Martin’s Adventures - Swimming in the Avalanche? “No problem!”
Martin’s Journey from Kargyak to Leh
When I reached Padum, after a week journey from Kargyak and settled things like shopping and exchange of information with Pepa (my successor in Kargyak), we both hit the road again on the ninth day. Each of us in different direction - I headed for Leh and Pepa for Kargyak. He was accompanied by Dorge and Lopi, the most experienced guys from the village, and I travelled with Nima and Norboo. It was snowing again, for a change, so from the journey to Stondge I remember only never ending sinking - not into the water but into the snow because we walked on the road instead of frozen river this time. It was the same for two more days when we struggled through the tons of fresh snow. Only the tenth day was a little bit different because I somehow hit my stride that even the boys had hard time to catch up with me. Still, those ten hour walks in deep snow were really exhausting.
We finally reached the famous Chadar at noon on the twelfth day. We met only one tourist till that time and it was right after the Chadar. Walking on the ice was a nice change but still it wasn’t my dreamed up surface to walk on. The ice underneath our feet was again covered with snow, so we could only suppose that it was actually there. At least we walked on the flat. The first half of the day on the river passed without problems...if I ignored the never ending snowing and the fact that I wet my boot after slipping from an ice floe. Anyway, after a successful day we were lucky to find a cozy little cave to sleep in.
The thirteenth day begun with realization that it was snowing again. We made a fire, had tea and local soup for breakfast and at about 8 AM we were ready to set out for another tiring and snowy day which appeared to be much more dramatic than the day before. It started rather innocently - an avalanche washed over us, luckily only its tail hit the river. Anyway, we were covered with snow all over and silently hoped that the ice is thick enough to withstand the strain of the new snow. After two hours of walking it was clear that the water was rising and that we would have to face up to the wading. We quite managed to wade the worst parts but then there was another unpleasant surprise - a cracked ice which we couldn’t wade through, so we had to climb above the river. Such a climb on the fresh snow through an avalanche slope and then traverse along the slippery rock where one false step means falling 20 m into the cold water below us is not for everyone. Somehow we managed to pass it but there were still problems to come. Right when we got back to the river there was an ice flooded by the stone-cold water and no chance to bypass it. Well, take off your boots guys and jump into it! Guess, how long you think it is possible to walk barefoot on ice in icy water? I managed to stay there for 3 min and I had more than enough. When I reached the side, I looked down to check whether my feet are still there and I was horrified. As I didn’t have extra socks ready, I had to walk barefoot and the thin ice on the surface of the water cut my feet so they were all covered with blood. At least I had another thing to worry about. After a while we had to go through the very same thing once again. Furthermore, the current was strong that time so I thought I was going to fell at any minute. Fortunately, we had better weather that day, we were even lucky to see the sun once :), which made the walking on 20 cm wide icy ledge a bit nicer. As the weather in Leh had been apparently much better then in Padum, we started to meet groups of people and we didn’t feel so lonely on the frozen river. More people unfortunately meant higher demand for caves, so we had hard to find an empty one to spend a night in. We discovered one only after escaping from several avalanches at about 6 PM. We had just noodle soup for dinner and went to sleep.
Morning on the fourteenth day didn’t differ from the other mornings at all. Yup, you’re right, it was snowing again. We packed our stuff and had some tea before we set out. We were only several hours of walking from the end of our journey, so we took it easy walking at slow pace. We managed to avoid wading, so the only thing that bothered me was the broken frame on my backpack which put my back in terrible pain. The moment I saw the road beside us, I felt a great relief and happiness from surviving this hike. Moreover, we were lucky to catch a free taxi immediately, so we were able to take off for Leh directly. Even thought the drive was pretty wild and the road was bumpy as never before, I didn’t take notice off it and I was just longing for bed, tea and a bite to eat.