Feb 18, 2003 10:26 AM
TREK SOON! I am back from my Zanskar "Chaddar" Ice Trek, and what an
experience that was! It was an interesting and dificult trek, and had more
aspects to it than I ever imagined. The details will be given below. But
first, I must encourage you to consider doing this trek for one of the next
2-3 years. This is because that due to the tensions between India and
Pakistan, the army is putting a road through that gorge. It is slated to be
finished in 3 years, 4 at most, and will effectively destroy this trek as we
now know it. So do it in the next 2 years (3 at most) if you are interested.
DELAYS. I was stranded in Delhi for 3 days after my last update. Due to bad
weather in Leh, the flights there were cancelled for 3 days. This was after
near-perfect weather in November, December, and most of January. The first
day, Jet Airways put us up in the 5-star Radisson Hotel here in Delhi as per
their policy. The other 2 days, we were left to fend for ourselves. But, I
met the other two guys for my trek in the airport waiting for their flight
on Indian Airlines, which was also cancelled. We used those days to get food
and other items for the trek. I was able to fly finally on the 3rd. But, the
other two guys had to wait until the 4th to fly. Indian Airlines has 4
flights a week, unlike Jet Airways which flies all 7 days. And, as Monday
isn't a fly day for them, everyone on those cancelled flights had to wait
until Tuesday. When they showed up on the next day, the three of us spent
that day and the 5th acclimatizing, doing short hikes at altitude, and
getting last minute things for the trek.
THE CLIENTS. There were three clients for the Chaddar Trek.
First of all was Eric. Eric is from Montreal, Canada, and came over here
specifically for the ice trek, and for Everest (did it in December). He had
been quoted $2500 for the ice trek by travel agencies, but I got him almost
the same thing for $300 plus tips. Eric was a faster hiker than the other
two of us, and had a great time.
Sameer is a guy from Delhi who Eric met in the Everest area. He is a lawyer
who is going to England next fall on a Rhodes scholarship. He is travelling
all over until then. Sameer and I were about equal hikers. But, being from
India, he was not used to the cold and snow. He didn't like the cold nights
and having to get up in the morning.
Finally, there is me, Burntfoot. I was perhaps the weakest link, due to the
cliffs I will tell about later. I was more cautious, in general, from the
other two. But, this paid off, as I didn't slip as much on the ice. By the
last two days of the trek, I was consistently in front of the other two
instead of behind, and was feeling very good.
THE HIRED HELP.
Sonam Stobgais, who goes by the nickname "Jimmy" was our guide. He is a guy
that David Sonam from my school knows and arranged for me. Jimmy was great,
and helped organize the porters, cook, rental equipment, food and other
things. He also got me over the most difficult parts of the trail route like
the cliffs. He knew the routes, and the safe side of the river to be on, and
mostly the ice conditions. I wish all guides were as good as he.
Our cook was Tsewang Nurboo. He was excellent! With a good food budget, he
prepared Indian dishes that were great. This was in addition to carrying a
load similar to the porters.
We had 9 porters to carry our loads, their loads, the food and kerosene.
Originally, we were to have 4 trekkers, but the other two bailed on us.
Then, Sameer joined and we were back up to 3. So, with 2 porters each, and 2
in reserve, we only paid for 1 extra porter. All 9 of these guys are friends
of Jimmy. And like Jimmy and the cook, live in Padum in Zanskar region. All
11 of these men walked from there out to Leh to trek with us!
Stanzin Dadul was a short guy with a good sense of humor that slipped and
fell on the ice several times a day.
Sonam Tashi was a tall porter who carried my backpack. He is also the guy I
gave my recorder flute to at the end of the trek. He played Ladakhi songs
Chultinthar Chinle was a porter I didn't know too well. But, he carried me
over stretches of slush in order to keep my boots dry.
Tsering Angdus was a porter who also knew the ice conditions quite well.
Lobzang Unga was a young porter with a hearing aid that broke while on the
trek. He was constantly being yelled at for things like jumping on the ice
weakening it and causing Sameer to take a spill.
Other porters were Paldan Yatso, Tashi Angchuk, Rigzin Dulek and Sonam Padma.
BUS TRIP TO TRAILHEAD. The bus trip to the trailhead was an adventure in
itself. The first half of the trip was on paved road for 30 kilometers. It
went high above the Indus River, with good views of the confluence with the
Zanskar River. But, it still was above cliffs. Road signs said things like
"Life is short; don't make it shorter" and "Road is hilly, don't be silly!"
The other 30 kilometers were on a rough dirt road in to the village of
Chilling along the Zanskar River. This road was often on cliffs with the bus
going over stretches tilting it towards the river below. I spent a lot of
time leaning away from the river, as if that would do any good.
THE ROUTE. The Chaddar Trek follows the ice of the frozen Zanskar River. It
starts at the village of Chilling, where descendents of the metal workers
who built the huge Buddhas at the Basgo and Thiksey gompas now live. From
Chilling, it goes up the river on the ice to the village of Lingshed about 4
days upstream. This village is only accessible by river or 3-4 days by trail
from the 3 access roads. Beyond Lingshed, it is another 3 days walk to the
city of Padum. But, after the first day, it is in an open valley on road, as
the end of the gorge is reached. So, most group choose, like us, to head
back from Lingshed.
OUR ROUTINE. Our routine is one that bothered me. We got up at around 7:00
or 7:30AM, but didn't start walking until after 9:00. Then, we'd stop for a
2-hour lunch at 11:00 or 11:30. All the while, it would be getting warmer
and the ice less safe and fun. I would have rather started at 8:00, taken 1
hour for lunch, and gotten to camp sooner in the afternoon. That would have
helped us avoid some of the nastier sections to be described below.
THE ICE ROUTE. Our trek was on the ice of the frozen Zanskar River. There
were places that the ice was 3 or 4 feet thick. In places where it froze
quickly, it was a deep blue-green color that you could see through to the
rocks below or to the river flowing underneath. Other stretches of ice were
clear ice, which was better because photos of the rocks through the ice came
out a lot better. In both these areas of ice, there were many places where
it had cracked and re-frozen. Those cracks went down 3 or 4 feet, and were
interesting. Other places had rougher ice due to lack of sunlight or snow or
different freezing conditions. On places where the river was too fast, it
didn't freeze completely across. The fringe of ice near this open water was
where we had to be careful. On early mornings, we could walk on this fringe.
By afternoon, if it was warm, much of the ice had water standing on it and
we had to take more caution.
THE OBSTACLES. The Chaddar (word for the ice) Trek is interesting in that
there are places where you HAVE to go onto the ice because there is no place
to go on shore. But, there are also places where you HAVE to leave the river
and go onto the cliffs to go around open stretches of water. These were the
areas I hated. I don't rock climb, and tend not to like cliffs anyway. Give
me a steep slope anytime. Just, not a verticle cliff with river straight
below. And, it didn't help my nerves when porters (or Sameer) would toss
stones to the ice 100 feet below to test its strength. Most of these detours
were just narrow paths above cliffs above the water. But, a few were
actually rock climbing (in bulky winter clothes). It was hard to see where
to put my feet on the descents, and in the worst 2 places, they tied a rope
around me and belayed me. There was one other place one warm day where there
was knee-deep water ON the ice. This we had to wade through for about a
kilometer. But, as I didn't have tall rubber boots like the other two, Jimmy
made me climb a 250 foot cliff. It still didn't go around the entire stretch
and I still had to wade half the distance in socks.
WILDLIFE. Wildlife was scarce. But, there were birds. And, there were two
places that we saw the wild ibex, which is a type of wild goat. There was a
herd of about 20 that were jumping around on the cliffs high above the river
that we saw while walking both directions.
CAMPSITES. Our campsites were generally near caves (rock overhangs). In
these caves was where they had the fires and cooked the meals. The porters
also slept there. The 3 of us clients slept a ways away from the cave in our
tents, or else in the open. Our coldest night was minus 20 degrees celcius,
which is just below zero farenheit. We were never really cold at night, as
we had 3-5 layers on. On the coldest two nights, I wrapped my sleeping bag
in reflector blankets and was very warm.
FEBRUARY 6. We met the bus at 9:00 AM, loaded up, and were on our way by
9:30. After the bus trip mentioned above, we got to our trailhead at 12:15.
Then we had lunch. That took forever, and it was 1:50 before we finally got
out onto the ice. We crossed to the left side, and followed that until the
canyon narrowed and the open water widened. At this point, we had a huge
boulder in front of us out into the river a short ways. We were all there,
and Jimmy told us to wait while he tested the ice. But, he went right
(towards the river) of the boulder instead of left (shore side) on ice that
didn't look good to my untrained eye. In front of the rest of us, he broke
through the ice into chest-deep water. Now, Sameer and Eric claim that this
was an accident. Meanwhile, I maintain that this was intentional for several
reasons. First of all, he had just said to Sameer 5 minutes earlier that he
had never fallen through (but many clients had). Secondly, all the porters
were there and sprang to action, first getting him out, and then getting him
out of the wet clothes and into dry ones, then beating the goncha (Ladakhi
dress) against rocks to get water out of it. Third, it was warm this day,
and we were at the campsite with the most wood that night. I say that he
went in to make a point and impress upon us that if it happened to him, it
could happen to us, so we better be careful and mind him. I think that this
is standard practice for him on these treks each year. From this point, we
got to the first of the cliffs. It was verticle, and I had to be roped in
and helped up, then down. It was a short day, so I wasn't tired that night,
except mentally! Dinner was rice, paneer, dal, and mutton. With dinner, I
took my malaria pill, which I have to take weekly for 4 weeks after leaving
the mosquito zones. It seemed strange to have to do this twice while on an
ice trek. My last one will be taken my first day on the Everest trek!
FEBRUARY 7. We got a late start, which drove me crazy. It had snowed last
night, and the temperatures were rather warm. But, we walked on fairly good
ice for two hours. Then, we stopped at 11:15 for lunch, only two hours after
we started walking. Lunch break lasted two hours. After the 3 of us were
long fed, the porters FINALLY began cooking their own food. All the while, I
was watching that next stretch of river. It was on poor ice right up against
a cliff. When we finally got there, it was ankle-deep slush. Not having
rubber boots, the cook carried me through that slush! I had been told that
the rubber boots were not necessary, as the porters will shuttle their boots
back and forth. Big mistake! Right after the slush, we had another cliff to
traverse. This was not too bad, though. After the initial uphill, it was a
trail above the cliff with an easy descent. Camp was at Sumer, a huge rock
overhang similar to those in Capitol Reef National Park. Many camping spots,
good fire, and firewood by a huge spring only a kilometer a way. Those
springs were impressive, as they flow out of the rock and form icefalls.
Jimmy said that only one pair of trekkers had gone in with the purpose of
ice climbing so far this year. Those 2 guys needed 15 porters for all the
climbing gear, etc.
FEBRUARY 8. This was a long day, for a change. We still got a late 9:00
start, but we went for about 3 hours before stopping for lunch. This route
took us through a narrow part of the canyon on deep ice. We were told that
groups that raft through the canyon have to portage around this part, as it
is so narrow they may puncture the raft. Just beyond the narrows, the
porters spread up the slope in search of buried treasure. On the way to Leh
from Padum, they had buried several bags of their own food. They found all
but two of these. After another 2-hour lunch, we took off again. Weather was
clear this day, so it was colder. But, there was still open water. There was
one place that meant a 10-foot walk through fast, foot-deep water that the
cook carried me over. Just past there, we met a group of French trekkers (13
plus 40 porters). Those French ladies went through that open stretch of
water wearing their down jackets and socks. Nothing else; not pants, and not
underwear! The vast majority of other trekkers that were not locals that we
met were French. We made it around another nasty corner on the ice, that
groups going the other way had come over cliff on, not realizing that the
ice was still good. Shortly after, we were forced up a cliff on the next
curve. Most of it was okay, but the descent was not good. We camped at 5:00
PM, and did not make our intended camp. So, everyone had to sleep out in the
open between rocks, and the porters had to go without a fire.
FEBRUARY 9. We made up for lost time today. By noon, we were at Nieraqs, the
trail junction near the village of that name. The trail to the right (west)
went up to Singge La, which I had hiked over in 2000. To the left, it went
into a remote area where trails along rivers require 50 or more fords, and
can usually only be done in September. The bridge at this location is a good
50 feet above the river, and has very little support to it, typical of
bridges out here. The village, itself, is about 250 meters above the river.
Instead of sitting around the lunch spot for 2 hours being bored, I spent an
hour and a half going up to that village and meeting some of the locals. I
took a photo of one family, got their name, and promised to send them a copy
of that picture. By the time I got back to the river in 1 1/2 hours, it was
time to eat finally. After lunch, we went into a narrow part of the canyon,
with ibex (wild goats) on the cliffs above us. The porters were shouting at
them and egging them on. They are as agile as the bighorn sheep in Colorado!
An hour beyond Nieraqs, we left the river and went up a side canyon for a
half hour to a herders' hut and camped there. The cook served mutton momos
that evening, which is my favorite! Momos are like steamed dumplings that
you can sometimes get at Chinese restaurants.
FEBRUARY 10. Today was our layover day. And, it was the only day I was
physically tired at the end. On this day, we went upvalley to the village of
Lingshed via the side canyon, and going over cliffs in one place. Lingshed
is a remote village that is accessible by at least 3 days of walking from
any of the 3 roads in the area. It is also a favorite charity spot for
Europeans, particularily the French. They pour so much money into that
place, that I know people in Leh who are concerned that Lingshed will turn
into a beggar community, dependent on others. In Lingshed, I hand-delivered
photos of three or four people that I had taken in the year 2000 from the
village. Most rewarding was the one I delivered to the monks at the
monastery. I had had tea with them in 2000. When I pulled out my Sierra cup,
they all laughed. This is because Lama Chupay has my other Sierra cup that I
had forgotten there that year! In Lingshed, I also visited the solar school
there. Using solar power, it is the only school in Ladakh that does not have
a winter break, but rather a summer break like America.
FEBRUARY 11. We broke camp and descended to the river. Instead of heading
downstream, we turned right and went upriver. We camped an hour and a half
upstream, and Eric and I (wanting to see as much canyon as possible) went
two hours beyond camp before turning back. We found out later that the
porters were mad at us saying that we wasted that day instead of heading
back downstream. There were many local Zanskari's on the river this day.
They had backpacks that doubled as sleds for the ice. On one side of the
pack were sled runners, and on the other side were pack straps.
FEBRUARY 12. We had a short morning, and a long afternoon. In one hour's
time, we had returned to the Lingshed tributary, and in another hour, we
were at Nieraqs. Being fed up with the long lunches, and being not hungry
after walking only 2 hours, I went on ahead. Jimmy wasn't happy, but I said
I'd be careful. At 2:30, Eric and Sameer caught up with me. We made it back
to that place where we had cliff-climbed on day 3. But, the ice was good
today. BUT, the next corner that was good last time was a huge problem. For
more than an hour, we waited for Jimmy and the porters. By then, we were
looking at a kilometer-long stretch of slush that the French group in front
of went through (yes, only socks and jackets). By the time the porters
arrived, it was a lost cause, so we camped hoping to take advantage of cold
morning temperatures. Porters were very mad at Eric and me, and we should
have come down yesterday.
FEBRUARY 13. Worst day of the trek. The ice didn't freeze last night, but
actually jammed up and caused the water to rise. As I didn't have rubber
boots, Jimmy ordered me up the cliff. They strapped me into a sling and
helped me up a 20-foot rock overhang onto a narrow ledge. This, we descended
halfway back to the river. Then, we had to cliff climb a short stretch and
go up a long scree slope. Next, we descended a rock gully, similar to slots
in Utah. Then, we had to exit that going up the cliff-side of that gully.
After one more major climb, we finally contoured steep scree and descended
to the river. This took an hour and a half, and saved us only 200 yards of
river wading. I STILL had to wade for fifteen minutes in socks in knee-deep
water ON the ice. But, for me this was better than the cliffs. I should have
done this from the start, as in 10 minutes I was through it. We dried off,
and I felt great. Eric and Sameer, though, caught colds from the wading.
And, Sameer did a flying swan-dive breaking through the ice before I got
there. One of the porters had been jumping there, and had weakened the ice.
Jimmy chewed him out big time! After that, we had lunch for 2 hours. I
started walking after 1 hour. Nothing else to mention, other than that we
again stayed at my favorite campsite at Sumar and the big cave.
FEBRUARY 14. Valentines Day, and the only day I slipped and fell on the ice.
Sameer said it wasn't fair that I was the only one who hadn't fallen, and
said it was because I was cheating by using my 4-point instep crampons on
the ice. Precisely my point. But, I said that I could keep up with him with
or without those crampons, and took them off. Stupid mouth of mine; a half
an hour I fell! I think Sameer was quicker with his camera than I was with
my fall. He promised to post that on the internet, along with one of me
being carried by the cook. Campsite was at Tilot Sumdo, the same as our
FEBRUARY 15. Our last day. Ice was not as good, and we spent the majority of
our day following pony trails. These were high above the river, often right
on or above cliffs. Most of them, though, were fairly wide. There were a few
places, though, that meant slowly placing each foot carefully, so as to not
fall to the river 300 feet below. We got back to Chilling around noon, at
the same time as our bus back to Leh arrived. On the way home, we stopped
for tea at a tea restaurant. We also stopped at a place where our driver
bought some diesel fuel from road workers on the black market. And, we
stopped at a Sikh temple run by a Sikh regiment of the Indian army. Back in
Leh, I packed for my flight the next day everything I'd need for my Everest
Base Camp; my next trek. In the evening, we met with Jimmy and the porters
one last time. Eric, Sameer and I gave away gear to them that we wouldn't
need anymore. We also gave them tips. For me, the best tips went to those
porters (and cook) who helped me over the cliffs and across the open
water/slush. The porters left, and we and Jimmy took care of the salaries.
In all, I spent $300 plus tips. This is about 25 percent less than the
cheapest travel agency quote given me. Doing things independently is the way
I Love the Mountains