Writings from the highest part of my trek

By Ray Baker

Above sea level:
Brisbane: 27m
Pin Parvati Pass (India): 5319m

In August 2015, I led a group on a trek in the Indian Himalaya. We crossed a 5300m pass called Pin Parvati into the remote, starkly beautiful region of Spiti. This is a classic high Himalayan trek in an area rarely visited by trekkers.

The Parvati Valley has pristine forests, waterfalls, lakes, flower-filled meadows, snow-capped peaks, sacred sites and serene solitude. The trail is rugged and difficult in parts and provides a challenge to experienced trekkers. The campsites up the valley are isolated and peaceful; the only inhabitants here are the nomadic Gaddi shepherds, who graze their livestock during the summer months.

I’d like to share with you three days from a journal I kept during the trek covering the highest parts of the trek including the day we crossed the Pin Parvati Pass.

Descending on a snow field

23 August – breathtaking scenery

  • 0600 Overcast but very high cloud so good views of snow peaks. Brekkie– cornflakes, toast, savoury pancakes & spreads.
  •  0820 depart Oddi Thach
  • 1030 Stop for break

We’re at 3900m. Very flat grassy section of valley, river shallow and slower flow. The Parvati valley has taken on a typical glaciated form where the glacier has retreated leaving a ‘U’ shaped valley. The sun is out and it’s glaring and hot on the skin, but there’s also a cool breeze to make things very pleasant.

  • 1045 Resume walking
  • 1545 Arrive Mantalai campsite. Alt: 4120m t/ns 4110m

After lunch, we pass many small herds of ponies and large herds of sheep and goats; all look very well fed and healthy. After about 45mins we commenced a steep ascent up a glacial moraine to the small temple of Shiva Mandir – on a small platform about the size of a couple of pool tables was Shiva lingam, yoni, 6-7 tridents, and small figures of Nandi and Ganesh. The temple is on the shore of Mantalai which appears to be a large lake, but is really many large, shallow channels of the Parvati River. Mantalai empties at Shiva Mandir and the river flows in a steep torrent down to where the valley flattens out. Our campsite is in a beautiful spot – an inlet where Mantalai has reed isles with the surrounding mountains reflected in the water. Dinner – tomato soup, veg fried rice, veg fried noodles – went down well.

24 August – no acute mountain sickness … good sign!

Brilliant morning, clear blue sky, no cloud. Excellent breakfast – porridge, toast, pancake, omelette.

  •  0735 Depart Mantalai camp

We reach a narrow, shallow stream, and its boots off … the water is freezing. We commence a 200m steep ascent of ramp under a sheer rock face. The top section is loose and very dodgy.

  • 09350

Reach high point – alt 4315m, in the warm sun now.

  • 0950

Depart high point – actually, this is an intermediate high point because wait, there’s more. The trail climbs on a traverse of a high ridge past a few washouts, and reaches a corner leading to a side valley @4480m at 1050am – ascend high to a good rest place at 4575m at 1130am – these timings are very slow because I’m at the back with a slow walker. At 1145, we continue the short ascent then drop to a basin before a long rocky ascent to high camp – great views from this spot.

  • 1435 Arrive high camp – 4855m

I’m pleasantly surprised that the group is okay with no signs of AMS (acute mountain sickness) given our extreme altitude gain of 755m. It’s snowing moderately. Tomorrow it’s an early start because the water level of the river on the other side of the pass gets too high due to snow melt. Dinner – pizza – very good, potato and veg stew, chapattis

25 August – perfect weather for a pass crossing

Freezing night, snow stopped, clear sky, I kept waking up. Got to mess tent at 0430 and crew were still asleep in it! But what a great day! Perfect weather for a pass crossing – bright and clear morning with occasional clouds in the arvo.

  • 0545 Depart base camp
  • 0930 Arrive Pin Parvati Pass, 5319m
  • 0945 Depart Pin Parvati Pass
  • 1300 Arrive lunch
  • 1330 Depart lunch
  • 1400 Arrive Pin Base Camp, 4450m
Freezing crossing and our ‘resident’ dogs

The base camp is on a rocky plateau; we walk off the plateau and start the ascent through a steep ice field. We climb steadily, eventually commencing the steepest part of the trail leading to Pin Parvati Pass – the border of Kullu and Spiti. We descend for 45mins on a snow field to cross a small stream; until it meets a rapid flowing muddy stream – this had to be crossed before it rises making it too dangerous.

It’s steep now, as we cross to the left bank and descend to reach the Pin River coming from a large glacier on the left. We are now on the floor of the Pin Valley. We follow the Pin River on its right bank until a safe crossing is found.

Six of us and two guides formed a circle, hold hands, boots off, and cross to the left bank. The river was knee deep, fast flowing and with a rocky bottom and 15m wide. It was THE coldest water I’ve ever been in. It was a very slow crossing and the cold was very painful. I couldn’t wait to get to the other side. We had lunch and thawed our feet.

We’ve had three dogs following us for most of the trek – Whiskers, Snowy and Socks. Whiskers made it across the river, not sure what’s happened to Snowy. While we were having lunch, Socks sat on the other bank howling. Two porters crossed back to get her but Socks wouldn’t allow them to pick her up so she stayed there howling, running up and down, dipping her front toes in the water but not going in. Goodbye Socks. We walk on a very rocky trail to reach Pin BC in half an hour.

Dinner – veg soup, pasta, Milanese sauce, vegies, chapatti, salad, rice pudding.

 26 August – streams and hot tubs

Bright, clear morning, gave tips to porters and kitchen crew.

  • 0700 Depart Pin Base Camp
  • 1220 Arrive lunch at road – 4115m
  • 1250 Depart after lunch
Follow the Pin River

The morning walk was long on an easy trail, gradually descending through a sparse, almost lunar landscape, followed the Pin River sometimes high above the river, sometimes beside the freezing waters—we crossed numerous side streams, only one needed boots off. The day was still and cloudless early, but the wind picked up late morning. This is a dry arid land and would be a complete desert without the many glacier or snow fed streams.

After lunch, the walk was on a wide trail; at 1430 we reached the vehicles sent to meet us – 4x4WD multi-person seaters that fitted 12 of us and 35 crew. The 30-minute drive to Mudh Village crossed a few dodgy bridges … if the vehicles hadn’t been able to reach us where they did, we would have had to walk an extra 12kms – out of the question!

After Mudh we drove for another 30mins to Phukchong @ 3800m where we are ensconced in a lovely lodge owned by the brother of Gyatso, our assistant guide. We had a beaut buffet dinner – mutton stew, daal, veg curry, rice, roti, two salads, and pickles. Phukchong is a very special place for meditation; up the hill behind us are many one roomed retreats for those who want to come here to contemplate their navels. I had a hot tub, washed filthy clothes, had a big feed, and enjoyed a ginger chai. Pleasantly weary.

Over the following days we drove through Spiti to Kaza—the largest village in Spiti—then to Manali in the Kulu Valley. Following a rest day to explore Manali, we return to Delhi via road and rail.

Take up the challenge!

I would love to share this outstanding adventure with you, so at this early stage, I am calling for expressions of interest from those who may wish to take up the challenge in August 2018.

If there are enough intrepid travellers up for the journey we will go ahead and confirm dates and costs. The total time in India will be approximately 19 days. The estimated land cost will be $4500-$4800 plus your international flight costs.

To register your interest or if you have any questions, please call, drop in, or email me – ray [@] backtrack.com.au or Clare – clare [@] backtrack.com.au