Gulmarg has reveled itself to me far beyond my expectations. The last week has been blue skies and with the Avalanche Advisory at Low, we ventured a little further and were rewarded with 3 incredible descents, not to mention the epic descent the sun made, casting some of the most incredible light over the mountains and ourselves as it set.
Simon, Stevie B and I packed the tent, had some rice and curried chicken prepared in the restaurant at the Hotel and headed for the hills. The mountains are so large here and the weather so good that we didn’t need a map, only to look to the horizon and slap our skins on. From the top of the Gulmarg gondola we had spotted a nice couloir on what we believe is Sunset Peak, so we decided to make a trip of it and venture out there to milk the last 2 days for the forecast high pressure.
The hike out was hot and reflectively sunny, but we made it to our proposed camp at the base of the obvious chute by early afternoon. After pitching the tent, melting some water and re-applying some sunscreen, we got to the heavy work of boot packing up the chute. Our efforts endured little more than 2 hours and landed us at the top with fresh, preserved snow beneath us and a view of more dreamy lines in the distance.
The boys dropped in while I picked off some photos that left me half way down a couloir with a boot pack and some of the most incredible light I have seen. Blue and purple shadows clung to the southeastern slopes in the distance and to the west hallucinogenic pinks illuminated the horizon. The only thing to do was boot back up and take some time for myself to savor this amazing experience of mountains, snow, climbing, skiing, exertion, travel, and friends. Standing on the top alone is something that perhaps makes me the happiest. Dropping in on my own time to a steep, powdery line as the light expended itself completely is the only way to top the feeling. I can say very little more.
The next morning we set our sights on a line that we had only seen as we approached the previous day. It was a much steeper line with some potentially serious exposure. Packing up camp and skiing over the northwest ridge behind camp, we dropped the tent and stove and began the arduous task of booting back up the same mountain. Facing true north and being steeper than the first chute, the going was tough. Wading through waist-deep, cold powder, the higher we got, the higher the nervous energy became. The line dog legged to the right before coming back to the left over some serious cliffs with peppered rocks below.
Working through the choke where the cliffs were, the climbing was especially heavy, but close to the rock wall the snow was firmer and we broke through to the upper headwall. The final slope to the top, however, gave us reason for concern with the soft slab and slough that was present over the a-fore-mentioned exposure, so we made the call to descend from there.
After skiing relatively mellow fall line in Japan and thus far in the resort at Gulmarg, Standing atop 600m of up to perhaps 50° fall line, and did I mention above exposure, we all felt the pressure and nerves. Taking in the atmosphere and skiing humbly though we dropped in one by one and had probably the best run so far this winter. The day was still early though and during our climb we had spotted another aspect worthy of our energy that would be the ideal chaser to the line we had just skied so we booted up again and dropped in for yet another preserved pow run.
We weren’t finished yet even though our bodies were ready for copious amounts of rice, curry and naan bread. The ski out to the village of Drung gave up great tree skiing and soft snow almost to the valley bottom and army camp were we ran into the man himself, Ptor Spricenieks who had an equally broad shit eating grin on his face.
Sharing a taxi home we hatched a plan to venture into the mountains above Phalgam next week. Bumping up the road back to Gulmarg the clouds folded over and set about justifying our day off with light snow that has fallen all day and is setting things up to repeat themselves all over again.