How was our Date with Death at Panchal Deva Mountains
They hire two senior guides for their exit trek from one of the remotest points.
All of it started with one experienced trekker, two trekkers and businessmen. One energetic wanderer and one amateur trekker all from Himachal Pradesh.
It was the beginning of our Date with Death.
The two senior guides are Shri Durga Ram and Shri Maan Singh Gurung! First day of trekking starts with some easy to moderate walk through dense forest.
With all black shades, Ravi River runs madly beside the trail. We did not knew this was the beginning of our Date with Death at Panchal Deva Range.
The trail has constant and clearly visible huge footprints of chubby and furry wild friend. It reminded to us that we are venturing in the home of the Brown and the Black Bear!
The first days walk turned out easy and long. But it was refreshing with beautiful fragrance of the herbs all along the trail. We climbed steep hill sides. Walked down with beautiful views that were/are beyond description.
For some it was their first trekking and camping of the several days. By noon we stopped for the packed lunch break and some rest.
As we walked further, we noticed a string of the horses. One of the horse came running towards us. He probably took us as one of their owners. But once he realized that, we weren’t known to him, he galloped back to his mates.
Green, it was all around with good views of the valleys.
We hold up there for another much needed break before calling it a day. After another one hour of walk, we met brother and sister who were out there to collect the herbs.
(Digging of the herbs in Reserve Forests is not legal. Even the so called licensed contractors cheat the local villagers.
They lure them to pay high price for the herbs.
But once, the villagers collect huge amount of herbs, the so called contractors pay them less money.
Quoting reason that the market value for the herbs has dropped significantly. So the villagers should either sell the herbs at lower price or throw it away!)
(The same illegal contractors even threaten local seasonal shepherds. Due to this illegal digging/mining for the herbs, the mountains and hills come under threat.
Because once you dig a huge hole or something like that in many spots. These very holes trigger landslides during the heavy rain of monsoon.)
The two (brother and sister) turned out to be the real nephews of Shri Durga Ram. Now we walk through the forest of Birch trees.
Birch, the outer shell of this tree was used to write down mantras and letters before paper was invented.
The nephew of Shri Durga Ram carried the much heavy backpack (that included cooking utensils for the trek).
The trail was not easy, but not that difficult either. We had to make steps by striking boots against the steep walls of the hill. Soon we reached the campsite and were welcomed by a herd of goats and a hut made of stones. We camped near that seasonal hut.
By the time we pitched our tents, tea was served to all. Soon we were accompanied by a shepherd from Hamirpur, who also had camped in the same hut.
He showed us another steep trail for Kugati Pass and Chamba ManiMahesh beyond it.
The campsite is adored by Spinach like plants, which are very dear to the Brown Bear. The distant Mountains are garlanded with the snow and the hanging glaciers.
After tea break all of us enjoyed the instant soup. Dinner included rice, daal and chapati for few.
It was cold with mild drizzle, so soon after dinner everyone slipped in to their respective tents and the sleeping bags.
With the arrival of the morning, we had Oats as breakfast for everyone in the campsite. There we were visited by another wealthy shepherd.
Despite him being sufficiently wealthy. He still chose to herd the sheep and the goats in the hills. That day he was heading to the other side of the hill, to check his another stock of the sheep and the goats.
Soon after breakfast we packed our stuff and started our day two of the trek. We hurriedly crossed another rivulet, before it took control of the crossing.
Mild rain followed in and with some cold wind and constant walk, we were at our second campsite. The campsite was abandoned and was stopped from being used by the local shepherds.
In hurry we pitched our Quechua Two Men Tent and used a tarp over the open stone hut for our kitchen.
Water was sourced by Shri Maan Singh Gurung from the nearby glacier. As usual a few of our friends climbed up nearby hill for the sighting of the Mountain Pass. Rest of us prepared the last batch of the soup, followed by tea.
Mr Maan Singh Gurung started the fire with woods and shrubs. We had collected some of the woods along the trek for preparing dinner and the camp fire.
Again heavy rain followed in and three of us were inside the stone hut, which was used by us as kitchen. It was good time, with sharing of each other’s experiences be it regarding trekking or cooking.
The rain was heavy but for a short moment.
As usual after dinner all of us slipped in to our sleeping bags. BUT were kept awake with the huge sound of the rock falls and glacier break ups across the valley.
Now we understood why that campsite was abandoned. It was because of constant rock falls and glacier break ups in the distant mountains.
Even in the same campsite the fallen rocks and boulders had proved that, it had experienced rock falls in the past.
By mid night there was another long huge rock fall and the sound of it echoed up to our campsite. In the pin drop silence of the night, that long and loud rumble made our heart beat fast.
Some of us even had kept the zip lines of our sleeping bag open, for just in case.
Within 100 meters of our campsite, we even heard hunger cries of some baby wild animal. Maybe it was of some bear cub. But with the mercy of the mountains, the night was good for all of us.
Next morning we had to start off for the trail very early, so the first thing to do was get water for the tea.
Water which on previous day was sourced from nearby glacier, now was very difficult to collect. Because the same glacier was frozen like cold rock and the water was trickling like small droplets.
After tea, it was planned to prepare breakfast. But instead of breakfast, everyone ate five-six spoons of last night’s left over dinner. With that all started off for another long and the tiring trek.
A trek that was going through steep hill sides, the glaciers, crevasse and the moraine.
It proved another big mistake in the terminology of hiking, trekking and mountaineering.
Skipping of the breakfast and the lunch in the mountains takes instant toll on your body. Specially if you are also carrying your heavy backpack with tents and mats.
The results are clearly visible. Like facial bones screaming to come out of your face. Eating dry fruits and biscuits does not help much.
Our two senior guides were very helpful all along the long and tiring trail. With moderate rest, we arrived at the first bed of the steep moraine followed by small crevasse.
The climb was tiring with bit of slips on the sandy and the hard ice. Since, we had no crampons or ice axes with us. So we walked slowly and carefully.
As we walked up, the gradient of the moraine increased and with that the depth of crevasse increased as well. To add to it, we were heading closer to the rock fall area, quite a natural phenomena.
We maintained proper distance from the rock fall zones. The experience of Mr Maan Singh Gurung and Mr Durga Ram helped us safely steer through the deep beautiful, bluish crevasses.
Hypnotizing crevasses, if I may say so!
Sometimes we even had to retreat to a safe point before moving forward from another safe direction.
Personally for me this was my first ever long walk through the moraine and the deep crevasses. I had not attended any mountaineering course before this trek.
When looking back to the point from where we had started our days trek. The views were/are awesome.
The hanging glaciers and the fog added to the beauty. The constant rock fall near-by, kept us alert.
As we walked further, we found ourselves in a stadium made of the glaciers. The only safe point seemed to us was a medium sized boulder buried in the snow, which served as a podium.
All of us unloaded the backpacks and now were staring at the walls of the mountains pass. We had to climb this mountain pass!!
We didn’t knew, the Date with Death at Panchal Deva range, was waiting for us.
The features of that mountain pass, which were known to Mr Maan Singh Gurung had changed drastically.
Climate Change had made the glaciers melt down. Which further made it difficult to reach the top of ** Jot.
There was no climbing trail or route. Now we were in the base of a bowl shape with steep mountains around us and a net of tricky crevasses behind us.
All of us were left baffled. We tried to scan the climbing routes, which were not visible at any point. The on going rock fall near by was adding to the confusion.
A trek, which was in no way meant to be Technical now seemed very technical. And for which none of us was prepared.
Then Mr Maan Singh Gurung took the initiative and tried to climb the steep point, which had no feasible trail. But as per him that was used to be the actual trail side.
He climbed with the heavy backpack and made way through the hard ice and the slippery rocks. Once at the mid point, he removed his backpack and tried to scan alternative trail for us, but all in vain.
Then Mr Sunil Sharma brought out a sling from his backpack for in case needed. Though for the part from which Mr Maan Singh Gurung had climbed up. It required a full length rope, so in that situation a sling was also hopeful.
Second one to go up was Mr Sunil Sharma, the energetic wanderer. He also slipped over the sandy hard ice but somehow managed to reach Mr Maan Singh Gurung.
Now the sandy and slippery hard ice point was more difficult to navigate for the rest of the team members.
Then climbed Mr Durga Ram. Maybe Mr Maan Singh Gurung used that sling to pull Mr Durga Ram from the slippery point.
With the help of the sling Mr Maan Singh Gurung pulled up all of us.
Once everyone was at the point of Mr Maan Singh Gurung, all of us started to climb up side. Now this was not regular trekking or hiking.
It was more like a technical mountaineering, of course, all we had was just a sling.
Not trying to sound like professionals. Because even untrained Gaddi Shepherds can beat a pro-mountaineer.
A seasoned and real shepherd can navigate through such points without having specific training in the mountaineering course.
The exit from the bowl shaped glacier field and that boulder podium was a relief. Because after that climb everyone had hoped for a good slope. We thought there is a visible trail on the other side of the mountain pass!
But something else was waiting for us. Date with Death had already started.
Even Mr Rijul Shergill of Dharamsala, Mr Kapil Mehta and Mr Ankush Sharma of Shimla. Sunil Sharma of Hamirpur and I, none of us was aware of it.
As we climbed/crawled to the top, the next view was breathtaking yet awesome. Breathtaking it is/was because, there is/was literally no trail and no easy slope as we all had hoped and were told about.
A sense of fear embedded in all of us, yet everyone tried to remain calm. But deep inside all knew, what the situation meant.
The meaning was really no good! It was the peak of our Date with Death at Panchal Deva range.
As per tradition, we offered our prayers at the top of * Jot and tried to remain calm.
At times, all had thoughts of returning to the last nights campsite and make way back.
Behind us is a net of crevasses, moraine with steep climb down and in front it is a steep fall. There is no trail for easy climb down.
The altitude was 5,000 meters minus 20 meters as per GPS, but I would call it straight 5,000 meters.
A Date with Death, because there was NO TRAIL to climb down or to safely navigate through. For a while our brain had stopped working, but regained the control and all sat calmly.
The only factor that was adding to the fear was the incoming fog and wind. Further the views from that height was really frightening.
I was in no mood of photography. Because it was for the first time, me took a Technical climb. So height may not have been a factor but no visible or no trail just was a concern for everyone.
We were on a Date with Death at Panchal Deva mountains. Then we had not realized that, we were also accompanied by the angels of the mountains.
They are in the form of our senior guides, Mr Durga Ram and Mr Maan Singh Gurung.
As we all sat tight, Mr Maan Singh Gurung removed his backpack and took the leap of faith to trace the trail.
Mr Sunil Sharma pulled out his mobile camera for the shots. So myself also dared to pull out my bulky camera for the moment.
Like a mountain goat, Mr Maan Singh Gurung slowly managed to reach some 50 meters.
He went a little further and vanished at a turn. Then after some time, he came back to us and asked to follow him carefully.
He picked up his heavy backpack and led us all to the left side of the sharp mountain trek. The second one to follow him is Mr Durga Ram.
Trail tracing in steep Panchal Deva mountains.
We are not mountain goats. But somehow managed to navigate through frail trail. Reached the point which was explored by Mr Maan Singh Gurung.
We had to place our feet on loose soil and with trail width only fit for our boots.
Then the duo Mr Maan Singh Gurung and Mr Durga Ram, our mountain angels. They took charge of the situation. Both of them went ahead of us to explore the possible trails for the safe climb down.
As we are moving through the steep and the loose walls of the steep mountain. We experienced some drops of snowflakes.
It is not a joke and it was really a great blessing that it didn’t rained. After some snowflakes, the weather turned good with thick clouds in nearby high mountains.
The mountains of Panchal Deva range in front of us were like a colorful layered cake but with sharp walls.
At that moment the main concern for all was a SAFE climb down and reach the base of the mountain. The base in fact was another bed of the moraine and the crevasse.
Sometimes our mountain angles had to climb down to a long distances to check the feasible trail. They even had to climb back up side, if no trail was found.
So it really was a tough job for them. They were risking their selves while searching for the treks.
For some points they even had to carry the load of our backpack up to the safe points. The concern for Mr Durga Ram and Mr Maan Singh Gurung was to climb down before the cold sunset.
We were told, the climb down should take only 2 hours . But since there was no trail, so for us it took all good 6-7 hours.
Further more, whatever trail was being discovered by our two mountain angles, it had loose soil and rocks. And that slowed our climb down.
The whole trail had a great feasibility of the slip and the fall. The steepness and loose grainy dirt, made it more difficult.
Every time, we reached a lower and safe point. We had a sigh of relief because we are not mountain goats. This Date with Death was the most thrilling.
We had noticed the footprints of the goats in the moraine and the hard ice before climbing up the mountain wall. Wonder how Gaddi shepherd had navigated through no trek mountain.
May be it were the footprints/hoof prints of some wild mountain goat.
Myself had no joy/courage of looking back from where we had started the climb down. Because it is really a sharp climb down.
Whichever trail was explored by Mr Maan Singh Gurung and Mr Durga Ram was really NOT EASY ONE to follow.
With every step, we were rolling down loose rocks and with sliding our boots had a good fill of the rocky dirt. This grainy dirt further pinched our feet sole.
There was really a good chance of the hand slips. But with the mercy of mountain gods, it did not happened and we are thankful for the safe climb down.
In Technical terms too, you cannot use ropes or hooks to climb down because of the loose rocks. The grainy texture adds to the difficulty.
We would not recommend anyone to try climbing this mountain. Our Date with Death in Pir Panjal.
I regret for, we left an empty plastic water bottle at the top, very bad though. We all had gone numb. So despite me seeing the plastic bottle, had no thought of picking it up.
With long STRUGGLE and safe sliding of 6-7 hours, we managed to touch another slope of the glacier. Which further helped us to safely touch the moraine base.
Here, I personally like to thank Mr Maan Singh Gurung for providing us the wooden hiking sticks. Which also helped us to navigate through the moraine, crevasses, climbing up and then climbing down.
Once we were in moraine, we crossed over and walked over in search for the campsite. Through out this Date with Death, for me Mr Durga Ram and Mr Maan Singh Gurung were not guides.
But more like angles, who helped us to navigate through no trail mountain pass. They helped in our safe climb down.
I personally touched their feet and took their blessings. As the job they had accomplished was not an easy one. Because at some points when, they were out to check for the trails. I’d turn my eyes away out of fear.
All during the climb down, myself prayed to the nearby Mountains. Prayed Dhauladhar Mountains, Pir Panjal and Himalayas to take away my arrogance and give me peace. (Update still working on it Dec-2-2021)
It took us another 2-3 hours of the good walk through the moraine and the darkness. Finally settling for the tents in small space among the boulders. With this we were done with our Date with Death at Panchal Deva range.
Everyone pitched tents, but for me the priority was food. Mr Maan Singh Gurung arranged for the clean water and we managed a quick fresh dal pulaow for everyone.
With dinner everyone was in the rest mode. Since our tents were on rocky surface so all had a tough time while sleeping. But still content with the safe climb down.
With the day break, me took some shots of Panchal Deva (the Pir Panjal) mountains which we had climbed down.
The hill slope, which we had walked over after climbing down had a huge surprise. It turned out to be another thick glacier bed covered with the sand and the soil.
It appeared like a layered cake, from which you can cut out a piece to eat. A cake was only missing in this Date with Death.
After photography of the Quechua Tents, myself quickly made one cup of the tea for self. Cleaned up the cooker for the breakfast. Brrrr, the water is cold. Cold like.
Later again made another batch of masala chai for everyone. After tea everyone hurried up to pack their tent and so my tent mate.
While everyone was closing the camp. I quickly emptied 1 KG of wheat porridge in the cooker. Fried it and mixed in the milk powder, sugar and water as breakfast for all.
Thanked (Panchal Deva or Pir Panjal),Dhauladhar Mountains, the Himalayas and the mountain gods for our safe climb down and Date with Death at Panchal Deva Range.
As we walked, the views are breathtaking with no words to describe it. Beautiful views, but still we had to navigate through angular slopes and cross the ice cold rivulets.
We never forgot our Date with Death and with that we reached our last point. But with that we also enjoyed the views that were being unfolded with every turn and hill sides.
Once we were at the last point, everyone enjoyed a good meal and bid farewell to each other. Everyone headed to ones own respective directions.
My heart was/is still, where we had concluded our exit trek. Memorable it was/is, learned a lot, which eventually will be helpful in upcoming treks.
But personally will not take on a trek that has no traceable trail. All that we learned while our Date with Death at Panchal Deva range.
Beautiful Mother Nature, Help Keep the Himalayas, Mountains and Nature Clean and Green. The group on Date with Death.
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