Rupin valley is nestled in between two approximately parallel runs of giant lateral ribs a.k.a spur, stretching south from the high snowfields just below the main ridge of Dhaula Dhar range. Rupin pass is situated on this ridge beyond the snowfield, where the ridge-altitude is as low as 4680 meters (15350 feet) thus allowing a crossing of the ridge without much risk. However, during the preseason, snow is found from an altitude of 2900-3000 meters (9500 feet) even when snowfall of previous year was less than average. In any case, during preseason you will have to climb at least 1700 meters (5600 feet) of snow slopes of varying gradient before reaching the pass, which offers a superb experience and learning for relatively less experienced trekkers.
Among all these sections of snow climbings, personally, I loved crossing the frozen Rupin waterfall the most. Let us look at it in greater detail.
There is more than one ways to look at and discuss this colossal artwork of nature .
The climb and exploration, I would say, presents scopes of understanding the Himalayas in greater detail. After the last Ice Age, as the Earth has become warm enough, the last of the great glaciers have disappeared , except for the polar ones and the ones situated at the highest altitudes. Rupin waterfall presents the opportunity of finding out the deep creases and crevasses of its now-disappeared glacier. Ten to twenty thousand years ago the top of this waterfall was a glacier’s feeding zone, which fed the present stretch of the near-vertical waterfall (which was the accumulation zone of the glacier) with snow , ice and moraines. Today, the sprawling green meadows that we see after monsoon is result of that deposition of moraines which consists of rich alluvial soil and eroded stones full of minerals. The grandeur and charm of the lush Rupin valley and the mystic magic of the waterfall is the result of those distant past events.
The stretch between Lower waterfall and Upper waterfall camp site is a beautiful example of a moderately challenging trek route, with an added dose of thrill if done in pre monsoon (May). The waterfall is a true giant. In this very steep section it flows through deep crevasses, producing great thudding sound and a profusion of mist. Negotiating the waterfall may present a few challenges to the experienced and the novices alike depending upon the snow condition and weather. A short stretch of 2.5 kms of steep trail zigzagging through the ice bridges and bare rocky slopes takes one to the top of the fall.
The approach is started through the true left side of the watercourse at the base of the waterfall. This stretch is best done in the early hours of the day when a hard and stable snow condition minimizes the risk of an avalanche. After hiking for half a kilometre (from the base of waterfall) through steep snow slopes we take a left turn. This point is easily the only dangerous patch of the whole trek. During the short gruelling climb amidst the thundering sound of the waterfall, an un-arrested slip could be fatal. However, as the main crevasse is not visible from this point of the trail, it may seem a relatively safe place at first glance. This misleading appearance of the trail makes it doubly more important to plant your step really cautiously and correctly.
In early May, Dhanras meadow which is also the lower waterfall camp site (3500 meters / 11700 ft), remains completely under a thick coat of snow cover. When you cross through the fine spruce forest at 9000-9800 feet beyond the village of Jakha and hike up the Rupin gorge, you hit the snow. From then on, you will have to walk for almost three days on snow. The stretch between first snow bridge(2900 meters / 9600 feet) and the base of the Waterfall(3650 meters /12000 ft) must be hiked without the help of microspikes/walking-crampons. By the time you reach at the bottom of the Waterfall, you know more about snow, you are more prepared for the Pass (15300 ft).
So how exactly to make sure that you do not lose your foothold on a steep snow slope? Well it takes some learning, patience and just a bit of adjustment in the way you walk. Let’s talk in a case by case basis.
*Wear a pair of insulated waterproof gloves before doing it, as you’ll have to drive your fingers straight into the snow if you suddenly lose balance or in case of a fall , which ‘will’ happen, especially without walking crampon.
Case 1: Snow is hard, feels almost like ice. But it is a thin layer and will break easily. In this case, Use your titanium tipped trek pole to puncture the icy sheet and get an anchor first. Slightly stoop forward while stepping; use your weight on the inner edge and outer edge(inner edge of right boot and outer edge of your left boot if traversing right ; inner edge of left boot and outer edge of right boot if traversing left) of your hiking shoe. KNEE WILL BE SLIGHTLY BENT , HIP WILL LEAN SLIGHTLY BACKWARD as your UPPER BODY SLIGHTLY STOOPS FORWARD. If it still slips, secure yourself with trek pole AND YOUR FREE HAND first , hit the snow two/three times with the inner edge of one leg and break the icy cover to secure a step. RELAX YOUR BODY and hit the snow again with the other foot to secure the next step. You need to KEEP YOUR STEPS SMALL. A bit of practice will surely help. This obviously renders the going slow. Using micro-spikes in this situation is the best solution for the relatively inexperienced trekkers.
Case 2: Snow is hard. But every time when you step you hear the faint sound caused by the displacement of just a few millimetres of snow underneath the sole of your hiking shoe. But that in effect is enough to hold your full body weight. You just need to trust the sound and make sure to stoop forward. As you stoop forward, your knee needs to be slightly bent, so the body weight hangs in equilibrium, keeping the centre of gravity right beneath your stomach.
Case 3: Snow is soft, Sun is out. Snow gets pushed in for 2 to 3 inches when you step. This is perfect for a hike. It will slip less even on the steeper part, given that you use the edges of your shoe to get maximum perch.
Case 4: Snow is very soft. Knee deep when stepped upon. Making progress is very tough in this situation. A slip is rare.
After you cross over to the head of the lower waterfall you literally come face to face with the upper waterfall. It is a place with a sight to behold. Here the trail crosses over the ice bridge to the true right side of Rupin watercourse and starts to climb towards the head of the upper waterfall. The trail climbs up a steep snow covered slope and the patches of bare rock and moraines appear. The rocks here could be slippery. Although navigating them don’t pose a serious threat, caution is required.
After an hour of steep climb, the upper valley of Rupin (4050-4450 meters / 13300-14500 ft) slowly comes into view. A look back to the U-shaped lower Rupin valley is as rewarding as the climb itself.
So , the thrill of the hike, the surreal set up of the magnificent waterfall, the ever present forces of nature, the stunningly beautiful landscape of the approach to the top of the waterfall together provides a unique charm to the trail that is unparalleled. It presents a true opportunity to the trekker to know the great country better both geographically and in a sense historically, at the same time pushes one to the road of self discovery.
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