Garwhal himal: Kalindi khal

This time I wanted some actual technical traverses out of my trek. The mighty Garhwal Himal in Uttarakhand seemed like the logical choice. I indeed got what I bargained for. The Garhwal Himal is renowned for its many sharp peaks, immense glaciers and of course the Nanda Devi, the highest peak fully within Indian borders. With the highest concentration of 6000 and 7000 meter peaks in the country it eclipses all other alpine scenery that can be found in India. Despite of this it is a very under-trekked region, I myself haven’t seen a single other trekker around during my trek.

I decided to cross the Mayali pas, Auden col and Kalindi pas looping them all together in a short but arduous trek. As the town Gangotri forms an easy stepping in or out point, I will split the trip report in two. This report is about the second part of my trek: the Kalindi pass.

Kalindi pass is way less steep and crevassed than Auden col, but still a pass to be reckoned with. Kalindi is a 6000 meters high, heavily glaciated pass on which roping up is essential.The pass offers great views east over the Garwhal himal, all the way to the Nanda Devi.

The approach to the pass first goes over the extremely popular trek from Gangotri to the source of the Ganges, where after you need to climb over a remote moraine filled glacier for a few days . Hiking over the loose rocks on the glacier is rather cumbersome, but the views of the peaks around, especially the amazing Meru peak make up for it. The steepness of the rock faces is only paralleled by the Karakorum mountains.

The descend to the endpoint Gashtoli takes only two days. First you need to descend over a rather creviced glacier, where after you follow a faint trail over the valley floor to the army camp at Gashtoli itself.

Route finding is rather easy, the only trick is to find the point in which you need to turn east and climb steep up toward the pass itself. Make sure to GPS label this point, I walked past it causing me to climb the wrong 6100 meters high ridge… (Taking a wrong turn XXL)

Trekking solo is not permitted and the army posts in Gangotri and Gashtoli take the rules seriously. We were able to dodge the post in Gangotri, but were caught by the border police in Gashtoli. The border police rebuked us, but could not resists showing a little admiration.

 

 

Screenshot from 2018-02-16 01-38-58

Season

Kalindi khal is usually crossed from June to mid October. The pass is covered from the worst of the monsoon so trekking in July and August is usually not too much of a pain. Gangotri and surroundings lies however in full monsoon area, so there can be difficulties to reach here. Police also seems to be nervous about handing out permits for the monsoon period.

Packing list

You need to be fully self reliant from on the start of the glacier. You need full glacier gear.

How to get there

From Delhi you can reach the major city of Dheradun in about 5 hours. From here you can transit to Uttarkashi from where you can reach Gangotri in about 2 hours by local bus or taxi.

From Gashtoli you will need to hitch a ride to Joshimath (or get arrested than the police will take you). Joshimath is a large town, but there are no direct buses to Delhi. Easiest is to transit in Rishikesh.

Day 1

Our trek over the Auden col had wore us out big time, but after two nights of rest in Gangotri we were good to go. Gangotri is a large hotel settlement featuring a large temple complex. It is an important pilgrimage place for Hindus as it marks the source of the Ganges.

From Gangotri we started to follow the large trail leading to the Gangotri glacier. The trail was 3 meters wide and in the season probably a popular trekking route. Now in the rainy season there were however few people around. Only 10 minutes after leaving town we came upon a closed gate guarded by some army folk. They told us that we could only pass if we, there we go again, ‘had the permission’. To get this permission we needed to travel all the way back to Uttarkashi. This would take us 2 days that we did not have. On top of that I was almost certain that we would be denied the ‘permission’.  They seem to have a very low opinion about what responsibility foreigners can handle.

We decided to apply the same trick as back in Kedernath. We pretended to sheepishly accept that we were denied access and after having retreated for about 200 meters we started to figure out a plan to dodge the post.

Dodging this post was not very easy. The valley side was pretty steep, but we could do it. We had two options either passing bellow at the river, or above via the rock faces. We chose the later as we had a better overview from there and were way more difficult to spot. We hiked steep up till the wall ended and hiked all around the army camp.

We waited a while in the bushes to see if anyone would pass by. After we waited for about 30 minutes and in that time we saw one group of young scouts passing by. A bummer, if people were on the trail we may get spotted. We decided to just go for it.

We hiked fast and took rest a little of trail out of sight. We however did not meet a single other soul. My friend Erik felt ill so we made it a short day. We stayed overnight far above the trail under an overhanging rock.

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Our secret hide out.

Day 2

It was a foggy morning and would even get a foggier afternoon. We followed the large trail all the way till the start of the glacier. All the while hoping we would not encounter anyone, which miraculously we didn’t.

In the upper regions of the valley the terrain got more rocky and the trail smaller. We needed to wade through some large side streams. On the way we passed some kind of lodge town. There were a few people around so we passed with great caution.

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Will this ever change?

We set up camp at the flat gravel plain right at the start of the glacier. The clouds had risen a little but the mountain peaks were still hidden behind the clouds.

Day 3

We rose early and were eager to get on the glacier. Once we were there the chances of getting sent back were minimal. We walked the last stretch of the trail. The trail hid its end at a bunch of tridents marking the source of the Ganges. This should be a popular destination in the season. I did not quite get why this area was so restricted in the summer months. Sure the monsoon involved some additional risks, but closing down the entire valley made no sense at all.

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The glacial labyrinth.

we climbed the boulder filled glacier and slowly made our way up. We needed to follow the second side valley up. So we only had to cover about 2,5 kilometers over the main glacier. This was actually quite a task. The glacier is rather cracked and icy when compared to other outskirts of Himalayan glaciers. It took us well over two hours to slalom to the start of the side valley.

Once there we hiked up the steep boulders often using our hands till we made it to the point that the valley flattened out. The glacier was very distorted with many loose rocks. To counter this we decided to climb the easter slopes to make it to some probably more grassy land. Once on top we indeed came to a nice grassy patch in the for the rest rock filled wasteland. This was a nice camping spot, probably the best we would see for many days. We decided to pitch tents even though there quite a lot of daylight left.

Day 4

Wow, the skies had cleared at night and when I looked outside I could all of a sudden see where we actually were. There were many nice peaks, but mount Meru in the south stole the show. This amazing mountain rises almost vertically. With an snowy toupee on top it looked like an absolute nightmare to climb.

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The terrifying Meru peak.

The first half hour we could just follow the grassy areas next to the glacier. The 2 kilometers were done with before we knew it.

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The meadows next to the glacier.

The joy ended when a large glacier coming from the eastern side valley terminated in the main glacier. It had carved out a steep gorge. We had to descend into it and follow the glacier up.

The glacier lay full of loose rock. You could not trust the underground anywhere. To make matter worse the glacier had countlessly many 20 meters high bums that we had to climb. Especially Erik grew sick of it and we made such slow progress that I started to worry about our schedule.

We had only covered about 4 kilometers across the glacier and evening was already setting in. We were lucky to find a grassy patch on the western side of the valley as camping on the rocks would have been rather uncomfortable.

Day 5

We had had quite enough of the rock filled, slippery, labyrinth nightmare that was the glacier, but we had to hike yet another over it.

The glacier had more icy parts and we often had to circumnavigate the worst sections. At one point we even needed to abseil a bit to get down to a glacial river. I made the anchor in such a way that we did not have to leave any rope or carbines behind. The anchor was poor made however and I fell the last two meters down on my back. Note to self: ‘next time sacrifice some prusik rope it is worth it’.

Despite of the rather intensity of the hike we had a lot of time time to gaze upon the impressive peaks around and sit next to the glacial lakes. The wildness of this actually rather short trek is quite stunning.

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Following the glacier ever further up.

At the point the glaciers starts to turn north we made camp. This time there was no escaping it. We had to camp on the rocks. A couple of hundred meters further up the snowy part of the glacier and the climb to Kalindi khal began. I could already see the pass up north. At least I thought.

 

Day 6

Camping on the boulders had not been great and we had a couple of tears in the ground seal. Hopefully we would make it to some green area today.

We left at sunrise. It was very clear, but the wind was freezing. The boulders quickly made place for ice. We clipped on our crampons and aimed for the broad pass we saw right north of us.

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Me with the supposed pass in the backdrop.

We made quick progress over the firm snow. Within two hours we stood before the start of the snowfall north of us. There was a steeper snow slope east of us. Erik wondered whether that might be the climb towards Kalindi khal. I thought about it, but dismissed the possibility. The pass north of us simply looked to easy for not being the pass. My GPS also did not seem to point there.

The snowfall was rather tricky, there were some crevasses that I really would not like to see from the inside. Once on top the glacier showed it’s friendlier side and it was smooth sailing to the pass. We were now walking at an altitude just above 6000 meters and I had to pause every five steps to catch breath. My GPS started to disagree with what we were doing. It pointed to a point 600 meters more east. Well we had come so far so we just pushed to the obvious pass north of us. It however slowly downed upon me that this was not Kalindi khal. It did not look as I had figured. For a moment I held hope when I thought to see a beacon of stones, but it turned out to be nothing.

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Wrong pass I’m afraid.

Once on top of the supposed pass we looked down a steep rock face. No descending from here. Yep we should have climbed up the easter steeper snow slope. Sigh, a wrong turn at 6000 meters, this was tough. We knew we would not have the time or the energy to head back and climb up Kalindi khal today. Just not possible. We would need to return and camp at the foot of the snow slope.

Once I had gotten over the shock I could see a bit of the humor and enjoy the incredible view towards the east over the rest of the great Garwhal himal. A bit north of us there was a good possibility to descend. I however learnt from my trek from the Kanchenjunga to Makalu in Nepal that descending down unknown slopes is literately not a road you want to go down on.

On the way back our feet were pretty tired and Erik even managed to fall into a crevice. It was a small one luckily and a small plateau stopped him from falling in too far. I dug a T anchor walked down to him and was able to simply pull him out by hand. The snow started to melt making the going hard, a reminder to start climbing up tomorrow as early as possible. We want to be off the glacier before noon.

Day 7

We did not sleep well as it was darn cold camping at 5700 meters with completely inferior gear. As we wanted to be off the glacier before noon we started at around 3 am in the morning. We could not leave right as we needed to thaw our shoes. We actually ended up using our stove to do the job…

The snow slope was indeed way steeper as compared to yesterday, but the crevasses were way less malicious. We made it up to the pass in just an hour and a half. Our bodies had acclimatized a lot since yesterday.

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Sunrise on top of Kalindi khal.

We made it to the top of Kalinid khal just before sunrise. The pass itself is glaciated, but south of it is a rocky ridge on which a few beacons have been built. We rested for a moment taking in the scenery and enjoying a wonderful sunrise.

We could not see the precise way down, but once at the glacier downstairs the route looked very reasonable. Once the sun was up we got on our way again. The pass is located on a shoulder next to a sharp peak. North of the pass is a steep cliff down.

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Kalindi khal, for real this time.

The descent was rather steep. Our ice axe and crampons really came to our aide by times. Once down the glacier flattened out and it was simply a matter of slaloming the mild crevasses. On the way we saw quite some left backpacks and other traces of passed trekkers and climbers. Good, we were on the right track.

When the glacier terminated we had to make one final steep climb before our feet could, for the first time in 5 days finally touch some ‘normal’ ground again. Our food was running low so we decided to just have lunch and push further.

I was disappointed not to find a trail immediately when I came down the glacier. I even worried that there were no traces of human passing. It took another 2 hours for us to see the first evidence of a faint trail.

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The moraine plains on the easter side of Kalindi khal.

The going got easier. We came to a large area of moraine planes on which we could walk with a speed we could only have dreamt of the last couple of days. The only obstacle were the rather high rivers.

We crossed them in pairs. A good thing as Erik got swept away in one of the larger streams and could only regain his balance due to me holding him. We made it across unharmed. This dangerous balance tour at 4800 meters had me completely out off breath. According to my map this was luckily the last major stream we would have to cross.

The terrain got grassier and we could pitch our tent in a nice meadow next to a small stream. Perfect. We cooked our last potatoes and looked back on the wild and tricky situations we had had to face both at the Kalindi khal and Auden col. This had been quite an accomplishment and we were proud that evening and happy that it now would be smooth sailing to Gashtoli just 7 kilometers further east.

Day 8

We followed the river further down stream. The river banks were relatively easy to follow with only a few exceptions. It was a nice ‘say good bye’ to the Garwhal himal. For the first time we saw the friendlier side of this mountain range, no rain or glacier, but pleasant temperatures and lots of wild flowers.

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The final stretch of the route.

Early in the afternoon we got sight of Gashtoli. There was an army camp next to the road. We were not in the mood for another elaborate ‘sneaking by’ operation, it would be too late to stop us now anyway. We hided our memory cards in case they would confiscate it and just walked right into the camp.

Funny enough they did not seem to have any problems with us being there. They even gave us a good dal bhat meal. Well that went better than expected. Unfortunately when we left the camp and walked over the road south the border police right after the camp were less amused. We were halted and we had some explaining to do. They could barely believe we had come over the Kalinid khal all by ourselves. We had to wait, register all our goods and were transported to the police office at  Joshimath. We had to put on a blindfold, to which I objected. We struck the compromise that I would just keep my eyes shut.

On the way we picked up a higher ranking border police officer. He told us that what we had done was ‘not good’, but could not hide his admiration and not resists asking all about our trek. Once in Joshimath we had to say ‘I’m sorry’ a couple of times to the police chief and we were off the hook.

With only two days left till our flight we hurried back to Delhi.

 

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