Mt. Kalanag Expedition 6387 m : Call of the Black Serpent
It was my long time ambition after my Mountaineering course to get graduated in my skills and start with a 6000 m climb peak in rugged region of Gharwal Himalayas.After scouring through the Journals, Mount Kalanag summoned me, we decided to climb on regular route via North West flank , to begin the climbing journey and seemed ideal for beginners.
Lying off on the popular Harkidhun and Bali pass Trail. This peak is enticing and yet challenging. Surrounded by Banderpunch massif, Kalanag Peak guarding the valley , stands tall as if ready to strike at an Altitude 6387 Meters or 20,955 Feet, in the Garwhal Himalayas. It has the yellow tooth and the Don’s peak, towards its left and white peak or the Banderpunch west towards it right and Swargarohini massif right opposite to it.
Kalanag was first climbed by J. T. M. Gibson in 1955 via the northwest flank and has subsequently been climbed a number of times by this route.The approach march for the snowcapped peaks in the Garwhal region is normally a long and tiring one. Kalanag is no exception. Starting from Taluka the last road head, the trail is a delight for a hard core trekker.
With a team of like minded and expereriened Climbers my journey started with packing the expedition gear and journey began to mountains. The journey from Dehradun to Sankri, took us through the infamous Kempty Waterfalls of Mussouri! We stopped at Purola to complete the paper work and purchase vegetables and missing kitchen items. This route takes us through some of the beautiful forest route, ranging from the green forest, to amazing rock formations and to scenic waterfalls. The route is not as good for the ones having motion/travel sickness as the route, twists and turns and churns the stomach.
We finished the formalities at the Govind National Park Toll Gate and moved ahead to our destination for the day,‘Sankri’ (1920 M). We regrouped after a 10 hour journey to take stock of the gear, food, tents and porters for the rest of the journey.
The journey next day took us to Taluka (2150 M) the last road head from where our trek starts. The swargarohini Massif was glowing high in the valley. We bid good bye to the ever honking jeeps; Our walk led us through the tropical forest, as winter has just come to close,and trail was on fire with beautiful rhododendron ( Buransh )and other colorful flowers in the blossom mode. A good 6 hour trek brought us to a beautiful hamlet called Seema (2550 M); from here we were able to see the range of mountains and some snowcapped peaks as well.
After a good rest and prayer at the temple we moved ahead to Ruinsara Tal (3350 M). A lake with spectacular views of the mountains on the horizons and huge plain land for camping. The Forest department has now constructed two small huts for shepherds and trekkers to stay overnight and to take shelter during rain or snow fall. Added to it couple of streams flow right beside the huts making it a paradise. We pass through Debsu Bugyal on this day giving us the view of a lush green open sheep grazing field on the ground and snowcapped mountains all around in the sky.
As we progressed, the tree line receded and made way for the moraines. The trek from Ruinsara Tal to the Base Camp Kiarkoti (3750 M) was not a tough one but did pass through some of the precarious, death defying edges of the mountain ridges mainly due to the landslides and loose earth. We did come across some snow patches.
It was acclimatization and load ferry time at Kiarkoti, the Base Camp. The trail from Kiarkoti to Camp 1 (4150 M) has been an ever changing one due to the landslides and rock fall. The Sherpa’s found stable paths for us to navigate through the lateral moraines up to the glacier.
They had mounted the cairns at visible distance for us to track the path up to Camp 1 and back. It was a testing trail as we were doing the load ferry on the highly unstable and precarious slope of the lateral moraines of the Banderpunch Glacier.
Camp 1 was situated at a place where the lateral moraines met the snow line with a glacial lake at some distance. From here we were able to see the Banderpunch and Swargarohini massif. The place was one of the scenic beauties. The snow used to melt during the afternoons and lead to streams for us use it as drinking water.. We did see and hear few avalanches when the spur of the ice walls used to break and descend down. There were numerous rock falls on the lateral moraines and we were sure that by the time we complete the expedition the topography would change a bit.
It was time to occupy Camp 1. We had the snow crafting exercise led by our guide and group at Camp 1. These were much needed for the days ahead on Camp 2 (4850 M), Summit Camp and while we descend down, post the summit. The snow crafting exercises brought back the memories of the Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Courses.The felt that is right right to make use of skills.
We did a load ferry to Camp 2 and occupied it the next day. We were able to see the mountains a lot more closer as we were on the lap of snow field. The Seracs that stood like sentinels, looked menacing and would give a shiver as wind blew.
The weather did get cloudy during the afternoons with some bursts of snow fall. The Leader and the Sherpa’s always said it would clear next morning. They knew the intricacies of it all. Our sherpa guide did explain if it is snowflakes it might drive the weather bad; however, if the snow fall has small globules like snow then the weather will clear during the midnights or early mornings and they were perfectly right on that.
The summit camp (5500 M) was small on a snow hump on the Kalanag Icefall. Also we had to cut about 2 feet of snow to make the summit camp. At that height it was a tough ordeal. The summit march time was decided as 4:00 AM by Thendup Sherpa our lead climber and guide. It was cold with sub–zero temperatures and with wind blowing at a good speed. We struggled our ways to put on our frozen snow boots, had a tough time tying the lace and putting on the crampons and harness.
The horizon started lighting up and with that the vast number of snow peaks surfaced. There was a bit of a mix up with the slow mountaineers taking a bit of time. The group was then split and I plodded through the hard snow up with Pemba up the mountain opening the route. A crevasse on the slope of the mountain on the last stretch stopped the approach. We had to look for alternatives to cross over or take a long traverse to overcome. Thendup came up with a brilliant idea of fixing the rope high up and closing the short gap of the crevasse nearby with snow and pulled us up with a good anchor to support; that cleared the path and we were on the mountain by 1100 hours on the 29th May 2012.
The Indian National Flag fluttered on Mt Kalanag; from the summit we were able to see Banderpunch West, Swargarohini and scores of peaks, beckoning us for yet another challenge ! .We spent around only 20 minutes admiring the beauty around in thick rising clouds. Unfortunately the clouds covered and we couldn’t get good pictures of the summit. We did a small pooja, thanked Mother Nature for the summit and for safe descent , before the weather went worse , we started and slowly descended down.
We climbed the mountain, conquered ourselves; but the mountain remains !