Bara storm in Bara Shigri, Lahaul Spiti.

Bara Storm

This diary blog was written in the days of a big storm whilst stuck in a tiny camp waiting for the snow to get a hard crust on so I could get out. Writing was something to do other than bite my nails to the bone and worry about how stuck and cold I had become.
   I was 10 km from the tiny dabba village of Batal at the big glacier and superb climbing and bouldering area of Bara shigri when the storm struck.
  Its on the other side of the river Chandra which has no road or big paths. The terrain is lots of very small valleys and gullies with boulders big and small everywhere. When the snow first started so heavily everyone in the valley left their tents and cars and camps and ran on foot to the dhabas of either Batel, Chotadara or Chattru and relative safety.

Everyone except me. I went for a walk in the snow to find a better cave.

 Below – Before the storm
The "Dreamy days" before the storm set in. Funnily enough I had named this climb "DREAMY DAYS" a superb sustained 7c

Below- before the storm
 Happy in the sun I wasn't to know the epic awaiting me in the following days

Raining all day my goofa (cave/tent) holds up okay only some drips around the edges of the crash pad. This place  is not a proper cave just two stone walls with a tarpaulin plastic sheet stretched between and held in place by stones.

Changes to snow about mid morning and starts to come down really heavily. I go for a walk to find a better more snow proof goofa (cave) but although I look at a lot of fantastic boulders for climbing with very nice lines on overhanging walls there are no really big square cut roofs to provide better protection from this very hard snow. At the end of the walk I'm struggling through the stuff in a white out completely encrusted and glad to get back to what I have which is still dry but needs constant clearing with a plate to stop the top from caving in. If that happens its a problem. When I look at how its building up it feels like a trap inside this tiny place but walking the 10 km back to Batel now? Its too heavy. I tell myself, don't move. You've missed the time and the chance.

      The night is snowing very heavily like I've never seen before in the last seven seasons here. I have to clear the roof every 20 minutes so no chance to sleep. If I leave the plastic sheet roof alone it will be gone quickly and my protection is lost. I will perish. Every time I have to go outside again as the build up at the sides is so quick and has to be cleared to give any room for the next snow I scrape from the top. Completely wet and its now impossible to control the drips and inevitably my crash pad and sleeping bag gets wet also. I must keep my horseshit stash dry other wise no chai or food also. Just keep making brews of chai and moving all the time to keep warm. When it starts to get light the snow has got to 5 feet built up already. I can hardly believe how much snow is coming down.

    Full snowing now with no breaks in the sky. This is grim as hell I don't know what to do except keep scraping the roof sheet every time to keep myself moving somehow. I have to keep warm and survive so I start with the metal plate a frenzy of digging just to get a space in front of the entrance. I've never seen this type of snow falling so fast about 1 foot every 2 hours it's out of control,  so scary. I'm trapped in this massive place Bara shigri and the stress is getting to me. What to do? How to get out? No answers to any questions only survive now not get too cold or stressed. But during my frenzied night digging and clearing a space in front in the morning I've got already got one finger which is frozen and still numb. 
    I'm trying to calculate in my mind about the snow levels but am boggled by the reality of it. If comes 5 feet in one day and it goes for 3 days ( quite often here storms go for 3 days) then it becomes 12 or 15 feet !! Its a ridiculous prospect. During the day it carries on but doesn't seem to be the same type of snow more sticky somehow. Maybe its also just getting colder now but it still carries on  there are no breaks in the sky. In the morning I was digging for a couple of hours otherwise I could imagine suffocating in here my camp only 3 feet high. In the space I cleared only a few inches extra is there compared to the few feet from the night before. Thats a good sign.
  When the night comes I realize that I'm going to struggle to be warm enough as almost everything I have is now wet. Sleeping bag, jackets, pants, crash pad. The one slightly dry place is in the back corner and everything is piled there with my sac on top which is the only other thing  slightly dry. My feet and legs are so cold now so I stuff my whole legs into the rucsac but unfortunately I can’t fit into this rucsac its just not big enough. I force my upper body into the stoney steps of the dry bit in the goofa then pile all my things on top including the now very damp cold sleeping bag. After 20 minutes I start to convulse and tremble my body is so cold and I have to move and make a chai its the only thing I can do to get a bit warmer. With some bits of semi dry horse shit and kerosene it makes a small fire for a short time  so I can put my feet and hands into that with steam coming from everywhere. The worst thing is my waist and stomach which is freezing  bringing my overall temperature down too much. I just have to keep going through this night somehow its just brew after brew of chai but I have to take care with kerosene fuel its a limited amount which I have.  In maybe 3 days it will be all gone and the horseshit also, but I will also be gone by then I think…… Totally  Gone!
   I am searching through my  "medical kit" desperate to find something to help me and make me warmer but am too scared to take anything. In Hampi we always joke about “heat tablets” (to cool you down) but now i could do with something like that to warm me up. Anyway its comforting to have some pills as maybe I need something stronger after some more days of this torment. 
  The weather is everything now. It will decide what happens . Its such a strong feeling I have never been in this type of situation before now. Not quite like this anyway. In such a remote place, so alone and so deeply in the shit.
   When I turn on the radio its a guy being interviewed about the financial and banking problems on wall street, poor fellow has has lost his job and all. He was doing so well making millions every week and now its gone he's depressed. He's depressed !? Sitting in a nice warm room in complete safety and he's depressed. I hope that he is suicidal. This is the week of the investment banks collapsing one after another but I cant relate to them at all now. Its bad for the poorer people losing thier dream homes but the hedge fund scamsters can go and fuck themselves. Also if it will get much worse I imagine and spread all over the world in the next months. Then orders will dry up for the granite and iron ore mines which have ravaged the forest areas of Karnataka that I love. That must be a positive.
    I have music and can try to alter my mood for the better with that. I still have a lot of energy now but can do nothing at all with it except hate politicians,bankers and bite my nails. If I try to walk back to Batal now I know what will happen on the way. A white out in soft up to the neck snow and death.
   Its still snowing I have to survive the night and thats the end all of everything which means staying firmly in the moment to avoid the drips and keep scraping the plastic roof. I feel like I've made a huge mistake at the beginning. Instead of going looking for a better place and staring at nice climbing rocks for hours in the first snows I should have just bailed at that  moment blasting grimly through the big storm to safety of Batel in the first 2 or 3 feet or so. I WOULD probably have made it then but now I can’t move and for how long ? I can never walk out in this now 5 or 6 feet of soft fresh snow it would have to thaw slightly then freeze allowing me to walk on top but how long will that take? 1 clear day and one night maybe?  But now its just speculation it seems so very far in the future.

         When I think of Hampi and all the beautiful rocks and caves it seems so far away from me then I realize I'm actually starting to accept the possibility of missing out. A bit of me now thinks this year I won't arrive in Hampi. I've fucked it all up.

NEXT DAY, Change of weather, change of mood.

When the clouds start to lift  the absolute beauty of this desolate and now silenced place is almost unreal.  Even if I still can’t move or do anything to get out it hugely lifts my spirits giving me hope. Then it starts all these massive avalanches completely crashing through the steepness where the road used to be on the other side of the river from Chota dara to Batal.  Nobody will try to walk while thats happening. When I saw it I thought maybe they won't even try to clear this road but just save the people from the main 3 places in the valley by helicopter (they have done that before) and then call it the end of the season.
  I can hardly believe that the storm is over the great relief is just to get warm and dry but I still can't move until a decent thaw of the surface and the big freeze of tonight. If it stays clear it will happen tonight for sure and in the morning I'll be on my way back to Batal. I have to wait but everything is out of the goofa to dry. Its a strong sun and I even Imagine its melting some of the snow.  Fat chance!

     For fun I try to walk a bit and just fall to my chest and neck in this debilitating mush. I'm not going anywhere in this ! Not until the magical freeze thaw effect. Today and tonight I tell myself. The silence is so different now. The place always has a kind of background sound  but now this white blanket has silenced everything even that unexplainable one. When I put my music I have to turn it down much more than normal such is the high level of the silence. Its really strange. The whole valley is sleeping ! Where is everybody ? Do they know something  ? What is the weather forecast ? Why are they not clearing the road with the bulldozer digging machine. Where are all the helicopters buzzing back and forth saving people?  They must all be in Batel and Chattru and all the road labourers ? I need to be there with them not stuck here in this little death trap.


                           5 th DAY
    Bad news. No freeze ! It clouded up again in the night preventing any proper freeze up. When I wake up its snowing heavily again this time lying and building up quickly to add to the horrendous bulk. Now I'm looking at the small amount of kerosene and horse shit I have and wondering about tommorrow. I have enough for one more cooked meal of dhal rice and a chai perhaps. I can't sleep tonight if its heavy. I have to keep clearing the plastic sheet top or I'm sure it will cave in quickly. Then I will freeze anyway. I have to try not to get so crusted and soaked whilst scraping the roof thats what did for me the last time. Now these vicious spindrift winds come flying through the entrance soaking and icing me up that way as well. The only way to stop it is by blocking the entrance with my rucsac but then I dont have it dry to put my feet in like last time. I have to stay awake tonight but now with the heavy snow I don't feel tired as the fear is keeping me totally wired as I get closer to some kind of point. The drips start again which means at least I can collect water to drink but its a strange type of water this all full of dust. In a way I want the drips to stop as it must be clear skies and so cold then everything will freeze. I have to keep hoping for that its actually now my only hope of escape. Every so often I get a strange rush of hope like now just because the falling flakes have slowed down just a bit. I imagine for a moment that everything will be okay somehow I will get through this. If ONLY I had more fuel and horse shit I could imagine waiting longer but without its just desperate.
   Now when I hit the roof the snow sticks in a different way than before its a drier colder type of snow. What does that mean ? The drips are less as well I guess its just getting colder. The first night of heavy snow I had plenty fuel to make brews all the time. now i don't have that.
 The sound is less from the roof but it may be just because its caked on. Should I sleep or is it too risky? Its still snowing. When I imagine waking up to the plastic sheet falling in scenario it alarms me so much I don't want to sleep anytime at all. I already have a dehydration headache and the mood swings are unbelievable. What if it clears up during the night I should surely get up and go an hour  before sunrise as if its ever possible to walk on top of this mush it won’t be for long. The only place to cross the main river from here is 3 km or so up towards Batal where it flattens out but I've never tried to cross there before. Here its just very narrow and rocky I would end up swimming. That would be stupid and suicidal also.

  Just got back here from my attempt to walk. I got up early to try and make it at least as far as the river. NO chance. In about an hour of “walking” when I looked back I was less than 250 metres from my goofa and completely drained. Now my legs and back are burning and I know the real truth. In this myriad maze of small hills, boulders and gullies I can’t know where the deeper wind blown sections of snow really are. Then its so deep up to the neck, hopeless. Its still fully cloudy so no chance of the thaw freeze for tomorrow also. I'm also reaching some kind of point now. No chance for any proper food or water except trying to eat this sampa flour and trying to melt the snow in my mouth and hands. There is always a chance that a helicopter passes from Batal and I can flag it down but I'm not fooling myself now I know its such a tiny chance. But I'm still here. Flailing up to the neck in the snow and fighting every step it was so frustrating to try and walk. I cant move now , I'm exhausted.

 Some type of big sleep beckons now and becomes an almost inviting prospect compared to that walking/swimming thing.  Maybe I lose a lot of energy in  2 more days like this anyway more snow or not.. Now it looks again dark down the valley towards Chattru the next dump of snow will surely settle everything . I'm just so thirsty with no water no more drips coming now.
 I feel somehow detached right now and after the exertion of the morning walk and emotions of the last days  I'm just all washed out, worried out and I'll just take what comes now thats it. In a way i'd rather die here in my sleeping bag drifting off to music than up to my neck in snow exhausted and only one quarter of the way to Batal ! Its only mid morning or so but the valley is again a complete white out and its snowing again. Its hard to stay positive when the weather is not settled ,changing all the time, trying to keep eating the white stuff but somehow the taste is so different to normal water, almost tastes metallic. keep thinking about those abandoned vehicles I'd like to reach there somehow even if its the last ditch effort but  know I can't cross the river here and batal or Chota Dara is just too far on this side in these conditions. I cant afford to get wet again as I know what that means for the next night. The snow falls heavy no wind  again in silence now.
 I have to adopt a mind set which will help me get through this whatever happens.  It feels most terrible when I'm frustrated at not being able to do anything but then during those moments of absolute detachment and serenity its okay again. So I have to not care as much after all what will be will be and there is NOTHING I can do about this weather.

 Om mane padme hum, om mane padme hum

Just as the clouds lift a bit showing some gaps it all closes in again. White up the valley, white down the valley and white falling more from sky. If it really clears I know I have chance but its just not happening at all. I caught bits of the “all India” midday news and it said about huge floods and rains in Orissa and western U.P. so the weather really is going crazy all over North India just now. Then I caught it through bad fuzzy reception, people have been AIRLIFTED to safety from SPITI LAHAUL she said it. So??? What does it mean? That Batal is more likely to be empty ?  Probably.  I wish I could see a satellite map or some type of forecast at least it would put my mind at rest whatever even if its bad I’d just like to know !  Physically I’m starting to slow down which makes me feel sad but I’m still okay and sure the sampa flour will keep me going as its so dry and hard to eat that the bag will last a long time no doubt. Dehydration is the problem. The snow is coming down.
 2-30 pm
 Now fully closed in and heavy snow with big flakes making it rise again so quickly, just as the levels were stabilizing its a massive setback. Its getting warmer again the drips are starting but its like a slow torture now as my energy levels are going down. I can hardly be bothered any more to clear the roof and just want to sleep for a long time.


Sleeping like a stone and no roof cave in during the night. It was snowing and I passed out. Yesterday no thaw during the day so the snow is in the same condition still totally soft. Full sun all day then clear night tonight and its possibly on though for tomorrow morning. Its about time !! yesterday I was just staring at my gear for ages and got an idea. If the snow stays soft the only way I will  walk is if I can somehow increase the surface area of my feet ! I tore apart my rucsac and pad to make some sort of snowshoe things. Now I feel like I will go tomorrow even it stays soft. I just have to go.
A helicopter just went passed it’s the first one I’ve seen but quite high up they wont see me on the way to Batel. Then something serious occurs to me. What if that helicopter is just getting the people out from Batel ? if I walk to batel and its empty there ? I have to get DOWN the valley towards Chota dara and Chattru not up. But first I have to go the wrong way  UP the valley to find a place to cross the huge main river. Then back down otherwise walk all the way on this side and sure I know a crossing place 1.5 km from Chota dara. decisions decisions. Crucial to make the right choice.
 Then I had seen it. On my homemade snowshoe test run I had almost reached the small ridge and there are 4 tiny figures near to the abandoned vehicles its the first people Ive seen trying to walk. They were making  such slow progress and resting for ages next to the abandoned vehicles. When it was good weather today they have decided to go even though the snow is still soft. They can’t get lost as easily on the roadside just keep plodding on except for the avalanched sections, but its late now maybe midday and you can bet they started very early morning from Batel.  Its still such soft snow they are making slow time but it doesn’t matter. They should make it from there somehow and  they are doing all the hardest work. Cutting the first tracks is the hardest. I just have to reach the steps they make !!  I feel more positive now just try to keep hydrated today and keep eating the flour. All the time the black clouds are starting to build up again in Chattru side, oh dear. Whatever the weather its action tomorrow I will try to move I’m slowing down too much now feel too relaxed. 
 Its happened again I cant believe it. All clouded up again and the first flakes start to fall. Those people walking will not have arrived yet in Chota dara. It must be well grim for them now and they are the ones crushing open the first steps ! My last hope is that it clears with the cold of the night if it doesn’t its  big trouble as the air will be warmer, no big freeze. I just want the night to come now the suspense is unbearable its only 2-30. But I've still got the snow shoe things now I'm going whatever happens. Its falling now how much comes down is so crucial  now. I'm so tense its ridiculous. But the thaw has happened already and it feels cold now , maybe it willl freeze anyway even if it is cloudy ?

Om mane padme hum. Om mane padme hum I keep mumbling it to myself over and over without realizing that I’m doing it. . Maybe some Spitian god or goddess is around here.  Maybe I’m turning into a buddhist or something

COMPLETE SILENCE.  no wind no snow sky half clear, only a few inches fell I'm sure. Soon it starts blowing around this huge plateau, spindrift night winds. I think  Its going to be an absolute freeze up tonight.

Got moving at first light after some mouthfulls of hand melted snow and sampa and a silagit tablet. Took about ten minutes to get my normal  shoes onto my feet like rock hard ice blocks. It must have been minus 20 degrees. Full windy through the night I dont care just stay clear. The surface of snow is finally hard like  predicted. Its the first time ! I wont need the stupid home made snow shoes. They were crap anyway. It feels fantastic to move so fast on top amazingly its actually quicker now than without any snow at all ! and I'm at the planned river crossing place in no time. But I dont know the best place and keep  re deciding as always when I'm standing at the good place another one nearby always looks so much better. It’s a big fast river this.
  So psyched for this my feet are so cold but have to wait for the sun to come over the hill to do this crossing, can hardly feel my toes  and  havn't even touched the water yet. I feel like a mad dog now, just have to wait. It takes an age for the sun to come over a huge peak above me but when the first rays hit I'm stripped off and ready to cross. So numb after a few seconds but I go slowly to avoid slipping or losing balance in the strong current a big mistake. In this water i can't feel my feet at all so have to take care where to place them on the smooth uneven stones underneath. It goes really  well and I'm screaming with relief when I reach the other side.. Sure I know I'm going to do it now I have to just get to those tracks before the clear sun takes effect and the melt sets in. That will happen soon enough.
    When I join up with the road  its got steps but they are almost full with the powder and spindrift of yesterday. It doesn’t matter yet as I’m still on the top on the hard crust and  now can see I'm the first person to be able to do it. This was the first day of the hard crust since the storm began over a week ago. The road is an absolute mess every few hundred meters another half buried abandoned vehicle.

In between on the steep bits there are big avalanches which have covered  bits of the road with huge amounts,you can’t even see where the road was at those places. In the sun it quickly begins to soften and about 3 km from Chotadara i'm breaking through so take the slow steps instead.

    I see somebody on the road ahead and become very excited as it’s the first human I will meet since the whole thing began. When I get closer I suspect something, the person is just much too still. Then I'm standing over him and his eyes are still semi open. He's dead. I thought it was one of them who I saw trying to walk the day before. If only they had waited one more day! Much better walking conditions with the thaw freeze hard crust!

He had perished walking the day before

  I thought any dead bodies would be UNDER the snow not on top, people who tried to go in the storm itself but they may be found  later when it melts.
   I soon get to see Chota dara it wasn’t much further only 1 and half km more than the dead body. If he had known it was so close he would surely have pressed on !   my friends from the dabba are pleased to see me still alive so quickly give me chai so I mix with it sampa flour. It’s so good after the dry cold stuff and I feel energy coming back.
    After just half an hour the first mountain rescue people arrive and inform me that for the last 3 days the bulldozer has been working to clear between Chattru and CD. It will arrive in 1 hour he says. Then a vehicle will come for these 10 or 12 people in CD who look completely trashed much more than me. They cant see most of them are just holding they're faces and damp cloths over swollen weeping eyes. It’s the people who walked the day before me. They are mostly Snowblind ! I tell them about the dead body. That doesn't cheer them up. Then I realize why... of course its their friend and they knew very well that he had not arrived with them but had not gone back to look for him. He was only a km or so up the road from Chotadara !! 
   The bulldozer arrives and just behind lots of these very fresh looking mountain rescue fellows with biscuits. One of them tells me it was the worst September snow for 52 years ! It had taken 3 full days just for the jcb dozer to cut through from Chattru to Chotadara only 17km !  Will be another 3 to Batel. Altogether it will take about 9 days from Gramphu  to  Batel. About 100 people are trapped there in Batal including our friend Khan the bus conductor who's bus is stuck just 2km before the village. They say 40 or 50 vehicles are abandonded and stuck somewhere between Chotadara and batal. The only people who  were helped with airlifts out like I heard on the radio were a  trekking group all foreigners on Baralacha pass out from Batel passed Chandratal lake. Thats typical. Then I get the lift to Chattru with the traumatized labourers and arrive before dark just in time to get some big celebratory drinks  of arra with my old friend Laloo in Chandra dabba.  Some climber friends were stuck there also Germans and English for the last 8 days.
  I feel so happy now, so lucky. Its a massive release of tension. Everybody in the valley had crazy epics and stories in the last week.  Laloo knew I was in Bara Shigari but didn’t know when and if I was coming back to Chattru at all.

For me one of the most remarkable things about the whole ordeal is the sampa*.
I hadn't asked for it in Batal when I was there getting rice dal,potatoes and normal stuff but Chacha of the dhaba gave a big bag of it and told me he didn’t want any money for that!
  No money!
  Why did he do that?
  Does he do that every day? 
  That act which was the one thing which helped me survive physically and mentally as I had nothing else that didn't require cooking so for 2 days only that sampa.
  It was a feeling thing on the spur of the moment.
  His instinct of kindness?
  Just a feeling.
  Some people in the mountains have a special connection and I think that Chacha Dorje in Batal is one of them.
 He must have known or at least suspected something was going to happen.
 That’s all I can think. 
 Thank you so much Chacha and Chachi.   

*Sampa is barley which is roasted then ground into flour. As well as being THE staple food it’s very special and holy in Spiti/lahaul so often used in pooja prayers and given in offerings to god and goddess deities.
*Silajit is a black sticky substance extracted from oozing high altitude rocks in the Himalayas. It gives the body increased energy, heat and is loaded with minerals.  
* Ashwagandha is an energizing herb, popular in India and made from the ground root of the ashwagandha tree.
* Goofa is a cave or sometimes just a half cave built up with stones usually by shepherds. Some goofas are naturally waterproof and some need to be reinforced with a tarpaulin or plastic sheet.