Kugti Pass - 16600 ft above MSL, How cool is that?

Often times something unexpected comes along your way when you meant to do something as a means to achieve something else but the unexpected something steals the show from the expected something. I don’t know how much of it makes sense to you but I see that I am saying something way too many times. What I mean is, the whole idea of going to Kugti Pass was considered at all as a means to go to Spiti in Himachal.

I read a mail from Arjun which said the trek starts somewhere and ends in Lahaul. Well that was it, the word Lahaul hooked me onto it and I sent a mail saying I am interested in joining the trek. It was an exploratory trek and I was long gone out of the trekking scene. But nothing mattered, I just wanted to go to Lahaul and Spiti and why I had to go on a trek before going to Spiti I don’t know. But I was going on an exploratory trek in the Himalayas. I had no clue about the difficulty, about the terrain, about the arrangements, about the skill required, nothing. I just knew I was going there on September 1st.

This trek was special in many ways but first and foremost it took me a step closer to being a true Himalayan trekker. I carried my own backpack. At altitude where even one tiny speck of dust might seem like a burden, I carried my own backpack. At an altitude where even one extra step might seem overkill I carried my own backpack. At an altitude where even one additional ..okay I think you got the point – I carried my backpack all along which would weigh anywhere between 8 – 10kgs. Well it is not exactly alpine style because the porters were still carrying our food, sleeping bags and tents but it is one step closer and one step better than having a mule carry your luggage. Signs of a true trekker eh? ;)

This being just my second Himalayan Trek and that too a tough one at it, I had my doubts about me being able to finish it. Usually I wouldn’t have been so bothered but at this point when I agreed to join the trek, the last trek was done 5 months before and nothing after that which meant I had no clue how my physical condition was. This coupled with the fact that I had shed quite some weight during the Ladakh trip without proper food and sleep added to my apprehension. But there is a thing called crazy persistence if you will and I did fly to Delhi on the evening of September 1st.

This being an exploratory trek itself added to the apprehension. We knew nothing of the trek and nothing of the distances and terrain ahead of us. With glimmering hope we started the trek. Well, turns out my fitness wasn’t much of a concern. I was enjoying the trek immensely and the fact that many haven’t done this before means a lot to me as you already know. The altitude we were aiming was above 5000meters which was again very exciting for me as I was reaching higher than my last ascent of Junrgali Pass.

Another key factor in making the trek so dear to me was the fact that I was carrying my bulky DSLR for the first time on a Himalayan Trek. It was very important for me to be able to capture the beauty of the Himalayan wilderness and if I couldn’t have managed to do it with a DSLR I would’ve been highly disappointed. But once again I discovered I managed fine with the bulk on the high altitudes which means stunning captures will be brought back now and later.

This was all the pandemonium happening only in my head but there was a greater threat to be worried about. The altitude in itself and the more serious concern was the time allowed to scale such altitude. Kugti Pass was at an estimated altitude of 16,600 ft and we were starting the trek at an altitude of 8000 ft. We were to cross the pass in three days, in three days! Going by the standard of 2000ft of ascent a day to avoid AMS, this was a definite overkill. But we had no other choice either according to the probable campsites and distances. This posed a high risk of altitude sickness and as a precautionary measure we took doses of diamox already. With all these apprehensions and anxieties we started the trek and what a trek it was!

Kugti hidden in the remotest regions of Chamba was more than I could have asked for. As we entered more into the Kugti Sanctuary the remoteness and the wilderness were increasing manifold. The trek was very challenging and a super fast trek if you ask me. In three days we climbed the pass and in a day we got down as well. The trail was tricky in many places due to the rains and landslides and the intermittent rains created as much havoc. The challenge was accepted and the trek was completed. It is not an easy trek. There are two very long and tiring days which test you mentally more than physically. The terrain is quite challenging, especially the moraine on the last but one day. We had two days where we had to walk for more than 9 hours a day in those unrelenting mountains and valleys. On the bright side, we also took a rest day in one of the most beautiful campsites ever – green meadows in a glacial valley with mountains on one side and a deep valley on the other, a stream running though and flowers everywhere. We sat there one day doing nothing, absolutely nothing, just soaking up the sun. Trust me, with the Himalayan chill, a day just soaking up the sun is a luxury you cannot have easily. The day was well deserved, after all why do we come so far if all we can do is run, run, run.

The nights were spectacular. It so happened that we were there during the new moon day. The skies were clear and we could see the entire milkyway. Neither words nor pictures can explain the beauty of such starry skies in the high mountains. We walked along a glacier, infact we walked over it. We saw huge boulders break out of the mountain sides and slide all the way down carrying a trail of rubble and a thundering sound in an otherwise silent arena. As we drifted from Chamba towards Lahaul, the skies took a visibly bluer hue. The change is scenery towards Lahaul was noticeably barren as compared to the greener shades of Chamba. After crossing the pass, that is after quite a few killer ascents, it was due time for some super killer descents. If we are climbing 3000ft and getting down 4000ft in a single day, you can only imagine the magnitude of the terrain. It was every bit challenging and every bit enjoyable.

At that moment when we were standing on top of the pass and the GPS read 5040 mts, we were literally on top of the world! We were almost on all fours trying to climb up the near vertical rocky trail which seemed to have been held together by nothing more than just wet soil. One wrong step could send us plummeting down into the crevasses we just crossed and if we had learned that we did all this and still the reading did not cross the 5000 mark, it would’ve been greatly disappointing, I tell you. But that was for another day, today we cross the 5000 meter mark. For most of us, this was the highest we had ever been, on foot! Oh, just in case you were wondering, we were six of us.

To think that this trek was even considered by me as a means to go to Spiti seems so far reached now. I wasn’t expecting too much out of this trek, just an impulsive decision to go back to Himalayas and I am so glad I decided to do so. For I enjoyed every moment of the trek and I cannot even begin to tell you how thrilled I am about exploring the unexplored! Well the trip later to Spiti was also legendary in its own might and more about these two later.

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Neelima Vallangi
Last Updated : Oct 06,2020
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