Rhythmic bells pronounced time for daily Arti at the revered Gangotri Temple as hoards of pilgrims headed towards the temple compound. We however had worldly business to attend to as we made our way to forest office, hoping to get hold of permit to start our trek to Audens Col. We found ourselves among other trekkers equally anxious to complete the formalities. Rules and regulations regarding permission to enter protected forest areas remain elusive to everyone except for officials handing out the permits. Few questions and 3000 Rs later we finally got the permit.
Day 1 : Gangotri- Nala Camp
I was relieved to finally start the trek leaving behind formalities of permissions and logistics of our rather large party. Despite the luxury of having handful of porters, our loads were quite heavy as we had packed for 10 long days. We met another group from Kolakata heading to same destination and passed them to enter thick forest. It is an easy day distance wise and I was surprised when our guide announced that we had reached Nala Camp at 1 in the afternoon. The camp is supposedly named after the stream or nala that gushes below the campsite. We gained about to 700 meters in altitude reaching close to 3700 meters but were still too low in valley to have any view of the peaks we expected to see.
Day 2 : Nala Camp- Rudugaira BC
Inexperienced first time porters in our party were beginning to open up to us and were less mechanical in their interactions with us. We chatted away most of the early morning and left well past 8, our target time. Clear weather removed any sense of urgency and we strolled our way along the snaking path up the hill. The path leads steadily along the same hill till we take steep turn right and climb to a large field. We could see some tents in the distance announcing Rudugaira BC camp site. It took us little over four hours to reach here gaining another 700 odd meters in the process. Moving little further opened the view drastically and we could see the immense theatrics of the place. Jogin Peak rose sharply from the opposite side of the valley and ridge continued to meet the slopes of Gangotri III. Somewhere in the ridge was our destination Auden’s Col still choosing to remain elusive. Rudugaira peak although nearest to us is not visible from the base camp.
Another group shared the camp site with us and I met the gentleman who had returned from camp 2 of Rudugaira. He pointed out the parts of mountain visible and the route they had taken to climb. He had found going difficult post the moraine zone and had returned to BC.
( On the way to Rudugaira BC and Rudugaira BC- Jogin I and Gangotri III visible in last pic)
Day 3 – Rudugaira BC- Moraine Camp
Trek had already started to live up to its reputation and we anticipated more today as we moved towards the Col. The ridge across the valley is the alternate but longer way to the Col through Patangani Dhar. We continued our trek below Gangotri Peak and Jogin Peak grew nearer with each step. We were fare above tree line already and soon crossed last patch of grass to step into moraines. The setting reminded me of part of Annapurna by Maurice Herzog where their group traveled between two eight-thousanders on either side of the valley.
We crossed ice cold water of a small stream to continue our climb towards base of Gangotri. We were walking on what we though was moraine but lying stealthily underneath was frigid glacier visible only once crossed it and saw a big chunk broken off. Gaining a little altitude we crossed a small hill and to our utter disbelief came across a pristine emerald blue glacial lake. The glib assistant guide was as surprised as us but tried to downplay his reaction.
We climbed down to lake and pitched our tents in one of the most stunning campsites I have been to. Against well meaning advise of our guide, we gave in to temptation of taking a dip in the cold water. We were all expert swimmers and were able to reach the solitary rock in few strokes- any longer and we would have been in danger of hypothermia.
In the evening we walked across the lake to meet the team which we learned were headed to Gangotri. They had established advance camps in the mountain and would begin their assault the next day.
( Stunning Moraine Camp – Jogin I Peak in the background)
Day 4- Moraine Camp – Auden’s Col BC
The group for Gangotri had already left when we started in a clear morning. Peaks around were glittering in early morning sunlight. We kept good pace and soon passed the group on our way to first ice crossing. Not much distance is to be covered on this day and we lazed around a rock as we watched climbers make final preparations and adjust their loads. They were to start climbing from this point while we had to cross a stream of sorts which was spewing forth from glacial mass coming down from Gangotri. We wished them luck and carried on our way to our own BC. We also got our first view of Auden’s Col in a short while.
We made our camp in bright daylight but weather changed dramatically just as we finished with our camp. We spent the after-noon inside our tents and came out in the evening to fresh snowfall. Proximity to water was our main priority which meant some compromise had to be made in terms of flat area for tents. Uneven ground made life more difficult for our porters who were crammed in small expedition tent. We offered one of our porter place in our tent.
( Last camp before Auden’s Col and view of Col from the camp)
Day 5: Auden’s Col Crossing – Glacier Camp
The Col appeared deceptively near from our BC but we knew better and decided to leave early. Despite our best efforts we could only start at 7:30 in the morning. We kept a direct line towards the Col from our camp as there was little variation in the large snow-ice mass leading to the top. Although we could see a large crevasse near the top. Laboring our way to the crevasse we finally saw the tremendous scale of the the thing which appeared but a crack from down below. Luckily towards the right end there was a snow bridge which hadn’t collapsed down the chasm and appeared stable enough for our party to pass. It was tricky crossing but we made across without any event. Nitin however lost his sunglasses while crossing another crevasse when he slipped and was saved as his bag prevented a free fall down the crevasse.