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  • TRAVELOGUE…: 14,000 feet to heaven


    Scaling the Saurkundi Pass-1

    Trekking through snow is an unforgettable experience for the simple reason, there is no path or trail waiting for you; you have to create your own path, where even a small miscalculated step can be your last, says Aishwarya Sunaad, Trekker, International Academy of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Mysore.

    by Aishwarya Sunaad

    As the IAMAS (International Academy of Mountaineering and Allied Sports) team bid good bye to Mysore on the evening of 30th April, nobody could anticipate the adventure that awaited us 3000 kilometres away. We were 47 of us, of all ages and sizes, from 3 different States, making our way to conquer (as we would later learn) one of the toughest expeditions in the past 6 years.


    Our journey took us backpacking through 5 States and several cities before we could officially start our endeavour up the mountains from Manali. There is a certain unexplored joy in visiting a new city everyday and as our team wound its way through each of these new places, it was like unravelling a different world. New people, new cultures, new experiences, new stories.

    The star highlights of our backpacking being an exclusive visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi; reliving history in Agra and Mathura, experiencing sanctity at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, reliving the stories of partition at the Wagah Border with Pakistan at touching distance, 14 kilometres of White Water Rafting amidst class 6 rapids in the Ganga at Rishikesh and a VIP visit to the prestigious Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, to name a few.

    After these indelible experiences, we arrived at our Base Camp in Manali on the 8th of May. Set in the Beas River Valley in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, Manali is a treat to ardent trekkers and tourists alike. Our base camp, set amidst apple orchards with snowcapped mountains and pine forests on all sides marked the beginning of one of the greatest adventures we could experience. After acclimatising to the cold of Manali from the heat of the plains with some thrilling rappelling and river crossing, we started our trek officially on the 11th of May to Segli, our first camp.

    The team descended down to a landmark point called ‘15 Mile’ before beginning the 12-kilometer ascend to Segli, at a height of 7,100 feet. The trail wound through small villages and dense vegetation, with the Dhauladhar mountain ranges surrounding us. Just as the team halted for lunch, we were greeted by the first spells of heavy showers. With raincoats and ponchos and an undying spirit, we trekked through the rain and reached the camp site by evening. Sipping some hot tea to combat the chill, we geared up for the next day.

    The rain had subsided as we wound upwards towards the camp of Haura Thatch, at 10,700 feet on May 12; ‘Thatch’ means ‘plateau like land.’ Our camp site was actually on a Plateau up a Mountain! This goes to say, nature has her own mysterious ways. We trekked about 10 kilometres through dense green forests and gurgling streams with occasional glimpses of the mountains through the canopies. The sights that we saw and the scenes that we experienced are beyond description.

    Trees, flowers, leaves, mosses, birds, insects and all other wonders of nature of all shapes and sizes ! It was paradise. As we were taking in the surroundings, we were greeted by rain, heavier than before. We couldn’t stop. With the rain and hail pounding, we continued upwards. It was getting cold and we were drenched to the bone. At one point, it seemed impossible to go any further when we reached a clearing that seemed suitable to camp. Tents were pitched and a fire was lit under a rock. After vain attempts to dry ourselves we retired to our tents. It rained the entire night and the next morning of 13th, the weather was so ruthless we couldn’t move camp. It was a truly chilling experience. By evening, on the 13th, the weather cleared and the sun peeped out. As we saw the first rays of sun in 2 days, the world seemed magical. We had set up camp near a small stream in an evergreen forest with pine trees on the fringes. There were colours even our cameras couldn’t capture!

    But now, there was a crisis. Before starting the trek, we had already decided to forego our fourth camp at Dohra because of extreme snow conditions. Now we were lagging behind yet another day as we could not trek to Camp 3, Maylee, because of the rain. To make up the distance and keep the time schedule, a bold decision was taken. A decision of risk and daring. A decision that would test our courage and endurance, our mental strength and will power. A decision of ultimate adventure. A decision to cover the entire distance to Saurkundi Pass Summit in one day!

    We started on the trail at 4 am in the morning on May 14. With torches in our hands and adventure in our hearts, we continued upwards. We encountered the first patches of snow and the first rays of light around 5.30 am. It was breathtaking. By 6.15 am, we had hit the snow.

    [ Part 01…To be continued]



    Aishwarya Sunaad

    Aishwarya Sunaad

    Trekking through snow is an unforgettable experience for the simple reason, there is no path or trail waiting for you; you have to create your own path, where even a small miscalculated step can be your last. The temperature kept dropping to subzero values and the sun shone harsher. It was maddeningly white everywhere and without goggles one could go blind. The snow seemed never ending and the summit was nowhere in sight. It was getting colder and colder.

    There was snow in our shoes and pants, our feet were going numb and we couldn’t feel our fingers. We had walked for nearly 6 hours up the mountain without stopping and still there was no sign of the Summit. Finally, at around 11.06 am, after a grueling walk, we reached the Saurkundi Pass. The snow was about 3 feet deep and it was snowing heavily.

    Despite this, we crossed the Pass and summited, at a height of 13,500 feet. There is no greater feeling than having successfully summited an expedition. You are literally and figuratively on top of the world. We had the frozen Saurkundi Lake on one side and never ending ranges of mountains on all sides. We could almost touch the clouds.

    By this time, our feet were frozen and our fingers non-existent. That was the day we realised that cold is the most unforgiving condition you can experience. But the joy of having summited one of the most difficult treks, however easy I may make it look, overshadowed everything else.

    The 20 minutes we spent on the summit with the Indian flag and the IAMAS banner fluttering proudly in the wind, I can guarantee, will be the most important moments of our lives. But it did not end there. What we thought was difficult while climbing up was nothing compared to what we encountered while descending.

    The snow was falling heavily and there was no route we could follow. We were numb and hungry but had to soldier on. We had no choice but to slide down the slopes ! Slide down with no equipment apart from a rope, which we used occasionally.

    That was real adventure and the adrenaline rush was simply superb. With everything at stake, we made it down to the tree line by around 4 pm. We had trekked through the most extreme conditions for 12 hours. We finally reached our campsite at Longa Thatch by 6 pm after 14 hours of ascending and descending. We had done it with zero casualties! It was the most satisfying feeling one can feel.

    After a good night’s sleep and merry making, we set off for base camp. The weather was sunny with the city of Manali, which looked like the Map of India from that height, sprawling beneath us. We descended down to Lekhni on May 15. The sights were like a poem. After staying at an authentic log hut that night, we finished our expedition on the 16th of May 2014 after successfully reaching Base Camp.

    The next few days saw us exploring the city of Manali and seeking some more adventure while rafting in the Beas River. The team left for Delhi on the evening of 18th, where a privileged visit to the Parliament House added another feather to our caps. We caught the Duronto Express back home on the 19th with truckloads of memories and made it home on the 21st of May 2014, successfully.

    Every expedition brings your best side to the forefront because it is the ultimate challenge one can face alone. And if you are an adventurous person and need the adrenaline, it is the call of the mountains you must answer. And finally, if you want to test your daring and mettle, it is the Saurkundi Pass you must conquer. For, if there is a paradise, it is this, it is this, it is this.


    Part 01:

    source: / Star of Mysore / Home> Feature Articles  /by Aishwarya Sunaad / June 06th, 2014

    Part 02:

    source: / Star of Mysore / Home> Feature Articles  /by Aishwarya Sunaad / June 07th, 2014


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