Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pindari Glacier Trek - October 1985

Pindari Glacier trek was my first formal induction to the trekking. The trek was organised by Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) and was su
pposed to be an easy one . But it turned out to be one of the most adventurous treks that I had done so far. I and my colleague Narayan joined the batch which was to report on 8th October 1985 at the base camp at Kapkote. We reached Delhi by Frontier Mail and took a night bus from ISBT for Bageshwar which reached Kathgodam the next day early morning. Here, we were shifted to a small bus for our onward journey to Bageshwar. After Almora, the journey became scary as we were on a single lane road which was more often covered with thick mist. We reached Bageshwar the evening and a 24 km bus journey took us to Kapkote. After completion of the reporting formalities, we were allotted one of the tents pitched on a camp site located on the banks of Saryu river. After dinner, the Camp Leader apprised us of the details of the trek and our programme at the base camp scheduled for the next day.

We completed the trek as under :

Day-1 : Orientation at the Base Camp at Kapkote (985m)
Day-2 : Kapkote to Loharkhet (1760m) - 16 kms, trek
Day-3 : Loharkhet to Dhakuri (2860m) - 10 kms, trek
Day-4 : Dhakuri to Khati (2210m) - 10 kms, trek
Day-5 : Khati to Dwali (2575m) - 11 kms, trek
Day-6 : Unscheduled halt at Dwali due to heavy rains.
Day-7 : Dwali-Purkhiya (3250m) -Zero Point (3660m) -Dwali - 22 kms, trek
Day-8 : Dwali to Karmi - 21 kms, trek
Day-9 : Karmi to Kapkote : 16 kms, trek
Day-10: Valedictory function at Kapkote and departure.

As required by YHAI, we selected one of our members in a batch of 35 to be the Leader. The trek to Loharkhet was a gradual climb but the warm weather through out the day made our progress slow. The last 3 kms of the trek was a steep climb during which my colleague Narayanan suffered a cramp on on the calf muscle of his left leg and he was not in a position to walk any more. With the help of other members of our batch, he was taken to the Rest House where one of the 4 doctors in our batch attended on him. After giving some massage over the affected muscle and pain relieving tablets, he was advised to take complete rest. The doctors felt that the muscle cramp could have happened due to excessive drinking of water during the trek in hot conditions. Fortunately, Narayanan fully recovered from muscle cramp by the next day morning and was ready for the Dhakuri trek.

The trek up to Dhakuri Pass (2940m) was a gurelling one as it was a steep climb of about 7 kms on a winding stony path. We reached the pass at around 1.00 p.m. We met a Japanese family who had came here to offer their condolence to a group of Japanese climbers who had lost their lives on a mountaineering expedition on one of the peaks nearby few years ago. We made an early departure from the pass as we felt uncomfortable in the cold wind. From the pass, it was a 2 km steep descent on a stony path to reach our Rest House which was strategically located on a hill top surrounded by meadows and tall trees all around. In my view, this was the best place in the entire trek where I felt like staying a couple of days more.

Next day, we got up early morning and had a good sun rise view of Maiktoli and other peaks. After breakfast of Aloo-Poori, we started leisurely around 9.00 a.m.for Khati. The trek was an easy one through the forest cover most of the time. There were few villages/hemlets and tea shops on the way. When we were almost half way to our destination, the Doordarshan crew met us and interviewed of one of the lady members of our batch.

Khati was the last village in our trekking route which was located at the confluence of Pindar and Sunderdunga rivers. The trek to Sunderdunga bifurcates here. In the afternoon, some of us took a stroll in the village which looked comparativley big with many tea shops and dabhas.

The Adventurous Khati-Dwali Trek

We started from Khati early morning for Dwali in a good weather condition. Once again, the trek route was mostly through forest with many small streams flowing through our trekking path. At around 11.00, the weather turned cloudy and soon dark clouds were looming large on the horizon. It started raining heavily forcing us to take shelter at an abandoned cattleshed where we waited for the rains to subside. Sensing that rains may continue, we resumed our trek. Despite ponchos and raincoats, all of us were now fully drenched.

We had hardly trekked further one km or so when we encountered a gushing stream which was required to be crossed to move ahead. One of our members went ahead and crossed the knee-deep stream with great difficulties. It was clear that the force of the torrent was very strong. We then decided to cross the stream in a group of 2-3 persons holding each others' hands. By the time 16 of us had crossed the stream, the water had risen to almost waist level making it difficult to withstand the force of the water flow. It was quite possible that the powerful force of the torrent could drag a person to a point where it joined the Pindar river. Seeing the dangerous situtation, the remaining 19 persons of our batch including our Batch Leader lost their nerves and decided to turn back to Khati camp.

We were just rejoicing after crossing the dangerous looking stream when we noticed ahead a big watefall coming down from a high vertical rock on the cliff side. As we approached near the waterfall, we realised that the path was hardly 3 feet wide and the waterfall was much wider than what we had seen from a distance. We guessed that the force of the waterfall would be great as it was falling from a good height and hence the danger of being pushed down in Pindar river flowing about 100 feet down was real. It became apparent that we were not going to attempt walking through the waterfall. But moving back to Khati was also equally risky now as the stream which we have crossed earlier would have swollen further. [Later we came to know that the trek route was cut-off by the torrential flow from the stream and two batches were sent back to base camp] We were now caught between devil and the deep sea. The third option was to wait for the rains to subside which at the moment looked bleak as the sky was still covered with grey clouds.

As we were debating as to which one of the three options we should take, we saw a group of 7-8 people coming from Dwali side. As they reached near the waterfall, they all stopped for a while then moved one by one in a brisk pace through the waterfall. These people were PWD workers bound for Khati as we came to know later. Hearing our predicament, they offered to help us in taking through the waterfall. All but one of them stood as a human chain on the exposed edge of the path where waterfall was draining down to Pindar river. The remaining one took us, one at a time, through the waterfall in brisk pace holding our hand. As soon as I completed the walk through the waterfall, a shiver ran on me - not for the dangerous manoeuvre I just completed but for having seen the PWD workers standing as human chain with their toes on the edge and heels exposed to the valley. A slight acidental push from one of us could have resulted any one or more of them rolling down to Pindar river flowing about 100 feet down the path. As we came out of the waterfall, we noticed that many of us had traces of blood on the exposed hands probably small rock particles which could have travelled in the waterfall with great speed pricked our exposed hands.

We profusely thanked the PWD workers for their help and moved towards Dwali Rest House which was about 3 kms further. Heavy rains continued as we reached Rest House at 3.30 p.m. We (16 persons) were accommodated in a single room as other rooms were occupied by an earlier batch of 35 persons who could not trek to Purkhiya due to bad weather. It rained during the night and there was no let up in rains in the next day and night as well. We were thus confined to our overcrowded room for about 40 hours except that we were required to come out of the room for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the kitchen located in the Rest House compound.

It would have been double whammy for us if rains continued the next day. First, our chances of making it to Zero Point would be bleak and secondly, the Camp Leader may take a decision to send us back to Khati. The very thought of once again walking through the monster waterfall and crossing the fast moving torrent on way to Khati were depressing. But luck was in our favour.

Close Encounter with Avalanches

We got up early morning to a blue sky with no trace of rain. The Camp Leader announced that the we should get ready by 7.30 a.m. for departure for Zero Point with packed breakfast . A local guide was arranged to accompany us in the trek since there were reports of fresh snow on way to Purkhiya and beyond which would have made the well-marked trekking path obliterated.

We had trekked about 4 kms from Dwali when we saw that the entire area was covered with snow layers. The weather was fine but it became very cold as we were approached Purkhiya. The snow layer had now thicken and we were experiencing difficulties in walking over them. We reached Purkhiya at around 10.00 a.m. The view of Panwali Dwar and other peaks were superb from Purkhiya. After finishing the packed breakfast, we moved further to our final destination. The Zero Point was supposed to be a place where the glacier started. But from Purkhiya rest house, all the places in front of us were snow bound as far as we could see. Now we were walking on a thick layer of slushy snow and our hunter shoes were inadequate for such walks. The guide instructed us to not to talk in loud voices as the echo of sound could result in snow slabs accumulated on the upper slopes sliding down the path. We had not even covered 2 kms of trek from Purkhiya when our guide suddenly shouted at us to wait for a while as he saw some small pieces of loose ice along with with stones and mud coming down from the upper slope. As we were looking at the upper slope, suddenly there was a nerve wrecking loud thundering sound and within few seconds a big snow slab with tons of snow came crashing down from the upper slope, fell on our trekking path about 100 meters ahead of us and then rolled down over the lower slope to the valley side in several round shapes. I had read about avalanches in the Himalaya but never imagined the way I saw happening in front of me which was frightening.

After ascertaining that there were no further slides, our guide advised us to follow him in the trail. The uneven snow accumulations over the path made the walking extremely difficult. We had not walked even 1 km further when there was another huge snow slides with thundering sound just ahead of us. This left the huge piles of snow on our trekking path and walking over them looked risky especially when we did not have requisite equipments for the snow trek. In the meantime, the clouds had started gathering and the memory of our misery during the rains was fresh in our mind. Finally, the guide announced that it was no longer safe to trek further. None of us was disappointed for not reaching Zero Point as we had already been in snow for a good time. We returned to Dwali in the afternoon and spend time in drying our wet cloths and hunter shoes. For the first time, I could see Kafni river which was flowing by the side of our rest house.

The Return Trek

Next day, we started 21 kms return trek to Karmi at 7.30 a.m. After trekking about half of the distance of Dwali-Khati route, there was a diversion of the path for Karmi. I don't recall much of the topography of this route except that it was not an interesting trekking route as compared with that of Loharkhet-Dhakuri-Khati route. The one incidence I remember is that we lost our way some time in warm afternoon and we must have been off the trekking route by at least 5-6 kms if the time taken to reach Karmi was any indication. After about two hours, we could locate the correct trekking route with the help of locals. Karmi was still 4-5 kms further and it was already getting dark. Tired and thirsty, we trekked the remaining distance with the help of torch light to reach Karmi camp at 8.00 p.m. The following day, we trekked 16 kms to reach our base camp at Kapkote.Later,we learnt that 19 of our batch who returned to Khati and two subsequent batches were sent back to base camp due to heavy rains. They all returned home without completing the trek.

The Pindari trek made me to realised that we were all dwarfs - both physically and metaphorically - in front of the Himalayas and the weather conditions can turn an easy trek into a difficult and risky one.

Note: I could not attach pictures of the trek in this post as I have not been able to trace the same.


KS said...


Nice account of Pindari Trek! Pindari was my first trek too, but a lot easier! If my first trek was had been as scary as you have experienced; I would not have perhaps done any more treks!

I notice you have changed the layout and page title! This layout looks better (than dark brown one of before) and Wanderlust is very good and approriate title too!

- KS

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks KS.

Prashant Joshi said...

good work sadanand sir. i am enjoying every word of it :)

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks Prashant. It is a great feeling to get complements from a person whose home turf is Kumaon.