The line is uneven. Random dark and bright spots lie along a long diagonal path that at times is nothing but some smudges in the sand. Our team is spread along a kilometer long portion heading south further into the Gangotri Glacier, but the concern now before us is a pathway that passes along a ledge of shale, sand, and that shoots down at a 50-degree angle into a plunge.
Some of the team has moved on ahead and some lie behind. Myself, Saurabh, Berinder and Uncle (everyone knows him as Uncle) wait for Debra. Berinder and Uncle both carry double loads so Saurabh positions himself behind them both as they slowly make their way onto the perilous route, ensuring that they find their grip.
Kirti Glacier lies ahead; a short but intense series of straddling maneuvers for the team and we are keen to lodge ourselves further into the body of the glacier and camp. Saurabh and I wait for Debra and Purun before negotiating our way along the little crazy path. It is a journey that we plot carefully and Debra takes the walk in slow careful increments with Saurabh and Purun stationed like honor guards in front and behind her. At one point a small avalanche looks to become a bigger slide, before ebbing away. Our main goal is to simply pass this risk zone as fast as possible and not dally too long. Debra has been a remarkable force, given that this is only her second sojourn along such routes. She is entirely focusing on moments and never gets ahead of herself.
The porters do what they have done throughout the journey…plod and grind through any and every terrain with remarkable speed. Their technique is to take frequent breaks in between their near racing speed and they take delight in challenging eachother in short bursts as to whom has the most direct line when the pathways disappear. It is one of the risky games that they partake in only once in awhile as though to keep their ‘idle’ days from dragging them down.
Kirti camp, when we do reach it, is a little valley-pocket where glacial spring water gathers in the early months of the year. Now it is silt and sand surrounded by boulders. Karma’s kitchen tent is the first tent to be erected followed quickly by Debra’s toilet tent in its dull red canvas. Once the kitchen tent is up, tea is made and Karma can be heard singing and muttering his mantras in a kind of earnest joy. Everyone convenes around the tent as it is the place of joy and warmth and food…and his famed tea.
Our first morning an avalanche bursts down early morning across the valley. It is an ugly mix of dust and ice that creates thick clouds. The rumble is startling to us all and lets us know that we’re not simply in a grand expanse of beauty, but risk as well. Kirti Glacier is another landform that seems to deliberately deceive with stunning preternatural lines and while crisscrossing the ‘narrow’ span of the glacier tracking inwards, Saurabh and I pile up and down chunks of ice and massive stones for most of the day.
Below there is a faint vibration of a deep river channel below us in the ice reminding us that though the ice is riven dark with stones and dust, we are trampling upon ice. Crevasses yawn and groan in the sun and we keep eachother in close view, well aware that these rifts in the ice can often disappear dozens of meters.
Rivulets tinkle past and from where we eventually end up on Kirti we can see Shivling’s exquisite south facing slopes, along with patches of ice which cling to sheer wall faces.
Returning to camp, Berinder can be spotted (his pink wooly still acting as a beacon) on a rock nursing a cup, and there is ever so slight a hint of relief that we have arrived intact. His pack is safe.
Debra has spent the day learning how to make one of Karma’s specialties. At night the moon’s light touches clouds as they race above us, though not a trace of that rushing air above touches our little encampment.