Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kumara Parvatha trek - 29,30 Sep 2012

The famous three big K's of Karnataka - Kodachadri (1343m above sea level), Kudremukh (1892m) and Kumara Parvatha (1712m). I first heard of it from Satya during Rangaswamy Betta trek (when I was still newbie to trekking). He gave a vivid detail of trek's toughness and how he had to go back in dark to locate an injured member(a first timer to trek - audacious!) of his team. I was like I won't even try to scale KP - beyond my abilities.

Well, after scaling few mountains in western ghats and spotting from afar during Sakleshpur train-track trek, I have tried and come back without reaching KP's peak. And that was not the most disappointing part of the trek. Not to impress that the trek is bad, it is AWESOME. I simply have to try again to conquer it's height and width and steepness ;) - hopefully this year itself. I know a few fellow trekkers who do this trek like 2-3 times a year! BMC is mostly/always overbooked for KP and that is despite scheduling weeks together, starting usually from September.

Thanks to my laziness, it is more than 18 months later that am recording the trekking experience. I have forgotten many of the little moments which I fondly mention in my blog posts - including guide names. The captured snaps in my camera comes handy though ;) From them, I guess one of them was Krishna, whom was my first ever BMC guide during Madhugiri trek and met him guiding another group during my Tadiandamol trek.

After the woodlands shoes gave me three blisters, I tried to prepare better for one of the toughest treks in Karnataka. I went to Decathlon and got myself a Quechua trekking shoes, blister reducing socks and got supposedly leech proof gaiters from Basecamp (actually, Yatin got it for me). And like previous two-day treks, I ended up packing very heavy backpack (I have consciously tried to reduce the stuff I pack every trek after this).

Three of my colleagues (Gaurav, Yatin, Gautham) and Gautham's friend Krishna Karthik joined me, rather fortunate considering the number of treks I have gone knowing nobody. We reached Kukke Subramanya on Saturday morning around 7:30 AM (don't remember anything of night journey, but we were late in reaching this place). KP can be reached from two opposite sides - this one is the tougher one.

By the time we freshened up, had breakfast, some visiting temple and started the trek, it was around 8:30 AM - atleast an hour later than ideal. About 10 minute walk on village roads, flanked around by tall trees, we reached the forest base spot from where the climb starts. I think there were multiple guides, our group size being 20+. We were given instructions - safety precautions and to avoid littering.

At the starting point of KP trek
Starting point - just before entering forest
The next two-and-a-half-hours were a grueling lesson for mind, body and spirit. And thats just the starters that KP offers. Humidity, leeches, steep climb, slippery forest leaves and tree roots/trunks, stones covered with moss, heavy backpack. But once outside the forest (after close to 100 minutes trek), one is greeted with heavenly greenery all around. The views are worth every drop of sweat. I don't remember a previous occasion where I lost so much of precious salt - at one point I felt as if suffering from severe fever. I chastened myself for opting for this trek and questioned my likings, but in retrospect, I am going to go again someday :P :P :P

Trekking forest from base of KP
Tough going inside forest

For majority of climb inside the forest, we  were in groups and close to each other. Once outside in grasslands and largely free of leeches, we spread out very far, even our little group of five. Those with very good stamina were far ahead, I was somewhere in the middle and others behind. The guides have a thankless task of keeping us co-ordinated, one has to be ahead of all to make sure we don't miss check-points and one behind the last member to avoid slow trekkers losing track.

Lonely trek is good enjoyment for me, allows ample time to look for macro shots, landscapes, take in the views and soak in its serenity. But a constant fear exists too - of losing track, unknown grips me senseless most of the times. While taking rest, about 20 minutes hike after emerging from forest, I accidentally had put my heavy bag on a spider - I noticed once I stood up to leave. Not sure if I unknowingly freed a soul or not :-/ 

Spider on rock during KP trek
The spider I accidentally placed my heavy backpack on

Taking a haggard looking selfie, winding paths, far off river amidst thick forest with couple of bridges built over, peaks all around crowned by clouds, being assured when I spotted a group or two ahead or behind, some nice macro shots, mounds of stones (a feature I've noticed in many western ghat treks, good sign of being on right path, may serve as milestones to those who know every occurrence), slumping just before Battarmane (not sure of spelling) - sipping Real fruit juice and finally dropping exhausted inside paradise of hut maintained by amazing old man. Reasons enough of the lure of Kumara Parvatha. All this comprising less than 3 hours of trek.

On the way to Battarmane during KP trek
Just before Battarmane

Battarmane, what I remember, provides ample space for group of 20-30 to stay. A typical village house, with all round the day water supply from mountains and as far as I could gather, the old man is sole caretaker. I did see few workers supplying him food items (these workers trekked fast, heavy load on their heads, no footwear and sweating glistening on their bare torso). The food prepared by the old man for all us was good, wish I knew Kannada and conversed with him. The house is nestled out of sight from trek path - there is a tower of sorts near the trek path for a landmark and two diverging off roads to reach the hut from either side. From a higher vantage point further up the path, one can see it easily.

We rested more than 100 minutes, dried as much possible our smelling clothes, removed leeches (taking care of keeping distance from our stay) - I didn't have any bite that I could see, chit-chatted and generally felt better to trek ahead. Many, including me, didn't think had the energy to reach the peak. We happily shed most of luggage, but prepared for rain on guide's advice.

So, about 10 minutes to 1 PM, we started our journey again. I had changed to shorts for convenience and removed the leech gaiters - not needed for grasslands (though they still are there). We were in for a treat better and bigger and longer and tougher than morning session. Turn any side, it was green except for a few patches of brown cliffs on high rising peaks. We passed near a forest office (don't remember if it was house/office/both) with a large poster explaining in English that this was 'Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary', its wildlife, area being 100+, a request to be kind to nature and then daring us to explore. The sky more gray and white than blue. Very good lighting conditions (in so far as my experience) for photography.

Seating arrangements in stone/cement/wood benches were in place at view points (atleast two), we didn't waste the opportunity to rest and snap pics to be posted on social media. We crossed valleys covered with lush green grasses like fur on blankets, just too good to keep trekking despite the steep climbs and need to rest often. Clear path indicated frequent trekkers and later found that water gushed downhill through them - so perhaps a very natural trail.

Trail picture on the way to KP
Far to go, KP not in view
In all this spectacle, we never got a view of Kumara Parvatha itself, it is hidden behind whatever assortment of peak we saw. A little dispiriting too - as one cannot gauge the distance left, except someone who knows the path very well. Guide too far ahead to share knowledge. The sky became lot blacker than gray and white. Still, it was humid. I started getting cramps, as probably did for many others. Bananas and Electral helped a bit.

Crossing hills on the way to KP
Crossing hills

The climb increasingly became tougher. To reach one particular steep hill, we had to be careful stepping inside rather large grown grass - uncertainty arising because of possible stones underneath. There wasn't any clearly visible natural path, a mesh of grass. And tiny, thin blades on edges. My idea of shorts was so ignorant. There were tiny black spots all over my shin. Having company of my colleagues was re-assuring. Gaurav and Yatin in the lead always ready to wait for me. Gautham and Karthik were behind, enjoying the trek and not worrying about reaching the peak.

Mandap on the way to KP
Check point - Mandap
90 minutes after lunch, we reached a spot referred as mandap/temple - though it has just the four pillars with a roof and no walls. From the numerous images I had clicked in this duration, I feel as if a day had passed. Most of us, if not all, welcomed another rest - a long one this time. The place is definitely a good vantage point, I clicked the river amidst forest with two bridges again. A stream is close by. And we were just few feet below the clouds. It is just magical place, if you are going, just forget worldly problems, take along friends and loved ones - I promise a heavenly experience (except perhaps when it is dry and arid in Feb/March)

Grasslands on way to KP
Looking back, patch of river visible beyond the mountains

On we marched and marched, no idea of an end point. Ignorance is bliss - not always ;) My furrowed temples stand out in pics my buddies took. I am always worried about time, on this occasion it was the sense of urgency to reach peak and not miss out in rain. At some point we had gotten message that we will have to descend down roughly around 4 PM.

I got more opportunities for macros though, a wild flower, tiny bouquets,  a caterpillar, frog (or tadpole, dunno which - but camouflaging with rocks) new shoots of leaves.Visibility dropped heavily as we treaded amongst the clouds. Seen often, somehow some member gets a stick to lean on during treks.

Sesha Parvatha
Resting atop Sesha Parvatha
Around 3:30 PM, we reached Sesha Parvatha, final peak before the elusive Kumara Parvatha. It is here than one can glimpse the peaks of KP. Guide was waiting there to lead final ascent - only 5-6 went ahead while some of us decided to stay put at Sesha Parvatha. Speed was necessary to beat rain and darkness, I was too cramped and exhausted and generally opt for safety than risk.

Kumara Parvatha
Glimpse of Kumara Parvatha (peak on left)
For around an hour, while waiting for the small group to return from KP instead of descending back, we did our best to enjoy the view, take pictures, chit-chat and gobble snacks with other members. I brooded a bit for failing to reach peak for first time in my short trekking career :P Very briefly, we got glimpse of twin peaks - the left of which is KP. To one side was small area of grassland and followed by forest. The other side was fatal fall ending with a sprawling dense forest. We were hard pressed to stop posing for snaps atop stones, near the edge and mountain peaks behind.

When the conquerers returned, they looked pretty tired. But loads happy. Reported a leech haven along the route. They didn't rest much and we started back soon, in hope of avoiding rain and reaching Battarmane before it is too dark. Such a desperate wish it was :P

Not sure how long, but within 20-30 minutes, nature opened its fury on us. As if in retribution of daring to trek even if it was last weekend of September, well past the monsoon season. Makalidurga was on top of my mind. Rain and trek don't go well with me. Though it wasn't bodily harm this time.

I had the same water-proof jerkin with me as I had then at Makalidurga. I had trusted it then and safely got purse and mobile back by placing them in inside pocket. But this, I thought I was acting clever by using instead water proof wildcraft backpack. I knew water would seep in through the zips, so used the water proof cover for the backpack to place my valuables (including the camera) at bottom of the bag (Normal usage is to cover the backpack).

Every step was prone to disaster. Water gushed along in tributaries. Shin high. I got worried for my new shoes too :P Walking besides the path on grass was not all a option - too muddy and slippery compared to wading through water, not knowing if a stone was there or not and if that was loose. Rain wasn't relenting anytime soon, so we didn't stop much at the Mandap.

A few slipped here and there, I caught myself many a times without falling. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Light was fading. Temperature dropping to make us shiver. We trekked as much as possible without taking out torches out even after rain had stopped. The not so confusing path while ascending suddenly was fraught with too many alternative paths made visible with flowing water. A familiar sight here and there guided us for long.

Before I spoiled things further when we were trekking along the edges of hill. Guides were behind us, making sure no one is left behind and compensating for the slowest members. Very few had gone ahead of us. Fog was heavy, darkness soon to envelope us. Leeches attracted to our heat. Torches were out, mine strangely working despite getting wet a bit (was in front zip, I was carrying the bag in front of me for warmth). I had no notion of having crossed this section on our way up, so I brought everyone to a halt. I argued that if this was the correct path, guides would soon be with us and we can proceed safely. If not, it would be good idea to not get lost further (remembering Satya's rescue too). Many were against me. I would not listen and told they were welcome to proceed.

I was really scared, imagining all sorts of wild dangers and ways to survive the cold if we were indeed lost. Looking back, it is strange really. Consciously, I am not convinced why life should exist, but at that hour, I was afraid, very very afraid for my being.

Thankfully, we weren't lost. About 15-20 minutes we waited in the dark, many switching off the torches to preserve battery, but now and then checking legs for leeches and flinging them off. I am sure, atleast a few were fuming to know that I brought them to a halt unnecessarily. But I guess, I would do the same next time I find in similar situation, unless I get wise about trekking and know tricks to identify routes.

My day got worser after we reached safely to Battarmane. Pool of water got collected in the very place I thought was less prone. My effort to tie up valuables was shoddy, water seeped generously inside mobile phone and wallet. Camera was safe in its own pouch even though sides were exposed. The battery of my phone had blown up so much that I could prise open the back cover to dry for hours. It had served me more than 4 years, a sorry way to lose it (and all data and contacts with it - I still haven't learnt to backup the contacts. Sim was saved that day, but I had stored most contacts in phone and card memories)

We changed into dry clothes without assurance of throwing out all leeches. Some were clinging swelled round. While waiting for dinner, we devoured plenty of snacks in candle light. Don't remember much of dinner, but we sure were well fed. Sleeping bags took care of cold but our joints ached in the morning. Not sure, but I think it rained heavily again in the night around dinner time.

I counted about 2-3 leech bites from previous day's trek in rain. (There were more waiting to be discovered above knees when I reached home). Some applied copious amount of turmeric turning their footwear yellow (given the success the day before). Some others used tobacco powder. I trusted my gaiters again, still unsure of right way to wear them - they droop down often.

After heavy rain, even the open sky trek before forest was fraught with danger. Now it was more suitable to avoid slippery muddy path in favor of grass patches. The trek through forest never seemed ending. After midway, we were numbed and resigned to walk and walk. And often keeping a lookout for leeches. The leaves clattered all around the pathway is very vivid even now, as is the sensation of seemingly endless walk.

But of course, we did come out. I immediately removed my wet shoes. My feet were crying for relief having been soaked for about 3 hours of trek. I was so happy with myself for carrying the 'extra' luggage of a pair of sandals. Some walked barefoot from that point to TT at Kukke Subramanya in favor of wet shoes.

About half a kilometer before Kukke, some of us stopped at village hotel. And to remove leeches. We freshened up our faces by splashing water. Had tea/coffee and some buns with sambhar (the ones you get in Karnataka hotels). Our attire got more than a few amusing glances, though I feel villagers ought to have seen plenty before us, year after year, weekend after weekend.

We had lunch in same hotel again, ice-cream outside, 1-2 glasses of sugarcane juice - whose shop was very crowded. After all that shivering the previous evening, it was damn too hot under the noon Sun. Considerable time we had to wait for everyone to assemble and finish lunch. The market is pretty good with plenty of dry fruits, handicrafts and the like. Large crowd on account of Sunday and popularity of temple.

Don't remember any thing at all of ride back to Bangalore. Guess we slept a lot. After writing this post finally, I can't wait to do the trek this year post monsoon :P May even train for the trek :D And definitely will take a good plastic cover and carry only absolutely necessary items :P

Little Beauties captured during KP trek
Plenty for macro shot lovers

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