A Himalayan Trekking Expedition to Auden’s Col

October 15, 2008

(All altitudes mentioned here apart from Jogin and Gangotri peaks are as measured from my altimeter and may not be accurate)

Auden’s Col
Pre-trek Apprehensions
Day 1, 2: Reaching Gangotri
Day 3: Acclimatization Day
Day 4: Gangotri to (Bhoj)Kharak
Day 5: (Bhoj)Kharak to Rudragaira Base Camp
Day 6: Acclimatization at Rudragaira BC
Day 7: Rudragaira BC to Auden’s Col BC
Day 8: Auden’s Col BC to Advanced BC
Day 9: Col ABC to Auden’s Col
Day 10: Auden’s Col to Bakriwala Camp
Day 11: Bakriwala Camp to Gangotri to Uttarkashi
Day 12, 13: Back to Bangalore

Auden’s Col

Auden’s Col is a mountain pass which connects Jogin I (6465m) and Gangotri III (6580m) and is reportedly situated at a height of around 5400m. It also binds two glaciers on the opposite sides. One is Khatling glacier and the other one looks like the glacier belonging to Jogin I. Auden’s Col is approachable from Gangotri and one can trek up to Kedarnath following Auden’s Col and Khatling glacier. Auden’s Col gets its name from J B Auden, who first crossed it in 1939-40.

Auden’s Col

In August 2008, Lakshminarayan (Lacchhii) of Bakpackers informed me of his plans to cross Auden’s Col in October. It had been two years since my unsuccessful attempt to Roopkund and I started giving serious considerations to Lacchhii’s plan. Chinmay and Sai Prakash, who had accompanied me in some of my previous treks were also thinking of doing a Himalayan trek this year and the timing Auden’s Col trek seemed to suit all of us. After doing some search on Auden’s Col, we finally decided to join Lacchhii.

Pre-trek Apprehensions

Though we registered for the trek, we had a lot of open questions about Auden’s Col and were not confident that we would really make it to the Col until the last minute.

  • Not much of information about Auden’s Col was available from the internet.
  • From a couple of available reports, it seemed that Auden’s Col involved technical climb and was very tough. None of us are trained formally in mountaineering.
  • A report mentioned that they were the 11th civilian team to cross the Col in 2007. We naturally started thinking if we are aiming for something which is beyond us.
  • People who have done Auden’s Col told us that this is an expedition and not a trek and cautioned us of the technical difficulties involved in this trek.
  • Worst of all, the news of Kalindi Khal tragedy(where a few people lost their lives) came in September. This was very depressing, but we had made all travel arrangements by this time.
  • We were very doubtful if our team would be equipped with all the gear needed to complete this trek safely.
  • I thought that September would be the ideal month to do this trek and we would be exposed to harsh climate in October.

Will such fears and doubts, majority of our team members had a meeting with Lacchhii in Bangalore where he successfully managed to address all our apprehensions. Lacchhii had outsourced this expedition to Himalaya Sherpa of Garhwal Climbers of India, Uttarkashi and we would be accompanied by experienced guides and they would carry all the necessary climbing gear and safety equipments. Our team consisted of 7 members: Lacchhii, Shashank, Chinmay, Dipayan, Sai Prakash, Manjesh and I.

Day 1, 2: Reaching Gangotri

Many of us boarded a morning flight to Delhi on Oct 2nd while others had left by train a couple of days back. The bus ride from Delhi to Rishikesh (~240km) was tiring and long (it took more than 7hours). We reached GMVN Rest House at 10.15PM, quickly gobbled up the dinner (packed for us by others who had reached earlier) and settled for the day. Next day we left for Gangotri in a jeep. The journey started well but soon the driver came into his own (turned rouge) and started driving extremely rashly. A mouthful from a couple of other drivers didn’t deter him. No amount of request/talking to him helped and we finally decided to leave him alone. We considered ourselves extremely lucky when he dropped us at Uttarkashi. We even considered for once that Auden’s Col climb might be easier and risk-free than this journey. Himalaya Sherpa who was organizing this expedition met us in Uttarkashi and gave us a pep talk. After lunch, we boarded a different jeep and reached Gangotri by 5PM. We were delayed by an hour due to a failed/fallen truck that needed to be cleared off the road. We stayed in GMVN Rest House for the night.

Day 3: Acclimatization Day

I got up at 5.30AM and had a hot water bath. My altimeter was showing a height of 3000m as against Gangotri’s official height of 3048m. The morning was quite cold at 14°C. Before the team got ready, I went out and had a small morning stroll till the forest check post on the Gangotri-Gaumukh route.

At 9.30AM we left for an acclimatization trek towards Kedartal. The trek was very relaxed and we proceeded at a gentle pace. Trekkers coming back from Kedartal informed us about snow fall at Kedartal. We even met a porter who had been to Auden’s Col in 2007. We collected information from him and he reiterated that it was a tough climb.

Thalaysagar peak as seen from Gangotri-Kedartal route

By 12.30PM we reached a point (3540m) from where Thalaysagar peak became visible. Since some of us didn’t want to stretch ourselves too much on day 1, we spent an hour here and returned back to Gangotri by 3.30PM. Just before it became dark, our food supplies and other material needed for the expedition arrived with the porters. Our guides hadn’t arrived until we went to sleep.

Day 4: Gangotri to (Bhoj)Kharak

This day’s plan was to reach Nala Camp. Day started early at 5AM. All of us were out with our nap sacks by 7.15AM. We started on the trail to Nala Camp without breakfast as we wanted to leave as quickly as possible. A porter was supposed to carry packed breakfast for us. The initial part of the trial involves a steep climb through a pine forest. At 8.45AM, we crossed Rudraganga river over a log bridge. The next part of the climb also is through dense pine forest. This area had lots of Bhoj trees. Only a single porter had accompanied us from Gangotri and we had overtaken him a long while back. Since there was no trace of any porters, we spent 10AM to 10.45AM on the banks of the river waiting for the porters to arrive. None except the first porter who started with us arrived and he didn’t have any clue about the remaining porters or the guides.

First view of snow capped peak

We left the porter back and the trek continued. We came out of the tree line and entered the grasslands. From here a snow capped peak from the Jogin group started becoming visible. At around 11.30AM, we crossed a stream in a huge landslide area (3590m).  At 12PM, we reached a campsite where a couple of climbers from Delhi who were attempting the Rudragaira(aka Rudugaira) peak were camping with their porters. As per the porters, this campsite was called Bhoj Kharak (3640m). We might have approximately covered a distance of 6km till this point. (Though the porters called this Bhoj Kharak, the map shows a point 6km away from Gangotri towards this direction as Rudragaira Kharak). As per the porters, the Nala camp was still an hour’s walk ahead. We waited for another hour for our porters to arrive, but they didn’t. We decided to reach Nala Camp once for all and started ahead. Fortunately for us, we couldn’t find the route ahead and were forced to stop. We waited at this spot for another hour and there was no sign of any porters. It was becoming clear that they were having serious problems as they should have joined us by this time, but we had no clue what the problem was.

Stream in a landslide area enroute Nala Camp

Realizing the futility of our wait in the middle of nowhere, we decided to go back to Bhoj Kharak where we could at least take shelter in the other group’s kitchen tent. Finally at 2.15PM, one of our porters arrived with packed paratas, which was supposed to be our breakfast. This was a huge relief. Apparently we had run into porter shortage problem and the individual weight was too much for the porters to carry. This was slowing them down heavily. We had 12 porters, 1 guide(Shailendra Singh Bist or Shailu) and 1 guide cum cook (Bablu Thapa). In this, only Bablu had done Auden’s Col earlier. With serious porter shortage, some of the agile porters had to traverse the entire distance 4 times to ferry the load across.

Meanwhile, the sky became very cloudy and it started raining. Our tents were yet to arrive and we took shelter in the other group’s kitchen tent. Thanks to Lacchhii, their guide kindly provided us hot tea. It was around 5PM when our tents arrived and we shifted to our tents. The dinner (kichdi) was supplied into the tents.

Day 5: (Bhoj)Kharak to Rudragaira Base Camp

This day’s agenda was to cross Nala Camp and reach Rudragaira BC. I got up at 5AM when the thermometer was measuring 8°C.  By the time we completed the breakfast and started, it was 9AM. From Bhoj Karak, it involved an initial steep climb of around 150m. At around 9.45AM, we crossed a stone shelter(3900m) which suggested that a campsite is somewhere nearby. At around 10.15AM, we reached Nala Camp (4000m). We now had to cross a stream flowing down from our right. We carefully crossed this stream in the landslide area and reached the other side. From there Jogin I is clearly visible. We waited for around 30min for all our members to arrive. Today we were being led by a porter Nandu, a teenager who was the most agile, daring and talkative porter we had. Next we had a false climb of 50m before descending back to the right route. Any small climb was becoming very strenuous due the altitude.

Jogin peak as seen from Rudragaira BC

At around 11.45AM, after a steep climb, we crossed a stream and landslide area and reached 4170m. From here onwards we encountered patches of snow. Next it was a continuous steep ascent. The progress was slow and we reached Rudragaira BC (4350m) at 12.30PM. We consumed the packed lunch carried by Nandu. At Rudragaira BC, Jogin I, Auden’s Col, Gangotri III, Gangotri II and Gangotri I are clearly visible. All these peaks were visible against clear sky only for 15min before clouds engulfed them. Today again our porters were late and there was no trace of any of them. Not before long after lunch, it started snowing and we ran for covers. Some of us occupied the stone shelters and others went behind the huge rocks. Almost after an hour, first set of porters arrived and we were quickly given mats to protect ourselves from snow. It was around 3PM when the tents were pitched.

Auden’s Col as seen from Rudragaira BC

Today also porters had problems carrying the heavy loads and again were late reaching the campsite. Moreover, they seemed to be very disorganized and until all of them arrived nothing seemed to get done  If one porter carried the stove, the other carried the kerosene, another carried the milk powder and yet another carried the tea powder and sugar. So until all of them arrived, there was no respite for us. Lacchhii was not happy with this and threatened to end the expedition if porters can’t handle this and things don’t improve. Shailu requested for one last chance to improve the situation.

To add to our woes, there was no water at this campsite. The snow had to be melted for any water. Because of this it took extraordinarily long time to get the dinner ready. Today also, the dinner(Dal Chawal) was supplied into the tents due to bad weather outside. I had a very broken sleep and would get up and involuntarily do deep breathing to meet the body’s oxygen requirements. The tent Chinmay and I  were sharing wasn’t that great. During the night, the upper got removed leaving the tent wet inside.

Day 6: Acclimatization at Rudragaira BC

I came out of the tent at 6AM. Yesterday night’s snowfall had managed to change the brown colored grass into almost white. The temperature was -4°C. We were a bit relaxed today as we didn’t have any specific agenda. The breakfast was completed at 9.30AM. To reduce the weight for the porters, it was decided to wear the climbing boots (Koflach) from today itself and get used to them. Chinmay and I decided against this and were willing to put our newly acquired Lafuma shoes to test. We had gotten used to these shoes and saw no point in torturing ourselves with Koflach! I even decided to stick to my own gaiters as the ones supplied were very old and worn out.

Lacchhii decided to take us on an acclimatization climb and we started at 10.15AM. We climbed a ridge towards Rudragaira peak and at 11.30AM we were at 4500m. From here the Jogin and Gangotri peaks and Auden’s Col were even more clearly visible. Many of the members had a tough time during descent, thanks to the climbing boots.

For the first time in the expedition we had lunch in time at 12.45PM. However, things were not fully settled yet as Nandu ran back to the previous camp to fetch the Wheat powder to make Chapattis for the porters. I took advantage of the sunny weather by brushing my teeth after 2 days.

I had a good night’s sleep as I had acclimatized to the altitude fully.

Day 7: Rudragaira BC to Auden’s Col BC

Our day started badly with 6 out of 12 porters refusing to continue with us further. Apparently there was a huge porter shortage this year in Gangotri/Uttarkashi and some of our porters were made to join the expedition without being informed about the difficulties and the risks involved. 5 of these porters were seeing the snow for the first time and one of our porters was 60 years old! Our guides tried their best to work out a compromise and a resolution was reached only after Lacchhii stepped in. 4 porters were to return and rest would accompany us till the end, come what may.

Jogin’s glacier

Manjesh was suffering from headache and loss of appetite. Added to this, a porter told him the stories of rescue from the last month’s Kalindi Khal tragedy and almost persuaded him to return back. In this situation of porter shortage, Lacchhii decided that it was best if Manjesh returned with those 4 porters. But there was a problem. To ease the load, a few sacks were shifted yesterday to Col BC and Manjesh’s sack had to be brought back. A porter who was to return was persuaded to climb till Col BC, fetch Manjesh’s sack and return back.

With everything sorted out, we left Rudragaira  BC at 9.15AM. Without Manjesh and a few porters we were now a group of 6 members with 9 support staff (guides, cook and porters). First we crossed a landslide area and reached the top of a ridge (4420m). At around 10.15AM, we reached the end of this ridge (4465m) by walking over it.  We got down this ridge and reached Bakriwala Camp (4430m). A stream flows towards left which we crossed and moved ahead to another ridge. From here it was a continuous walk on the ridge for around 75min to reach the end of the ridge. We got down on the left face of the ridge into the gully to reach Col BC (4560m) at 11.45AM.

Auden’s Col BC

Today we had made sure that all the porters started together with us and within a short time of our reaching Col BC, porters also arrived. The place was extremely small and tents were pitched on rocks and stones. The only good point about this campsite that it had water supply in the form of a tiny pond. Heavy snowfall started and it continued for a few hours. Lunch cum dinner was finished in the mess tent at 5.30PM.

Day 8: Auden’s Col BC to Advanced BC

I got up at 4AM and it was extremely cold outside. I didn’t get the motivation to remove my gloves to get the thermometer outside! Whatever little rocky surface remained near our tents had turned completely white. The surroundings were very spectacular but it was also chillingly cold. The day’s agenda was to cross Auden’s Col today. Hence everybody got up much earlier than usual and by the time we finished the breakfast (noodles) and porters packed the luggage, it was 7.15AM.

Moving towards Auden’s Col

My toes had become almost numb and I badly needed to walk to heat them up. First we crossed a couple of snow laden ridges. At around 8.30AM, we approached a snow ridge which had to be climbed up using ropes. Our guides climbed first and fixed a rope from an ice axe which all of us used as support for climbing up. The ropes helped us to cover only 80% of the ascent and the remaining 20% was done by guides hand holding us. The altitude at the top of the ridge was 4615m.

On the ridge

The other face of the ridge was devoid of snow and was an easy descent. After this we climbed onto another ridge which was fully covered by snow except at the top. We were at the end of this ridge(4675m) at 10.15AM. Next we had to cross a small gully which again needed guides’ help. They marked the route and we followed them. Towards the end, most of us had to be hand-supported to move ahead. At 11.30AM we were at Col ABC (4720m). While 4 of us were doing good, a couple of our members were finding it tough and reached the Col ABC looking very tired. We had packed lunch here. Guides wanted to cross the Col today itself, but considering the overall condition of the team, Lacchhii decided to call it a day and thus we camped at Col ABC. We were pretty near to the Col and it was mostly a continuous ascent to the Col from here.

A view of the route back from Col ABC

For the past couple of days we had been observing the Col and the nearby peaks getting cloud cover by noon. But today the weather remained extremely good till 4PM. We wondered if we lost our chance to cross the Col today. This campsite didn’t have water and we were almost camping on a glacier running out of Jogin I. The night was peaceful.

Auden’s Col as seen from ABC

Day 9: Col ABC to Auden’s Col

The temperature at 6AM was 0°C. We had a slightly delayed start at 8AM. Yesterday I had struggled a bit without crampons. Today I decided to use my personal crampons. Unfortunately the others didn’t have that luxury as the guides were carrying crampons only for themselves. With crampons I was able to move ahead with more confidence.

Approaching Auden’s Col

From the ABC, we were facing a gully and guides started the gradual climb towards the right of the gully. At 8.30AM, we were instructed to stop and guides moved ahead in search of the route. At 9.30AM, they returned and asked us to back out and go down the gully in the left as the previous route was considered extremely risky ahead. We had to get down a bit now into the gully and with my crampons I could do it easily without any help. Next we had to move alongside an ice wall formation which looked extremely loose and dangerous.

Ice formations enroute Auden’s Col

At 10.35AM we touched 4800m and from here abrupt ascent started. Now we were attacking Auden’s Col head on. I touched 4900m at 11.15AM and 5000m at 11.50AM. At 12.15PM, I passed between two crevasses and approached another one at 5050m. What started as an ankle depth snow was now knee depth or more at places. At 12.45AM, I reached 5110m ready to use rope fixed by the guides for the next 50m ascent. While doing this climb with the help of the rope, at 5140m, I had a sudden energy dip. I sat down on the steep snow face unable to move an inch further. Lots of thoughts crossed my mind and the prominent one was whether porters will be able to carry me up (or down). Without clear answers in my mind, I regathered my energies, decided not to look up the slope until I joined Lacchhii (Lacchhii was supporting the rope fixed to ice axe). From then on it was a slow but comfortable climb. Next it was my turn to support the rope by sitting on the surface where the ice axe was dug into. When the cold became unbearable, Chinmay took over. Finally everybody were through till this point. The going was tough particularly for the porters, with heavy weights.

A crevasse near Auden’s Col

While we were helping to get the rest of the members up the slope, Bablu helped Lacchhii to reach the top of Auden’s Col. There was a long delay before Bablu returned with a newly made route at 2.45PM. Following this route, I reached Auden’s Col (5242m, as per my altimeter) at 3.15PM. During the last stretch, my nose had become so numb due to cold that I wasn’t getting the feeling of breathing if I exhaled through nostrils. I was inhaling through nostrils and exhaling through mouth. Within a span of 45min all the members and the porters were at the top. It was an emotional moment for all of us.

The other side of Auden’s Col

Thankfully all of us were doing good wrt the altitude. The guides lighted camphors and thanked the God. We couldn’t but join their prayers. We had faced so many odds and now finally at the peak point. The view on the other side of the Col was breathtaking. The Khatling glacier and the crevasses therein were simply awesome. For sometime, we all forgot about our descent and enjoyed the moments on the top.

Another view from Auden’s Col

We have had great weather till this time (4PM), but it was felt that we have too less time to attempt a descent on the other side of the Col. The guides decided to camp here for the night! But there wasn’t enough space to pitch all the tents and it was decided to pitch only the mess tent and 15 of us would spend a night in it. The tent was pitched in such a precarious position that if after coming out of it, were we lose a couple of steps, we would end up in a ice pond or a 50m drop into snow.

Khatling glacier and the mountains beyond as seen from Auden’s Col

There was a strange incident involving a porter in the night. A porter suddenly became violent and lost control of his body. Other porters immediately recognized that he was under a spell and asked him for solution. He mentioned about a red sack he had carried throughout a day. The sack was brought in within no time and he was given some rice which he sprinkled on the bag and threw it out. Immediately after that he returned back to his original self.

We were cramped for space in the tent and struggled to catch a sleep. Everything was calm till 12AM when I was woken by huge sounds of high velocity wind beating against the tent. From here onwards our misery started. The wind was unrelenting and snow started to peep into the tents from whatever openings it had. Most of our sleeping bags started accumulating snow from outside. At some time, the main center pole of the tent gave in and the tent collapsed. It took an effort from the porters to get it upright again. We were waking up every half an hour by loud sounds and turn on the torches to check if our tent is doing good.  This wind pattern continued well after the sunrise and continued till 10AM next morning.

Day 10: Auden’s Col to Bakriwala Camp

It was impossible to get out of the tents until the winds subsided. We slowly started getting out after 10AM. Stove was set rolling and breakfast was prepared. There was a silence inside the tent as nobody was in a mood for any talk. Even Lacchhii, who is usually a very cool customer looked tense. The delay in starting was worrying us.  We had to do a steep descent of around 50m (approximate as decided by my eyes) using ropes. The surface of the descent which was rocky the earlier day had accumulated a thin sheet of snow and ice today. Shailu took around 45min to fix the rope to help us descent. Shailu and Bablu invited me and Lacchhii to climb up to a vantage point from where the trail ahead is visible. After showing the path ahead (the descent into a deep snow and glacier with crevasses) they explained us the difficulties involved:

  • Shailu himself had tough time to descend and he had a minor fall.
  • The ground immediately after the descent was covered by thigh-deep snow which would be very difficult to traverse.
  • We are already too late to start.
  • Finding path through the crevasses will be a time consuming effort.
  • Porters with heavy loads will find it tough to negotiate.
  • Two of our members are a bit slow and it can potentially be a problem.
  • It could take 30min for every member to descend and that means it would be 3 hours for the team itself. This means we could be too late in the day for any further traverse through the glacier.

Getting down the Auden’s Col

Lacchhii rightly decided to call off the expedition and decided to return back the same way rather than attempting to cross the Col and traverse the Khatling glacier. There was not an inch of disappointment as reaching Auden’s Col and spending a night at the peak was very satisfying. By 11.30AM we started back. Nandu taught me a technique of descending on the heals in snow and I used it effectively to do a speedy descent. I was at Col ABC at 2.20PM and Col BC at 4.20PM and at Bakriwala Camp at 5PM. While most of us reached the camp b/n 5 and 5.30PM, two of our members experienced a bit of moonlight trekking in the Himalayas to reach the campsite by 7PM. Strangely a porter and one of our members who were coming last mentioned about a female voice that had called from behind. Shortly after everyone was back, we did hear a fox barking for a long time very close to our tents and its shining eyes were visible. Surely we had two very eventful days.

Another ice formation

Day 11: Bakriwala Camp to Gangotri to Uttarkashi

We wanted to reach Gangotri and if possible travel down to Uttarkashi on the same day. Guides said that it should take roughly 6hours from Bakriwala camp to Gangotri along a different path which bypasses the Rudragaira BC.

We had the best breakfast of the expedition with Puris and Peas Masala, Rice and Dal and started from the camp at 10AM, walked alongside the Rudraganga river and reached Nala Camp at 1PM.

By around 4PM we reached Gangotri and we must have covered a distance of 20-25km in the day. Without wasting any time, we left for Uttarkashi in a jeep and spent the night at Uttarkashi.

Day 12, 13: Back to Bangalore

We started on a booked vehicle to Rishikesh at 8.30AM. We thought we were very fortunate to get a decent driver who was willing to talk unlike the one whom we had encountered during our onward journey from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi. But it was not to be. After a few hours of driving, the driver’s mood changed and he started feeling very sleepy. We had a couple of really scary moments and forced a couple of breaks. Just before 40km from Rishikesh, the driver started using the parking brake very frequently and it was not until we reached close to Rishikesh that he mentioned that there has been a brake failure! The brakes were fixed in Rishikesh. As the luck would have it, our driver met the old driver who had driven us dangerously from Rishikesh and Uttarkashi and left the steering wheel to him. There was no dull moment during the next 30min drive from Rishikesh to Haridwar as the driver put up an impressive display of his driving skills. At the end, we again had the same feeling: Climbing Auden’s Col is easier than being with this driver!

Having stayed for the night in Karnataka Bhavan, Haridwar, we reached Delhi and then Bangalore by next evening.