out to safety abandoning the tent, my  backpack and other essentials were ready to be dragged out, it was just a  matter of time that I would be forced to exit. After one bigger round of  pounding, I heard Bharath and Takpa, they rushed in kicking down the anchors  into the snow and we were holding on to the tent for the next 45 minutes till  Nanda Devi calmed down.

Locals believe that Nanda Devi range is one of  the most powerful and dangerous range in the Himalayas, they offer prayers to  Nanda Devi to ensure that her fury does not bring doom. For a mountaineer peaks  in Pindari Glacier have always been the most challenging quests, given its inhospitable  terrain and highly unpredictable weather conditions. But Pindari Glacier is  also one of the most beautiful regions, and our quest to climb Mt Nanda Khat  (6611 Meters) started for Loherkhet.

Trek from Loherkhet to Pindari Glacier (the  glacier has receded in the last two decades) is a pure scenic beauty of 50 Kms,  the trail is a traverse all through the huge rocky hills on one side, river  Pindari gushing right below and rocky & lush green hills on the other side  with several waterfalls that join river Pindari at the base. The rich forest  cover on both sides of the river houses an amazing assortment of flora and  fauna, birds like Eurasian Jays, Rose Finches, Snow Partridges, Snow Doves, Fly  Catchers etc are found in abundance and Dr Lalit captured over 45 species of  birds through his lens.

Even though the Rhododendron flowering season  was over, there were still some pink patches here and there in contrast with lush  green surroundings. The clear water in the river splashing the huge rocks, sound  of the waterfalls all around and the wind was soothing. Dakuri our first camping  site gave us a 180-degree trailer of the snow covered peaks like Maiktoli, Cream  Roll, Sunderdhunga Col, Panwali Dwar, Bhanoti, Nanda Devi and its outer  sanctuary ridge.

As we hiked up and down the hills crossing Khati,  the chirping of the birds and the sound of the pleasant breeze was replaced by  the roaring river; with water gushing down rapidly slamming the huge rocks in  its way making its presence felt. Tiny brown dippers did entertain us for a  while but the sound of the river was too loud to be ignored. As we reached a place  called Dwali where the water flowing from Kafni & Pindari Glaciers meet, it  was a different world all together; the enormity of the water was so much that  the hills on both sides are literally invisible.

As we moved to higher altitude the trees and  shrubs were replaced by grass and the trail opened into the meadows covered  with the bright yellow Butter cups and over 4-5 colors of Potentilla. With clear  blue sky, and ice covered peaks far ahead, it looked like a carpet of flowers  just laid out to shoot a scene in Yash Chopra movie.

One of the threats that was very eminent was excessive  grazing, each of the flocks were not less that 2-3 hundred sheep and the total sheep  would not be less than 4000. Added to grazing, shepherds set off fire on the  dried grass and in they do not even spare the Juniper shrubs. Birds were screaming  out of the fire abandoning the nest and the little ones and the eggs. It was heart  breaking to see the destruction caused; the grass that holds on to the top  soils erodes within no time causing landslides.

As we approached basecamp, the view of the magnificent  peaks, constant noises of the avalanches and rock falls welcomed us. Given the  logistical difficulties for a 12 member team to manage itself for 20-30 days we  decided to set up our advance base camp closer to the peak we would be  attempting. As we got closer we could sense that the furies of the nature got  stronger, calmer nights were replaced by thunder, snowfall and the day with gushing  avalanches. At advance base camp it was indeed a 360 degree effect, as we were  completely surrounded by the peaks, Lamcher, 1, 2, 3, Nanda Kot, Changuch,  Trails Pass, Nanda Khat, Panwali Dwar, Baljuri.

Our movement to higher camps got slower than  planned, and sometimes we stayed in the tents for 24-48 hours. Route to Camp-1  was about 4-hours with two rock faces of 150-200 meters each, an ice wall and  an altitude of 900 meters. Occupying Camp-1 with all that we needed took us 8 days,  and the approach to summit camp from there on was a snowfield filled with  crevasses, snow bridges and a climb 3-4 hours. The hidden crevasses are always  dangerous, many may not be dangerous but in bad weather anything can get worst.  Reeba fell into a crevasse and could not pull herself out, we luckily had  Wallambok who got down into the crevasse and release her climbing boots that was  stuck. Smaller incidents more than being dangerous take away a lot of energy  and time, thereby slowing the progress in the mountains or getting held up in  bad weather. However well trained or experienced mountaineer one could be,  there is no possibility of competing with the bad weather or taking an unsafe  route trying to challenge nature at its worst.

After days of waiting for the weather to get  better we finally got a clear window, summit attempt started with splitting the  team into two. As it was an alpine style climbing we could do better with two  teams and also the risk factor would be much lesser in smaller teams. As one team  conserved their energy at Camp-1 the lead team successfully attempted the  summit, it took over 20 hours, weather got worst at the end of 11 hours, but  reaching the lower camp safely was a priority. The next day second team did not  get lucky, they were to start the summit ascend by 10 pm and weather never  cleared, with heavy snowfall, complete whiteout and strong winds they had to move  down to safety with heavy hearts.

Every expedition, every summit attempt may not be  always successful, what drives a mountaineer to these mountains again and again  seeking new highest and new challenges is the sheer love to be midst of the  magnificent peaks. Mountains do really bring out the best in you; one would  look at them and wonder how tiny and insignificant human beings really are.

For a true mountaineer surviving the cold,  facing the challenges, climbing the mountains is not a sport but it’s an ‘Attitude’  they love to live.

For adventure at its best reach [email protected]

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