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We did it for the traversing….

Storm pano1.jpgBy Sam Lozier, Boston.com Correspondent

Ski blogger Sam Lozier is spending a chunk of this winter skiing in India.

After spending a short time here, we discovered that there isn’t much of significance that can be skied in a single day in the Kullu Valley. The combination of long approaches and high altitude means that by the time you get to the foot of something, it is usually melting away under a midday sun.

 

To remedy this problem, we headed out for an overnight traverse from Gulaba, a military checkpoint along the Rhotang Road, back to our hotel in Vashisht. The plan called for two nights out above 4,000 meters and a significant distance to be covered. We were later told that the same route, a popular one during the summer, takes five days for guided trekking groups to complete.

 

Our tour started with a 7 a.m. taxi ride to snow line near Gulaba. It was so windy when we arrived, and the driver was in such a rush to get back into his warm car that he forgot to ask us for money. We didn’t realize it until a few hours later and got a good chuckle out of his mistake.

 

The first day can be summarized by saying that we had very heavy overnight packs, and that we hiked. A lot. Seriously, like 1,900 meters of vertical with a 50-pound bag. When we finally got to camp, we were at 4,300 meters, and were sucking wind with every step. When we got to the location of our new slope-side lodging at 2 p.m. though, we still couldn’t relax. As a weight, and cost-saving measure before the trip, Allen and I had decided to forgo a tent and rely on our as-of-yet unproven ability to build a snow cave.

 

So, at 4,300 meters, after an exhausting day of hiking, we set out to teach ourselves the fine art of snow camping. Two cold, wet, hours of playing in the snow, and we had completed our slope-side lodging. We had just enough time to eat some dinner (that cooks slooooowly at  4,000-plus meters), watch the sun go down, the stars come out, and finally settle into our cave for the night.

 

Contrary to what is probably popular belief, snow caves aren’t cold; in fact they’re one of the warmest ways to spend a night out in the winter. We had a great time reading and talking for about 20 minutes before our exhaustion caught up with us and forced us to sleep. The warmth of snow caves is both a blessing and a curse. It makes them a delightfully warm refuge from the weather, but it also makes it virtually impossible to get out of one's sleeping bag the following morning.

 

By 9:30 a.m. (a late start for corn snow), we were hiking again, and after 15 minutes of climbing, we began what would become several miles and 1,000 meters of traversing across an entire sub-range. Midway through our day-long traverse we reached what we thought would be our campsite for the second night, but, halfway through digging our second cave, Amit poked his head up and noticed the large black storm clouds rolling in from down the valley.  After a few minutes of hemming and hawing about what we should do, we decided that, based on our experience with thunderstorms in Manali, we should probably take the safe choice and head down .

 

Two more hours of steady traversing, and we reached the tree line somewhere above Vashisht. If I’d known exactly where, this post would probably end here, but instead we got to have hours more fun.

 

What made this next part so interesting (read: horrible) is the fact that above Vashisht lies under an almost interrupted wall of cliffs. At points it’s impassible, at others its confusing and dangerous, but passable. At one poorly marked spot, there is an actual trail that drops from tree-line, far above Vashisht, right down into the town.  Since we had no map, and close to no idea where we were, we relied on the time-tested technique of trial and error to find our way home.

 

After three hours of skiing down promising chutes, getting cliffed out, and climbing back out, we stumbled across a clear-cut patch of forest, and a slightly worn, scarcely-a-goat-path, trail, just as the sun went down.  Thankful for our luck, that had saved us from spending the night out on the steep, unprotected slopes (we had left snow line behind at this point), we blazed down the precipitous 1,000-meter trail, back to our hotel where we promptly fell asleep after over 12 hours of constant motion.

 

For photos from the journey, click here.

 

Read and see more of Sam's work at www.famousinternetskiers.com

 

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