Trek to Auden’s Col
By Lakshminarayan V
The most frequented route to reach two pilgrim centres Kedarnath and Gangotri is through Maiali Pass. This is a regular trek route to reach Kedarnath from Ghuttu crossing Khatling Glacier. Another trek route to reach Kedarnath is via Auden’s Col. The col is situated on the connecting ridge of Gangotri III (6577m) and Jogin I (6465 m) between Rudugaira glacier and Khatling glacier. British geologist, Dr. J.B. Auden, in 1939 crossed the col from Rudugaira side and descended to Bhilangana valley via Khatling Bhamak (glacier), for the first time And the col had been named after him.
I just happened to see the blog of Mr.VSK Sharma and was fascinated by the photos and the challenges involved in this route. Since Auden’s Col was less frequented, I decided to organize this trek and started getting all information required for the trek. The postings about the trek in www.bakpackers.org received mixed response. Some had commented about the strength of the team due to the difficulties involved and taking the risk of inexperienced trekkers. After lots of discussions, explanation regarding the safety precautions, various team meetings, we set off for the very demanding trek.
The team consisted of Manjesh, Bharata, Dipayan, Sai Prakash, Chinmay, Shashank and I
The trip was from 30.09.2008 to 18.10.2008 by those who travel by train and from 02.10.2008 to 16.10.2008 for those who opt to reach Delhi by Air.
Gangotri to Ghuttu via Auden’s Col (17160 ft)
|02.10.08||Delhi||Haridwar||—||Reach New Delhi. Proceed to Haridwar|
|03.10.08||Haridwar||Gangotri||—||By Bus/ Taxi. Stay at GMVN/ Hotel.|
|05.10.08||Gangotri||Nala Camp||06 Hrs||Trek along the Rudugaira ganga. Stay in tents.|
|06.10.08||Nala Camp||Rudugaira BC||06 Hrs||Starts with steep climb of 200 m followed by gradually climbing trail|
|07.10.08||Rudugaira BC||Col BC||06 Hrs||Cross the nala coming from right and then climbing..|
|08.10.08||Rudugaira BC||—||Rest day.|
|09.10.08||Col BC||Khatling Glacier||06 Hrs||Look for crevasses and walk roped up for safety. Reach the col, keeping to your right. Stay in tents.|
|10.10.08||Glacier Camp||Waterfall Camp||07 Hrs||Keep moving along the glacier and watch for the crevasses and reach the moraine. Stay in tents.|
|11.10.08||Waterfall Camp||Chowki||07 Hrs||The trek is along the trail behind the first waterfall|
|12.10.08||Chowki||Kharsoli||07 Hrs||The trail moves into deep jungle and finally you reach a big stream coming from your right.|
|13.10.08||Kharsoli||Gangi||07 Hrs||The trail is well marked and there is no problem following it. Stay in tents|
|14.10.08||Gangi||Ghuttu||07 Hrs||By late afternoon you reach Ghuttu.|
|15.10.08||Ghuttu||Haridwar||08 Hrs||By vehicle. Move from Ghuttu to Ghamsali and from there to Haridwar.|
|16.10.08||Haridwar||Delhi||07 Hrs||By vehicle reach New Delhi Leave for Bangalore|
|18.10.08||Bangalore||07 Hrs||Reach Bangalore|
I had been to Khatling Glacier from Ghuttu side and reached Kedarnath via Maiyali Pass and Vasuki Tal in 2002 and was a bit familiar with the terrain. Even then the photos taken by Mr.V S K Sharma looked very challenging. I had a detailed chat with my travel agent who had done a great job during my Kalindi Khal trek last year and had ensured that a very experienced guide who had done this route earlier should accompany us.
Oct 2: Travel to Delhi – Rishikesh
I had booked accommodation in GMVN for the stay at Rishikesh, Gangotri, Ghuttu and Haridwar at Bangalore to avoid wasting time in searching for the hotels. The plan was to meet at ISBT, Delhi by 1.00 pm and proceed to Rishikesh. It was a hot and dusty ride and the distance of 240 kms seemed an eternity. By 10.30 pm we were all in GMVN Guest House and got to know each other.
Oct 3: Rishikesh to Gangotri
We decided to leave Rishikesh as early as possible and made enquiries at the taxi stand. The chaiwala at the roadside agreed to arrange for a taxi. As promised a taxi came along at 5am and we all got into it. The driver was ripping around the hairpin bends and blind curves at breakneck speed. We started talking with the driver to stay awake and to drive slowly. We managed to make it to Uttarkashi safely. It gave us a big whoop of joy as soon as we reached and all of us ran from the jeep with a big sigh of relief.
At Uttarkashi we met Himalaya Sherpa, who was to organise the expedition. Himalaya Sherpa, a staff of NIM, Uttarkashi has been organizing for my Himalayan expedition in this region for quite some time and was responsible for arranging the porters, guides and the equipment required for this trek. Over lunch he explained all the arrangements made and mentioned about the route’s difficulty level. Everyone was pretty excited after the lunch meeting with Himalaya Sherpa and we got into our next cab that would take us from Uttarkashi to Gangotri. The journey from Uttarkashi to Gangotri took us about 4-5 hours, crossing many snow clad mountains, apple trees and many streams on the way. We checked into GMVN, Gangotri at about 5 pm and later that evening visited the Gangotri temple.
Oct 4: Acclimatization trek on route to Kedar tal
The support staffs for the trek were supposed to arrive only by evening. As planned, we decided to go for an acclimatization trek on the route to Kedar tal. The path to Kedar tal started right behind the GMVN guest. There was a steep ascent at the beginning of the trail and we were walking along the huge gorge created by Bhagirathi River.
We had planned to trek up to the first day camp site of Kedar Tal Trek which is around 9 kms from Gangotri and be back by 4.00 pm. Bharata who had a altimeter had calibrated for 3000m at Gangotri and that was used for measuring altitude through out the trek.
At a steady pace, we reached an altitude of 3540m and decided to return. We could get a glimpse of the mighty Thalaysagar peak (6984m) standing majestically. Enroute we met a team from Delhi who were attempting kedar Tal. The trek back to Gangotri took about 2 hours and we were back at the guest house by 3:30 pm.
By evening the support staff had arrived at GMVN with all camping equipment and I had a chat with Mr. Babloo, Cook, who had done this route. Everyone was excited for the trek starting the next day.
Oct 5: Gangotri to Bhoj Karak
All the porters were up by 5.00 am and doing the final packing and load distribution. The plan was for the porters to carry all our luggage and we would be carrying a day pack with some bare minimum stuff required. Mr Babloo showed us a route map of auden’s col. Although it wasn’t very informative, it helped us gauge the difficulty level of the trek. We said good bye to Gangotri and started our first days trek to Bhoj Karak at 7:00am along with one porter. Rest of the porters was to come behind after packing the luggages and distributing it among themselves.
Babloo, Nandu and Shailu were the main supporting staff and the rest of the porters were fixed by them at Gangotri for carrying the luggage. Since the first day packing of luggage takes time it was decided to start trekking with one porter and Nandu was to carry the packed breakfast for us and join us enroute. The path started from behind the GMVN guest house into the pine forest.
The initial trail was on the left bank of Bhagirathi River up to the power house and then moved along the Rudugaira River on its right bank. After 2 hours climb trail went down to the river and we crossed over to the left bank over a log bridge setup by the Bakriwala’s. The trail was moving up and it was tiring being the first day.
We waited for some time to see if we could sight the porters. After taking few snaps, we continued walking up the steep incline along the gorge hoping that the porters would catch up with us. All of us were very hungry by now and eagerly awaiting the porter’s arrival. After another hours trek we reached a nice sunny clearing by the banks of the river where we decided to rest and wait till the breakfast arrived.
The porter who had started trekking with us in the morning had also rested at the log bridge and didn’t turn up. We waited here for about 1 hour, but there was no sign of the porters yet. We started wondering if they were having some problems and decided to continue till the camp site, hoping they will catch up with us soon.
We started our climb again, crossing the tree line and reached the grasslands. We met a team from Bengal who were returning after summiting Rudugaira. One member in there team was blind. Chat with him made us feel refreshed. We caught the first glimpse of the Gangotri III peak.
Crossing a couple of small streams which were rushing to join the Rudraganga and landslide areas, we reached a small campsite at Bhoj Kharak (3640m) at 12 noon. We met two trekkers from Bangalore along with their porters who had already set camp here. They were on their way to scale the Rudugaira peak. I came to know that he frequents Thuralli for Rock climbing. Immediately we spoke about our mutual friends through whom he had known about Bakpackers club. I enquired about our day’s camp site Nala Camp with their porter and found that it is another 1 to 2 hrs of climb. There was no sign of the porters. I was getting annoyed with them not knowing what to do. I was chatting with my Bangalore friends from SAP and the rest continued towards the Nala camp. After half an hour I started walking up to meet the rest of the team members. I found every one resting after about 30 mins into the next stage, unsure of the path to continue.
We had not had breakfast and had been trekking for almost 6 hours. The trail was a bit confusing. The porters had not yet arrived. I decided to go back to Bhoj Kharak and send one of the porters from the other trekking group to look out for our porter and guide. Luckily one of our porters Nandu, reached Bhoj Kharak by this time and signaled all of us to return back. We got to know from him that there was shortage of porters and they had issues sharing the load. So they were going back and forth between Gangotri ferrying the load. We had our packed breakfast of aloo parathas and sat in the kitchen tent pitched by the other trekking party while a steady rain poured outside.
Here I would like to point out that there had been difficulty arranging porters for this route with no one willing to come for such a difficult trek. Quite surprisingly Kalindi Khal which is also equally tough is preferred by the porters than this one.
The support staff consisted of Babloo the cook, Nandu (Babloo’s brother) assisting him and Shailu the Guide, helped by 10 porters from Gangotri. Out of these, only Babloo has done some difficult trek and has also been on this route. Nandu and Shailu had been to Kalindi Khal and had done some few treks. Rest of the team had not seen snow at all. They had been working in the fields and had not gauged the difficulty of the trek. Altogether except for Babloo, Nandu and Shailu, the whole team of porters were short of confidence in doing this trek. This was not a good beginning and I hoped things would be better from the next day.
The rains stopped at around 4pm.Our tents arrived late in the evening. I had a long chat with Shailu and asked him what the problem was. He assured me to sort the problem and from next day it will be alright. We had to camp at Bhoj Kharak instead of our planned Nala Camp.
Oct 6: Bhoj Kharak to Rudugaira Base Camp
With assurance of porter’s problem solved, we started at around 9am with Nandu leading the team. Day’s camp site was to Rudugaira Base Camp. Rudugaira Peak is an easy peak to climb with not much of technical, more of a trekking peak. There were many teams mostly by Bengalis attempting the peak and we met many teams attempting it on our way back also. With nandu leading the way we reached Nala Camp (4000m) in 1 hour after an initial steep climb.
From here it was mostly steep climb till we reached a landslide area and a waterfall. After crossing the waterfall area it was a continuous climb and at certain places it was more than 70* gradient. We finally reached the Rudugaira Base Camp (4350m) at 1.00 pm. Babloo and Nandu went looking for the perfect place to camp. The camp site was very good with lots of rock shelters, last grassland and after this the entire route was on the rocky ridge / snow ridge. There were no streams near by and getting water was a problem at this camp site. We had an excellent view of the peaks around us. Rudugaira peak to the South-West, Gangotri I, Gangotri II, Gangotri III to the South and the Jogin I to the South-East were all smiling at us. We also caught the first glimpse of Auden’s Col from the campsite.
All the team members were dead tired after a long steep climb to the camp site. Weather was very good and we had our packed lunch enjoying the views of all snow peaks surrounding us. Suddenly we could see clouds forming over the peaks in the horizon and the whole place was covered with clouds and it started snowing heavily. We covered ourselves in different rock caves. Few porters arrived within an hour’s time. It was again not well with the porters. The porters pitched the tents at around 3pm. One of the poles of the mess tent was with a porter who was using it as a walking stick. He had not yet arrived and the mess tent was not able to be pitched. Again there was problem in distribution of load.
There were 5 newcomers in the team of porters who had not done any trekking and were experiencing difficulty in carrying huge load. This made the other 5 nepali porters carry extra load. This was delaying the arrival of the whole team in time. It was later learnt that they had kept the extra luggage down 3 kms away from the camp site. There was water scarcity in the camp and we had to melt snow to drink water and to cook. It was time I decided to solve the problem myself else it would be worst for the days to come. I had to speak a bit harsh with Shailu who was supposed to arrange for good porters for such a difficult and challenging trek. I even threatened to take the team back to Gangotri if things don’t get solved. Shailu and babloo had a lengthy discussion with the porter’s team and later assured me that everything will be fine from the next day.
Oct 7: Rest Day and Acclimatization
It was a very cold in the morning and as per Bharata the temperature was -4* C. It was a rest day and hence there was no hurry in having breakfast and packing our sacks. We got up a bit late than usual and after breakfast every one tried out the gaiters and snow boots brought by Shailu. While most of the snow boots were pretty old, I was given a brand new Asolo snow boot, being the leader of the team. Bharata and Chinmay felt comfortable with the new Lafuma shoes that they had bought for the trek. We decided to go for an acclimatization walk wearing the snow boots just to get practiced walking with a heavy shoe. We decided to walk along the ridge of the Rudugaira peak and climbed upto an altitude of 4550m. We could see the rudugaira peak from a close distance and it looked like an easy walk up to the summit. We also got a very clear view of the Jogin I, Gangotri I, II, III peaks and Auden’s Col.
We stayed here for about 30 mins, discussing about the possible route to auden’s col. We reached the camp site at around 12:45 pm and had a hot lunch. It started snowing again and soon the entire campsite was covered in snow. The temperature dipped to below zero Celsius again.
Oct 8: Rudugaira Base Camp to Auden’s Col Base Camp
I came out of the tent to check the weather. It was a very cold morning again, but the skies were clear, Gangotri peaks were shining. It was a treat to watch the sun rays on the snow clad peaks.
I wanted to reach the Base camp of Auden’s Col before noon and have sufficient rest for the summit climb the next day. However, our problems with the porter did not end. The first timers in the porter’s team got scared seeing so much snowfall and decided not to proceed further. Manjesh who was also trekking for the first time in the Himalayas was also suffering from altitude sickness and was not inclined to continue further.
The porter’s problem was really creating a big headache. It was getting late for the day. Babloo and Shailu who had one to reccee the route to Base camp had taken Manjesh’s Rucksack and some of the rations kit with them and dumped it at the base camp to make it easier for the porters the next day. This was also creating problem as to who will come to take the rucksack of Manjesh. I tried in vain to convince the porters to continue the trek especially with the younger ones, but they were reluctant to continue. Finally we decided to send those porters with the extra luggage.
Provisions, vegetables, shoes, feather jackets which were brought for the entire team including the porters had to sorted out and babloo was instructed to sort the luggage and keep only what is required for the next part of the trek. It took almost 1 hour of precious time and after a lot of discussions, 4 porters decided to leave with the extra rations and other luggage that was not required. Manjesh too decided to accompany the porters back to Gangotri.
Now we were left with 6 porters with Babloo, the cook cum guide, Shailu and Nandu to assist him had to share the extra luggage. This kind had never happened in any of my previous experience. I have never imagined localities born and brought up in the mountains being so much afraid to negotiate snow.
We started towards the Col BC at 9:30 am. The team strength got reduced to 15 (6 members and 9 supporting staff). After negotiating the rocky moraines we crossed a stream and then climbed up to reach the ridge of the Gangotri Glacier. From here it was walking along the steep ridge crossing many rocky patches and snow ridges.
It was a never ending walk and we were getting tired. Shashank and Saiprakash were finding it difficult and were walking slow. Here I have to mention the grit of Shashank in coping up with the difficulty in spite of him visiting the Himalayas for the first time. We finally reached the Col BC at 1:00 pm. The Col BC (4560m) was setup along the Gangotri III glacier system.
For the first time the entire team managed to reach the camp site together. There was no place to pitch tents. It was fully rocky and some how we managed to setup the camp just in time. There was a very heavy snowfall in the afternoon and it snowed continuously for a couple of hours. We had to sit inside the tent for the whole day and it was very cold in the night.
Oct 9: Col Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp
It was supposed to be our D Day. We were supposed to cross over Auden’s Col and reach Khatling Glacier Camp. Babloo, Shailu and me discussed a lot on the team strength and about the porters. For the first time I had to help and motivate the porters also instead of they helping the team members. This was a new experience to me. All our plans of starting the trek at 5.00am vanished in thick fog. Visibility was very poor due to the extreme cold conditions. We could start only at 7:30am. We had to negotiate a ice wall. It was decided to trek together till the ice wall and cross over fixing a rope. After about an hour of climbing on snow ridges, we reached the ice wall. The first timers were finding it difficult to traverse the snow patch.
Shailu and Babloo, climbed the wall and fixed a rope anchoring it to an ice axe. It was around 70 feet high and rope was fixed up to 50 feet and the rest had to be traversed without rope. We took turns to take support of this rope and climb up the ice wall. I was the first to climb up the wall and the rest of them followed. It took us nearly 1 hour for the whole team to climb the Ice wall.
Traversing after climbing the ice wall
The other side of the ice wall was rocky and we descended to again reach the snow ridge. It was a steady climb till the end of the ridge. The snow had hardened and it was difficult to walk on the hard snow. It was very slippery and most of them had to be helped to traverse on the snow. Absence of crampons was being felt.
By the time we reached the advance base camp of Auden’s Col it was 12.30 pm and still Shashank and Saiprakash had not reached. Auden’s Col was looking very close and we could see the numerous crevasses on the trail of the pass. Shashank and Saiprakash reached the ABC at 1.00 pm. Babloo was not confident of crossing the Auden’s Col the same day.
From here it was 500 mts to the pass and babloo estimated that it would take another 2 hrs to reach the pass and another 3 hrs to reach the Khatling Glacier camp site. The weather was very good and the porters were getting restless and somehow wanted to cross over and reach a safe point. Babloo was not ready to take the risk given the weather changes. We decided to camp at the Advanced Col BC (4720m) which was on the Jogin Bhamak and make an early start the next day.
Oct 10 – ABC to Auden’s Col
It didn’t snow the previous day and the entire team was in high spirits to start the final assault towards Auden’s Col. The sun was shining bright and we started the trek at 8am. We started on the gully in front of our camp and started the gradual climb on the right of the gully. Now most of them were accustomed to walking through knee deep snow. Auden’s Col was getting closer and closer. The snow ridge suddenly ended due to Jogin Glacier had broken and created a huge gap. Babloo went ahead with Nandu to check the possibilities of crossing to the other side while we were waiting on the snow ridge.
They both came back and took us down the gully and climbed onto the next ridge. Now after the completion of the trek, I realized that we should have camped here instead of Advance base camp. From here it was just climb, climb and climb through knee deep snow till the pass. The spectacular scenery of the Jogin Bhamak and Gangotri peaks were motivating us to move ahead. Every one was moving silently at their own pace. No one had the energy to speak. It was never ending climb negotiating huge crevasses all along.
I was counting 20 steps before having a break, slowly increasing it to 30 and finally to 40 steps without any halt. It was very tiring. Others were extremely slow with only Bharatha and Chinmay at the sighting distance. The whole team never met in between till we reached the pass taking rest where ever they are, we crossed many beautiful ice formation and glacier tables, a stone slab supported over the surface of a mountain glacier by a column ice.
The climb to the top looked very difficult from here. We had to negotiate the huge crevasses, knee deep snow and the steep climb. It was already 12.30pm and yet another 100 ft more to reach the Col. We were lucky to have a clear weather without any clouds.
We reached a near 80* gradient slope and again Babloo had to fix rope anchored to the ice axe to make us climb it. Snow level was more than knee deep high making it very difficult to climb. This was a tough stretch and we took a long time to climb holding on to the rope. Babloo and I were pressing the ice axe with our hands and legs while Bharata and Chinmay climbed up. Once on top, Babloo and I went ahead to create a path for the rest of the team, while Bharata and Chinmay took turns holding the rope for the rest of the team to climb. Our hands, legs and hinds were numb with cold by the time everyone was up the rope.
From here, there was another 70* climb to the top. Since trail straight ahead had lots of crevasses, we decided to climb up and then traverse up to the pass. This proved wrong since the snow level was almost up to my waist. We did not have ice axe also to arrest our fall having anchored it below for others to climb up. I was trekking in shorts and the snow had totally wet my shorts. I was feeling cold and was not able to traverse that stretch. My knee was paining like hell. Finally I was able to reach the top by around 3:30pm. It took nearly 8 hrs to climb 500 mts.
Babloo then took a different path down and brought the whole team safely on top of Auden’s Col. It was 4.30 pm when the entire reached the col. The reading on Bharata’s altimeter showed 5242m. There was a mix of joy and relief on every members face. We joined together for a pooja on top of Auden’s Col and thanked Mother Nature for having been kind and give us good weather for the climb. We could see the “Rabbit’s ears”, which we had heard a lot about it and it was very satisfying. Group Photos were taken and it was time to descend down to Khatling Glacier.
View of the Khatling Glacier on the other side
Rabbit’s ears – the rock formations on either side of the Col
Crevasses on Khatling glacier
Khatling Glacier view from the top
Team on top of Auden’s Col
The climb down the other side was supposed to take at least 2 hours and it was almost 5pm. So we decided to risk camping on Auden’s Col itself. I don’t if any one had camped there on the top. There was not enough space on the Col, so the porters pitched only the kitchen tent and it was decided that all 15 of us will spend the night in the same tent. The tent was pitched in between an ice pond on one side and a huge 100m drop on the other. As evening fell, the temperature started falling and we all slipped into our sleeping bags, huddled together for warmth.
Oct 11: Auden’s Col to Bakriwala Camp
The weather was good till about 12am, when suddenly there was a huge storm with gale force winds which threatened to sweep the tent into the huge valley below. The entire tent was shaking, the pole supporting the tent collapsed and the porters put in a huge effort to put the tent back up in shape. Snow started entering inside the tent and my sleeping bag was fully covered in snow. Luckily snow stopped in the morning at around 7.00. The storm continued all night and did not stop till about 10 am. The whole tent was a mess by then and everybody’s confidence was shattered. When the weather turned a little better, Shailu and Babloo stepped out to take stock of the situation. Heavy snowfall in the night had covered the path to descend down the Auden’s Col in snow. It was a rocky patch and the snow on top of the rocks was making it difficult to manage to get down. Shailu had fixed a rope and went down to check the route. It took him 45 minutes to reach down and found there were huge crevasses all around. There was waist deep snow field to negotiate as soon as we got down the Col and we had to trek almost 3 hours before we reached Khatling Glacier.
Descend from the top of the Col
Shailu, Babloo, Bharata and I climbed up the side of the rabbit’s ear to take a closer look at the other side. It was 11.00 am and after lots of deliberations and keeping safety aspects paramount, it was decided not to get down to the Khatling glacier side and go back by the same route we came. There was huge relief among all of us and we started the descent down Auden’s Col at about 11:30am praying for the weather to hold good till we reached a safe altitude. I was very much disappointed not to cross over and complete the trek as per our schedule. But then the porters were not of much help and it would have been difficult for just Babloo and Shailu to take the whole team to safety.
It was decided to walk longer today and reach as low as possible. We passed the Advanced Col BC, descended down the huge ice wall to the Auden’s Col BC and went further down to a camp known as the Bakriwala camp. This camp is regularly used by shepherds and is lower than the snow line. There was a running stream near to this camp which made things very easy. It had been a very exciting and challenging trek I had ever done till date. Last year’s kalindi pass trek looked easier compared to this one.
Oct 12: Bakriwala camp to Gangotri
It was a very pleasant morning, bright sunshine, relaxed people, and getting back to civilization by sunset was motivating us to cover a long distance in one day. Babloo and Shailu informed us about a route that bypassed the Rudugaira Base Camp and taking us straight to Bhoj Kharak camp and to Gangotri. But it would take us around 8 hrs. We all agreed to finish the trek and rest at Gangotri.
We had a heavy breakfast and started trekking towards Gangotri. Having completed the toughest part of the trek, we were feeling a bit more relaxed now. The route took us deep into the valley along the streams that form the Rudraganga River. It was a very difficult descent as we had to walk over huge rock boulders and cross the gushing mountain streams a couple of times. It was extremely demanding on the knees and Shashank slowed down after reaching nala Camp.
We reached Gangotri at around 3.00pm and immediately made arrangements for our onward journey to Uttarkashi. Shashank reached very late, after thanking the porters and guides for the great help to reach the pass, we got into the jeep reaching Uttarkashi at 9.00 pm.
I thank the whole team who were very co-operative and especially Shashank and Chinmay who showed lot of grit and determination, having trekking for the first time in the Himalayas. To do Auden’s Col as their first Himalayan Trekking is a great achievement.