Friday, May 29, 2009

No space or time to breathe

Hectic, hectic, hectic... That's been the catch-word for the last two months. Has it been two months already?!

There was the successful Chanderkhani Pass trek, the first from Responsible Travel. Even though the pass was snow-bound, we managed to cross it in early April, opening the route this year for more treks. Then there was a break for a couple of weeks, trekking-wise. The camp, though, took up all the time with continuous groups from Nagpur, Sanawar, Pune, Nasik... The kids seem to be enjoying the whole experience and since that is the aim, there is not too much to crib about the amount of work.

Early in May, we attempted to do Bara Bhangal. But the weather gods who had been kind for the first few days decided to play havoc on the day we reached the base of Kalihani. With more then 3 ft of snow, crossing the pass was out of question though we were confident that if the weather had held for one more day we would have crossed over. So we trudged back through more snow to Riyali Thach and then down to Shangchar, two days short of the intended dates. However, Lin and gang seemed to enjoy the impromptu detour and after promises to try Bara Bhangal again soon, departed to Dharamshala.

A mountaineering course then got underway in Beas Kund for Tesh and Xieheng from Singapore. The aim was to finish training and climb three peaks - Friendship, Shitidhar and Ladakhi. The course and climbs are scheduled to get over on the 31st, so will get a feedback then.

Unfortunately more camp work and a spot of illness kept me at home. In typical reverse logic, I contracted cold and fever when the temperature topped at an unbearable 30C. The mountain sun is quite unbearable when it's hot and minus the humidity, it just drains you.

- K

Now, the virgin trek to Goru Pass is underway. The group has managed to cross Chanderkhani and will attempt to reach Goru tomorrow. It's a relatively unknown pass but a good option for those who have done a couple of treks. Topographically, it lies behind and to the north of Chanderkhani Pass, connecting back to the Kullu Valley above Jagatsukh, near Chota Chandertal. It completes a circuit and looks like a good 10 day option for future groups.

The weather's been a bit moody with spots of snow and sleet, according to K who had called today. Let's hope it holds atleast for tomorrow.

Next in the pipeline, a trek to Hampta Pass after a good 2 years, two back to back climbs on Menthosa followed by a Kang Yatse climb. So no sign of any rest till end of July, atleast.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A year already?

Or almost a year. The last post is dated June 8, 2008. Almost exactly the date when Scrawny, our youngest, fell very ill. For the next 8 months it was an endless series of finding the cause, hunting for a cure and more importantly, to keep her going. Her little heart finally gave up on Feb 15, leaving us in deep shock and unbearable loneliness. We are now down to two - Biki and Maggie who do their bit to cheer us up, but we miss you, Conty papu.

The 2008 season was a hectic one - treks, camps, climbing trips with a few trips to Delhi in between to stock up on more equipment. Did some interesting programs - the Italian expedition to Miyar Valley, the mountaineering course followed by the summiting of Yunam, a successful crossing of Khalindi Khal, introducing more kids to the joys of adventure and mountains...

2009 seems to be shaping up well as well. The campsite will see a busy season with some groups combining a quick trek to Lamadugh along with camping, others will make the most of their camping with rafting and rock-climbing. In the offing, are also some interesting treks, one of which is Goru Pass, a surprisingly accessible but rarely-done route that deviates from Chanderkhani Pass. The other interesting trip will be in the first week of May when we will go across two high passes - Kalihani and Thamsar to Dharamshala.

It's just April and there is still plenty of time for more interesting programs. Like always, it's hectic here with pre-season checking of equipment and stocking up of essentials. The first trek is scheduled for four days from now. Can't wait!

Recession is the buzzword, even in the mountains. But how much it will impact the programs is something I will know only in a couple of months. Business apart, if the weather holds, april-oct will be a fabulous time to be in the mountains.

Just one more promise to myself, will try to write in as often as possible this year.

Why do I live in the mountains?

Why do I live in the mountains?
To see the first sun's rays climb over the mountain to hit the trees behind me
To see the last do the same to the mountain opposite
To wake up to whistling and laughing thrushes
To feel the South-westerly numbing my face as it comes down the valley
To know the spaces that these mountains offer - valleys and gorges and meadows and forests
To gaze at the endless sky with stars so many that they look like a vast city lit up
To still be surprised by how bright the moonlight can be to make distant peaks seem next-door
To know that I needn't hear any traffic, battle a rush hour or worry about office schedules here
To be sure of the one truth - that nowhere else is complete for me

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pay homage to the Caribbean Monk Seal

Further from home, one of the first things I read when I got back was that the Caribbean Monk Seals are officially extict. According to a report in Time magazine,

(HONOLULU) — Federal officials have confirmed what biologists have long thought: The Caribbean monk seal has gone the way of the dodo.

Humans hunting the docile creatures for research, food and blubber left the population unsustainable, say biologists who warn that Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals could be the next to go.

The last confirmed sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1952 between Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service confirmed Friday that the species is extinct.

Kyle Baker, a biologist for NOAA's Fisheries Service southeast region, said the species is the only seal to become extinct from human causes.

The seals were first classified as endangered in 1967, and wildlife experts investigated several reported sightings over the past few decades. But officials determined they were other seal types.

The federal agency says there are fewer than 1,200 Hawaiian and 500 Mediterranean monk seals remaining, and their populations are declining.

"We hope we've learned from the extinction of Caribbean monk seals, and can provide stronger protection for their Hawaiian and Mediterranean relatives," Baker said.

The Hawaiian monk seal population, protected by NOAA, is declining at a rate of about 4 percent annually, according to NOAA. The agency predicts the population could fall below 1,000 in the next three to four years, placing the mammal among the world's most endangered marine species.

"When populations get very small, they become very unstable," Baker said. "They become more vulnerable to threats like disease and predation by sharks."

Vicki Cornish, a wildlife expert at the Ocean Conservancy, said the fate of the Caribbean monk seal is a "wake-up call" to protect the remaining seal populations.

"We must act now to reduce threats to existing monk seal populations before it's too late," she said. "These animals are important to the balance and health of the ocean. We can't afford to wait."

Monk seals are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. And the sea creatures have been losing their food supply and beaches, officials say.

"Once Hawaii, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean were teeming with fish, but these are areas under severe fishing pressure," Cornish said. "They'll eat almost anything — shellfish or finned fish — but their food supply is waning and they're in competition with man."

The Caribbean monk seal, first discovered during Christopher Columbus' second voyage in 1494, once had a population of more than 250,000. But they became easy game for hunters because they often rested, gave birth or nursed their pups on beaches.

From the 1700s to 1900s, the seals were killed mainly for their blubber, which was processed into oils, used for lubrication and coating the bottom of boats. Their skins were used for trunk linings, clothing, straps and bags.

The endangered Hawaiian monk seals face different types of challenges, including entanglement in marine debris, climate change and coastal development.

About 80 to 100 live in the main Hawaiian Islands and 1,100 in the largely uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a marine national monument.

Biologist Bud Antonelis said NOAA's Fisheries Service has developed a monk seal recovery plan for the Hawaiian monk seals.
"But we need continued support from organizations and the public if we are to have a chance at saving it from extinction," he said. "Time is running out."

As for the Caribbean monk seal, NOAA said it is working to have them removed from the endangered species list. Species are removed from the list when their populations are no longer threatened or endangered, or when they are declared extinct.

Makes one wonder, will we along with the Tatas do the Olive Ridleys what the Hawaiians did to the Monk Seals?

The first trek

There is always a charm about the first trek of the season. After more than 6 months of hibernation, we emerge from our feather jackets and heater-warmed homes and head out to high passes, valleys and sometimes even an early climb. This year, the first trek was to the Tosh Valley.

A tributary of the Parvati, the Tosh Nullah has the distinction of perhaps having as much water, if not more than the main river. It winds its ferocious way through Tosh village, Budhaban (a fabulous, idyllic meadow at 2800m surrounded by forests on all sides, Shiadi (another lovely meadow that was spotted with the first flowers of the season, Sharm Thach (at 3500m but still in the grip of cold with few flowers and regular sleet) and Shamshi Thach (a flat piece of land that will turn green only later in the season with fabulous views of peaks - Papusa, White Sail, Kullu Makalu and passes - Sara Umga and the trail to Animal Pass).

The most exciting part of the trek for me was that Tikam Dai - a 65-year-old Nepali who works with me regularly and has been around most areas in Western Himalayas for nearly 50 years - and I went upto Animal Pass. It connects the Tosh valley to Malana Glacier from where you can either choose to come out at Malana near Manikaran or at Jagatsukh near Manali. At 4500m its more challenging, remote and prettier than the Chanderkhani Pass. And for some reason hasn't been high on trekking schedules till date. The route is sparsely used and seems like Gaddis are the only ones who use it.

For the group, Vikas and gang of 11 from Nagpur and Mumbai, the high point of the trek was to go to the mouth of the Tosh glacier. Of course, for those seeing a glacier for the first time, it is difficult to imagine that all that mud and rock hide so much ice beneath.

The route itself is popular with only climbers and those who want to attempt the Sara Umga pass, that is challenging even without all the snow to complicate it. Ideal for those who want to trek early in the season and yet dont want to do a beaten trail.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ok, Tata, bye-bye

Greenpeace has been trying to convince the Tatas that building the Dhamra port will essentially make sure that we wipe out the highly-endangered Olive Ridley turtles that come to nest close to the proposed port site. With Ratan Tata busy buying up exclusive international companies, maybe he has forgotten what he had promised - that the port would not be developed if there was definite proof that the Olive Ridleys will be affected. As an attempt to jog his memory, Greenpeace has now roped in the voices of Sholay.

Make sure you also check out some of the cool facts that they have put up about the turtles at the bottom of the box. I hate spam but unlike prayer chains and luck chains, I think one mail that might save the turtles or atleast inform you of their plight is OK to receive:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What you love, you won't destroy

We had a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth for the kids at the camp. Without the media overkill of Al Gore-George Bush-Florida fiasco and with just his movie to concentrate on, Al Gore proved very popular. For a change, the evening pre-dinner talks were not about what they had done for the day but on the deforestation that is evident in the mountains around Manali. And of the erratic weather and winds for this time of the year. They are all 15/16-year-olds and still have the confidence that they can and will change the world. Thank God for that!

Someone who checked out the images of the camp on the blog said that it is a good idea because what children love, they won't destroy. So true! Because as each set of kids come and go, we are doing more than just conducting 'programs'. We are showing them what is possible without destroying, how beautiful a life you can have if you know to conserve / appreciate and adventure as a lifestyle rather than a 15-day annual break. In turn, the camp is doing things to us too. All of us have turned nostalgic, remembering our first camps / treks, our first gilmpse of snow or the mist over the valley and our first tentative infatuation with nature that has now turned to solid love.

We hope that like how someone else introduced us to the greatest passion of our lives, we can introduce these kids. That atleast a few of the group will develop an everlasting bond that will make a difference to their lives and to the planet. It gives a sense of passing on the baton... hope we are not being too idealistic.