If a picture is already worth a thousand words, then why am I writing all this stuff?
To see all the photos from day 4 of skiing in Gulmarg, go here: http://www.bernardsphotos.com/skiing/2012/gulmarg/feb1
This day’s route was pretty similar to the route on day 2: a skin from the top of Phase 2 to the top of Mt. Apharwat and then a descent down the backside to the army road. The two differences were that Eric wasn’t able to ski that day because he was ill, and rather than skiing the first backside bowl we did a skinning traverse around Shark Fin to get to the next bowl over. Here’s the overall map of the route:
This first photo shows the bowl we skied on Day 2 and, in fact, still shows our tracks. To recap, the snow in that bowl has been sitting there for about two weeks and four of the tracks in that photo are ours from two days before. Not exactly chair 2 at Alpental after a storm, eh? (Map 1)
This next photo, which spans a 220º field of view, kind of puts the bowl above in context (Map 1).
In the above photo, the top of Phase two is hidden by the prominence in the center of the photo. The Gulmarg ridge extends from both sides of the prominence. To the left you can see pretty much the whole north half of the ridge extending toward the Himalayas in the distance on the right side of the frame. To the right you the can see the south half trailing off into the clouds just to the right of the prominence.
After skinning the traverse around Shark Fin we found ourselves here: (Map 2)
It's business time! The photo above is the view of the Himalayas to the south of Gulmarg. It’s the first shot in a panorama that you can find in the Day 4 gallery. Though the slopes down from that point look delightful, they are, in fact, a thin and crusty layer over sharp and jagged rocks and we have no intention of skiing them. The real money is the untracked north-facing bowl directly to the right of this shot. In other words, this one: (Map 2)
Check out the Day 4 gallery for an excerpted view of the skier in the above photo.
After skiing that pitch we worked our way out of that bowl through a long stretch of low-angle slope broken up by rolling terrain. This photo is from, well, if not exactly the bottom of the drainage then at least the point where it made sense to put the skins back on and work our way out to (sort of) the top of the north end of the Gulmarg ridge. (Map 3)
Once we skinned up high enough we were able to look back and see where we came from: (Map 4)
The summit of Mt. Apharwat is the round, snowy, and slightly rock-speckled peak on the left side of the frame. The next peak to the right, with all the exposed rock faces is Shark Fin. The bowl that we skied on Day 2 lies between Mt. Apharwat and Shark Fin and the bowl to the right, between Shark Fin and the large snowy pyramid in the center of the photo, is the one we skied on Day 4. The stopping point in the previous photo is way down in that valley below.
At this point, in the day it was getting a little late in the afternoon and weather had started to move in. This made speed a bit more of a priority than photos, so this was my last shot. That’s a shame too because we hit a pitch of excellent powder (below Map 5) in the trees at the end of the ridge and down to the army road below. I consider that my best run of the whole trip.
As before on Day 2, we walked the road for about the first half of the route from map point 6 to the gate of the army base at map point 7, and we skied on the road for the second half. Once we passed through the gate, there wan't much more to do than stand around and wait for the taxi to come and pick us up. (Map 7)
You can see the end of the rigde that we skied off of in the background of the above photo. The specific pitch, however, is actually a fair bit around the corner and out of view behind what we can see here.
To see all the photos from day 3 of skiing in Gulmarg, go here: http://www.bernardsphotos.com/skiing/2012/gulmarg/jan31
The town of Gulmarg sits on a plateau about 2000 ft above the floor of the Kashmir valley. If there is sufficient snow then you can ski from Gulmarg (or higher) down to places closer to the valley floor, such as the village of Drang, and then work your way back to Tangmarg, the gateway town where you can take a taxi back to Gulmarg. This is what we did on day 3. Here's the route:
The day began with a short (you quickly recalibrate in Gulmarg) skin up from the top of Phase 1 to a point to the south where we would have access to a drainage that would take us below Gulmarg. (Map 1)
Note that this is one of the tricky parts of skiing Gulmarg: not winding up in a drainage that will take you far far away from where you want to be. Here's a photo of Bill Barker, the “Bill” of Bill's Trips, skiing the upper part of this route. (Map 2)
The snow was OK in places here, but really, this day wasn’t about skiing as activity unto itself, it was really about skiing as travel; as a way to get you from where you are now to a whole other different place entirely. This sort of thing involves activities such as crossing streams: (Map 3)
These fellows in the photo above are another one of Bill’s groups we have the privilege of hanging out with for the first week of our trip: a great group of Aussie snowboarders. We’ll see more of them later.
One of the trippiest things about skiing in Gulmarg is being on your skis, minding your own business, and coming upon totally random stuff. For example, here are a bunch of massive pipe segments that will someday be part of a hydroelectric project being constructed in this valley. (Map 4)
After skiing across bridge by the hydro construction and then after a skis-off hoof through the forest, we eventually came to the essentially roadless and snowbound village of Drang: (Map 5)
This was another clear highlight of the trip, and one that is especially hard to put into words. After descending from this high alpine environment we suddenly found ourselves materializing in this simple farming village in our rainbow-colored plastic clothing, boots, and skis. The lives in that village are so unlike mine that like mind it’s probably about as close to feeling like an astronaut as I expect I’ll ever experience.
Bill arranged for us to pay a visit and have tea at one of the houses in Drang. This isn’t necessarily my favorite photo from Drang, but it’s probably the astronautiest: (Map 6)
The children of Drang were a delight. As we skied the path out of town they’d ask to hitch rides on the back of your skis. Here’s a shot of Eric giving one a ride (note that this shot is a bit of a photographic first for me: a ski shot taken while skiing): (Map 7)
Finally, at the end of the path, you come to a bridge that’s the way out of town. Even though the bridge is rickety and has some sketchy/missing planks, the trickiest part of the crossing is actually taking your skis off to get onto the bridge in the first place. It’s not that the place where you take of your skis is steep or icy or rocky or somehow perilous. No, the tricky part comes from the fact that by the time you get to that point the kids who rode the backs of your skis down there join the kids who are already waiting there and together they all want/insist on using your skis to go sledding. Of course there’s no saying “no” because the kids are so sincerely thrilled to get 10 vertical feet (at the most) of snow riding in: (Map 8)
It’s pure winter joy and once they’ve got your equipment, it’s hard to get it back out of their hands because everyone is having so much fun. But as with all magic, reality eventually intrudes and you have to get your stuff back so you can take it across the bridge and begin the long walk to Tangmarg. (Map 9)
where the taxis are waiting to take you back up to Gulmarg. (Map 10)
To see all the photos from day 2 of skiing in Gulmarg, go here: http://www.bernardsphotos.com/skiing/2012/gulmarg/jan30
We only had a one run on this day, but it was a long one. The day started with a gondola ride to the top of phase 2 and then from there we skinned to darn near the summit of Mt. Apharwat (13,700 ft), which brought us to the edge of a high alpine bowl behind the broad ridge you see from Gulmarg:
Even though it hadn't snowed in about two weeks, the altitude was high enough and winds had been low enough that the snow was very well preserved on the north aspects. That made the skiing a lot like this:
This bowl lies at the head of a drainage that basically runs parallel to the entire Gulmarg ridge, which made for a very long ski in some pretty low-angle terrain. It was truly sublime. Here's a photo from probably three quarters of the way along this drainage and somewhat before the point where we would have to put the skins back on to get out of the drainage and onto a bit of a shelf that led to the end of the ridge:
We started in teh dark bowl on the upper left edge of the photo above and skied out that entire valley. You can just barely make out our track on the left side of the photo.
Finally, once we gained the shelf we were able to make it to the end of the rigde where we found a beautiful untracked north-facing pitch of soft, deep snow. Here we are standing atop this pitch looking out across the Kashmir valley to Nanga Parbat (I really can't stress how completely massively huge that mountain is. The photo really doesn't do it justice because we're probably at around 12,500 ft in this photo and that thing 85 miles to the north of us in Pakistan and looks every bit of its 26,600 ft).
And then finally here's the upper part of the pitch that was the cherry on top of our day:
From here it was about another 1500 ft to the valley floor where we made it to a road. A 3K walk along the road to the point where we could ski another 3K on the road brought us to the inside(!) of a gate that the Indian army has in place to control access to the road. After strolling through the gate we called a taxi to take us back to Hotel Highlands Park. Here's the path for the day:
Here are the locations where the above photos were taken (point 1 is at the south edge of the photo a the top of Phase 2) :
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I'm glad I was able to get some Gulmarg photos posted earlier so people could start to get a just a taste of what it was the trip was like. But now things are starting in earnest: I just posted the complete set of photos from Delhi, where we spent the first two days of the trip. There are photos from a number of different locales in Delhi, but the two places that really stand out for me are Qutub Minar and Chandni Chowk.
Qutub Minar is a giant sandstone tower that sits in the midst of a complex of medieval architecture in the south of Delhi. (Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qutab_Minar.) There are towers and mosques and other buildings on the site, but honestly, the overall purpose of the complex is still a bit unclear to me. Regardless, it certainly is impressive. One unexpected delight was all the groups of school children visiting the site.
Chandni Chowk is the main market thoroughfare through Old Delhi. It's a complete madhouse, total sensory overload, and one of the true highlights of the entire trip for me.