Saturday, June 10, 2017

Exploring the Gangotri glacier - Gaumukh, Tapovan, Nandanvan and Vasuki Tal in pictures

I did this trek with a adventure travel company called BIKAT. We gathered at a hotel in Uttarkashi on the afternoon of May 27th for a briefing. I was the oldest in a group of 13 followed by 2 bankers in their mid fifties. The youngest was a 25 year old. The team included four doctors from among a group of 8 from Dharwar.  

May 28: Gangotri (3000 m) to Chirbasa (3600 m)

On 28th morning, we drove to Gangotri and after breakfast started on our march to Chirbasa, 9 km away, reaching there late afternoon. Chirbasa turned out to be a lovely campsite and we spent a pleasant evening on the banks of the Bhagirathi.

The trail to Chirbasa along the Bhagirathi

Bharal contemplating us

Bhagirath valley in all its colors
Natural geometry

The Bhagirathi at Chirbasa
May 29: Chirbasa (3600 m) to Bhojwasa (3800 m)

This day, it was a short 5 km trek. We had time to rest and acclimatize before several difficult days of high altitude trekking.

The Bhagirathi peaks from the Chirbasa campsite

Bhagirathi peaks from Bhojwasa

May 30th: Bhojwasa (3800 m) - Gomukh - Tapovan (4300 m)

A period of tough trekking started from this day. Though the distance we covered was only 6 km, it took us over 7 hrs to reach Tapovan. The snout of the Gangotri glacier has changed over the ears and any resemblance to a 'Go Mukh' is hard to see.

The trail fizzled out after Gomukh. Our guide ( Dharmender, belonging to Agoda village near Uttarkashi) took us across the glacier to a point where one could see a steep path climbing up to the Tapovan plateau. After reaching Tapovan, we were not allowed to rest. A sharp climb up a scree slope allowed us to look down upon a small lake - Neel Tal - not far from the Meru glacier. Meru itself was hidden in the clouds.

Gaumukh, the snout of the Gangotri glacier
Crossing Gangotri glacier on the way to Tapovan

View of Tapovan ( yellow tents are ours) from a ridge
May 31st: Tapovan (4300 m) - Nandanvan (4400 m)

On this day, we walked along Tapovan towards its upper section, clambered down the scree slope to the Gangotri glacier, crossed the glacier, climbed up the right bank of the glacier to get to Nandanvan. First thing in the morning, we were greeted with a clear view of mount Meru.

Mount Meru from Tapovan

The Bhagirathi peaks from the Tapovan camp
The entire Bhagirathi range from upper Tapovan

Negotiating the Gangotri glacier left bank to right bank
It started raining and turned very cold as we began climbing the scree slope on the right bank. My gloves were deep inside my rucksack and I hesitated to stop in the rain. Meanwhile my hands became numb. A fellow trekker, Arun generously offered me his gloves which were in an outer pocket of his rucksack. It was a quite a struggle to pull out those gloves using my numb hands. 

As we topped the scree slope and entered Nandanvan, the rain turned to snow and there was a whiteout with visibility reduced to a few meters. I was blindly following the trekker ahead of me and at some point lost sight of him. The best I could do was to carry on walking maintaining the same direction. After what seemed an interminable walk, I spotted the kitchen tent which had been set up by our support staff.

Camp at Nandanvan after a snowstorm
June 1st: Nandanvan (4400 m) - Vasuki Tal viewpoint (4960 m) - Nandanvan

Nandanvan was our most advanced camp. The trek to Vasuki Tal was a day trek with a planned return to Nandanvan camp and we carried only our day pack with some food, water, gloves etc. We were on our way by 8.30 am and returned to camp around 4 pm, so it turned out to be a long trekking day. The path into upper Nandanvan was along a ridge with the Chaturangi Glacier to our left and the Bhagirathi range to our right. after crossing the Bhagirathi range, the ridge curved towards the right. Here we left the ridge, descended to a smaller glacier (Vasuki Bamak), crossed it, and scaled up the other side. The last part of the climb was over a "wall" which had to be climbed using a fixed rope. That brought us to a ridge at about 16,300 ft looking right  down on Vasuki Tal.

Sketch reproduced from the Himalayan Journal article on  Chandra Parvat expedition, 1984

Sun lighting up Shivling peak
The Kedar Dome - Mountaineers climb up and ski down this mountain
Walking towards upper Nandanvan. Shivling (21466 ft) forms the background

Chandra Parvat (6728 m) from upper Nandanvan

The rock wall ( far upper side) that has to be climbed. Vasuki parvat is behind
Vasuki Tal from the top of the wall. The Chaturangi glacier and base camps for Satopanth Expeditions can be seen on far side

June 2: Nandanvan - Chirbasa


During our return journey, we have to descend ice blocks on the Gangotri glacier using fixed ropes. A clear day affords beautiful views of Shivling hovering above Gomukh.

Descending a glacier section with ropes
Shivling hovering behind Gomukh
This last picture is of jubilant team members who made it till the Vasuki Tal viewpoint, a height of 4960 m (16,300 ft) according to my camera GPS.

Afterword: 

Of the thirteen participants, eight of us made it till the Vasuki Tal viewpoint. Overall, this was one of the tougher treks I have been on with four long (7-8 hr) trekking days spent over 4000 m, several glacier crossings and ascent/descent of steep scree slopes and two occasions where climbing had to be done with the help of fixed rope.

Links:

Himalayan Journal Article on 1984 Chandra Parvat Expedition - Link
Website of BIKAT Adventures - Link

4 comments:

  1. Awesome pics and description...

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  2. Congrats on ur trek. I am planning for one in november through BIKAT. Can u please share ur review of this agency? is the service satisfactory? Thank u

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  3. Sir,
    Next Year 2018 I have a plan to go on this route. Thanks for sharing so detailing. I have some doubt and can u give answer please? 1st how do you reach Uttarkashi either from Haridwar or Rishikesh? How much time taken to return from Nandanvan to Chirbasa? What is your GUIDE Name?
    Thanks

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    1. There are buses from Rishikesh bus stand. You can also get a shared taxi from Nataraj Chowk to Uttarkashi.Nandanvan to Chirbassa was a long day of trekking - perhaps 7 hrs. I trekked with a travel company - BIKAT Adventures.

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