Monday, February 20, 2006
Dance Party Solang
There was still some snow for the ski competition 2 weeks ago – a group of local guys put on quite an event, with 70+ kids participating. Trevor and I volunteered to help out, and had a very good time. I was the start-flag girl (the timer was at the bottom) and tried to do my best Grease impersonation, even without the Capri pants. The under-10 and under-15 skiers went on the gradual slope next to the lift, and definitely were going slower as the day went on the and sun softened the snow. When it came time for the all-ages snowboard competition, it was decided that the course should be moved to the top of a very steep little knoll before rejoining the rest of the course. Result: snowboard carnage. If a competitor made if off the knoll at any speed at all, the gates were extremely hard to make on a snowboard. Very entertaining. Our friend Chala walked away with the title. At the end of the day, Trevor, Joe, Kelly and I each got a Kullu cap for helping out.
We did a camping/skiing trip up to Beas Kund and Lower Friendship (see Trevor’s post below), which was fantastic. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere with more spectacular mountain views – literally 360 degrees of enormous mountains. Shortly after, our Canadian friend Kelly took off for home. We were convinced that it would pound snow as soon as he left, but this has proven not to be the case.
Joe and I headed down to Manali for the kickoff of the Manali Winter Festival (pictures). We went up to the Hadimba Temple, where we were told a “procession” would be starting eventually (no one seemed to know much about the schedule). In an open area nearby, we found a number of groups in matching costumes, standing inside small numbered squares painted on the ground. Some concrete steps on either side were filling up with spectators, so we sat down to see what was happening. Several groups had banners announcing who they were (though some were only in Hindi) and were treated to examples of Punjabi, Jammu, and local dance. All at once. There wasn’t really much of an organized program going on. There seemed to be some commotion over by the road, so we eventually got up to check it out and found a full-scale parade starting up. Dozens of different groups were marching on foot or riding on floats pulled by tractors. Almost all of the participants were women, and the majority were showing bits of local custom or livelihood. Agricultural themes were common, with marchers carrying plants and apples, and cultivation tools. The weavers were extremely well represented, with one float even showing the entire process, from a live sheep being (slowly) sheared through to the weaving loom. There were some floats with religious themes – a young man dressed as Vishnu (or maybe Rama) rode on top of a float designed to look like a mountain, and group of people on another float were creating a little taste of the Holi festival, where colored powder is thrown around and smeared on everyone. Some were making political statements, like the “Save the Wildlife” float (we think that’s about what it said in Hindi) and another group that we think was campaigning against alcohol. We decided to walk down with the parade (all the dancers from near the temple had joined and were performing their way down the hill), and so we experienced the whole parade again as we were walking faster than the parade. We got to downtown just ahead of it, and ducked into the big amphitheater to get seats for the programming we were told would follow. After an hour of speeches in Hindi, we got desperate and bailed from the program. Our really great seats were unfortunately a long way from an easy exit in (by then) packed amphitheater, so we did the best we could to get out while stepping on a minimum number of people. Some lunch, some errands, and we caught the 4 o’clock bus home to Solang.
The Himalayan Ski Village has been sponsoring week-long ski courses for local young people, starting with folks from the Hampta Valley, where the resort is planned. Week 2 of lessons included 19 girls (all of whom stayed at the Iceland, where we are staying) and 21 boys (staying at the Friendship). Most of the students had never been on skis before (!) and we had a great time volunteering as ski instructors. The girls LOVED to sing and dance, and we had several rocking nights of dance party at the Iceland (pictures to follow). In appreciation for my ski teaching, some of the girls tried to help me dance Indian-style. It was fun, but I think they did better as ski students than I did as a dance student.
Beau finally made an appearance in Solang, after finishing up his program in Delhi and Pakistan. After a couple of days of dancing with the girls and adjusting to the altitude, we all toured up the hill for the HP state ski championship, being held quite a ways up on the ski slope. Luder (the owner of the Iceland’s brother) won the slalom and our friend Dev finished second in the GS. Both will continue on to the nationals in Gulmarg, and on to New Zealand if they win there. Beau’s ski-touring debut wasn’t exactly super-smooth, but he eventually got most of his new touring gear to function correctly, and only managed to lose a small chunk of one ski to the rocks on the descent. The next day Joe, Trevor and I took a hike to scope out the access to another big overnight ski adventure, and Beau went back up the slope for some more turns. Yesterday all three of the guys left the Iceland at 4 am for a run at Patalsu. They got to the ridgeline, and were very happy with a ski from there. I opted to take a hike in the same direction (with a much more civilized start time). I had a leisurely breakfast and finished my book before a lovely afternoon of tromping around and bird watching.
Tomorrow we’re supposedly due for more precip, but the temps don’t look good for snow down here at Solang. We’ll be watching the Olympics (a local Kullu Valley skier competes tomorrow) and playing cards. We’re still thinking about moving into the Hampta Valley sometime next week – we have a place to stay in a village called Sethan, which is a little higher up, and on a north aspect, so probably has more snow, and definitely better access.
Think snow-filled thoughts in our direction!
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Horsin' Around w/Wild Dogs
Hearing a local trekking guide talk about utilizing horses to carry gear, we thought the idea sounded not only romantic, but much less laborious. With the road cleared of snow due to the massive tunnel project, we didn’t care too much to spend the first few kilometers walking on mud with skis on our back. So at 9:00 a.m. our horse wallahs and horses showed up outside our hotel. These first 6 km were quite leisurely. We then strapped the packs on and headed another 3 km up the valley.
Setting camp was far from quick as we knew we needed to dig out a lot of snow and the snowpack below 1 foot was extremely hard. After two hours of maximizing the strength of our metal shovels, we were content.
The next day Kelly decided to bail back to Solang due to inadequate gear and being too cold at night. An avid mountaineer, Kelly unfortunately had his overnight gear stashed in Delhi. Joe was stoked as he gained another sleeping bag and pad for the second night. We had a leisurely morning, heading out of camp at 10:00 a.m. for Beas Kund. The tour up the valley was fantastic as Em led us through big terrain with the views continuously improving. From Beas Kund, we all eyed endless ski lines and enjoyed the surrounding beauty. Here are some numbers to relate the massiveness of our surroundings: Beas Kund sits at the head of the valley and a little over 4000’ higher than where we began in Solang towards the foot of the valley. Rising another 7500’ above Beas Kund is Hanuman Tibba. Uhhh….ya, massive.
This day was much more about the tour than the turns as most of the north facing aspects we skied back to camp were variable at best. We all managed to find a few good powder turns, but mainly it was hoping we didn’t break through the crust.
The next night at camp proved to be much more comfortable with only three of us but yet a little more eventful. At some point in the middle of our slumber, we awoke by a hungry animal sticking his head in the tent. Pre-dawn the next morning as Joe and I prepared to depart camp, I heard Joe looking away from me mumbling “Well hello there,” followed by “there are some small beasties over there with green eyes.” Sure enough, we had three creatures sleeping about 20 meters from the tent just waiting for us to leave camp. With Em planning to sleep this tour out and hope the rumbling in her stomach settles, (we have both been getting used to abnormal rumblings) she was not excited to hear that hungry “beasties” were waiting outside. Determining that they were dogs (wild dogs who strayed 9 km from Solang into the alpine), we chased them off as best we could. With Em feeling safe but deservedly upset that her extra sleep would be thwarted by watching guard, Joe and I headed up the south facing slope above camp. Unfortunatey, we both forgot our cameras in the tent, so all we have for pictures is this one showing our route.
We made great time up, beating our turn around time by over half an hour. We still chose to stop just below the true top of the run as conditions were softening rapidly. To our enjoyment, the turns stayed great the entire 1100 m (~3500') and we never experienced the slopfest we expected. This was due to the steepest section being at top and then the slope turning more towards the southwest than south for the bottom half. Conclusion: great spring turns from top to bottom.
As I neared camp, and Emily who was sunning about 50 m above the shady tent, I noticed one of the small beasties another 50 m above her, both in sort of a staring standoff. As I skied towards the dog, I startled him with my speed and he whimpered while trying to sprint away. Not quick enough for skis as I caught him and delivered a solid thump to his backside with a polo swing from my ski pole. Em was happy as the dog finally went away and her knight in shining armor returned safely.
We had a leisurely time breaking down camp, melting more snow, and eating lunch in the sunshine before the dreaded march back. The walk went quicker than expected with a surprise visit from a familiar looking face. One of the dogs, and yes, the one I thumped, joined us on the road back, again hoping for food, appearing not nearly as wild and rabid. All we could do was laugh, contemplate giving him an extra cookie, and carry on.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Patalsu Tour Feb 2 2006
Without climbing a bunch since arriving, Em and I were both impressed with how well good we felt. Joe has been skiing around Solang for almost a month and I knew his excitement for the top was a real possibility. Above treeline, with Kelly feeling "knackered" and Em knowing there will be plenty of days to summit Patalsu when she is better acclimatized to altitude, we decided to split into two groups. We all trudged another 300 m into the alpine together before I gave Em our first public kiss in India (yeehaa) and Joe and I departed them at around 3600m. The sun was on us as Patalsu's ascent/descent is south to southwest facing, but still not too damaging. The skinning continued to be fast on top of a firm snowpack. Taking one final break at 3900 m, we skinned to a most beautiful summit a little after noon. The summit was a 1 m wide ridge caked in snow and quite perfect for a small group.
The views were truly amazing. In most big ranges I visit, the expectations can sometimes falsely minimize the vastness of the surrounding peaks. There was nothing minimal about the mountains in all directions around us. With the vegetation primarily ending in the Kullu Valley where we are staying, the high plateau to the north was caked in whiteness while the steep southern side of the Solang Valley presented mean rock and hanging glaicers. Hanuman Tibba at the end of the Solang Valley was in view all day and never lost our respect. Looking south towards Hampta and Jagatsukh valleys, it was relieving to know that even with the currently low snowpack, the alpine still boasts tons of great skiing.
Not only is it a novelty to ski to the true summit of a 4200m peak, but also quite special to make powder turns off the top. Thank you altitude. After enjoying some winter powder, we experienced a brief section of a thin crust before it softened to give us almost 800m of easy spring turns. Large. While feeling great on the ascent, it was tough to make more than 15 turns without losing my breath.
After a steep skin over a ridge disecting the main face we skied and our ascent route, Joe and I met back up with Em and Kelly. Fearing they had waited longer than desired and would be a little upset that the remaining 500m of skiing might be too soft, we were pleasantly thrilled that they were more than content chillin in the Himalayan alpine under the warm Indian sun and even encouraged us to take a good break. After some soft slush through beautifully spaced trees, we booted down through the old village of Solang and over the bridge back to our hotel. Bahut bahut accha!!!
Saturday, February 04, 2006
We headed north and up on India's Republic Day to find our intended hotel (The Iceland) completely booked up. The Friendship looked like the next best option, so we ended up taking a room there. The room came with a wood stove and firewood each night, which we fully took advantage of - with the fire our warmest nights since arriving in Himachal Pradesh. If the rooms were a bit run-down, and the kerosene used to start the fire were less than optimal, we were just excited to be here and ready to ski. Our first afternoon we took a little tour up above the ski lift (which covers approximately 75 feet of vertical over 100 yards), and immediately felt the altitude. Solang is at ~2400 meters (~8000 feet), compared to Manali at ~2000 meters. The little ski slope at Solang is really a bit of a circus, and the best part of touring on the hill may be the local entertainment. Tons of Indians (many of them honeymooners) come here to see snow for the first time, and the ensuing chaos/excitement is fantastic. Many of them rent rubber galoshes and either full-length fur coats or fantastically colored snowmobile suits from road-side stands in order to be properly outfitted for snow-play. Locals rent out (mostly ancient) ski gear and offer lessons to first-time snow enthusiasts, who seem completely uninterested in anything as boring as the snowplow, and spend much of their time in a determined racing tuck (on a 10 degree slope) with their instructors pushing them up or down-hill. Tea stands abound, yaks are decoratively placed so tourists can pay to have their picture taken with or on them, and a truly wicked tubing slope operates right above the throng with complete disregard for who might be in the way at the time. The final liability factor is the paragliding operation that occasionally sends a client down right on top of the whole mess - skiers, tourists, yaks and all.
Retiring to our rooms, we were pleasantly surprised when the waiter/bellhop/floor scrubber appeared with our wood and proceeded to start a roaring (if stinky) fire. Shortly after that, he returned to tell us that our dinner was ready (did we order food?). In the dining room, we met up with another visiting ski tourer from England, who'd been living at the Friendship for about 2 weeks, and had the system figured out. As the small mountain of food arrived (2 dishes each, plus more rice than we could eat, plus chapatis - soft flat bread), Joe explained that if you didn't specifically order, and didn't let them know you'd be eating elsewhere, they just brought you a lot of food. Which gets added to your bill.
Day 2 we decided to ski tour up to Dhundi, still further up the valley, to scope out the approaches to a few ski tours. Our ski-touring guidebook described a lovely approach via a nice flat road covered in snow. Since publication there's been a new development: The Tunnel. India's little row with Pakistan over Kashmir has resulted in a need for troops and supplies to the north of where we are - an area effectively blocked off by high, snow-bound passes (like Rhotang Pass near us) for up to 6 months a year. The solution? A 17k tunnel right through the heart of some really massive mountains. Unfortunately for our peaceful tour, the Indians are so keen on the tunnel idea that they're employing work crews year-round to improve the existing road to the mouth of the planned tunnel (unfortunately the road we wanted to ski up). This involves first clearing away the snow with a bulldozer (no easy task when a meter of snow needs to be cleared off 7k of roads just to get to Dhundi, then maybe 2 or 3k more to the tunnel site), then blasting away the banks bounding the road, then letting crews of Nepali workers break any big rocks into pieces using sledgehammers, then using the smaller pieces to gravel the road. We were mostly contending with the clearing process on our tour (either bootpacking the already cleared part, trying to stay ahead of the dozer on the partially cleared part, then finally having a couple of klicks of peaceful touring when the machine slowed for a difficult part). Dhundi was pretty inspiring. The views of Hanuman Tibba, Friendship Peak, and the Beas Kund tour made us anxious to bring our camping gear up to settle in for a few days. We skipped the dozer conflict on the way home by touring via the river most of the way, which worked out quite nicely.
Since our first couple days in Solang, we've moved over to the Iceland (much nicer - and fantastic food), and met up with Kelly, a crazy Canadian staying there. We four ski-touring gringos have had a few hikes, some touring up above the lift, and one really fantastic ski tour up Patalsu (post coming - maybe tonight).
So to summarize: we love Solang, the folks at the Iceland are fantastic, we've been playing way too many hands of cards with Kelly and Joe, and tomorrow we've volunteered to help out with a local youth ski competition up on the hill. Things are going quite nicely indeed.