September 2018, an extremely difficult time for trekking in Uttarakhand, with the local interpretation of a high court ruling to refuse all trekking permits. Treks are cancelled throughout Uttarakhand and trekkers are moved to treks in other Indian States.
So I have about a week before I leave Australia, and still not sure if my trek to Auden's Col will actually happen? Already I have requested that the trek go ahead with only 1 person, as everyone else has cancelled or moved to another trek. After numerous emails and phone calls the trek is to go ahead. On stopover in Kuala Lumpur yet another hurdle, a new ruling on a medical certificate to be completed by everyone on the trek. A doctor is found, and the certificate scanned.
Great to be back in India, and in Haridwar again after many years. Lovely taxi ride through changing landscapes to Gangotri. Only the lower sentinels visible, with the snow peaks shrouded in mist, due to the ongoing rain. Huddles of pilgrims in plastic coats keeping dry in the relatively small number of Gangotri eateries. Trekkers waiting eagerly for the rain to clear, hoping they can begin before time runs out. Another snag, the local authorities are not issuing any permits for several days due to the rain, and danger on the trekking routes.
I meet my trek leader Lalit, a competent young man from Delhi, and my guide cum cook Kamal. I also meet the 4 porters who will be bringing all the food, bedding, tents and kitchen gear on our expedition. I spend 3 days in Gangotri, going out for short walks in the rain, and returing to my lodging to dry out my gear.
Finally clear skies, and we set off, with views of Gangotri III along the way to Nala camp. I walk a little higher from the camp and receive a view of Jogin III, that looks like a sharks fin from that angle. We set up camp, and Kamal gets to work. Kamal, the master at the helm, creating delicious food in spartan conditions.
After a rough nights sleep at Nala camp Lalit and I set off for Rudugaira camp, whilst the others get their loads ready. It is a steep 4km climb to Rudugaira camp. Lalit stops to make some steps for the porters where the path has fallen away.
We reach a plateau on the way up, and are presented with a herd of Bharal (Himalayan Mountain Goats). Lalit informs me that the herd is in exactly the same place as last time he was on the trek. We stop and take photos of the Bharal. They do not get up to run away until we are quite close.
Another climb and we reach Rudugaira Base camp. A beautiful camp covered in snow and surrounded by famous peaks such as Gangotri I, II, III and Jogin III. Two Indian female climbers have just returned from ascending Rudugaira peak. Lalit and I are offered Chai whist sitting on mats in the snow, with blazing sunshine. Lalit speaks with the porters who are supporting an army climb of Gangotri III. Lalit pointed out the climbers earlier making their summit attempt. It is very hot and we have to wait a long time for the porters to arrive.
Gangotri base camp to Auden's Col base camp is a relatively short walk of 4 km, but quite difficult due to the altitude, terrain, and snow. Not far and we reach a steep ascent, but the snow is deep, and there is a minor avalanche trickle happening in the gulley we are ascending. The porters stop at the bottom, and do not want to continue with their loads in the soft snow due to crevices. Lalit sets up a rope, anchored by his ice axe, to pull up the loads. However this doesn't work, and after a long stop, the porters eventually continue. After many hours trudging through scree covered snow we reach the wild and desolate Auden's Col base camp. We quickly set up the tents, and anchor them with rocks, as the wind is quite fierce.
Kamal gets to work, whipping up another feast, with the help of an assistant directed by the head chef. It's an early night tonight, as tomorrow is the bid for the Col.
Midnight and full moon, hardly even need a head torch to see. Bitterly cold, but have to pack speedily and get rugged up for the Col crossing.
Tentative steps from Kamal leading us across the soft snow, to determine the safest route to Auden's Col. The pace is slow with everyone close together now.
Kamal is worried about the soft snow, due to not knowing where the crevices are. My crampons and trekking poles with snow baskets are very useful now, and I am glad I brought them along.
It is a beautiful morning with moon set and sun rise over Gangotri III peak. It is perfectly clear with one of the Rabbit Ears at the Col clearly visible, and seemingly within touching distance. Mt breathing is exaggerated to get enough oxygen at this altitude. We are at about 5200 metres, and only 300 metres from Auden's Col.
Kamal decides that to continue is too dangerous, and the expedition is cancelled.
Since the previous night I have had the runs, and broke a record for my highest toileting at 4800 metres. However on the ascent I had to hang back several times to relieve myself, which is no easy feat in the snow, on a slope, at high altitude. As soon as Kamal called off the expedition I proceeded down the pass as quickly as possible to get out of view to toilet behind a rock.
Well for me I was disappointed that I would not get to cross Auden's Col and spend some time amongst the high peaks. However I was resolved to not just meander back, but to get to Gangotri as soon as possible, and do something else. Lalit came with me as he advised that he was responsible for my safety. So together we walked 27km and 2000 metres in descent back to Gangotri by nightfall.
It was good to get back to Gangotri, but the next day I was determined to reach Dehradun. I reached Dehradun the next evening, and caught an overnight train to Delhi. From Delhi I flew to Guwahati, and caught a taxi to the jungle near Sohra (Cherrapunji), and was able to visit some places I had never seen before.
I enjoyed my walk to Auden's Col, but was disappointed not to complete the expedition. Apparently 3 persons fell into a crevice just the other side of Auden's Col the day we were there and abandoned our expedition. Also 16 persons were rescued by police/army in the lower slopes below Khatling glacier at that time. So maybe Kamal made the right call.
I can't help thinking that the porters may have been less reluctant on the expedition if they had been provided with adequate equipment. Also if Lalit or Kamal had maps of the area and comprehensive GPS information of the area, with locations of crevices, then we may have been able to continue? Treks are advertised as being well equipped, but this does not include the porters, who are the backbone of every trek.