Manali-Leh-KhardungLa Cycling Day 6 (Aug 29th 2009) : Sarchu to Whisky Nullah– “Beauty and the Beast”


The night before was not as cold as predicted but chilly nonetheless. The day was memorable for two very different experiences. An extremely picturesque ride from Sarchu to the top of the Gata Loops which accounts for the “Beauty” in the title and then a brutal uphill psychological test to Nakeela Pass with extreme cold and lashing hailstorms which accounts for the “Beast”.

The morning was bright with cool breeze and a strong sun. I started off and figured out that my front wheel has picked up a wobbly motion which meant that the breaks kept touching the rims. We did not have a truing machine so I knew I will have to live with this for the rest of the trip. Did a bit of tweaking with Ian’s help to minimize the problem.

The first section of the ride took us again all along the Bagha canyon of Sarchu plateau. The canyon walls were spectacularly carved by the high winds and they were magnificent to watch. By now we were in the desert area known for its high winds and no wonder we could see its erosion carvings all around us.

Amazing wind eroded Bagha Canyon walls. Wind erosion happens only where vegetation and rain fall is negligible. This region fits the bill

Amazing wind eroded Bagha Canyon walls. Wind erosion happens only where vegetation and rain fall is negligible. This region fits the bill

Sarchu Plataeu and the Striking Red Cyslist

Sarchu Plataeu and the Striking Red Cyslist

More erosion stories

More erosion stories

Himan Faces? Look closely at the two mountains on the right hand side. Erosion has chiseled human lookalike faces on the rocks

Himan Faces? Look closely at the two mountains on the right hand side. Erosion has chiseled human lookalike faces on the rocks

We continued to lose height and finally reached the base of Gata Loops. The Gata Loops are a series of 21 consecutive switchback climbs through which one gains 1500 feet in 10 km or so. This is an important feature on the Manali-Leh highway and I had heard and read a hell of a lot about it.

21 loops of Gata begin

21 loops of Gata begin

I began the climb and realized soon why it has been imparted its legendary status. It seems never-ending. You climb through one switchback and have barely settled when the other one hits you. I remembered the story of Papillon who escaped from the Devil ’s Island prison on a shanty sailboat after counting that the seventh tidal wave used to be the biggest that could take him out of the cursed jail. The switchbacks seemed like endless waves as they continued to batter us one by one.

Layers of switchbacks beloew, many more to come

Layers of switchbacks beloew, many more to come

Soon I ran out of water and was contemplating of flagging a passing vehicle when our own support vehicle arrived. Water refilled, some chocolates downed the esophagus and I was on my way up again. Despite the continuous and seemingly unending climb, the scenic treat was making up for the effort.

I met with Russell at one switchback where he was resting and he asked the question that I guess everyone had; “When this all ends?”

Gata loop ends

Gata loop ends

And just when we thought the loops just won’t come to an end, the next switchback took us to this BRO signpost which declared that our climbing odyssey was over, at least for now.

Soon we stopped for lunch and ate a great packed meal. I had done a good deal of reading in the web which had educated me that Nakeela Pass was at 15574 feet. I was very relaxed as it meant a climb of just 250 feet in next 7 km, a walk in the park. Little did I know that the “Beast” was about to make me pay for my audacity of belittling it.

The 250 feet of climb happened in next 2 km and the pass was nowhere in sight. I kept the tempo up and climbed 500 feet. My altimeter showed 15,800 feet and the GPS confirmed the same but there was no Nakeela Pass! Now, I love my facts and figures and departing from them was a cruel thing. I remembered an Air Peru flight’s accident when the plane’s altimeter and air speed indicators went dead and the flight crashed in mid Atlantic. The episode on National Geographic’s series Air Crash Investigations was called “Flying Blind”. With no more altitude references to aim, I was probably biking blind.

To make matters worse there was a rapid escalation of bad weather. It started raining and the wind was very cold. I was getting very cold on my bike and was wondering how far I had to go and how much I needed to climb. Then things became even worse and it started hailing. I had just a shorts and a dry fit tee on and I shivered violently.

Finally I saw the prayer flags from a distance and knew I was almost there. Russell was biking just ahead of me and I heard a loud primeval “Yawww….” when he reached the top. Pretty much everyone suffered the climb and the climate.

The NakeeLa Pass. The BRO's reading is faulty. It is at 16,230 feet

The NakeeLa Pass. The BRO's reading is faulty. It is at 16,230 feet

Finally I reached the top with my altitude readings at 16,230 feet. Took a quick picture at Nakeela Pass, where someone was kind to mark their GPS reading (pretty much same as mine) and I began the downhill in full hailstorm.

I do not remember much in the downhill except the fact that it was hailing and I was almost frozen as a chicken in the refrigerator. I reached the pit stop at Whisky Nullah pretty much as a car-wreck. To add to my woes, a freak incident gave me a cut at the back of my knee. I was glad that the next day was a rest day. So did everyone else.

Day’s stats were:

day 06

day's progress highlighted in turquoise

Total Distance

55 km

Total Climb

2500 feet

Total Time on Saddle

4 hours 30 min

Sleeping Height

15,600 feet

Oxygen

55% relative to MSL (mean sea leve58)      At NakeeLa 53%

Minimum Temperature at NakeeLa: 4 degrees Celsius

I never loved rains, let alone hails and snow, and thought probably this was the last time I would see them in this trip.

How wrong was I?

Read on: Day 7- Whisky Nullah to Pang-  “How Wrong was I?”

All Links:

Prologue : Khardungla and My Conditioning

Day 1 (Manali to Marhi):  Meet the Gang

Day 2 (Marhi to Sissu):  The Big Climb up the Rohtang Pass

Day 3 (Sissu to Jispa):   The Cold Windy Day

Day 4 (Jispa to ZingzingBar):  Awww… Those 7 km…

Day 5 (ZingzingBar to Sarchu): The Box of Chololates

Day 6 (Sarchu to Whisky Nullah): The Beauty and the Beast

Day 7 (Whisky Nullah to Pang):  How Wrong Was I?

Day 8 (Pang to Lato): The Longest and the Best Day- Size Does Matter

Day 9 (Lato to Leh):   I Will Reach Leh

Day 10 (Leh to KhardungLa):  The Final Hurrah….

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: