Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ski Touring Solang Valley (Himachal) - 2016

The bridge leading to old Solang

Shitidhar as seen from Solang

Kids celebrating Holi - curious about my visit to the village.

Beas Kund was one of my options for ski touring last year but I opted to go to Ladakh instead. This year, since the ski trip in Kashmir was pretty much ruined by poor snow, I decided to change venue and and go to Himachal. I always thought that the glaciers in Himachal Pradesh are much lower compared to other glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas and the snow, ample. So ski touring in March seemed like a recipe for some great skiing. Boy was I wrong. I don't know what it is - this just hasnt been my year so far as far as skiing is concerned. Anyways my plan was to hike to Beas Kund and then skin up or climb up to some of the many slopes/shoulders surrounding the lake which would afford me some interesting skiing. I also intended to do some side excursions to Patalsu and Gulaba, time permitting.

I planned to arrive at Manali on the 23rd of March (had to entertain a couple of friends who were visiting Kerala/Chennai for most of March). I had a flight out of Chennai on 22nd and arrived at Delhi that afternoon. I had to pick some Butane canisters, which was another bloody treasure hunt cause apparently all the dealers were out of stock. Fortunately an acquaintance had a couple of canisters to spare and he politely ripped me off by selling the canisters for twice the price. I took the Volvo to Manali that evening. The Volvo bus stand in Delhi is called - get this - Majnu Ka Tila. I couldn't stop myself from laughing at that name. (Majnu is sort of an Indian Romeo and Tila is a little Hillock. So Majnu Ka Tila literally means Majnus little Hill). The 15 hour drive was pretty uneventful apart from the fact that I would wake up every time the bus made a stop to get down and check on my equipment. It was pretty nippy as we gained altitude during the journey but I wasn't too concerned about the cold, cause with a couple of days of acclimatisation I usually get used to the cold.

I reached Manali by 8 in the AM on 23rd. Took a Rickshaw to Solang which is quite close to the trail. I chose to stay at one of the more remote, quieter hotels for a couple of days before hitting the trail. The downside to staying in Solang is that everything that needs to be procured for the trip is available in Manali which is 13 km away, but that isn't a major concern. That evening I strolled around the old Solang village and also walked someway along the road to Dhundhi which is enroute Beas Kund.

The following day I took the bus to Manali to pick rations for the trip. I picked cheese, chocolates, fried snacks, instant soup, noodles and Anchovies (I couldn't find canned meat) among other things. I didn't go overboard because I was planning to break the trip into smaller excursions so I thought I could pick the ration for the next excursion when it was due. I missed the 2 o clock bus to Solang, so I walked from Manali to Solang. It was a long long walk. I covered the thirteen km distance in about 2.5 hours. By the time I reached the hotel, I was exhausted. I had already packed for the trip the night before so I was covered on that front. After dinner I slept quite early that night so I could start the trek towards Beas Kund by 8 or there abouts the following day. I slept well that night. 

On the way to Dhundhi

Woke up around 7 and was ready to hop onto the trail by 8. I left my ski bag and some other stuff with Khem, who runs the Hotel. While I was strapping the skis to my pack, I noticed a dog gazing at me. I strapped the pack to my back and waved at the dog and as if he has known me for years, he started to follow me. He followed me for the first half an hour after which he started walking by my side. I told him very clearly that I didn’t have much food so I wouldn’t be able to share much; he didn't seem to have any problems with that. Since I didn’t know his name, I named him Einstein. Einstein and I took the trail beneath Solang leading upto the army fence on the north. Then we climbed to the road that leads to Dhundhi. Because the road was winding in many places, I decided to go off road and lost time. I wasted almost an hour because I was mostly fighting shrubs.  After an hour we hit the road again. The distance between Solang and Dhundhi is about 7 Km and we were there by  Eleven. I wore my skis to skin up the terrain between Dhundhi and Beas Kund, at least that was the plan. But just five minutes off Dhundhi, I had to take off my skis in order to cross onto the north bank. Considering how early in the season as I was going, I was appalled at how little snow cover was there on the river. 

Whereever the snow cover was present, it was too shallow and at a lot of places it was non existent. It was so hard to skin up and with the skis on the back I would keep slipping into the gaps between rocks because they were covered by a shallow blanket of snow. One such fall was so bad that my right leg was badly twisted and it took me close to fifteen minutes to get out of that one. I was a little shaken and Einstein looked a little troubled too. But he was ok once I got out of the hole and started walking. The trail on the map suggested that I would have to at some point cross over to the south bank in order to approach Beas Kund but as much as I stayed on the north bank, the river kept widening. I did notice faint ski tracks and followed them but at the point where there was an apparent cross over to the south bank, the river was wide open and almost impossible to cross. Obviously the ski tracks were a couple of weeks old and hence faint. With no way to cross over to the south bank, I skinned up from Dhundhi along the north bank for an hour or so and decided to camp just short of Bakhartal. After I set up the tent, I went westwards towards Beas Kund for some recce but returned in a jiffy once it started to come down. I decided to skin up and do some recce the following day. I shared some chocolate and noodles with Einstein. Because of the snowfall, I went to bed very early. May be around 5. Einstein crouched outside the tent. For some reason he barked at the lights in Dhundhi which was an hour away from where we were camped. I did consider the possibility of wildlife, but my friends in Solang suggested that unlike Ladakh, Himachal is not home to predators like wolves and Snow Leaopards and bears. At least not in the area where I was headed. We woke up early. Einstein was right outside the tent. There was a lot of snowfall. I boiled some water and because I was feeling lazy, I just had some cake for breakfast. Obviously I shared some with Einstein as well but I didnt think he had the same minimalist attitude that I have. He did look very hungry but there was only so much I could share with him. I felt bad for him.

Home sweet home

The snow fall stopped around ten so I swiftly geared up for the recce. Einstein was game for the trip too. We hiked up for an hour or so along the north bank along a stream which is pretty much a tributary to the Beas River. Although this stream is easy to cross with the skis off, I still couldnt find a way to get to the south bank. We went west as well and the same story; we werent able to get to the south bank. After a while the snow fall started again, so I decided to head back to the tent. I took off the skins and after a drink geared up for the descent. The decsent seemed to excite Einstein who seemed to be in a playful mood. Because the skiing was so much fun, I kept skiing downhill past my tent, towards Dhundhi for about a kilometer. It was great fun. I stopped and started to fix the skins to the base in order to skin up to the campsite, which is when Einstein caughtup with me. He looked at me and looked towards Dhundhi and started to walk away from me. I have ski'd, hiked and climbed alone on a number of occasions. I dont mind being alone. But watching Einstein walk away from me made me very sad. I yelled at the stupid dog to come back, but everytime I yelled or screamed at him, he would turn around, halt and gaze at me and then turn away and trot away slowly towards Dhundhi. He did this no less than ten times. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, but I was misty eyed for the entire duration of time when Einstein kept walking away. After about fifteen minutes of standing there and hoping that he would come back, I had to pull myself up and fix the skins to the base because the snowfall was beginning to come down hard. It took me about ten minutes to get back to my campsite.

Try skiing down this.

Or this.

Or this. :P

I made some soup and canned anchovies (which were crappy) for a late lunch/early dinner. I got in the sleeping bag and looked at the pics I took that day to plan the rest of the trip. I planned that I would stay on the north bank and skin up westwards towards Beas Kund. If I found a way to hop on to the south bank, that would be awesome, otherwise I would skin up westwards to any of the many shoulders in order to ski down. I also decided that I would not shift the campsite, so I could start to skin up early in the day and then ski down by noon towards my campsite. The next couple of days I would leave the tent by half past seven or eight in the am, cross the tributary and skin up westwards towards Beas Kund. To my shock, there was such scant snow and at no place could I cross over to the south bank. So I stayed on the North bank and would keep skinning up towards one of the shoulders to my right (North). 

Shoulder - NE of Beas Kund

Ski/Skin tracks back to campsite

The first day I skinned up to the most distant shoulder above the treeline from where I could catch a glimpse of  Beas Kund which was surrounded by seriously big mountains. I wanted to skin further towards the lake, but had to stop because of sudden precipitation. Besides since I was already at a high point, it didnt make sense to go down. So i took off the skins and had a drink and some cheese and began my ski descent back towards my campsite near Bakhartal. At a couple of places during the descent, I had to take off the skis and climb in order to get to the track cause the terrain was not all downhill. But there was so much slush and and the snow conditions were so bad that I decide to abort the trip. While skinning up and skiing down, I managed the hit so many rocks hidden just a few centimeters under the snow and frankly I was not too thrilled about testing my gear. skiing was no fun in the slush and so after carefully considering stuff, I decided that I wasnt having enough fun for me to risk my gear any more. It was a shame because I had planned to do this trip earlier than what I did in Ladakh last year hoping to find deeper, better snow, but that was not to be. I did briefly consider Patalsu, but then I figured that the snow would be slushy there too and it would just be more of the same. So I decided that I would call off the trip prematurely. I decided to return to Solang on the 29th  and to Chennai via Delhi on the 30th.

Skin Tracks Leading to a shoulder NW of my campsite

some good skiing on days 3 & 4; but not good enough

On 29th, before commencing the hike to Solang, I couldnt resist some cheap skiing close to my campsite. I skinned up swiftly to a nearby high point after breakfast (aloo bhujia and water lol) and then ski'd down to the campsite while the snow conditions were still good. after that I packed up my tent and sleeping bag and mattress and stuffed everything into my pack and ski'd down as far as the terrain allowed me in the direction of Dhundhi. Skiing down with a 20+ kg pack can be very tricky. At a certain point in the trail, the snow cover becomes patchy and that is where I got rid of the skis and boots and switched to my trail shoes. The pack became really heavy now, but I was headed down to civilization so it didnt really matter. In an hour I reached the bridge and crossed over to the road leading to Solang. About ten minutes into the hike I noticed a vehicle approaching me so I asked them if they would be willing to drop me off at Solang. They said they didnt mind. By half past twelve I was at the Hotel. I washed up and rushed to a nearby eatery that served Mutton Curry and rice. I chose to eat outside, cause it was sunny and pleasant. While I was hogging like a glutton, Guess who showed up on the road; Yes .. Einstein, with his tongue hanging down and those beady eyes gleefully gazing at me. I stopped eating and gave him a mouthful. I told him that he ought to be ashamed of himself for abandoning me, not that the mutt had any clue what I was saying. Heck I was just kidding. I couldnt really pet him because he had sores all over his body, but I had a few pieces of bones on my plate and I gave them to him. After lunch said bye to him and never saw him after that. I hope he is still alive on my next trip to Solang. I have my doubts because he seemed like an old dog. Well even though he abandoned me, he was a good dog for the 24 or so hours that he was with me. :)

The Bridge connecting Solang to Dhundhi

It was great walking on this one - almost movie like :)

I had to finish the trip with my favorite drink.

The next day I took the bus from Manali to Delhi and the flight from Delhi to Chennai the day after. During the Bus ride I met a college kid named Arun. He was traveling alone. He seemed to be inclined towards adventure sports and was very curious. He had a few thoughts and doubts about mountaineering and hiking which I helped clarify. SInce his flight the next day was a few hours after mine, I dropped him off at his hotel on my way to the airport. I was home by 5 in the evening. Although the trip was terrible in terms of skiing and fun factor, the one positive was ..... What the heck ..... I cant think of even one positive from this shitty trip. Ha ha. I just hope next winter is better and we get much better snow cover and much better skiing in the wilderness. One thing is for sure, I am surely going to Himachal again; Solang in particular. There is immense potential and majority of the slopes are something that I am comfortable with ascending and skiing down.