In which we climb over the Masar Pass at 5011m above the snow-line. First we leave Kedarnath and climb up to the Vasuki Tal (a lake). The view are spectacular. The next day we aim for another lake: Masar Tal, but we run out of time and camp in the snow just below the pass. It’s dramatic the next day as we struggle over the pass and descend over a glacier to Masar Tal.
India; October 7th; Day 16; Vasuki Tal; 4287m
Trek: 4hrs 35mins starting at 8.57
Low: 3606m at 09.00
High: 4527m at 12.39
We have heard this morning that the new porters hired yesterday have gone back down to Gauri Kund and that out guide Ajay has left this morning at 4am to retrieve them or to hire replacements. Nobody has any idea of what happened or why they would have done that. We however are determined to carry on regardless as are the porters we already have. It’s a beautiful morning anyway.
Keith and I set off only having a rough idea of where the trail head is, though we know which direction to take. In an attempt to take a short cut we find that we have to cross a stream at a waterfall to reach the trail proper. Keith gives me a hand across and we find the trail which zigzags steeply up to the pass.
From time to time we look back in an attempt to see if the others are coming the same way. There are many butterflies about; a Clouded Yellow, a Tortoiseshell and many many Fritillaries. the views down to Kedarnath and of the mountains all around are superb. As we climb the Rhododendrons become smaller until we are above the tree-line altogether. Eventually we could spot others on the trail below us and a couple of the porters caught us up.
The trail continued to climb and Keith went on ahead as I slowed down. he was waiting for me at the pass although this turned out not to be the high point. As usual in the afternoons the cloud rolled in and we could no longer see the mountains around us. We then walked to the real pass and surveyed our descent beyond.
It was a steep descent and I again lingered to take photographs by a small lake. Eventually the lake of Vasuki Tal came into view though I could see no one else or any evidence of where the campsite might be. I walked down to the shore and then presumed that the trail went around the left bank to the far end. I didn’t see anyone else until I was almost on top of them as I crossed the stream leaving the lake on stepping stones.
We had a long wait here for all our stuff to arrive and unbelievably some of the porters left again to go back and get some more loads. They had no idea if Ajay had been successful in getting more porters or not. It was after dark when Ajay arrived with the new porters. Fortunately our camping gear had arrived before this and we were able to set up camp. It was difficult to find a level spot though and it turned out to be an uncomfortable night for me.
About his time it started to hail and snow too so we had dinner inside the Mess tent.
It was a good hike today and it felt good to be back on the trail after two nights in Kedarnath. But we are obviously concerned about the Porter situation. We will see how things are in the morning. You have to think that Ajay walked the 14km down to Gauri Kund and then 14km back up and then did the trail we’ve done too. And the new porters have had a double day, and some of our regular porters went back to fetch more gear and so walked the trail three times! Unbelievable. We will see what the mood is like tomorrow.
India; October 8th; Day 17; Masar Pass; 4899m
Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4267m at 09.03
High: 4959m at 13.34
Keith and I left first and traversed across a rocky mountainside before bearing right to follow stream. The trail is not very clear but the direction is obvious. Up! After a steep climb we follow another stream before scrambling over a boulder patch.
We have reached the snow line now. At the top of this we broke into a snow filled valley and had good views of the mountains all around. As I walked across the pristine snow I slipped and slid down the slope and lost a lens cap. I didn’t notice right then but fortunately I do have a spare.
The way undulated for a while before rising to a point where a group of porters gathered. It transpired that they weren’t sure of the route and were waiting for instructions. It looked to us that the pass lay to the right and Keith and forged on this way (which turned out to be incorrect) until we reached 5000m. We hung around here, not wanting to go out of sight, but we were eventually called back.
It was all a bit chaotic. Apparently three porters had defected this morning and in the confusion back at camp Ajay had to organize that some of the remainder would have to do two trips again. It was cold hanging about waiting for everyone to get together but eventually it was decided that we would abandon the attempt at getting to Masar Tal today and camp here in the snow. This was probably just as well as it turned out to be a long and arduous trek the next day.
We had to pitch our tents on deep snow but at least we found a flat place, although I believe that we were camped right over a frozen stream! The views all around were superb but as usual the clouds rolled in later in the day. It was cold alright but we were well wrapped up.
For something to do Keith and I visited the Mess tent where dinner was being prepared and they kindly allowed us to sit in the tent whilst they prepared dinner. Cosy. We had our dinner here whilst the rest had dinner delivered to their tents!
As we tramped back to our tents the snow began to fall. It looks like we night be buried in the stuff tonight but at least we are no danger from avalanches. This is the highest I’ve ever camped but this is what we came for and it’s strangely exciting. We are still concerned about the Porters though.
India; October 9th; Day 18; Masar Tal; 4568m
Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4568m at 15.04
High: 5011m at 10.40
Woke up at 6,10 this morning after hearing James moving about. We all camped closely together yesterday! I stuck my head out of the tent to see a snowy world and an orange bar on the sunrise horizon. I quickly dressed and grabbed my camera and tripod and clambered out. It was bitterly cold and I only managed a few shots before retreating to my sleeping bag for another hour. It took this long to get my hands and feet warm again!
Fortunately the sun reached our tents early and this warmed us up too as well as drying out the tent itself. As we usually do we had breakfast sitting outside and marveled at the spectacular view all around.
As we were packing up a delegation of porters came down to see us and tell us that they didn’t want to go over the pass. These were mostly the new porters from Kedarnath and Gauri Kund. They are very young too and probably not as experienced as our guys from Malla who have been with us for two weeks or so. We go and see our guide Ajay and persuade them, tell them, that we are continuing. none of us can bear the thought of returning to Kedarnath and this part of the trek is the highlight of the whole trip. Once we are over the pass then it’s clear that they will not want to return this way and will be keener to continue down on the other side.
It turned out though that almost immediately after we were all packed and ready to go that we ran into difficulties. The fresh snow from last night was lying on frozen ice and it made walking up the slightest incline was difficult and dangerous. Keith managed to creep his way up the first slope and helped to plant an ice-axe to which we attached a rope. Everyone was then able to use the rope to assist them upwards. Once we were up here then the trail was easier and mostly just gently undulated up to the pass.
The scenery all around us was gorgeous as we made our way towards the pass at just over 5000m. It had taken us just short of two hours. At the pass we waited for the whole party to get together again before continuing. Our oldest porter produced a bag of coconut pieces as an offering and a blessing. Our new and younger porters now seemed to be in good spirits.
Almost immediately after we started our descent on the other side we came to paces where we had to use the rope again to help us down. Twice we fixed a line for this and a third time it was so steep we decided to individually belay everyone down one at a time. i went first and was astounded when two porters grabbed the rope and started sliding down. I yelled at them as they were pulling me out of line – I was aiming for what seemed a safe spot – and they let go and slid down, packs and all, so finish sprawled at my feet. We were now on the edge of a snow-covered glacier and we had to cross this to reach the valley side opposite. We have to avoid using the glacier to continue now for fear of crevasses but we have to cross somewhere. The porters seem to have no fear and they stride off across the pristine and glistening snow. I untie myself and follow.
It was a nice easy walk across the glacier and Keith soon caught up with me. He too had had some shenanigans on the belay rope. We heard later that Jim had put his foot down and instructed the porters to behave. It took quite a while for everyone to get down and when I looked back I could see the group huddled at the top of the rope for quite a while.
After crossing the glacier the trail traversed along the valley’s edge. The slope was steep and it made progress very slow. It was then that we were surprised to notice another party coming in the opposite direction. That meant we could join up to the trail they had cut (and vice-versa) and save ourselves some work. keith cut some steps in the snow so that we could get up to their traverse. They where an Indian trekking group carrying full packs and several of them seemed to be struggling. A number of packs had been put down and the guides were helping the stragglers across and then going back for the packs. We chatted for a while and then continued on our following the trail they had made.
After a brief stop for some lunch we continued as the trail climbed until it finally reached a cliff-edge. The views from here we wonderful and we could see a lake below. Was this Masar Tal? If it was it meant that we would have to go over this cliff and descend to it. I thought perhaps there might be an easier way and advocated waiting for the guide to reach us. The evidence did show though that the group we had just passed had come up this way so after waiting 15 minutes Keith decided to go over.
The trail was very steep and the snow and rocks made it difficult as we followed a route underneath a cliff. Keith got a long way ahead of me but following in his footsteps made it easier for me until the trail became more rocks than snow and I couldn’t see where he’d been. I couldn’t see Keith either. Eventually the trail descended towards the lake which was surrounded by a huge boulder field some of which were as big as houses. It was difficult and dangerous scrambling over these but I did in the end manage to creep along the shoreline and reach the head of the lake. Keith was waiting here and we waited together for everyone else to arrive as we were not sure if the campsite was around here or not. It looked unlikely as it was just a rock field. In time a string of porters could be seen coming down and when they reached us they told us we still had some more to go.
We continued descending, first over the rocks and then over earth and grass as we re-crossed the snow-line. When we reached the campsite we started to discuss whether we should press on to Chauki – remember we had lost a day by camping at the pass – but decided that it was too late and we didn’t really know how long it would take the others to reach us.
As we were discussing this another group appeared up the hill and an altercation took place between our porters and their guides about using the camp ground. They even planted poles and placed luggage in some of the tent sites which I subsequently went round and removed! They were trying to persuade us that their was another place just 5 minutes away but after our experience of being moved on the last time I was adamant that we were staying. It seemed that they were trying to pull rank (caste) on our porters but we stood firm. I didn’t believe that there was another place just down the hill (as we would discover the next day).
In the end both parties camped here without any problems.
Eventually everyone dribbled into camp – it had been a long day – and everyone got set up and pitched just as it began snowing. Again we had dinner in our own tents which I find a bit lonely and uncomfortable. Of course it was another early night.