Brahmital Winter Trek 2018: Lessons in Snow Walking

For the Winter Trip of 2018, The Mountain Walker team and our associates Bohemian Adventures planned a winter trek in February 2018 to a lake called Brahmi Tal, located in the Garhwal Himalayas. As this is not a common commercial trek route, there wasn’t much accurate data that was available and hence this trek was a sort of a reccé for all of us. The trek was expected to become a sort of a mountaineering expedition as heavy snow and very cold weather was expected at that height and moreover in winters, it would be a challenge in itself to reach a place that is located at a height of above 4000 m.

The trek was suggested by one of our good friends Deepak Rana, who hails from village Purali and runs his own travel business in Gangotri. Attempting something of this sort in winters was a very interesting idea as all of us in the team have prior climbing experience and we all also are certified mountaineers.

As per the information available, the villagers from the nearby villages visit the Brahmi Tal lake for religious reasons from May to September. Women are not allowed to go to the lake so they go only up to Aadu Top, after which male members go ahead to the lake. The lake has a big religious importance for the local people and they visit the lake to worship and also offer milk into the lake. For the villagers in the area, the water from this lake is almost comparable to the water from River Ganga.

During summers, the villagers complete the 28 km up and down stretch of the trek in one day itself. In our case, since we were attempting the route in winters, we planned to do the trek in 5 days. Furthermore, since this was supposed to be a reccé, we wanted to spend more time there. As there were two females members in our group, the plan was to set up our final camp at Aadu Top, from where the men of our team would go ahead on the last stretch to the lake.

Originally Deepak was supposed to guide us through the trek route, but as he got busy with some personal work, his brother Akhilesh became our guide. We were using 3 porters and one cook for the trek. These guys would carry the food and tents along with some technical equipment till Camp 2 at Angthewda. Each team member would carry their own personal loads and some personal technical equipment.

Since no decent accommodation was available at Jaspur Bend, we decided to stay overnight at Harsil before the trek. During the tourist season specially the Char Dhaam Yatra time, this road is packed with vehicles and there are a lot of staying options.

Day 1: Jaspur Bend to Panchmilia

We started our trek from Jaspur Bend at 10 a.m.. The trek route was along a motor-able road for the initial 1 km, after which there was road under construction going on upto Purali village. Deepak accompanied us till Purali (where he resides) and which is also the last village on the trek route. Purali is a typical Himalayan village, with old wooden houses and a mix of modern construction, and one can also see apple trees all around the village. Upto Purali, it was a flat walk and thereafter there was an ascent of about 1.5 – 2 km through a well-defined trail. By the time we reached the end of this section, the weather started becoming a bit cloudy. After a gradual climb of another 500 m through pine forest, we reached Camp 1 site.

Just before the start of the trek, Deepak had suggested that on Day 1 we should skip Camp 1 at Panchmilia and directly move to Camp 2 at Angthewda as no snow was expected till Camp 2, and we all had agreed to this suggestion. On Day 1 however, I fell sick and had an upset stomach, which caused dehydration, loss of energy and a bit of dizziness. The entire team was concerned about my welfare and it was decided that it would be better not to push for Camp 2 on the first day. This would ensure that I got good rest before we entered the tough snow stretches.

The status at the original Camp 1 site was that there was no water available there due to winters, and so we decided to move to another camp site which was a further 1 – 1.5 km away. I was feeling a bit tired but I knew that I could easily manage to cover the upcoming distance before I got to rest. Since the weather was also changing, it was important to set up camp before it started snowing. We walked on a sort of flat stretch upto a small stream. There were small patches of snow on our route as this was a shadow area, whereas the snow on other areas had already melted. After crossing the stream, there was a small ascent after which we finally reached Camp 1. I was happy to see that the tents were already set up.

Normally whenever one gains altitude during treks, it is not advisable to sleep but to keep oneself active. Since the altitude of Camp 1 was not much and I was already used to this altitude, I decided to sleep as I was feeling very tired. The hot drink and some food that I had after reaching Camp 1 helped me to feel much better compared to how I was earlier in the morning when we had started the trek. I slept all afternoon, woke up in the evening for dinner and then slept off again. It had started snowing in the evening for some time but by the time we had our dinner, the weather had cleared off.

Day 2: Panchmilia to Angthewda

On the morning of Day 2, I was back to almost my full fitness levels. There are no flat sections from Camp 1 till Brahmi Tal and the route for Day 2 was through mountain grasslands and forest. As we were aware that there was not much trekking to be done on this day, we started a little later than usual, with the plan to have hot lunch on reaching Camp 2. Akhilesh and I started in the lead and ascended our way up to a ridge, where we saw a flock of Monal. Monal is a very beautiful bird which also holds the distinction of being the state bird of Uttarakhand. I hadn’t seen so many Monals at once ever in my life, but by the time I could take pictures, they flew away. After enjoying this beautiful sight, we ascended further and reached Camp 2 site.

As it took us just around 1 hour to trek from Camp 1 to Camp 2, I started thinking that we could have easily done this stretch yesterday itself and it could have saved us a day. Anyway, yesterday was a different day so there was no point thinking about it. We waited for the rest of the team and the porters to arrive at the camp. This camp site was beautiful, with trees all around and a very nice view of the Himalayas and the Harsil valley. Nobody was feeling tired on reaching Camp 2 and since everyone was fully fit and active, we chatted for a long time while enjoying the beautiful views. It also gave each of us time to carry out some of our personal activities, and also to spend some “me” time alone. After a good hot lunch, some more relaxation and an early dinner, everybody started preparing for the next two days of the climb, where we would be walking on snow. We all were expecting that the snow conditions will be conducive for walking.

Day 3: Angthewda to Aadu Top

The plan for the day was to start early with packed lunch so that we could reach the last camp before Brahmi Tal lake latest by 2:00 p.m.. The route ahead was mostly steep ascent in snow due to which we needed more time. 2 porters were to carry some of the load to the next camp and then return to Camp 2. We would start in normal trekking shoes and then change into snow shoes depending on the snow conditions that we encountered. Soon after we left the camp site, the steep ascent started across grassy vegetation as we were above the tree-line. The grass however was dry and slippery. After crossing a small stream, we reached a ridge after which there was snow all the way to the top. Here we changed in to the snow shoes and gaiters.

So far, we had been walking on a well defined trail, but hereafter the trail was not visible as it was covered under the snow. Akhilesh had some idea about the trail so he was leading and cutting through the snow, making a path for the others to follow. The snow was about 2 feet deep and very soft. At some places, we were knee-deep in snow and the going was very time consuming, requiring a lot of effort. After an hour of walking through such conditions in the snow, we sat down to have half of our packed lunch before the final ascent to Aadu Top. At this place, the snow was melting and thus the trail was visible but had become muddy and slippery.

As we reached Aadu Dhaar sometime later, Akhilesh showed us the final stretch towards Aadu Top and his estimate was that it would take us another 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the camp site at Aadu Top. The route ahead was all covered in snow and the snow conditions were not good for walking as we expected to face a minimum of knee deep snow from here on. The snow kept on increasing with every foot that we were gaining and we estimated that it must have snowed approximately 4 feet around this area. The snow was so soft that we reached a point where we were hip-deep in snow – and at this point we realised that it would take a lot more time to reach Aadu Top than what we had expected. Further, since it was sunny, the snow condition was deteriorating with every passing minute and going ahead was not feasible.

We decided to go down, camp in the snow and then attempt walking up in the very early morning hours when the snow was expected to be hard. Since we had already opened the route upto Aadu Dhaar, getting up this point wouldn’t be a problem. With this plan agreed upon by everyone, we all descended to a nice camping site on the snow. The porters had gone back to Camp 2 and we pitched our tents on the snow. The campsite was very beautiful and sitting in the snow to watch the snow clad mountains was a breathtaking experience. We melted some snow for water and chit chatted.

After having a nice hot dinner, we all slid into our sleeping bags to get good night’s sleep. Since the snow condition was not good, it had been difficult for us to beat the snow so that it would be flat and easy for us to pitch the tents. Therefore when we slept on it, it started taking the shape of our bodies. It was a little uncomfortable but we somehow slept off as we were a bit tired with all the walking on the snow, and also because we had to leave early the next morning.

Day 4: Back to Camp 2 Angthewda

We checked the snow conditions early morning and although it was a bit harder, the feet were still going in pretty deep. This meant that that we would be facing the same snow conditions that we had encountered yesterday. The sky was clear and the surrounding peaks were looking absolutely brilliant, and we had another small discussion. It was decided that since there was shortage of time and resources, it wouldn’t make any sense to go further ahead. So we chilled out in the sun for some time and then started moving back to Camp 2 where we planned to have hot lunch.

There was a little disappointment but it was a good learning experience for all of us. We realised that in order to successfully complete such treks in winters, we need more time and resources. Perhaps if we had a few more days in our hands then we could have completed our trek to Brahmi Tal by opening the route every single day and then returning back to the previous camp to rest. It was a good practice and experience for all of us considering we will be going for an expedition in May.

The walk down to Camp 2 was fun as we played in the snow, took some photos, and also tried practicing some snow craft in the soft snow. The path was a bit slippery on the way down so extra care was taken in some sections of the route. We had a nice hot lunch and then relaxed and retrospected about the trek in our own ways.

Day 5: Angthewda to Jaspur Bend

We had an early breakfast and started back to Jaspur Bend as our plan was to reach Uttarkashi by evening. This time I was enjoying the walk, as the first day of the trek had been more of a survival than an enjoyment for me. We reached Purali village in good time to enjoy potatoes cooked in local style by Deepak’s mother. After gathering some local information from Deepak’s family, we headed off to Jaspur Bend.

Brahmi Tal trek is a beautiful small trek for beginners, especially during summers and post monsoon. The views and the natural beauty all along the trek is very refreshing. Local people do this trek in one day, but for beginners a nice 3-4 day trek will provide them with the basic experience of trekking in the Himalayas. Phone connectivity (BSNL) is also available till Camp 2, but it won’t make sense to have such disturbances in the peaceful and serene environment.

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