Auden’s Col is a lesser frequented pass. Elevated at 5490m (18012 ft), it is infamous as the most dangerous pass in the Garhwal Himalayas. The pass and the Khatling glacier are heavily infested with crevasses (deep open cracks in the glaciers) on the entire route. A very experienced guide is highly recommended to avoid falls in these crevasses, which otherwise could lead to futile search operations. The pass is named after John Bicknell Auden of the Geological Survey of India, who first discovered it in 1935 and crossed it in 1939. This pass was then explored only after late eighties.When I had read about this pass years back, never in my dreams had I thought that I’ll get a chance to ascend it. Our beloved trekker friend (a doctor) got obsessed with this trek and managed to convince “Team7” just a month before the plan. Adding to the difficulties, we included Mayali pass too in the same plan. Difficulty level: Demanding
Route: Gangotri – Nala Camp – Rudragaira BC – Gangotri BC – Auden’s Col BC – Auden’s Col – Khatling Glacier – Waterfall Camp/Zero Point – Chowki – Masar Tal – Mayali Pass – Vasuki Tal – Kedarnath – Gaurikund
Total distance covered: 115 km
Passes crossed: Auden’s Col (5490m/18010 ft), Mayali Pass (5000m/16400 ft)
No. of trekking days: Planned – 12 days, Actual – 11 days.
Dates we trekked on: 1st Jun 2015 - 11th Jun 2015
This trek starts from a temple and ends at another, ticking off 2 temples of the Chardham. I didn’t know until I was there that I was on a religious trip!! (which I would have avoided in all cases, if not for a trek).The roadtrip to the base started from Rishikesh. After crossing beautiful valleys of Uttarkashi, Bhaironghati and Harsil, we arrived to our base Gangotri.
The beautiful walk took us through the Pine, Cedar, Rhododendrons and Birch trees amongst the forests of Gangotri National Park. Bhojpatra – bark of the Birch tree was used in ancient times for writing scriptures.
On our way ahead we encountered glaciers and our walk on the snow had unexpectedly started from Day1!! It had started snowing too. The glacier on the river and snow on the moraine made it easier for us to cross the rough patch, I must admit! Trek for Day1 ended at a campsite called “Nala Camp”. This was the only day we could find some soil to pitch our tents on. The incessant snowfall lowered the temperature to -2 degrees in the night, making it very difficult for us to adjust to the cold conditions on day1.
Day2: Nala Camp (3760m/12335 ft) to Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft) – 7 km / 4 hrs
Day3: Rest and acclimatization day at Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft)
It was very important for us to spend an acclimatization day at this height to get adapted to our further ascends. This night had got extremely cold because of high wind flow and snow storms. The skies weren’t clear which obstructed the view of Rudragaira peaks.
Day4: Rudragaira BC (4350m/14270 ft) to Gangotri BC (4500m/14760 ft) – 6 km / 3 hrs
This day’s ascend involved negotiating moraine and technical surfaces. The sky was clear for sometime and we got view of Rudragaira peak on our way. Heavy wind had kicked off while walking on the ridge. The trek became very difficult as the snow started hitting hard on the face. The ascend was steep again. After crossing the frozen lake we got beautiful views of Gangotri peaks from our campsite.
The ascend was easy as our bodies had acclimatized well by now. There was a fresh avalanche observed near the Auden’s Col base camp, so we decided to camp a little lower at 4650m. That meant we had to start for Auden’s Col pass earlier than planned. The view of Auden’s Col from the campsite brought smiles on all faces. Extreme cold night and anxiety for next day contributed to sleepless night!
Day6: Auden’s Col BC (4650m/15250 ft) to Auden’s Col Pass (5490m/18010 ft) to Khatling Glacier (5000m/16400 ft) – 16 km / 11 hrs
The day started with breakfast at 03:00. The wind flow and snow storm was getting wilder and so was the tension in the dining tent! Everything including shoes, shoe laces, hands, feet were frozen and with much difficulty we got dressed in our gears. Suddenly I exclaimed “I’m scared”. Each one then confessed their fear too, but nobody had the thought of going back. After giving fist pounds to eachother, without wasting anytime, we started off our ascend with bold hearts. The idea was to cross the pass (6 km ascend) and reach the campsite at Khatling glacier before the sun is up and snow starts melting. The moon light trek gave pretty view of Auden’s Col, the first rays of sun emerged out of the dusk – Damn!!! how I wish I could go back in time and feel all these all over again.
The ascend kept getting steeper and never ending. One of the best trekkers of our group felt dehydrated and collapsed midway. He wanted to give up for a while. This big shock was enough to weaken our confidence. We helped him get hydrated again and encouraged him to get going. Every step was getting difficult at higher altitudes. It had started snowing, making it extremely difficult for us. The pass looked so close, yet so far! The last push required was more of mental than physical. We all knew it was the toughest climb of ours till date. We forgot all our pains when we saw the entire team on the top. The feeling of pride and achievement had taken over the freezing cold of -20 degrees on the top.
The descend was scarier than the ascend. 75 degrees felt like 90 degrees on the snow. While the rope was being tied for our rappelling, we almost felt frost bites on our feet. Rappelling was tough but fun. We kept slipping on the snow even with the rope in our hands and it required a team effort for us to land safe.
Next was the walk on the dangerous, 12 km long Khatling Glacier. This glacier is infamous for frequent deep crevasses. We had to walk holding a rope as precaution so that if anybody accidentally steps on the snow on the crevasse, can be pulled by others and rescued. Luckily we had a highly experienced guide with us who didn’t let any crevasse deceive us. We ended our long day at a campsite on Khatling glacier.
Day7: Khatling Glacier (5000m/16400 ft) To Chowki (3540m/11100 ft) - 16 km / 8hrs
I got up in the morning to realize that the climb to Auden’s Col had damaged my shoes. The pasting of the sole had started coming off due to toe-kicking ascends and heel-kicking descends in the snow. I prayed that they survive for few more days. We continued walking on Khatling glacier, escaping the crevasses. After the glacial stretch, there was continuous descend through moraine and heavy boulders by the river. We clubbed 2 days as per itinerary and headed to Chowki from zero point on the same day.
Day8: Chowki (3540m/11100 ft) to Masar Tal (3675m/12050 ft) - 9 km / 7 hrs
Just when we felt relaxed about snow and tough ascends, our hopes were killed by yet another day of steep climb. The ascend was on meadows, moraine and snow again. Some patches of ascend were dangerously steep. The beautiful views of Thalay Sagar peak and the ridge overlooking the valley were breath taking. We camped near the frozen lake Masar Tal. I felt like waking up at this campsite for the rest of my life.
Day9: Masar Tal (3675m/12050 ft) to Mayali Pass (5000m/16400 ft) to Vasuki Tal (4135m/13560 ft) – 12 km / 8 hrs
Yet another tough and long day. We thought the worst was over and we were surprised with the difficulty level of each day. We crossed the frozen and crystal clear Masar Tal and ascended the steep ridge to Mayali pass. After a strenuous walk cutting the snow mountains, there was again a steep climb to the Mayali pass. The descend from Mayali pass was technical. We had to rappel down the steep snow mountains. The day ended on a fun-note as we enjoyed sliding down the mountains to the next campsite near Vasuki Tal.
Day10: Vasuki Tal (4135m/13560 ft) to Kedarnath (3580m/11750 ft) – 8 km / 8 hrs
This day was expected to be lighter on our legs, but the gratuitous amount of snow left us heavy on breathes and legs. The trail started with beautiful view of Vasuki Tal and a natural pool around it. The ascend to the ridge was steep and descend on the snow was risky. The sight of Kedarnath which was heavily ruined due floods and cloud burst 2 years back, was tragic.
Day11: Kedarnath (3580m/11750 ft) to Gaurikund (1830m/6000 ft) – 21 km / 5 hrs
The last day of the trek started from temple with muddled feelings. It was difficult to express if we were happy about going back to our luxuries or sad about missing the mountains. My choice was very clear, I had already started missing the mountains. The descend from Kedarnath to Gaurikund felt more like a pilgrimage tour. Thankfully my shoes survived till the end.
During the entire trek we kept cursing Doctor for forcing us to this trek (he cursed himself as well). We all started missing the trek, the moment we bid adieu to each other. We thank Doctor everyday for making us feel proud and privileged about ourselves. Undoubtedly this was the best trek we’ve ever had. Auden’s Col is pure, pristine and beautiful. Ours was the only team trekking there at that time.
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Medhavi Davda
The original post can be found here.