Auden's Col : A High Himalayan Odyssey
A high altitude pass that connects the 2 holy shrines Gangotri with Kedarnath, is Auden's Col. It is one of the most challenging treks in the Gharwal region of Himalayas and must do treks of many. A sheer adventurous and demanding trek Indeed!
The list of the must-do treks in the bucket list had lined up, I was contemplating and it was difficult for me to decide on for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, a few of my friends including my BMC coursemate of NIM year 2003, Anand staying in Canada, it was first Himalayan trek after that, Narendra from Bangalore, and Vamshi Chenna from Bangalore and his friend Santhanam from Mumbai expressed their desire to attempt infamous High Altitude Auden's col trek,5490m (18012 ft), connecting 2 shrines Gangotri to Kedarnath, who, for a long time since 2011 were planning to do it. Their only concern was myself accompanying them as a trek lead. After a consensus, a group was formed to attempt in August 2012, and accordingly, arrangements were done.
Say it natures fury or our bad luck, we got an update from our trek guide that flood due to Cloud burst was creating havoc in the Gangotri region. As their leaves and travel were confirmed, with no other option left and not intending to call off-the-plan, we postponed the trek for 2 weeks The members were hell-bent to do it and we're not ready to forego it.
After a 6 hour journey by road from Dehradun we landed one September afternoon in Uttarkashi - The gateway to mountains, after meeting the guide and staff, quick shopping we hit the road to Gangotri. We did not have an idea of the havoc created until we crossed Bhuki, we can see the huge damage in front of us, cracked walls of the hotel, vehicles washed away in the river, and collapsed bridges caused by incessant rain. The whole stretch of, the road had broken, blocked by landslides. Our adventurous journey started, 10 km before Gangotri with no vehicles to ferry us to Gangotri. We were all determined to face whatever may be the challenge!
To my dismay after reaching Gangotri evening, we did not see a single soul, at Gangotri Dham, wholly place looked dilapidated !. I could only see snow-clad Mount Sudarshan the weapon of Lord Vishnu rising above lonely, standing majestically in the valley and greeting us. I felt that it was a sign of good fortune. We walked down, crossed the river, and cajoled the caretaker of GMVN, finally we were successful in getting a room. We decided to spend the night, in Gangotri and begin trek the next day. Initially, the forest officials too were not willing to grant a permit to go further after seeing the catastrophe. After convincing them, we managed to get permission. We repacked the sacks and after an early dinner called it a day.
I had briefed members initially and had made them clear that Auden's col is a high altitude demanding trek, and getting acclimatized is a must. Our intension was to complete Auden's col, cross Khatiling glacier in 10 days, with buffer days, and exit Bhilangani Valley at Guttu village.
The next day, after finalizing the itinerary once again, with Lakpath, our guide and after breakfast, we were on the trail, carrying our heavy rucksacks. We followed the below route and itinerary which is best suitable for Auden's col Trek.
Gangotri - Nala Camp - Rudragaira BC - Gangotri BC - Auden's Col BC - Auden's Col - Khatling Glacier - Waterfall Camp/Zero Point - Kharsoli - Gangi - Reeh - Ghuttu
Day 1: Gangotri (3048m/10000 ft ) to Nala Camp (3760m/12335 ft)
The trek started with prayers at the temple of Gangotri. All were happy, it was a commendable job for the team, to get permits from officials. The beautiful walk took us through the Pine, Cedar, Rhododendrons Buransh, and Birch Bhoj Patra trees amongst the forests of Gangotri National Park. The bark of the Birch tree was used in ancient times for writing holy scriptures.
On our way ahead we. walked parallel to the rushing stream, gaining altitude slowly. We reached the campsite called "Nala Camp". The porters pitched the tents and we all assisted them during the course, as a part of the acclimatization procedure. After a hot soup and early dinner, we slid into the sleeping bags. The incessant rain all night lowered the temperature and making it very difficult to sleep with the sound of rain in conjunction with the sound of the stream.
Day 2: Nala Camp (3760m/12335 ft) to Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft) - 7 km / 4 hrs
We woke up early, after wrapping the tents, followed by breakfast we started with a guide and began the steep ascent from Nala Camp we negotiated the stream and climbed to another mountain. Narendra was walking slow and I was the last person walking with him. It was steep, strenuous climb indeed with grasslands and finally ended at Rudragaira Base camp.
We encountered little rain again during the last patch of the climb. Finally, we settled in tents and advised everyone to keep themselves warm and be out of tents. Narendra had a mild headache and was hesitating to have dinner and desired to have only soup, and later retired early. The rest of the members Anand and Santhanam were in a different tent, We had dinner together, exchanged experiences, and slept after a bit of stargazing.
Day 3: Rest and acclimatization day at Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft)
As usual, we woke up early and after the morning ablutions in the cold. Myself, Anand, and Santa short for Santhanam were waiting for hot tea. Narendra still sleeping, later complained of a severe headache, and addressed that, he is feeling very tired. As the sunlight kissed the valley, I asked the cook to serve him hot water and had a word with Narendra that the group will not move ahead and utilize day for acclimatization.
Guide, looking at the condition of Narendra, made a sign that he is having mountain sickness and it would be aggravate and will become severe at altitude. He was feeling difficult to have food and we decided to stay at Campsite, for acclimatization. I segregated food items on the safer side and made arrangements if conditions don't improve.
Along with the other 2 members and lakpath, we explored the valley followed the procedure climb high and sleep low to get properly acclimatized. We could see Mount Rudragaira covered in clouds, above us in the distance. The condition of Narendra slightly improved by evening after rest. Though, the weather was very good. I made a decision to send him down with a porter. next morning
We asual had hot soup, early dinner, and slept early.
Day 4: Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft) to Gangotri BC (4500m/14760 ft) - 6 km / 3 hrs
The next morning, we woke early as usual. Narendra though feeling much better had decided to head down. After breakfast together, we bid him goodbye with a heavy heart. We sent down with a porter, with a tent. We accompanied by lakpath, left a little late. It was a long walk on the moraine and boulders indeed with no trace of pass. Porters went ahead and had pitched the tent in advance. We reached the campsite by 4 pm, we were served hot tea and biscuits. The whole valley was engulfed with mist. After a hot dinner, we 3 slept in one tent since we had one tent short. As Santa and Anand were slim, we managed and it was perfect, warm too.
Day 5: Gangotri BC (4500m/14760 ft) to Auden's Col BC (4720m/15480 ft) - 5 km / 2 - 3 hr
The next day morning, I woke early in dark, I could witness the first rays of the sun kissing the Gangotri III peak, the tip of the peak in a golden glow and the view of dawn-lit mountains was divine. We were in a valley surrounded by mountains. As the sun began to rise behind the mountains, the mountains were aflame. I called the other members to catch a glimpse of peaks.
Golden Glow on Gangotri 3 Peak
Heard from Santa that Anand was not well, complained of dizziness, and feeling tired. As it was a long walk to Base of the Col, Lakpath looking at him and the condition advised me, to send him down. He was not able to stand and move forward on his own. We decided to send him down, assisted with 2 porters, and a tent. Again with a heavy heart, we gave a hug to him and along with Santa, I moved forward. After 2 hours of walk, traversing on the lateral moraine and boulders, I could see depression in the mountain, in the corner of the valley surrounded by snow-clad peaks. Finally, Auden's col was in our eyesight. We reached the campsite bit early, camped on the moraine.
Since the next day was a steep 70 deg climb, a long day walk in the crevasse route, and the plan was to start early, cross the Col, descend to Kahtiling Glacier. We made a decision to sleep early.
The night was too windy and cold. We all managed to sleep in one Kitchen tent.
Day 6: Auden's Col BC (4650m/15250 ft) to Auden's Col Pass (5490m/18010 ft) to Khatling Glacier (5000m/16400 ft) - 16 km / 11 hrs
We all woke up early, after an early breakfast of porridge, armed with pack lunch of Roti and Aloo sabji, we started in the dark. The initial path in the valley was flat and the whole path with broken crevasses. We had to rope up and negotiate the steep gradient at few places. Since Santa was only,member left, I was motivating him all times. He was losing patience at some crucial crossings and complaining of difficulties. I had told him, the morning that we need to cross the pass successfully and no way down.
Though he is a very fit guy indeed, as a yoga instructor, but was a bit tense sometimes.
Appearances are Deceptive
The col was not in reach, even after traversing for 6 hours over ice field and crevasses. We could see crevasses similar to Jaws of Shark wide open and a small slip will invite sure death. Roped up, climbing uphill, negotiating them was a tricky and herculean task. We had no way, as we had no clue rather camping midway on the slope beside a crevasse. We unanimously decided to do an emergency camp, before dark, on the left side of pass next to an avalanche zone, just above the mouth of an open crevasse, which was even scary meanwhile, inevitable!
We had an inclined area to pitch, only a Kitchen tent, with little space to walk around. Few steel plates kept in the tent slid into a deep crevasse and were not visible. The starry night was cold and windy, we sat the whole night chatting and holding the poles of the tent, waiting for morning light.
Day 7: Makeshift Camp
At 3:30 Am we started, early as the route was uncertain with a series of crevasses. After having a cup of tea and biscuits. I and Lakpath, with help of crampons, climbed up on the slope perpendicular on the 70 deg slope, after reaching the tip we, noticed jaw-dropping crevasses, 10 foot wide, unfathomable depth. We retreated, back to the campsite, as it was invisible from below.
In this exercise we decided, to take the only probable route to reach the col is from the right slope, with crevasses on the slope. The slippery, scree, and mixture of ice, falling rocks, was an added impending danger and risk during the climb.
We took the route pressing onto the rocky wall, negotiating crevasses cautiously. Climbing on the slope before the sun peeps into the valley, finally to avoid the risk of melting snow and rockfall. After an arduous climb for over 6 hours, we reached the rabbit ear, the tip of the Col.The sun had disappeared behind the clouds. All were delighted and joy no bounds, Khatiling glacier was glowing with patches of reflecting clouds.
After spending, some time and offering puja, paying due respect to mountain gods, we decided to rappel down. The slope was studded with crevasses, rocky outcrop, after negotiating the slope after 16 hours, we reached the base of the Khatiling glacier. All were dog tired, Porters though tired, served us hot khichdi for dinner. We crashed and fell asleep, unmindful of the cold and windy night.
Day 8 Khatling Glacier - Waterfall Camp/Zero Point (12 km/10 hrs approx)
We woke morning early, though we were tired. After a cup of warm tea, had a glimpse of the Audens col from Khatiling Glacier and the descent route. We did not believe, at first sight, the whole valley was glowing in the sunlight. Lakpath congratulated us and reminded us to, start early and cautioned about glacier traverse.
After breakfast, we walked down, roped up on the glacier.we could see the wall of Thaleysagar peak, covered in mist. The open crevasses were like a jigsaw puzzle, thanked god for.good visibility and weather. After walking for 6 hours, on the glacier, and glacial moraine we reached the waterfall camp just behind the Jogin massif. We camped on the moraine, literally pitching a tent on rocks.
Santhanam after, a rigorous walk and missing his dearest, for a long time was a bit homesick. Began to cry, literally !.
lakpath was, personally describing to me, about steep rock passage and traverse, the difficulty involved in next day waterfall crossing, and risk involved. I was curious to have a glimpse of it. After pitching the tent, holding an ice axe walked towards the crux of the rockface. We managed to climb the rock face and gauged the risk involved after recce.
We had early dinner and after, giving confidence to Santhanam slept early after early dinner.
Day 9 Waterfall Camp/Zero Point - Khatiling Cave (7 kms/4-5 hrs)
We woke up early as decided the previous night, we had to cross the waterfalls as soon as possible. As per Lakpath, as the sun rises, the melting water increases the water flow in the Waterfalls. We squat on the 2 feet wide rock face and holding the protruding rock, traversed the ice sheet patch slowly.
At the waterfall, lakpath had anchored a rope on either side to rock. Using fixed rope we traversed the waterfall, with absolute safety, the force of cold water falling was pushing down and slippery rock was impending danger. A small mistake could be fatal and no chance of escape!
Lakpath demonstrated and did not let down the morale of the group. Santhanam, fully wet by the cold shower, biting his jaws was literally shocked while crossing the waterfall. Porters carrying heavy sacks, with balance crossed the crucial stretch.
We worked as a team and finally descended the rockface using rope, I could see below, the dangerous Khatiling glacier and valley below.
walking for about 4 hours, we reached the snout of the glacier. After crossing the stream, roped up, we reached the camping site and called it a day. The porters came down, carrying loads after 1 hour. The whole valley opened up, as the mist cleared. I literally felt, that descent was deadly. When lakpath disclosed, that we had completed, the major crux of Auden's col expedition and the rest of the journey was a cakewalk through the forest, I could see the smile on Santas face and literally gleam in joy.
We were served sweet dish and hot Aloo pakoras, as a treat. Had a chit chat and fell asleep, after dinner.
Day 9 Tambakund- Kharsoli (2902 M)
We woke up a little late after a relaxed breakfast walked through the jungle, and reached Kharsoli evening. Camped in a clearing and spent the night.
Day 10 Kharsoli – Gangi (2650 M )
After breakfast.We walked leisurely, we stayed at GMVN Nigam rest house. All had a feast and thanked the porters - Altitude friends, respectful word !. In an expedition without their help, success is just a dream. next day, a relaxed walk indeed and reached Gangi, by even
Day 11 Gangi – Reeh – Ghuttu (1550 M)
We started after breakfast. Santhanam was eager and longing to talk to his dearest after reaching the habitation. After walking on the mud road, by afternoon we reached road-head at Ghuttu. His first Himalayan trek was a memorable and achievement for him, His joy was no bounds. But for my responsibility as a leader was taking care of him. I had literally shouted many times during the climb, and during rappelling down several times giving instructions and guiding him. For a noble cause!
We came to know that, Narendra had reached safely and waiting for us in Haridwar. Anand had a bacterial infection by water and had reached Canada safely.
We thanked each other again and boarded the sumo, along with the rest of the team to Haridwar with sweet memories of Auden's col to cherish for a lifetime.