Menthosa Peak – Expedition Blog 4
Acclimatization has been going well but to stick to the plan we have to go continuously higher! So finally the time has come to move to the higher mountains in the backside. This goes along with limited food resources, wild and rough mountains, remoteness and tricky flying conditions. There are several glaciers that cool down the air continuously and generate some sort of outflow coming down from the high mountains. On the other side there can be incredible strong valley winds as there are just narrow valleys surrounded by high mountains. The wind system and rough mountain combined generate violent thermals sometimes. Flying defensive and landing high is mandatory. Also we have to carry a maximum of food for 7 days and at least 3 l of water in case we won’t find some nearby.
Weather for the following days looks average but even better in the higher mountains around Kullu area. The southerly wind in the front hopefully won’t affect this area too much as it brouoght humidity, low cloud base and overdevelopment the last days… So the next step of the plan is to fly to Manali area near Rothand pass to climb our first 5000 m peak.
Being super stoked about the real start of our adventure we start packing all our gear together – which is in total 35 kg. After our usual Indian breakfast at the Paratha place, which might be the last one for the next following days, we start hiking up to the takeoff. The day looks quite good as there are no clouds forming yet. Still fully motivated we reach the takeoff after almost 2 hours of hiking with our loaded backpacks.
But… it’s already 10 am… The air is still dead and looking into the weather has changed completely as it looks like a stable November day. But still in a good mood we enjoy the sun and some talks with good friends while drinking Chai.
While the day goes on our expectations drop a little. Nevertheless we are still confident to make it to the higher mountains in the back. Even though some good pilots think it is not possible today. At around 12 o’clock the first thermals start working. We immediately prepare our gear. It is the first time we fully load our harnesses and it works just fine. The time thinking about squeezing in all stuff in our harnesses and modifying it was worth it. We notice the first clouds forming above the takeoff but as Bir already got quite busy, it takes a while to get airborn. Meanwhile clouds get bigger and to our surprise, cloud base is even lower than the front ridge and coming lower and lower. But we are now flying and why shouldn’t we try to stick to our plan?
Somehow we are able to find some climb around the clouds popping up almost everywhere. We have just been on the right place at the right time. Shortly after leaving the thermal it started forming a cloud and merging with the other clouds.
After reaching the height of the front ridge to safely get over it, we immediately take the chance to jump into the back. And hell yeah, the first thermal there catapults us up to cloud base, even though this is quite low with 4500 m in the backside.
The clouds there already merged to big cloud streets following the ridge line. To not get sucked in those big clouds we follow the ridgeline valley-sided as the mountains around are much higher than cloud base. You definitely don’t want to lose orientation besides these huge mountains!
In a short time we reach the first glaciers in the back where flying with low cloud base gets tricky. There are several valley crossings where you better not land in the valley. Making it even worse the clouds shaded out big areas which weaken the thermals quite a bit. Also we have to cross one big mountain ridge on the south side of Kaliheni Peak at almost 4800 m to get over to Kullu. Nico misses one last good thermal and finds himself quite low. I carefully watch him scratching in really weak thermals for a while in hope he will make it over the pass.
Flying much higher it looks like he will land on the ridge line and bomb out. But after a while he is able to gain some height to make it over it just by a few meters! Super happy to make it we jump to Kullu area. And there it looks like super good flying conditions ahead. Higher cloud base, more sun and stronger thermals.
And what to say, the first thermal there pulls us up to more than 5000 m in almost no time! Even better we can share it with some big vultures. But somehow it seems they do not care about visual flying rules as they just keep on thermalling higher and higher until they completely disappear in the clouds.
It’s 2:30 pm now and the day is still full on. Not losing too much time we surf the clouds towards Rothang pass. But it looks too easy. Using the speedbar a little bit too much I find myself lower caught in 30km/h strong southerly wind soaring on a huge granite wall. And we just have one last valley crossing ahead… Meanwhile Nico enters a super strong thermal right above my head pulling him up to orbital heights, where I have to work hard to keep my glider inflated in this bumpy flying conditions.
But somewhere there has to be this thermal! And out of sudden I get pulled up with 10m/s climb in some rough and narrow thermal. It doesn’t feel like flying anymore… more like just being pulled up by some invisible force. It’s probably one of the most turbulent thermals I have ever thermalled up!
Soon I meet Nico at the cloud base again, from where we start to cross towards the Rothang ridge, which is the boarder to Spiti-Lahaul province. While gliding to the others side we enjoy watching the mountain scenery with all the gigantic 6000 m peaks and big glaciers. A look at the time we notice it is just 3 pm. We still have 3 and a half hours left till sunset. This time we can still use! After a little chat with Nico on our radios we spotted a perfect toplanding spot at 4800 m and some good looking 5000 m peak which should be just perfect for our next acclimatization step. Toplanding at this height, heavily loaded in deep snow is not easy, but we find the perfect wind to make a good landing. But not the smoothest though.
We both are super stoked about to climb our first 5000 m peak soon! Hell yeah! Full of motivation we put on our climbing gear and pack a small climbing bag with some bars and water. The rest of the gear we leave on our landing spot as it s just perfect to take off again later. The route we take follows the ridge line all the way to the top of some unnamed peak. On the one side there is Solang Valley which lays below the impressive northeast face of Hanuman Tibba, and on the other side there is Spiti Valley with its remote 6000 m peaks. What a view! We already flew at over 5000m but while climbing up we can really feel the altitude, which makes every step in 50 cm fresh snow quite exhausting.
We were wondering if someone every stood on this peak as it s just some unnamed peak on the map. On the way up we find the answer! There are some fresh and interesting traces in the snow… made by animals… maybe it is a snow leopard? We follow this trace a while but at one point it leaves the ridge line. It would have been interesting to check that out as snow leopards are super rare to see! But we have to go on to get back to our gliders before the dark. And finally after some easy rock climbing on the last few meters we reach the summit. Wuhu! We climb our first 5000 m peak which is 5177 m according to the GPS! We take some pictures and enjoy the breathtaking view in this mountainous landscape.
But as the clouds already tend to drop we turn around for some rapid descent. Just in time we reach our landing spot where we pack everything. While preparing for takeoff the cloud base drops to the height of our takeoff. We immediately take off. This scenery is just magic! It is a little bit foggy and when we get clear sight again the sunrays are falling almost horizontal towards the higher west-facing mountains. The glaciers below us and the ridge line we are following just look incredible in this light! Indescribable!