Summit or a Failure? - Starved!! (Kailash Kund Yatra Part - 2)

"Explore and Evolve, before you Dissolve"

This quote holds true, holds true so truly that pilgrims continue their journey without water to reach their God. But I wasn't so religious. For me it was just a trekking (converted to climbing) trip just to experience the different phenomenon of glaciers. Why did I continued without water when I was starved?

'Hope!!' & 'Passion' are two deadly words that can move a mountain but what if these two words combine....

This post is in Continuation of my previous post where I explored Sarthal with my Guide Jaswant Singh. Read Part - 1
Frozen Kailash Kund below this peak
Night at Sarthal was a comfortable one for the only present tourist in the destination. At 3 AM I could hear the chirping sounds of birds. I wonder what were they doing midnight. As promised by our cook Abdul Rashid we were given our packed food at 5.00 am which consisted of eight paranthas and 'Aloo ki sabzi'.
We weren't riding from Sarthal to Chattragala due to non- availability of parking facilities on an abandoned pass which added the fear of theft of my little black beast (bike). No metador was scheduled for this day of 20th may, 2017 heading towards Chattragala and then to Bhaderwah. So we decided to hike through the lush green meadows all the way to Chattragala which could have taken up to three hours. Somehow after the first kilometer we heard a horn and to our luck it was a private vehicle heading to our destination - Chattragala carrying an elderly couple. The old gujjar couple was generous enough to offer us a ride for few bucks.

Road to Chattragala Pass

Ride to Chattragala was the best and most scenic road trips I had ever experienced since 1993, (year of evolution). The dirt yet a smooth road was winding in such a pattern that I wondered if BRO ended up making few knots out of this beautiful road while designing it, but to our luck there were no such road-loops. The scenery was as beautiful as the colour of clear blue sky and the contrast of green and blue along with the little gushing river made the high towering mountains expand their chest just like a body builder. I could Hear Radio FM of Jalandhar in this remote part of newly considered alternate to Kashmir yet more beautiful than it.
We reached Chattragala pass in half an hour and it appeared like a post war abandoned settlement where two gujjars were waiting for their guests who were kind enough to offer us a ride. I called at home to inform my location as Sarthal is devoid of modern networks and I think this is a great feature of Sarthal that distinguishes it from other areas.
Chattragala Pass (With an abandoned army settlement)
Trail to Kailash Kund (also known as BasKund) was so clearly marked that an elderly couple hiking solo wouldn't find it difficult to trace the route. There is a water source traceable after 45 minutes of hike and little did we know it was the turning point of our little trekking (soon to become climbing) expedition.
Views en route were tremendous with white and purple rhododendron and Juniperus bushes marking the boundary of the 'Trail Highway' with some wild ball shaped Ixoras in purple accompanying us. It was the first time I had seen Rhododendrons in these colours. All I knew always was that Rhododendrons were red in colour. After a hike of another 1.5 hours and cherishing the views we reached a meadow with wild yellow, blue and pink flowers spread all over. To the west were high peaks of Kablas (local name for kailash mountains) and to the east was Bhaderwah valley welcoming the morning sun rays.

Trail clearly visible. At some points it was as wide as a NH

Rhododendron Trail

Bhaderwah Town Visible

Peaks of Kablas. It amuses me to know that Kathua district has a glacier of it's own.
It's always great to be above the treeline as one can cherish the openness of mother nature and you can feel a direct contact between yourself and the mountains. I could feel a cool breeze which my fleece burnt arms needed just like a fish needs water. I had a base layer with half sleeves, so wearing fleece at night made a direct contact between my forearm and fleece which had caused a reaction. (My mistakes in Himalayas continue even today).  It had been around 2.5 hours and we reached a diversion.
"sometimes a difficult route is the safest, 
While the easiest ones are dangerous "

The route on the right was a flat trail which traverses the mountain passing through few gullies and connects to the kund. While other route is a difficult one where the trail leads to the top of a ridge to be welcomed by a steep descent. Easier is of course the traverse but at this hour of season it was loaded with soft virgin snow and traversing few kilometers on a steep slope was not our cup of tea without an ice axe. The other route which involved ascending and descending was completely devoid of snow though not of boulders and moraines.
Over a bar of chocolate as our refreshment it was decided to climb the hill and then descend. It didn't looked difficult in any case.
Red Route -  We followed
Green Route -  The right traverse followed mostly in yatra
Yellow route- we could have taken it but we thought following red line may give us a chance to later get to green line

We couldn't find any water source since the first one I mentioned above (During first 45 minutes of trek). But we were confident enough to find one on the ridge we were climbing to. After all sun was bright enough to melt some snow for us. The original climbing route does not involve climbing on the ridge, but a slope on the left of ridge makes an easier trail. But we took the third route (centre of ridge), neither left slope nor right traverse in a hope that we would later join our original path we left earlier (the right traverse). Though it never happened.
It was the opinion of Jaswant (my guide) we would later on traverse the hill to right to join the path we had left earlier. But as we went on climbing the ridge without any water source the slope to right became more steeper with more virgin soft snow and the slope to the left which was another route we left didn't appeal us anymore.
Our trek was now converting into more of a climbing expedition with boulders about six feet welcoming us. Climbing them and avoiding the rock crevices we somehow reached the top of peak. Sometimes we walked over snow path to relax our feet after a rocky walk. But the snow on the 'not so wide' ridge didn't allow us to walk for a longer time on it. There were cornices on the edge on the snow which would drag us 1000 feet down straight to Bhaderwah and we didn't wanted such a quick descent.
Right traverse hidden under snow
One slip would land us down the snowy valley about 1000 feet down
Weather opened up after a few minutes since the cumulus started to move away quickly. The changing colours of snow was the result of cloud shadows and all that happened at a quick pace just like it happens in a fast forward mode during a movie. Nature was showing it's unique skills to us. The open weather was also kind enough to sow the seeds of sun burn on my body as I didn't apply a sun screen thinking of it to be a cool weather up there.
I couldn't walk much and stopped for rest after every 3 minutes of walk. I had 400 ml of water but I saved it for the descend to lake. I never take risks. I knew somewhere in my heart that there is a possibility that our team of two would be turning back from ridge if the descend on other side isn't possible or if the lake is frozen to the core. We would be water starved as we didn't carry a stove but only few dry wood enough to warm us and our dinner. 
We didn't had a utensil to collect melted snow and burning the snow field was a stupid and reward less idea which I had came across. How will the wood even burn in soft snow I thought, and burning snow out of burning wood was in any case impossible and a humorous thought to which I still can't stop laughing at myself. Neither wood would burn neither the white snow. What actually burnt was my skin and my throat crying for water.
On The Rocks!

Large snowfield to the left. It dries up completely in summers. (We had skipped this route too)

Only Possible route (The ridge)

Approaching the summit ridge

Rock Tank on the Summit

Another ridge to climb. Kailash Kund is behind this.

After 7 hours of difficult ascent we had climbed a peak from it's ridge and another higher ridge was below our feet providing beautiful views of the other side. The other side was covered in complete white layer of fresh snow. We could spot the routes coming from Bhaderwah and Seoj side and in fact the right traverse we had left earlier.All these routes were completely buried under the snow. We had chosen the safest route available. (yet the most difficult one)
The descent on other side involved stepping over huge sharp rocky boulders with fresh snow and ice trapped in them. It was to be a mixed climbing and we weren't trained by 'Ueli Steck'. I could see a water source at kailash kund but I preferred the one we found at the start of trek, which was still 3 hours of descent away. 
I went with my instincts as we were not the right team who could make it to the lake. I could have done it easily with my trusted trek partners but with a guide who was as novice as me and a stranger who had an immature and eager tone is his voice when I asked him about the descend, I decided not to continue with him anymore. It was the ice in rocks that was a major hurdle and the lack of equipment. Sometimes our instincts are so strong that we have to decide between a summit with chances of a rescue or simply going back to the base. (Though I regret not carrying my ice axe).
I was and am never greedy of a summit. It is the journey and the views that matter the most.
The trail coming from Bhaderwah buried under snow. (The snowy ridge above in photo)

The right traverse on the  right we had left opens up in this snow field 
Frozen lakes- To the right is 'Rishi Pishi Dal'

Route to descend with ice trapped in sharp rocks.
We could spot only few of the 100 lakes in a frozen state and rest were still waiting for sunlight to shed off the snow. Mistakenly falling in one of them without a rope meant a strong chance of  hypothermia and I didn't wanted to experience it here. Not wasting more time and considering the lack of water we began our descent. My feet were aching by now and we hadn't had a proper lunch yet. Somehow covering the most of moraine field we managed to apply some brakes to our aching feet to stop for a lunch break of pranthas we had packed. Water level reduced to 200 ml with me and 300 with him and we still had a great portion of moraine field. Half a litre water is enough but not for hungry, dehydrated humans who still had 3 hour journey to cover.
My right knee was aching now and I could use only one sideways position to descend with support of my hiking pole. Two hours went by and our speed as slow as a snail, I badly wanted to rest as we had been walking since nine continuous hours since morning. We had the option of staying in few gujjar huts on the way. We had good but we didn't had water.
Still a lot of morains to cross just to reach the treeline. It was the longest walk ever.
Walking and praying I reached a snow slope and I had no energy to dig the steps in it. I  decided to eat snow to satisfy my thirst but only to realise that it increased my thirst. Eating snow can never satisfy anyone. It was about 100 meters from water point , the very first water point and the only water point, that I started to feel hangovers and Jaswant too needed a crocin tablet to take care of his headache. I had only one for this trip so I gave it to him. We reached the water point snd some how I lay down on a dark slippery rock and thanked lord that I survived this day. Having some leftover chocolates I managed to keep a slow pace and finally we reached our base- Chattragala pass. I released the toxins from my dehydrated body that had been building in my urinary bladder. 
After almost 11.5 hours of trek in a litre of water and three paranthas, I and Jaswant began looking for a shelter in abandoned army camps and their security post was the cleanest and sturdiest of all. We lit a bonfire outside and dinner was self served which was again the same pranthas and aloo ki sabzi. 
The night was the coldest of all I had ever experienced (Even spiti was warmer than this place). I had to sacrifice my sleeping mattress for jaswant who had only a blanket despite of being promised a sleeping bag for him by Tourist cottage at Sarthal. He had trekked with a double blanket on all those hard boulders. One can now imagine the remoteness and lack of Infrastructure for trekking in this place. Wind was blowing so harsh that it hit the aluminium sheds of little temple nearby as if our enemy country had attacked on it. The tiny sparkles in ashes of bonfire lit by itself in strong wind that we had to cool the fire by using our water. Thankfully there is a permanent water source at the passs.
Bonfire outside the Chowki.
Unique peaks of Kishtwar visible early morning.

Home Sweet Home

Morning views of peaks of Kishtwar like The Brammah Massif, Arjuna peak and few others were a sheer treat to my eyes. I had wanted to see them from so long and a day before, during our trek these were covered in clouds so it was difficult locating them.
We cooked our breakfast on roadside just like any Shepard would do and decided to hike down to Sarthal as there was no vehicle movement scheduled for this day.

Trek- Chattragal to Sarthal
Sometimes we select the route, and on other days the route selects us. We were experiencing the latter. This route is one of the most scenic treks in India, though short and less tiring in descent, it passes through lush green meadows and gujjar settlements providing beautiful views of trees and mountains high above. The river is always accompanying you and taking few shortcuts over the Dirt road one can reach Sarthal in Two hours easily. 

Walking down to sarthal

Goats feeding their tastebuds
The winding road.
We managed to get a free ride in a mini truck that had come to deliver Hay blocks for animals of Gujjars. The ride was again a scenic one listening to few pahari songs (folk songs in himalayas).
This way I did my Kailash Kund trek and began my eight hour long journey back home on my little black beast (bike).

Snow wall in inital climb.
Rhododendrons in White. (A rare colour)
Ball shaped Ixora.


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