India Journal VI  Kanol to Sutol

10/13/2004:  1353

                        Today              Total

Ascent              570                  14,473

Descent            1,990               14,463

Last night the rain turned to snow and the temperature dropped.  This morning as the sun reached our tent and I looked out and saw cloudless blue skies and melting snow, the song line “Hello mother, hello father, here I am at Camp Granada” came to mind.

A spectacular trek to Sutol and our current camp site today.  From our camp you look north up a gap in the canon and Trisul looms about 14,000 ft above us, but only about 4 miles at the crow flies. 






Looking up canyon from our camp at Sutol







It has been sunny all day and my Suunto watch barometer has an        , which means it is supposed to be fair weather.  We’ll see.  Tomorrow we have an 18 km trek, but the contour of the route is a mystery.  If we have sunshine it doesn’t really matter.

On our hike today from Kanol to Sutol had another amazing encounter with humanity.  The section of trail we did today took us through the densest, lushest forests we have encountered so far.  There was about five hours between signs of civilization, and the community we left near Kanol was very poor and sparsely populated. 

About midway between our origin and destination, as we started the descent in to Sutol, two woman came towards us on the trail.  It is an interesting phenomena that our brain can only see what it has experienced in the past.  If some new visual experience occurs it takes a minute to pull in information from other possibly related departments in the brain so that the new vision can be processed and recorded.  It was this very problem that prevented me from acting like the westerner I am and snapping a picture of the two young woman on the trail.

Out in the middle of no where, on a very rugged stretch of trail, we encountered two of the most beautiful and exotically dressed people I have ever seen.  The closest analogy I can think of in the states would be if you were hiking in the wilderness, a couple of days from civilization, and you came a cross Katherine Zeta Jones and her daughter wearing Christian Dior designer gowns and jewelry.  It would seem a little disorienting and out of place.

Every day and every turn in the trail reveals some new natural or human wonder.  Even surrounded by the high Himalayan peaks it seams that the human encounters are still the most startling and memorable.  It is probably that a 20,000 ft snow capped peak utilizes the visual senses, but the human encounters recruit the visual, auditory, olfactory tactile, and emotional senses.  While the imagination is not technically a sense it invariably comes to life during these encounters with Indian humanity.

The first of the two woman travelers was a young woman wearing a crisp, clean, brilliant blue, yellow and orange sari.  The sari wrap over her head framed a smooth, smiling and classically beautiful face.  She had a nose ring that was larger than the typical piercing and rings we had seen.  It was about 3” in diameter and strung with some type of sparkling red stone or glass.  Her earrings, bracelets and necklaces all added to the effect.

Walking behind the woman was a young girl.  She was dressed in a sari made of bright, radiant blues, reds and oranges.  Her clothing was accessorized (old Indian word) with jewelry.  As we passed she clasped her hands in front of her face, bowed her head, and greeted us with Nameste. 

Where were they going? Other than the cluster of very poor small stone houses at Kanol the next town was at least five hours from here over a couple of passes.  What were they going to?  I can only imagine.

Sutol exists in the 1600’s.  In the field next to where we are camping there is an old farmer harvesting his potatoes using two oxen and a single till plow.  His wife walks behind the plow digging through the tilled soil picking up the potatoes and placing them in a sack on her apron.




Farmer and wife harvesting potatoes in Sutol








There entire field was not more than 150 by 100 ft and sat on the side of a small hill.  We were running low on vegetables, so Retan negotiated with them for some fresh new potatoes.  Since I saw nothing exchanged, I can only assume they were a gift.


10/14/2004: 0800

Went to sleep last night with cloudless star filled sky.  About 2:30 AM started raining and has continue off and on through the night and it to the morning.  There is a reason that they call these forest rain forests.   We are waiting to see if it clears up some before packing up.

After six days on the trial we have established a routine.  We generally wake around 5:30 or 6:00 AM.  At 6:30 AM Raten Martolea (AKA CEO, Boss) or Ijabassing (AKA Bandana Man, Mule Chief) bring sweetened hot black tea to our tent as they call out “Hello, hello. Tea”.  “Hello, hello. Tea” is pretty much the extent to Bandana Mans English vocabulary.  About 15 minutes after the tea two small basins of hot water arrive for washing.

When these preliminaries are complete breakfast in tent is served.  Breakfast generally is some combination of chipote (Indian tortillas) either baked or fried, some type of egg (fried or scrambled), oatmeal or corn flakes and more tea.  The chipotes are not your Rosarita prepackaged type of tortillas.  They have bags of flour that have been hauled from Delhi.  Each day when we make camp they mix up fresh dough and need it and roll the chipotes by hand.  Mo did look in the cook tent one time when they were preparing food and suggested that it was not a good idea to watch the food preparation process.   I have been content to just eat the good food and not watch how they do it.

When breakfast is complete Mo and I pack up our gear (sleeping bag, mats, clothing and personal).  The crew ((Retan, Ijabassing, Prem Singh Negi (AKA Orange Hat – wears a NY Yankees baseball cap with a bright orange rim) and Cookie (don’t know his real name)) break down the entire camp, load up the horses, and we hit the trail.

Each days trek is, or has been, 4-10 hours averaging about 3,000 ft of vertical.  We generally take a brief lunch break on the trail before reaching our destination. Lunch is a hard boiled egg, chipote, fruit (banana or apple), a few nuts and a candy bar.

On the trail Raten pretty much sticks with us making sure we don’t wander off a cliff.  There are no trail signs or even signs telling you what village you are in.  Many trails intersect and head off in to the mountains to destinations only known by the frequent travelers.  I have concluded that while it would be an added adventure to go it alone, I am very glad to have a guide.  We are at his mercy.

During the day Raten carries a full pack (60 lbs) with all his gear.  I carry a pack with rain gear and extra clothing for Mo and me, lunches and snacks for the day and water.  Mo carries her camel back with water, ski hat and gloves.

When we arrive at our destination the crew sets up our tent and the mess tent.  The mess tent serves as the crew’s sleeping quarters and the kitchen.  We eat in our tent or outside if the weather permits.  Once camp is set up the hot tea arrives with in minutes.  Tea is often accompanied by a snack of fried battered vegetable and cheese (excellent).

Mo and I then relax, read, write in the journal or explore the local area.

As the sky darkens and it gets cooler we head to the tend (5-5:30).  Dinner arrives around 6:30 and starts with hot tea followed by rice (always), a vegetable dish, chipotes and sometimes fish (canned tuna or salmon) followed by a fruit desert.

We then read in the tent for a while and are a sleep by 8:30 PM (late night).



Raten Metolea (Head guide, Boss): Head guide and most experienced trekker and high altitude climber.  Has been up a few 20,000 ft+ peaks.  39 years old from Auli.  Is married with three kids.  Speaks some English, but we are learning that “Ya ya” has two different meaning, “yes” and “I don’t know what you are talking about”.  

For example, If I point straight ahead and asked “Does this trail go to Pana”, “Ya,Ya” means yes you are right.  If I asked “Should I launch my self off that cliff and do a reverse one and half summersault with a half twist”,  “Ya, Ya” means I don’t know what you are talking about”.






From left to right: Retan, Mo, Cookie and unknown trekker who just jumped in the picture.







Retan makes all final daily decisions related to travel.  He has been right on so far.  Only member of the crew who has real outdoor clothes.  Owns a Gortex North Face jacket which must have been a gift on a past expedition.



Ijabassing (Bandana Man): Head packer and horse handler. 23 years old and not married.  Other than “Hello” speaks no English.  Wears bright paisley bandana as head scarf (pirate fashion) or on face as a gator during snow storms.   Mo gave him a bright turquoise blue, pink and purple ski jacket (circa early 80’s) and he hasn’t taken it off in three days.

Very handsome, always smiling and courteous, and like all of the other crew members, never seems unhappy or complains (even chasing horses in a blizzard while wearing flip-flops).

Earlier in the trek, when we had warmer weather, Mo was wearing shorts, and this seemed to cause some serious staring problems.  I noticed Ijabassing was just sitting and staring at Mo’s legs.  When I pointed out to Mo that she had an over attentive fan, she looked up at him and he just smiled nicely, without embarrassment or hint of evil thought.  We have now learned that staring is not considered impolite.  If something interests you, sit and stare at.

He is from a small town in the mountains called Irani.  When he first said this we thought he was from Iran, but Irani is actually one of the “twin towns” of Pana and Irani, that sit at about 9,000 ft in Garhwal’s.







Prem Singh Negi (Orange Hat): About 20 years old from Pana.  We will be going through his village near the end of the trek.  Mainly assists with the horses and packing.  Always smiling and helpful.  English vocabulary consists of “Hello, hello, tea”.  He is now the proud owner of a South American sheep herders hat via Steamboat Springs.



Not really Prem.  Embarrassed I have no picture




Cookie: For some reason can’t get his name.  Speaks no English.  Age somewhere between 40-60.  Does everything from cooking, to packing animals to hauling gear.  Always smiling and pleasant.  Has a persistent cough, smokes at every rest stop, but never falls off the pace and never seems to be struggling.


10/14/04: 1508  Sutol to Tikuna Dar

                        Today              Total

Ascent              2,550               17,023

Descent            2,420               16,885

Rained all morning until about 10:00 AM when the Boss decided it was time to pack up and move, rain or shine.  We packed up in the rain and headed for Tikuna Dar.  With in minutes of starting on the trail the rain stopped and the rest of the day was absolutely beautiful late summer early fall weather.



Got to India Journal VII

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