* first solo trek (day 1)

Posted on June 10th, 2017 by Alex. Filed under India.


Since I saw the movie “Jungle 2 Jungle”, I was fascinated by the ability to survive in the wild without the amenities and luxuries that we experience today. Now being in the job, many years later, the fascination was long forgotten. During my studies in Bangalore, I got in touch with the Regional Mountaineering Institutes in McLeod Ganj, Manali and other trekking organizations such as Indiahikes.

However I found that trekking in groups is inflexible and slow. Hence with two friends of the same (or maybe slightly higher) fitness level, I started venturing out, exploring my own routes. First attempt was the Snowline Cafe in December 2015 with broken shoes. In fact the shoes that I wore, were so pathetic that a shoe repairman in the streets of McLeod Ganj sincerely asked me, if I would like to use the service he offered. Then in November again with 2 friends I went to the Indrahar Pass (altitude: 4342m) which we successfully climbed from McLeod Ganj (approx. 2000m) and back within 2 days. These treks taught us, how much food to carry, what works and what not and were very educational.

The fascination of nature and how to survive in it (diverted from the original movie, food was allowed to be carried) was awoken again and longer treks waited for their exploration. Originally I planned the following route:

You are looking at a 55km trek which includes two passes (Minkiani and Gaj Pass, both more than 4000m in altitude). Starting from McLeod Ganj, on the first day the trek route reaches Kareri Lake (2900m). On the second day, the night is to be spent at Lam Dal after crossing the Minkiani Pass at an altitude of 4100m. On the third day Gaj Pass is crossed at 4110m while the selected route ends at Snowline Cafe and from there back to McLeod Ganj on the fourth day. It sounds ambitions, however the trek from McLeod Ganj to Indrahar Pass is 13km long with 2600m ascend and 1010m descend. So it should be doable. So now, the two friends need to have at least 4 days vacation at the same time. Unfortunately that was never the case and the idea was born to do the route alone. And that was when the adventure, the fun and the pain started.

June 3rd, 2017

Everything was packed: a pair of pants and socks, 1 T-shirt, tent, mattress for insulation against cold from the ground, a subzero sleeping bag, cap, jacket, thermals, gloves, knife, flashlight, high calories food for 5 days, pot, stove, matches and petrol. Everything was squeezed into a 40l backpack totaling at 18.5kg. The camera added another 1kg, but that was okay. So, let’s go!

June 4th, 2017

The overnight bus from Delhi to McLeod Ganj was pretty unspectacular. The last bag of chips and watery chai (tea) were the only important interruptions during the night. Early morning at 6:30am I stepped out of the bus in McLeod Ganj, changed into my trekking shoes, tied everything to the backpack (I hate it, if something swings around and is loose) and started.

Shortly after leaving McLeod Ganj. Still I am optimistic.

While passing through Dharamkot, I thought about having bread omelet and tea, but it was too crowded. So I decided to have breakfast later. Passing Dal Lake, through small villages on good, almost road like, paths was pretty unspectacular. I was so excited to make headway, that I missed a junction before reaching Rava adding a kilometer of distance due to the detour, which was perfectly fine, considering the shaded “roads”.

In Rava I met a group of locals doing laundry, which inquisitively asked questions about where I am from and where do I want to go. At least that is what I understood with my broken, almost non-existent, knowledge about Hindi. My replies caused lots of friendly laughter and giggling. After asking for the way to the next destination (Khadbai, pronounced more like Chattbe with a snoring sound at the beginning), I faced the first real challenge. A steep ascend awaited me and every gram in the backpack tried its best to pull me back.

It took quite a long time and efforts to master that climb. In Khadbai I was greeted by Akash, a maybe 13 year old boy, who knew English and who followed me till the end of the village fields. After his curiosity was quenched, he wanted to have sweets, kerosene, petrol, my sun glasses (which I should have given him, since I lost them later that day), one water bottle or Rs.50. Since I did not pack and carry extra items for Akash, I could not give him anything and continued further to Kareri Village.

Excited about making headway fast, I again missed an inconspicuous staircase to my right, my turnoff to the Kareri Lake. There is an alternative route to the lake starting in Nauhli, but it is longer. And since on that day I had to cover already more than 20km (excluding my earlier missed turnoffs), I decided to take the shortcut. The staircase lead to the steepest and longest stairs that I have seen in my life. For hours there was only on direction: up in zigzag fashion. The problem was that the destination did not get closer, so repetitive checks on the GPS device were frustrating, if after hard work, only 100m headway had been made. So I set myself smaller intermediate targets. Half way between the stairs and the point joining the alternative route to the lake, was a temple on the map.

So let me first reach the temple and then we see further, I thought. Water was running low, which was a good thing, reducing the weight of my backpack, and a bad thing, since it was quite hot and sunny and I lost water through sweat by the liter. Thoughts like: The higher I get, the cooler will become the air, eased my body and kept me going. Unfortunately my brain did not want to play that game. It answered: The higher you get, the less oxygen is in the air and hence you will be slower. Have fun!

After hard work, I reached the temple and I was greeted by a group of 30 locals having pooja (a prayer ritual including food and gathering). First it was surreal seeing all the people, taking photos of and selfies with me. They offered me prasad (a sweet), puri (some kind of fried bread) and water, which was all devoured in front of them while they excitingly discussed the news of a sweaty, exhausted foreigner passing through.

After the temple, the trail started to fade away and at one point in time it simple ended, although according to the map, it should have continued. Assuming that the trekker, who put the trail there earlier (I am using OpenStreetMap (OSM) in which everybody can improve the map collaboratively), did not want to fool/annoy me, I thought that it might continue later. Trekking through dense forest was quite slow and difficult. Imagine you go through the thickest bush, everything has thorns poking you and most annoying are low hanging branches: Once you pass them by ducking your head, they will get stuck at the backpack and the mattress on top of it. It feels like as if mom holds you back on your collar while you reach for the cookie jar.

However when I had a break and after my heart rate came down a bit, the thirst has been quenched and I munched away some dry fruits, the surroundings become more prominent with images and sounds:

After some time, the dense forest opened up and the alternative route to the Kareri Lake became visible on the opposite hill. A barking dog greeted me while refilling my empty water bottles at the first river that I found since the steep ascend.

A barking dog indicates that civilization is close by.

Continuing on the alternative trail, signs of civilization and tourism were prominent. Every now and then there was a shop providing trekkers with cold, carbonated and sweet drinks, tasty biscuits and not to forget the standard food: Maggi instant noodles. The prices were doubled, but someone had to carry all that stuff to the remote location, right? Due to my level of exhaustion I stopped at one of the shops and had a full bottle of sweet, full of calories Tropicana Mango juice. Unfortunately the shop keeper told me that it was still at least 2 hours to my destination. I was simply tired and wanted to rest and eat something. Nevertheless I continued. And it went up and up and up. My feet were paining, my legs were cramping, my backpack was heavy and my back and shoulders were protesting.

Just 1km before the lake, I could not continue anymore and I decided to build my camp. It was close to the river and hence running water (something that is not available at the lake). I would not be bothered by parties of tourists at the lake and it was already 6:30pm. Darkness comes early and fast in the mountains and I assumed that I had 1 hour of daylight left. Enough time to cool down, pitch in the tent and cook some dinner.

It was the most exhausting day that I can remember:

I inflated the mattress and cuddled into the sleeping bag and slept like a baby through the night. The only interruption was a curious cow having a look and sniff at the tent. Eyes shut! Good night!

GPX File

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2 Responses to “first solo trek (day 1)”

  1. Jayalal Says:

    Hey Alex, Awesome trek & photos ! :).

  2. Alex Says:

    Thanks a lot, @Jayalal 🙂

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