Across the frozen Himalaya is an account of the first ever ski traverse from the Karakoram Pass to the Lipu Lekh Pass, a 2000-kilometre epic through the coldest winter in the previous two decades. The Ski-Himalaya expedition crossed twenty passes, including three that were hitherto unknown, ending at the Lipu Lekh pass on the three country border point of Tibet, Nepal and India.
When Harish Kohli and his team of seven members reached the summit of the Karakoram Pass in the early afternoon of 17th February 1995, they had been on the move for twelve gruelling hours. As they began the treacherous descent, the light breeze turned into a storm and then into a blizzard, plummeting the temperature to minus 48 degrees Celsius. Later that night when they reached their base, after twenty-six horrifying hours, two of the members were frostbitten, one of them losing seven of his fingers. But for the Ski Himalaya team, it was only the beginning of their adventure, which became one of the most momentous journeys in mountaineering history.
Explorer, adventurer and climber Harish Kohli is one of the most well travelled people in the Himalaya. In 1981-82 he conceived and led the first traverse of the Himalaya, covering 8,000 km on foot in 475 days, a pioneering journey of adventure and discovery. Much emulated since by other travellers, the expedition has been praised as ‘the best in Himalayan history’.
Out of his vast experience and passion for adventure came the idea of finding a ski route across the Himalaya. This became the marathon ski traverse and a journey of exploration into unknown regions. Across the frozen Himalaya is the story of that journey which earned him the National Adventure Award.
“The Himalaya have always been temperamental and adventurers have chosen to strike when they would be more accessible. Travelling in the Himalaya is seasonal. It is feasible during the summer and even this period is broken into pre and post-monsoon. When winter descends, life in the Himalaya hibernates. Animals dig in, birds migrate and villagers lock their houses and return to lower altitudes. Snow falls and passes are closed. No one even thinks about going into those valleys, leave alone crossing them. We dared.
The decision to undertake a winter ski traverse of the Himalaya was purely spontaneous because, it was considered ‘impossible’. There was danger of death from avalanches and deep crevasses, hypothermia and frostbite but no one had ever attempted to put the assertion to the test and I refused to accept that it was impossible. As we travelled, we experienced not only hardships but also rewards. One of the finest rewards was the discovery of three hitherto unknown passes. The Himalaya itself appeared in a new guise, draped completely in white like a newborn child. As we made our way over mountain passes and frozen rivers, through snow-filled valleys, submerged forests and deserted villages, the child in me felt moments of exhilaration and of despair. It is this story of pain and pleasure, sorrow and happiness, of love and anguish that I wish to share.”
Across the frozen Himalaya is the story of eight men – Americans, Australians Britains and Indians – who chose to climb not a single peak or traverse a particular valley but challenged the Himalaya itself. They travelled on skis, in winter, across regions rarely visited by adventurers and for the first time took a glimpse at the frozen Himalaya that remained unknown to the world.
It is a gripping first-hand account of a 2,000-km ski traverse from the Karakoram Pass to the Lipu Lekh Pass undertaken in the severest of winter. The Karakoram Pass is the most capricious of all mountain passes. It is a 5,540 m or 18,176 ft mountain pass between India and China in the Karakoram Range making it the highest pass on the ancient silk route connecting India and Central Asia. Survival here is at the mercy of the weather and travelling is still as difficult as it was in the time of the king of Kashgar, Sultan Sa’id Khan, who died while crossing the pass in 1531, or of Francis Younghusband three and half centuries later.
The party of eight went on to cross twenty passes, of which astonishingly, in this day and age three were hitherto unknown. While crossing one of the passes an avalanche creates a phantom menace and one of the team member is buried deep under the snow. Rescue is undertaken through the night but when the entrapped member realises the team in danger, as small avalanches continue to thunder down, he asks them to let him be and run for safety. Moving down the valley the remaining team members walk unknowingly into an ambush by a family of wolves. On another pass they battle for their lives with a snow leopard.
About Harish Kohli
Harish Kohli is the founder of the Asian Geographic Trust. For his contributions to exploration and adventure, he has received the Vishist Seva Medal from the President of India and the National Award from the FIE Foundation. His record-breaking expeditions have earned him two entries in the Limca Book of Records, a record book of Indian origin. It was first published in 1990, when the Limca Brand was owned by Parle Group. The book continues to be published by Coca-Cola ever since they bought the Limca Brand.