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Trip report: Patalsu Peak

By Sam Lozier, Boston.com Correspondent

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

Now that we have a copy of the Kullu Valley Ski guide book (we left our copy in Gulmarg), we decided to head up the valley for a real tour. Nothing too big or challenging, but enough to help re-gain some of the acclimation we’d lost since Gulmarg. After a little discussion, we settled on the highly regarded Patalsu Peak, a 4220 meter (13,845ft) peak at the head of the Kulu Valley, near Solang. Though tall, it’s a pretty simple and straightforward climb to the top, and we felt we’d be able to pull it off, despite our lack of fitness.

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Allen and Amit getting ready in the pre-dawn light.

In order to be down by the time the snow got too warm in the afternoon, we awoke at 4am and were out the door by 5, and we didn’t encounter a soul as we rode our Enfields up the moon-cratered road in total darkness. At Solang, we left the bikes and hiked on dry ground to the town of Old Solang, up the hill from the newer resort village. The first rays of sun were starting to hit the peaks just as we encountered the snow line on the terraced fields above the old town, and at that point we hid the shoes, and began skinning. The grippy refrozen corn snow we found was perfect for fast mountain travel and had us up to treeline by 8:30 as the lighting across the valley was getting dramatic.

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Sun hits 5000+m Friendship Peak, across the valley.

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Allen and Amit get above treeline as the lighting gets dramatic.

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The just under 6000m Hanuman Tiba.

After a short break, we began the hardest part of the day: the last thousand meters of climbing, under a hot sun, with the peak in plain view for the entire climb. As the elevation increased, and the air thinned, our pace slowed to a crawl. By 3800m we’d get a little dizzy when we stopped to rest, and I developed a little nausea, but, with a careful eye on our symptoms, we pressed on towards the top.

We reached the summit almost exactly at noon amidst an altitude induced mental haze. The views were stunning, but as I lifted my camera to take photos, it felt as if it weighed 50 lbs. Fully aware that we were suffering the effects of the thin air, we switched our gear over as quickly as possible and started the massive descent back to Old Manali.

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Allen and Amit enjoy the view back down the Kullu Valley towards Manali.

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Allen begins the descent.

The views were astounding, but our minds were on the skiing. In our weakened states, the slightly crusty corn snow we were on proved extremely challenging and fatiguing to ski, and demanded our full attention. As we slowly made our way down the enormous west face of Patalsu peak, we (stupidly) passed by a traverse that would have taken us hard to the right, and back to our line of ascent. Instead we were drawn down the main drainage, directly towards Old Manali, and some rather large cliffs towards the valley floor. We had thought that there would be a lower way to traverse out to the slope we ascended on, but as we skied lower and lower it became abundantly clear that this was not the case.

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Amit, skiing the wrong way down the drainage.

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Amit making the “we made a mistake, didn’t we” face.

As the fog lifted from our brains, and our muscles started to work again, we decided that since we were rapidly running out of snow, it was time to hike back up to the correct aspect. 200m of steep boot packing through brush brought us back to the ridge, where, exhausted, we re-donned our ski gear and zipped down to the spot where we’d stashed our shoes on the terraced fields above old Manali.

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Maybe that traverse is a little further…

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Looking doubtful.

Check out the rest of the trip report over on Famous Internet Skiers.

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