The last week of October brought my third Activity Week and my third major trek in the Himalaya. I was all smiles when I found out that I had won a place on a trek, and was even happier when I heard that I would be trekking in an area that I hadn't been to - the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand (technically, we also hiked into the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh). My smiles, however, turned apprehensive when I discovered that a search on the internet, despite using the countless spellings of Changsheel, yields next to nothing. Even better, no one at Woodstock had been on the hike. Pairing that with a leader who is notorious for getting lost, I was expecting something less beautiful, but perhaps more adventurous, than the idyllic Kuari Pass trek that I did last year.
Despite our position as guinea pigs, we found ourselves crossing a picturesque mountain river, gathering around a campfire in the "jungle" forests of pine and cypress, trudging through kilometers of snow, and standing on the highest point of a Himalayan ridge. Needless to say, it was gorgeous. Our group consisted of 3 staff members, 3-5 local guides (two of them walked off in the middle of the trek!), a stray sheep dog, 4 mules, and a great mix of 17 students from India, Tibet, Australia, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Nepal, and the states.
Day 1: After about 9 hours of the bumpiest bus ride yet and then another hour in a jeep, we landed in the Govind Pashu Vihar Wildlife Santuary near the town of Naitwar. Our campsite was set next to the beautiful, and very rocky Rupin River.
Campsite 1 by the Rupin River.
We had our fair share of pyro boys. Notice how many of them are poking the fire!
Day 2: A 13 kilometer walk uphill. We started by crossing the Rupin and walking through the village of Dhaula. We continued to cross the river many times, walked through a second village, and continued up to our "jungle" campsite. By jungle, Hindi speakers mean "forest" which makes a bit more sense considering the cold temps and high altitude (10,000ft?).
Villagers eager to pose for a picture!
Fields of something that no one seems to be able to tell me the name of - I think it is amaranth or sorghum or chulai. Whatever it is, it is gorgeous.
Our guide (in black) and helpers. The guide always told me "very good." I'm not sure why.
Day 3: We left the jungle campsite and walked a steep 13 km to what should be called the "tundra" site. Within a few kilometers, we encountered snow. Little did we know, we would be walking on snow for 3 days! It is quite entertaining to watch 15 year olds, who are awkward enough trying to manage their bodies with heavy packs on, walking on snow and ice when the majority of them have seen it only a few times in their life. While they never quite became graceful, they sure did improve their snowball fighting skills!
A morning snowball fight
Ponies and hikers crossing a snowy bridge.
Our first great view point. Foothills to the south and snow-peaks at our backs.
Walking in deep snow is pretty exciting when you're from Australia or Taiwan!
Sunset at camp 3
Sunset at camp 3
Day 4: Because our route was a there-and-back trip rather than a circuit, we left our packs in our tents and took a day hike to our summit destination. Walking at around 12,000 ft on some precarious terrain, we were thankful to be traveling light. Essentially, we followed the ridge line all the way to the highest point on the ridge. More than once I visualized myself taking a wrong step and tumbling to my death, which was not irrational. The sun was strong, the wind cold, and the paths muddy and icy. Our last ascent was literally a 45 degree angle (my co-chaperon was the math teacher) walking straight up to the summit. The view from the top was gorgeous - 360 degree view of Himalayan foothills and snowpeaks.
Early morning bird tracks
Sledding on sleeping mats! (The Delhi boys eventually got the hang of it so they weren't coming down sideways!)
Morning play in the snow at campsite 3.
The highest point on the ridge!
360 degree view
Group photo after making a stop-motion snowman animation :)
A flat part of the descent in the afternoon sun.
Day 5: After two nights freezing at the tundra site (temps were well below freezing at night!), we were eager to move to warmer climes. Yet, it was sad to say goodbye to the views. Much to the students' surprise, walking down is faster than walking up and we reached the jungle site with time to spare. Back below the treeline, we thoroughly appreciated the ability to have a fire.
Before sunrise, looking out over the foothills (Mussoorie is perched on one of those distant hills)
Campsite at dawn.
Day 6: Another day of re-tracing our steps. Again, we were quite quick, especially since we were completely out of the slippery snow/ice/mud zone. We enjoyed some more adventurous "rock climb" hiking (scaling large boulders by the river) and also a long lunch in the village of Dhaula.
The long descent down the mountain.
Villager in the amaranth/sorghum/chulai field
Villager with baby sheep!
Day 7: Our last day consisted of minimal walking and maximal sitting. Another jeep ride and long bus ride - at least this time I got to sit on TOP of the jeep with a bunch of girls. A definite highlight.
Riding on top of the jeep! (Thank goodness liability is not an issue in India!)
A bumpy, rocky road + sitting on top of the jeep for an hour = bruised butt bones.
Onlookers staring out from their second floor porch onto a jeep covered in foreign girls!
Word to the Wise: When you sit backwards on the top of a jeep, you need to be careful of your head, and/or entire body.