Thursday, December 13, 2007

White Mountains Blue Sheep and a Transparent Snow Leopard

Luck has been very gracious with me and I have got most of my wishes come true. I have had my share of failures as well but some of my deep childhood fantasies have always been granted. As a kid for a long time I had a fantasy to be a shepherd. Probably everyone some time in their lives wants to be a shepherd. Don’t worry about the clock… walk the hills with the sheep… enjoy the beautiful streams and meadows… and do all that a shepherd does. I will not be protecting my wild sheep from their wild predators. I would actually be happy to even see a Tibetan Wolf or a Snow Leopard.
My Sheep...
Their Pasture...
My wish has been granted. Next month I am going to Kibber wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh to study the Blue sheep for my masters’ dissertation. I will not be literally herding these wild sheep, but will be studying their winter feeding strategies. This provides with an opportunity to spend the whole winter in the Trans-Himalayan cold (up to -25 degree Celsius). Roam the Himalayan giants behind the wild sheep. Sit by the evening fire in little wooden house and spend lots of time just looking at the stars.
A shepherd with an Ice Axe…
Chou Chou Kang Nilda (6304 Mts.)
I do have some more ambitions from this trip. The top priority will always be with my study data collection but I hope to spend some time climbing. This includes an attempt at climbing Kanamo in the WINTER, climbing Chou Chou Kang Nilda (6304 Mts.), if possible climbing Shilla (6100 Mts.). Another ambitious dream I have is to go up to the source of the Shilla River (a typical Himalayan stream rolling down the gorges of Zansakar) and exploring a possible route to climb the Lakhan Peak (6123 Mts.). Hope I am not asking for too much.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Climbing Kanamo

Half way up...
Last spring I was in the Spiti district of the Indian Trans-Himalayas for over a month. I lived at the house of a local spitian guy named Sushil Dorge in Kibber. Kibber is a small village with a population of about 150. Situated in the shadow of Mount Kanamo (5992 meters 32 22'12.16"N. 78 04'57.85"E) at an altitude of 4205 meters above sea level, it is the second highest village in the world to be connected by motor able road.
Mount Kanamo
Kanamo has been climbed a many times before. Most of these climbs have not been recorded as they were mostly by local people who did not have any affiliation with the Indian mountaineering foundation. Kanamo is not a very difficult summit. The north face is the Kanamo glacier and south face is mostly scree with occasional rock patches. There is also the south ridge called the Dombachen ridge connecting the Kanamo with the Dombachen peak. Surrounded by the Kibber plateau this area is teeming with wildlife. Blue sheep herds of up to ninety are are seen very often. Himalayan Ibex are also very common in this region. There have also been sightings of Tibetan wolves and lucky ones have seen Nono, the Snow leopard.
I had been planing an ascend of Mount Kanamo for a long time and on this trip I decided to execute those plans. On 2nd July I started from the village of Kibber at 4 am to try and reach the summit and get back by evening. I was nervous at first as I was climbing alone in darkness towards my first Himalayan summit. The weather was cloudy but it seemed like it would open up later in the day, which it did. The initial climb near the village is very gentle. After reaching the base of Dombachen ridge it started to get slightly steeper. I was well acclimatized as I had already been up this once before. Since I was west of the Dombachen ridge I knew I would miss the sun rise but I wanted to reach the crest of the ridge as soon as possible for the spectacular view that I knew I would get from there. By 8 am I had reached the Dombachen ridge that reaches the summit from the south side. As expected the view was spectacular. The final push towards the summit along the ridge was the most difficult. At 9.20 am I was on the summit of mount Kanamo looking at the vast Tibetan plateau. Towards east was the beautiful summit of Cho cho kang nilda. After spending about 20 min I decided to start descending. Descending down was very quick and I got in the village of Kibber at five minutes to noon thus making this the fasted ascent of Mount Kanamo. This was confirmed from the informal knowledge of the local people interested in mountaineering. Ascending up Kanamo took me 5 hr 20 min and the descend took 2 hr 35 min with 20 min on the summit.
This trip was of great significance to me as I climbed my first Himalayan summit, I did it alone and in record time. All the equipment I had was a GPS that kept telling me how high I was. I didn't even have a "Ice Axe", I was wearing a pair of 'power' joggers, cotton trousers, and woolen pullover knitted for me by my mom. Given my preparedness for it, I am very satisfied with my performance. Apart from a great sense of achievement this exercise also gave me a start in mountaineering in the Himalayas.