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October 15, 2013

Surface Continues the Expedition Along the Ganges

When we last left Jake Norton and team, they were preparing for their #GangaS2S expedition, tracing the Ganges River in India from the source high in the Himalaya down to the terminus in the Bay of Bengal. Jake is using Surface Pro, which already helped him prepare for the journey and now in the field helps him download and process photos, stay in touch with family and friends back home, and kick back for some mountain high R&R. In our last email exchange with Jake we asked him, why Surface? He said, “the beauty of the Surface Pro lies in many of its features. But, power and portability top the list.” In this image, Norton is editing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop in his tent at 17,400′ on the Gangotri Glacier, India, as a late-monsoon blizzard rages outside. So kick back and read on for the latest in Jake’s journey. You can follow Jake and team by using the #GangaS2S hashtag, or visiting the Mountain World Productions site.

Into the mountains

Despite the many thumps and crushing blows they’ve dealt me over the years, I’m inexorably drawn to the mountains. It’s not the attainment of summits, for my personal climbing history shows that is a losing battle. It’s not escapism, for today’s technology essentially prohibits that to some degree, emails and Facebook and Tweets and texts being almost part-and-parcel of the modern expedition. So, what is it that draws me time and again? Humility.

Yes, humility. Even though the realm of climbing has never been renowned for humility, for me the mountains are the ultimate enforcers of it. Their sheer immensity, their lifespans measured in hundreds of millions of years – a context John McPhee termed “deep time” – I see no way in which the ego of a mere human can remain fully intact, let alone grow, amongst the stalwart giants of earth. As Robert MacFarlane put it in Mountains of the Mind: “Contemplating the immensities of deep time, you face, in a way that is both exquisite and horrifying, the total collapse of your present, compacted to nothingness by the pressures of pasts and futures too extensive to envisage.”

Photo by Pete McBride

And, should a glimmer of ego begin to rise, the mountains – in my experience – never hesitate to remind us of our puny place. David Morton, Pete McBride, and I were reminded of this not-so-subtly this week as we attempted to climb at the head of the Gangotri Glacier. Having scouted Chaukhamba IV and deemed its rolling lower slopes too loaded with monsoon avalanche snow, we identified two routes on two other unnamed and unclimbed peaks, Peaks 6350 and 6850, respectively. Post scout, we visited the ultimate head of the Gangotri Glacier, and thus the Ganges River, a powerful if ill-defined place lost amongst the towering massif of Chaukhamba I – IV.

Eager to climb and perhaps motivated by a touch of ego, we settled into our tents at 17,300 feet as a disquietingly quiet snow began to fall heavily. Two hours later, six inches of fresh white snow sat on the ground, and more fell in heavy blankets at a rate of 2-3 inches per hour. We were alone, three climbers in the middle of a massive glacier, 11 linear miles above anyone else and worlds away from any help. As the reality of our solitude settled in, the avalanches began: a deep rumble from thousands of feet above quickly turning into cacophonic thunder roaring down from all sides. “We’re far enough away from all those walls, right?” one of us asked. Sure we were. Of course we were. We had checked that before setting camp. As the next rumble began, we all nonetheless grabbed essentials – boots, headlamps, gloves – just in case we weren’t entirely in the safe zone and one of the avalanches succeeded in swatting us down glacier.

By morning, after a sleepless 12-hours punctuated by shoveling out nearly buried tents, we emerged to 36 inches of fresh snow with more falling hard. We were three tiny, insignificant specks amidst a vast sea of white, getting whiter. Our existence in this valley was of little consequence, any ego we had 12 hours before was as buried as the rocks below our feet.

For the next 6 hours we labored, post-holing through thigh-deep snow under 60 pound packs, covering only three miles to our moraine camp at 16,000 feet. As snow continued to fall and avalanches raged downward from cloud-shrouded summits, the reality became clear. With only 5 days left for us on the Gangotri, we would have to forget the climb.

-Jake Norton

To stay up to date on the Ganga Source to Sea Expedition, follow #GangaS2S on your social networks. Updates also available on Beyond the EdgeSurface, & Live Your Adventure blogs.