Name: Sara Umga Trek
Approx elevation: 15,800 ft
Starting Point: Kasol
Day : 01 | 7th June, 2020
It all started with the plan of my friend (Vaibhav) who wanted to do Sara Umga Pass together. But as per Covid-19 situation arising in the country, he was not able to make it and I had been bore enough from past 3 months at my stay in Manali that I decided to take up the plan and start the journey with Ramu ji and Bijju [with whom i had been trekking since the past 6 years]. Ramu ji had been trekking in Manali, Lahaul, Spiti, Zanskar and Leh valley from past 30 years and had a lot of trekking experience. There was not any route in these valleys which he had not been to. People like him fascinate me a lot for their experience and I find myself quite fortunate trekking along with them. Bijju was younger to me in age and had been a close mate since the time was in Himachal. Being a small team, and knowing each other so well we were quite confident with the plan.
We made an exact list of all the stay gear, rations, clothes and other equipment with their weights, distributed it among ourselves and packed our bags. It came out to be 19 kg for myself, 18.3 kg for Bijju and 13.5 kg for Ramu ji [whom we wanted to keep light for his age].
The night was going to be sleepless for the usual anxiousness that gets built inside you before such a journey where you don’t know how things will be.
Day 02 | 8th June, 2020
We started the day at 6 AM with a ride from Rumsu to Tosh. It took around three and a half hour to reach Tosh. The last part of the ride was tough[as per the condition of the road] and no less than a trek. We moved through the village and started the trek from the right bank of Tosh river. As soon as we were done with an hour trek, we started to feel the weight of the backpack and understood that it was not going to be easy. We kept it slow and short for the first day to give an opportunity to acclimatize with the oncoming altitude gain in the coming days. The load of 20 kg seemed heavy being the first day. We were at Budhaban after a two hours of trek. The trek for Budhaban goes through some dense forest of Pine, Chestnut, Oak and Fir trees on the right bank of Tosh river until the views open up at Budhaban. The place is visited by Gujjars in the summer season for the rich pasture land that the valley offers for grazing.
One of the kids of Gujjar family came to visit us and was being quite inquisitive about the gears that we were using like the tent, stove and the small gas canisters.
Day 03 | 9th June, 2020
The next day was going to be long. We planned to start early by 5 AM to take advantage of the overhead sun conditions.
Doing things in an alpine way is always tough but rewarding. When you get to do all the activities independently, you start enjoying every bit of it. You get filled with immense joy and happiness once you reach the campsite. Each day is like a mission, where you have to be sound enough with your plans and disciplined enough.You can’t go wrong anywhere. A perfect coordination among all the team members is also quite important. It teaches you to be humble, patient and understanding. Trekking has always helped me to be a better person in some way.
The day was going to be long as we had planned to skip a campsite in between. The load was heavy and it was going to be tiring. Being a small team, it was easy to stick on the schedule. We started the day at 5 AM, had our tea and breakfast, packed all the gears and commenced the march at 6 AM. We tried to keep a slow and continuous pace. The first part of the trek went through some forest patch until we reached a small green meadow known as Shari Thach. Views start getting clear once you leave Shari Thach as the valley opens up with distant views of Tosh Glacier. The trek from Shari Thach to Sharam Thach was easy with just a few climbs on the way and took us around 2 hours. Sharam Thach falls to be a bigger green meadow and more flat. The place is usually visited by the locals to collect herbs. The place looked beautiful to camp for it seemed like one of the rarest looking green meadows with the most amazing views, but since we had planned to skip and continue till Shamshi, we just continued focussing on the bigger goal. The route to Shamshi Thach from Sharam Thach was long but easy with just one steep climb followed by an hour of very gradual climb. Since we were doing the trek in early June, there was a strong snow bridge on the Tosh river. We found it good enough for the climb as compared to the usual route which involves a lot of ups and downs. It took us around 90 minutes to traverse the whole snow gully on Tosh river until we were on the visible ridge line. The trek after this was almost flat and continued for around 40 minutes until we had reached Shamshi Thach. To our good luck we had few clear spots without snow to pitch our tent. The day had been long and tiring but the view that Shamshi Thach offered took all the tiredness and filled us with fresh energy.
The next day’s route was visible from Shamshi Thach. Ramuji says that the trek to base camp was going to be a long one as we had planned to skip Kuta Thach and was completely on moraines.
Day 04 | 10th June, 2020
This was going to be the most exciting and adventurous day of the journey as the entire route was supposed to be a complete moraine patch on the glacier which feeds Tosh river. Besides the route involved few rockfall areas which had to be traversed smartly. Since we were adamant to skip Kuta Thach, we took an alternate route[both the routes are parallel to each other] which involved a direct traverse to the valley without climbing to Kuta Thach and descending back to join the main route. The snow had still not melted and was around 1 ft to 4 ft upon the moraines. It acted like a hard snow bridge at most of the place but was very tough to predict around the moraines, where there was a chance of sinking down. We traversed zig zag finding out the best route and made it to the last part where the valley divides into – left and right. While we were supposed to take the left turn, the right one is known as the Tosh glacier. Once you are on the left valley, you get to see the base camp and the pass on your right. It looked like a two hours of climb but the entire ridgeline was so susceptible to rock fall that we had to wait and check the whole area finding out the best route. Meanwhile, we also found a small water source to make some energy drinks and revive our-self. We checked on the entire patch and there seemed to be about 3 to 4 possible routes which could have taken us to the base camp. When doing things in an alpine way you are on your own. One wrong decision can get you in the biggest possible trouble with no option of rescue. We as a team gave a good time to discuss all the possible options and selected the one on the extreme left, running straight to the top with a continuous snow patch and no signs or impressions of any prior rockfall. The patch was tough with almost a 60 degree gradient and we were not supposed to take any break. Ramu ji did not have a good pair of shoes to make proper steps. So me and Bijju kept on alternating among ourselves with one guy making steps and the other guy helping Ramu Ji until we had made it to the top. This had been the toughest and the most tiring part of the entire route as it was almost 4700 meters, however we had been proving ourselves as a strong team and we managed to reach the base camp at 3 PM, just when the weather was turning bad and started to snow. It really felt like an achievement when we were there in the camp. I had been anxious about this day from the start for Ramu Ji kept on talking about it as the most difficult day and now here we were at Sara Umga Base camp, having completed the trek in the best possible way so far.
We were supposed to cross the pass the next day which although looked easy but is always the most critical part of any trek for the maximum altitude is still left to cover. The temperature start dropping below zero after 7 PM and it was time to jump in to our sleeping bag for tomorrow we had to start early.
Day 05 | 11th June, 2020
We all had a very cold and sleepless night as the camp was pitched on snow and the night had been really windy. Thanks to our strong 4 season tent which resisted the string winds quite well but nothing could have been done against the below zero temperature. We got out from our sleeping bags at 4 AM and started with our usual chores of tea and oats. We melted some snow and stocked up the water reserve as there was supposed to be none for the first 4-5 hours of trek. We packed our tent and started for the pass at 5:30 AM. It took us just an hour to reach the top of the pass and involved an ascent of 30-40 degrees gradient. As soon we were on the pass, the peaks of Papsura and Dharmsura became visible, with sun coming out from the summit of Dharmsura. The first rays of the sun falling on our bodies seemed like the best possible reward after the cold sleepless night. We were there on the pass at 6 AM. We spent some time clicking a few photos, took some drone shots and got ready for the descent. The route after the pass involved a series of crevasse to tread along. Being the first week of June the crevasses were supposed to be packed, but still we got roped up and kept our ice axe handy to minimize the risk of any member’s fall. We traversed the snow patch for around 3 hours until the moraines started which was a bit easier than the last day as the trail was well marked in between. The route continued on the right bank of the river coming out from the glacier for around 2 hours until we reached the survey rest house. Just next to the rest house there was supposed to be a bridge, which to our disappointment was not there as we were the first ones to reach there after the winters. We somehow managed to put the wooden logs back to the position and crossed it. We descended for another 10 minutes and reached the Jhoola but things were not in favour. Ramu ji had been to this route a couple of years back. As per last year floods, the jhoola had been washed and a new one had been put on the other side of the stream which we had just traversed. We were tired and were in the last 15 minutes of the day’s trek. But I guess God was tasting our patience. We climbed back to the same point from where we had traversed the stream and went on the other side. Lucky that the bridge we had put was strong enough to be there. It took us another 15 minutes to reach Jhoola. But things were not going to end so soon. The Jhoola was on the other side of the river, anchored. We had been carrying a pulley, harness and carabiners with us. But the wire was too thick for the pulley to run over. So there was no way to reach on the other side of the stream, unless someone removed the anchor from the other side and set the jhoola to this side or we did another 30 kms of trek to reach Batal[we had kept reserve supplies for it as a backup option]. Suddenly we spotted two shepherd people on the other side of the river. We started whistling and used the glass reflector to signal them. After a nonstop effort of an hour they were finally able to spot us and one of them came to our rescue setting the jhoola free to our side. For me he was like a God, who had appeared to give a perfect ending of our journey. One by one we all traversed the river via Jhoola and reached the Forest Resthouse. When we happened to talk to the shepherd people we got to know that they were the first ones to reach there and the rest of the groups were behind. One day early in the itinerary would have delayed us by 2 days. We were lucky that everything was in favour in this particular journey. The trek was a real success for all 3 of us as the weather had been really supportive throughout and we as a team, never gave up at any moment. We camped at Chota Dhara overnight.
Day 06 | 12th June, 2020
We started the day in a relaxed fashion. Got up by 6 AM. Did our usual chores and left at 7 AM. While trekking in Spiti, the air is very dry, with overhead sun and strong wind in the noon. Chatru is around 17 kms from Chota Dhara and the trail goes exactly on the road. The road is open only for 3 months[July, August and September] once BRO cleans all the winter snow and rock debris. We spotted a lot of shepherds advancing up as per their usual pattern of coming to Spiti to find good grass in the monsoons. Spiti receives relatively lesser rain, which leads to a better quality of grass growing here for their cattle to graze upon. Once we were at Chatru, we were shocked to find a close friend of ours who had come to drop another friend to Chatru. This journey had been perfect. It was just the last day when our patience was being checked and it seemed that we had passed well for we were being rewarded one after the other. We just got into the vehicle and took around 4 hours[shortest in my experience] to reach Manali. Fifth day, and we were home, safe, sound and successful.