We did it for the traversing…
After spending a short time here, we discovered that in the Kullu Valley, there isn’t much of significance that can be skied in a single day. The combination of long approaches and high altitude mean that by the time you get to the foot of something, it is usually melting away under a mid day sun.
Starting out on hard snow near Gulaba – Tracks are from heli drops in the area
To remedy this problem, we headed out for an overnight traverse from Gulaba, a military checkpoint along the Rhotang road, back to our hotel in Vahsisht. The plan called for two nights out above 4000 meters and a significant distance to be covered. We were later told that the same route, a popular route in the summer, takes 5 days for guided trekking groups to complete.
Our tour started with a 7am taxi ride to snow line near Golaba. It was so windy when we arrived, and the driver was in such a rush to get back into his warm car that he forgot to ask us for money, we didn’t realize it until a few hours later and got a good chuckle out of his mistake.
Amit, still smiling early in the day. He’s gotten us hooked on podcasts while skinning.
There’s that damn heli.
Soon, we were above where the heli’s roams though, and had the whole place to ourselves.
Allen, ready for the suffering to end.
The first day can be summarized by saying that we had very heavy overnight packs, and that we hiked, a lot. Seriously, like 1900 meters of vertical with a 50lb bag. At 4300 meters, and were sucking wind with every step. Even we arrived at the location of our new slope-side lodging at 2pm, we still couldn’t relax. As a weight, and cost saving measure before the trip, Allen and I decided to forgo a tent and rely on our as-of-yet unproven ability to build a snow cave.
So, at 4300 meters, after an exhausting day of hiking, we set out to teach ourselves the fine art of snow camping. Two cold, wet, hours of playing in the snow, and we had completed our new home. We had just enough time to eat some dinner (that cooks slooooowly at 4000+m), watch the sun go down, the stars come out, and finally settle into our cave for the night.
Our ski-in, ski-out, slope side lodging.
Amit, soaking in the final rays of sun.
Inside the snow-condo.
Contrary to what is probably popular belief, snow caves aren’t cold; in fact they’re one of the warmest ways to spend a night out in the winter. We had a great time reading and talking for about twenty minutes before our exhaustion caught up with us and forced us to sleep. The warmth of snow caves is both a blessing and a curse. It makes them a delightfully warm refuge from the weather, but it also makes it virtually impossible to get out of ones sleeping bag the following morning, as we found out the next day.
By 9:30 am (a late start for corn snow), we were hiking again, and after fifteen minutes of climbing, we began what would become several miles and 1000m of traversing across an entire sub range. Mid way through our day long traverse we reached what we thought would be our campsite for the second night, but, half way through digging our second cave, Amit poked his head up and noticed the large black storm clouds rolling in from down the valley. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing about what we should do, we decided that, based on our experience with thunderstorms in Manali, we should probably take the safe choice and head down .
After skiing through the cliffs in the background, and skinning to my position, we began our massive traverse.
Starting the traverse…
Still traversing, and running from the storm clouds.
… yup, still traversing…
Two more hours of steady traversing, and we reached the treeline somewhere above Vashisht. If I’d known exactly where, this post would probably end here, but instead we got to have hours more fun. What made this next part so interesting (read: horrible) is the fact that above Vashisht lies under an almost interrupted wall of cliffs. At points it’s impassible, at others its confusing and dangerous, but passable, and at one poorly marked spot, there is an actual trail that drops from treeline, far above Vashisht, right down into the town. Since we had no map, and close to no idea where we were, we relied on the time-tested technique of trial and error to find our way home.
“I bet this one goes” , said the group of morons about to drop into a close out chute.
“This is definitely the way”
After three hours of skiing down promising chutes, getting cliffed out, and climbing back out, we stumbled across a clear-cut patch of forest, and a slightly worn, scarcely-a-goat-path trail, just as the sun went down. Thankful for our luck, that had saved us from spending the night out on the steep, unprotected slopes (we had left snow line behind at this point), we blazed down the precipitous 1000m trail, back to our hotel where we promptly fell asleep after over 12 hours of constant motion.
Read about the author: Sam