Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bagini Glacier and Changabang: Trek Details

In October 2013 I trekked to Bagini Glacier, Changabang base, Kala Khal and Kanari Khal.

I wrote a few blogposts about it:

Here, I provide basic details of the trek we undertook.

We traveled to Joshimath by car from Haridwar after reaching Haridwar by train from Delhi. From Joshimath, our Changabang trek commenced.

On the first day (day-1) we trekked from Joshimath to Gorson, via Auli and returned to Joshimath. This was just to get used to the high altitudes and was part of our acclimatization. I would recommend a day like this prior to commencing any arduous trek.

On the second day of our trek (the first day of our Changabang trek) we set off quite early, by car, from Joshimath to Jumma village. From there, our actual journey began. The trek from Jumma Village to Bagini Base Camp and Changabang Base Camp takes you through the villages of Ruing (at 2800m, the first night) and Donagiri (3700m, second night) and follows the steep, crystal clear, cold and spectacular Dhauli Ganga River for much of the trek. 

To reach Ruing (day-2), you trek through woods of tall oak trees, a pleasant trek despite the occasional narrowness of the track. It is a reasonably easy despite a few narrow ledges and a few steep climbs. The path is quite well marked out. 

The trek towards Donagiri Village from Ruing (day-3) is through the really picturesque and wonderful Chancha valley which is filled with crustal-clear streams and tall trees although, by the time you reach Donagiri village, the tall trees have already disappeared. This too is an enjoyable trek. Although the overall gain during the day is nearly 1000m, almost every steep climb is followed by a comfortable, level walk for a bit which provides a natural recovery. At the start, we thought that this would be the toughest day of trekking because of the overall gain in elevation, but it proved to be one of the most enjoyable and was a somewhat easy day of trekking for the whole group.

Our camp was some 2 kilometres away from the Donagiri village. It was quite late by the time we got to the Donagiri village. So we weren't able to admire the natural beauty around us. But we woke up to the spectacular sight of snow-capped mountains all around us. We could see Haathi-Ghoda, Dronagiri, Hardeval, Monal and many other peaks from our camp

View of Haathi-Ghoda mountains from Dronagiri camp [Photo Credit: Prasshanth]
Beyond the Dronagiri camp, after a short walk on a lovely meadow (from which you get spectacular views of the Dronagiri and Hathi-Ghoda mountains), the walk is almost entirely along the Bagini River and atop boulders. This is also a relatively easy day but can be quite fatigue-inducing because of the relentlessness of the traversal atop boulders.

The trek from Donagiri village to the Bagini Base Camp (day-4) is almost entirely along a relentless and extremely wide moraine meadow. It is pretty in some parts, but mostly quite tiring as the moraine rolls on for ever. Walking atop boulders is not a pleasant experience and you need to do it unremittingly and seemingly interminably. 

The climb from Bagini Base camp to the foothills of the Changabang mountain (day-5) was the most spectacular trek/climb I have ever undertaken. From the Bagini Base camp, we walked along a snow-ridge for what seemed like an eternity until Changabang suddenly revealed itself. The sight itself is worth the hardship of the trek. Some people cross a glacier to reach the Changabang Advanced Base Camp, but we decided to return. You could either return to the Bagini Base Camp and spend an additional night there or continue on towards Toli. We carried on to Toli Camp which is a further 3-hour (mostly downhill) trek from Bagini Base Camp. A lovely, clear and cold stream runs alongside the Toli camp, where had our first decent wash of the trek. 

After the first day of our trek, we had no access to mobile phone signals. There were no text messages, no email notices, and no phone calls. We walked, talked, introspected, laughed and argued. At nights, those of us who could, sang a bit although when oxygen is in short supply, I sing worse than I normally do. On a few nights -- particularly at lower altitudes where we could find an adequate supply of branches -- we stood by a fire and warmed ourselves up. There is nothing much to do other than talk, think, introspect, sing songs, play cards or read.

The next day (day-6), we walked up to Kanari Khal (Kanari Pass) and down to Raj Kharak. Before I set out on this trek I had miscalculated the degree of difficulty involved on this day in particular and on this trek, in general. I thought it would be less arduous than the Stok Kangri trek I had undertaken earlier. The last three days of this trek made this one a much tougher trek although we were at lower altitudes. We gained only 400m (from 3800m to 4200m) on our trek to Kanari Khal, but the climb was incredibly steep and quite difficult in parts. From the pass we descended to the Raj Kharak meadows to camp there. We encountered a network of lovely streams and had the enviable luxury of a second wash in two days. It was quite useful for we were about to embark on a tough climb to Kala Khal the next day.

Again, the climb to Kala Khal (day-7) was only a gain of 500m from the base of Raj Kharak to the pass. But this was a hard climb in which some parts were extremely slippery, and others were physically and mentally exhausting. We could not climb this mountain face directly; we had to criss-cross our way to the top. It was hard work. At one point in time I slipped. Our main guide, another Mohan, came rushing to me and asked if I needed assistance. But I wanted to do it on my own and so, I politely refused. He immediately realised and asked if my ego would be hurt if I accepted his help. I agreed. To me, I had done the preparation. I could do this on my own without being dragged or supported to the top.

So we criss-crossed our way slowly. Or, as one of our guides said constantly, "First you need to go on the zig and then you need to turn and go on the zag." For much of this climb my left ear (on the zig) or right ear (on the zag) was no more than two feet away from the face of the mountain. I had to hold on to the tall grass that grew on the mountain face for support. I slipped a few times, but the grass supported me and held me back as I made my way up. Slowly. These tall grass are wonderfully strong and even though I tried hard, I could not remove even a single blade of grass. 

Eventually, we got to the lovely Kala Khal at 4500m. The pass was as beautiful as we were told it would be. We could survey everything around us for several hundred kilometres. We saw the range of mountains that marked the India-China border (near the Nithi village). We could also see army camps at Mallari and Bhojgiri down below us and that is where we were headed for  our last camp.

We had a bit of drama at our camp in Bhojgiri. After being interrupted by army jawans early in the night, we had a good night's rest. We then proceeded to Mallari (day-8) where our trek ended. We traveled by car back to Joshimath.

This is a trek that I would highly recommend. We traveled with the Grand Himalayan Adventures company, a group that I would recommend very highly.

--Mohan (@mohank)

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