Photos from Day 11 of Skiing in Gulmarg - Heli Drop Day

March 30, 2012

To see all the photos from day 11 of skiing in Gulmarg , go here: http://www.bernardsphotos.com/skiing/2012/gulmarg/feb8

I’ve really got to hand it to Bill Barker and the rest of his guides at Bill’s Trips.  They saw the potential for a major gondola shutdown days in advance and at that time started to put plans in motion to keep their guests skiing; and not just tired old Phase 1 laps, we’re talkin’ proper Himalayan scale skiing.  So it was on Wednesday morning that we gathered early and headed down to Gulmarg Heliskiing for a special one-off trip.  The plan was that the heli would take us up to a major peak neighboring Mt. Apharwat drop us off and then just fly away.  From that moment on it would be up to us to navigate out own way down nearly 7000 vertical feet and 7.5 miles back to Drang where we would get a taxi ride back to Gulmarg from the other side of the river.  Here’s the route we ended up skiing:

Gulmarg Day 11

From the 13,500 ft summit of Mt. Sunshine (I think that’s what it was called) say bye bye to Mr. Helicopter as he leaves us to ourselves at map point 1.

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The great hope for the recent storm was that it would load up the unstable snow pack enough to trigger a natural avalanche cycle that would clear out the pesky depth hoar that had been plaguing the region.  This only partially worked out.  Yes, the new snow triggered natural avalanches and some of them did go to the ground, but many of them did not and instead only affected the newly fallen snow.  The result for us was a bit of a maze of slide paths, safe zones, and suspect slopes and all of it in infrequently skied terrain.  It made for a day of what one of guide, Mark Brown, characterized as “proper adventure skiing”.  Indeed it was.  Here’s a photo of the kind of ugliness we worked to avoid:

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The photo below is of our first pitch taken from map point 2.  It’s about 1000 vertical feet of somewhat crusted powder between map points 1 and 2.  Three of those specs are skiers on the hill.  It was a long run.

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This run took us into some more protected terrain where we found a bit of a bowl.  The snow in there was really quite nice so we decided to skin back up the ridge from map point 2 to 3

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and then have a bit of a ski

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Nice!

Moving along, we then descended the next 2000 or so vertical feet picking our way through boney ridges, patches of powder, and slide paths.  The photo below, taken from near map point 5 looking upward to the slope marked by map point 4, illustrates the point.

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We came onto that broad slope from just above the knob on the horizon line above it.  Just down from there we came to a group of shepherds’ huts at map point 5 where we had lunch

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After that it was a bit of low angle tree skiing, some long just-barely-steeper-than-flat gliding, and a couple of river crossings at map point 6.

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You can see our tracks on the right side of the photo above.

We then glided some more along what must be gentle hiking trails that parallel the river in the summer.  It all sounds kind of boring, but the local was exotic, the scenery was pretty, and the sense of adventure was high. 

How exotic was the locale?  Well, we eventually came upon a meadowy confluence where two rivers that formed the mountains all round us met.  Thanks to some snow-covered foot bridges, it was easy to cross.  Then after a short scramble up an embankment at the edge of the meadow we took a rest on a nice high flat spot with a good view…right next to an Indian army outpost of some sort at map point 7.   This little outpost wasn’t much to look at, but it was strategically placed to maintain a commanding view above the meadow and up both river valleys.   I wasn’t really sure what the photography protocols around such a place were so I stayed a bit camera shy and this I the best shot I got of it

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At first, the guard to came to the gate to check us out stood and watched us silently form the gate.  Gradually he started chatting with a few of the skiers in our party.  Eventually he got another guy and came out to give us all a spot of tea, which was really more of a sweet  Kashmiri chai.  In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to be so camera shy.  Bummer.

From there, we followed the trail along the river a bit farther and eventually met up with the drainage that we skied out of on Day 3 at map point 8.  Not long after that we were back in Drang, though this time we crossed a much more substantial bridge right before we got to the village instead of skiing through the village.  Once on the other side of the again there was nothing to do but park the skis up against the mining trucks and wait for the taxis to show up.

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An awesome day!

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