CB 13 (6,264M) and CB 14 (6,078M) are those gems which were made more accessible after the inaugural of Atal Tunnel. The beauty of Lahaul is one of its kind which you notice as soon as you come out on the other side of the tunnel - the difference is so stark, it's unmissable! The landscape and its beauty is the very definition of raw which extends to the peaks in the region. For its peculiar terrain, the climb up the peaks in this region is one of a kind too, since it comes with its own set of unique challenges. CB13 and CB14 are a perfect way to experience the region as a whole.
We firmly believe that photos don’t do justice to either the beauty of the region or the experience of climbing these technically challenging peaks; we do however want to give you a taste of what climbing them would look like. Keep scrolling down for a quick glance through the region, the terrain and the route to the top of the peaks. We want to share with you the little joys and the many difficulties leading to an overall gratifying experience in the hopes to instigate a want in you to climb these splendid peaks. With all their display of tough love, they are pretty darn marvelous when you get to know them up close.
1) The obnoxious road into Lahaul: Where is it at though?
There are no easy days on this expedition. Right from when you step out of your hotel at Manali, you are in for a bittersweet ride and this bittersweet ride begins on the bumpy roads that take you to Batal. Batal is a small settlement situated in the Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh and is also the basecamp for the infamous Chandratal Lake which is close to 14 kms from there. It is also our trail head for this expedition.
The roads that get you to Batal are said to be one of the riskiest roads to drive on. The roads from Gramphu, which is the halfway mark to Batal, get tricky as we get onto smaller, kachcha roads which go towards Spiti. As smooth as the ride was up until then, it is all rocks, boulders and dust from here on – the ultimate off-road experience with crazy nallas along the way which the drivers in the region cross with some superhero-level confidence. From the first drive on, the expedition to these magnificent peaks reaches in and pulls out all kinds of fears in you as you try to muster the courage to stay in your seat on these bumpy roads with a steep fall. If you can get yourself to keep your eyes open and look out the window though, it is a beautiful drive.
2) The mad river: Or the pagal nallah
To get to the basecamp, we walk alongside the murky Chandra river for the most part. One of the major challenges of getting to the basecamp is crossing the pagal nalla. There are multiple streams we need to cross within the first two hours of the trek. The water level in some of the streams is so high that you are required to take off your shoes, wear them around your neck, roll up your pants and wade through the gushing and cold water with a rocky seabed not helping the crossover at all.
Crossing these nallas is a moment of glory – so glorious that during our recent expedition, on our way back we took the makeshift trolley taking the trouble to manually pull ourselves to the other side of the river and subsequently climbing a steep 400M to get to the actual road – anything to avoid the nalla going all bonkers on us!
3) Down time at Base Camp
For how exhausting it is to climb mountains of this scale (or any scale), down times are best times. They help the body adapt, repair, recover and also create some time which you can spend with your fellow climbers. Also a good time to test out your gear and practice the skills which will prove to be essential on the mountain.
4) Pleasing the mountain gods
Since they are not mountains that are frequented, the base camp for CB13 and CB14 do not have a litter of prayer flags. The base camp, however, does have two small stone structures brightened by the colours of the prayer flags fluttering in the mighty winds, where we offer our prayers to the mountain gods and thank them for allowing us to be there. This sacred ritual where the team members, together, seek blessings for the safety and the success of the team ends with a sip of some brandy and some sweets to fill you with warmth along with the benedictions of the mountain. It does help connect you to the mountain better and makes you feel belonged – like your presence is not a burden to the massif anymore.
5) A sea of rocks: The kind in which you don’t drown; you break!
As the highest and fairly technically challenging peak in the Chandrabhaga range of mountains, CB13 and its little shorter cousin, CB14, introduce one to a beauty that grows on you like the taste of beer – it takes time to appreciate. The massive expanses of naked mountains with rocks sticking out like uneven lumps on their faces, the terrain of these mountains is quintessential of Lahaul, the region in which these peaks find themselves stationed. It’s naked and uneven terrain, the confusing weather with dry and brutal heat alongside the biting breeze display a kind of beauty that does not appeal to everyone – at first – it may take longer than usual but when it happens, you fall for it (and on it if you do) very hard!
6) First light on CB 13: firstly, it’s the best thing to wake up to!
First of all, you don’t get a single glimpse of the mountains in question till you reach the Advanced Base Camp on Day 6 of the expedition. And because of the rotation rounds, don’t spend a night at Advanced Base Camp till day 7, so basically you witness your first morning by the mountain on the 8th day. But let me tell you this, firstly, when you are housed in the first tent opening up straight to the length of the mountain, are the first one to wake up and catch the first ray of the sun making its way to the large block of ice on the top of CB13, it is absolutely spellbinding. The first light on CB 13 rolls down the white of the mountain like thick honey, radiates through the valley and brings the whole place alive. The monotone of the 50 shades of brown rocks suddenly vibrate from the heat of the sun and shimmer all shades of golden and white from the growing light of the sun. Even though it wouldn’t be my first because I already climbed the mountain once, but if for nothing else, I would absolutely climb this mountain again just for that first light.
7) What happened here?
CB 13 at 6264M is a mountain full of stories and holds the ghosts from its past in plain sight. On the stretch between the Advanced Base Camp to the Summit Camp, you suddenly find yourself amidst piles of airplane wreckage believed to be from the Army aircraft which went missing in 1968 while on its way to Leh. There have been multiple expeditions, the recent ones as recent as 2019, to retrieve parts of the aircraft and missing persons from the crash.
8) Neck-deep in snow: Going up is actually going down
Exaggerations have been a part of climbing history, in fact, that’s how legends are made! I’m only joking! A notch down is where the reality and the snow actually is though – thigh-high! One tiny step up the mountain after another. I kid you not; this isn’t an exaggeration! If you get a sinking feeling while climbing this mountain, that’d be because you actually are. But also this depends on the season and the snowfall in the region at the time, so maybe you will get lucky and find firm snow on your climb.
9) The fascinating climb: Why do we this, again?
The mixed terrain of these mountains, alternating between patches of ice and rock on near vertical slopes is every climber’s nightmare and every climber’s joy. But the misery of navigating this difficult terrain will definitely bring to mind the question, at least once during the climb, if not more times – why do we do this again? It is only when you make it back to flat land that you realize what a satisfying achievement it was to have been on these mountains. Their many challenges are what make these peaks so very appealing.
10) The many faces of the trail: Most of them rocky
The mountain, at first glance, seems to be in a bad mood but as you move ahead, you’ll realize it’s actually in a bad mood – growling in displeasure leaving you growling in pain. When it is not rocky and screaming at you in rockfalls, it is snowy and pulling you down to its very core. Sometime when its being kind to you by letting you walk on its icy slopes in ease, it takes the effort to remind you through its many sounds of cracking ice, that it, in fact, is a favour.
11) Touristy stuff
It helps when the base camp of one of the most beautiful lakes is your trail head. If you get the time, make a visit to Chandratal lake which is 14 kms and an hour’s drive away from our campsite at Batal.
There is beauty in challenge and this expedition is a testament of that very idea!