International (Europe/Japan/NZ/Au) Gulmarg 2019 Trip Report - Himalayas

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Mattadvproject, Feb 21, 2019.

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    Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    Thanks Eric,
    It's been a trip, that's for sure. Thankfully all the craziness has been balanced out by amazing conditions, the best conditions I have seen in Gulmarg in 10 years. Thanks for following.
    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    G'day gang,
    It's been a while since the last post. We are alive and well in Gulmarg right now. There's been so much going on that I have not had the time and energy to post. Time for a quick update.....

    March 4th
    We had a bunch of new snow and avi danger did not elevate much. Surprisingly, the gondola was open to the top so we went for a lap through the main bowl. We weren't first in but the snow was still deep and I got to ski some of the deepest snow I have ever skied from the top of the gondola (it's steep and it often slides with a lot of snow on it, so this was a rare treat). It was thigh deep, a little heavy but we got a lot of face shots. Unfortunately we couldn't see much and at times, I was skiing completely blind in a white out. We did a couple of runs like that before vertigo set in and they shut down the gondola due to lack of visibility. If only we could have seen, it would have been truly epic. Still a great day though.

    March 5th
    Sheenmai Ridge, Gav lost ski and walk out. 1 run..... Sadly our run of bad luck continued. It was poised to be an epic day, the sun was out and stability was great. We decided to head into the backcountry on the south side of the resort. Sheenmai only had a couple of tracks on it so we thought we could stay on the ridgeline for about half the run and then duck over the side and ski some tasty lines in the paperbark trees down lower. There was still room to the side of the tracks on the right of the ridge and we made some nice turns down to just above the paperbark trees. There it gets into a fun series of sub-ridges and wind-lips.

    There was a nice open face just before the start of the open trees and I wanted to give it a test. It was steep and had a lot of snow on it. This was definitely no fall-zone skiing. I told the others I was going to test the slope and ski it. Anyone who didn't want to ski it could take the easier line on the ridge. The key was to not fall. I explained my plan, to drop in, straightline to pick up speed, make a few turns and then cut to the right to avoid any slough and regain the ridge. I dropped in and pointed it straight, I was going really fast. I put in my first turn and the pressure and push-back from the snow nearly bucked me but I absorbed the pressure in the turn and kept going. 3 bug GS turns later I was heading across the slope to the right and back to the ridge. I was a little low but close enough to the ridge. I had missed my slough and was safe.

    Gav decided he would drop in next but unfortunately he did not take it with enough speed. After about the 2nd turn his slough caught up to him and grabbed a ski and down he went. One of the skis came off and it was no where to be seen. Bugger..... he got up and tried looking for it but could not find it. It was not visible on the surface. I put my skins on and hiked back over. I was blazing hot and it was a lot of effort. We raked through the snow using poles and ski tails, but we didn't hit the ski. After about 45 minutes of looking, we were pretty spent. It was warming up and not safe for us to be on the slope. A group of Russian's desperately wanted to drop in on top of us and Mike (our lookout) thankfully kept them at bay. I couldn't believe they wanted to drop the slope we were on. No good. Thankfully after arguing with Mike and myself, they took off.

    With poor Gav only on one ski (he could have had my skis but his boots were way too small to fit in my binding, even if I adjusted them), we had no other option but to walk him out. It was slow but steady work. I carried out his remaining ski and helped set a track where I could, but it was really hard work for him. Thankfully the ridge was an isolated and therefore safer feature for us to head down, so we just had to slog it out. We called for a snowmobile when we got to the plateau and that saved about another 30 minutes of walking. Gav was pretty spent by the end of that, as was I, so after a late lunch, we were done. I helped Gav get on the gondola and download. Then we hiked back to the hotel. That was it for the day unfortunately. A tough break.

    March 6th
    This was to be my last day skiing with the group as I was heading back down to Srinagar to stay on the houseboats with my other guide and his group (Jeremy had never stayed on the houseboats to I needed to be there to organize all that). The plan was take the whole group together for a teamski to the north side of the mountain. We started skinning and made it around the summit in decent time. John had a spare pair of skis so Mike and he swapped so Gav had a pair to use. Our first line was to ski a mellower pitch near Shark's Fin. The snow was really nice at the top (a little crusted lower down) but we had 30 or so quality turns. We had a big group so it took a little while to get everyone through.

    Then we put the skins back on to regain the ridge and we made it to Khilanmarg 2. There was one set of tracks on the skier's left side with plenty of room on the right, so that would be our line. I took my group and skied some nice pitches on the ridge. The snowboard group with Jeremy stayed more in the gully. We had to wait for them to clear out to avoid skiing on top of them. It was slow going. Unfortunately after about 3 nice pitches the cloud started to come in. The other group made it out by we were stuck. We waited for about 15 minutes but it was only getting worse. We had to keep moving and I had to set the line. I couldn't see anything. I skied by brail and fell a couple of times as I didn't know if I was still moving or not. It was really hard going. We had two really tough long pitches to get down and we made it, with the others following my tracks and following my calls.

    Finally we busted out of the fog and found the other group waiting for us. If only we had the visibility, it would have been an amazing run as the snow had been awesome, we just couldn't see anything. The run that could have been.... we made the long ski back down to the hotel and that was it for the day. Great skiing for the first 1/3, then no visibility after that. Too bad....

    20190304_133503.jpg
    Fun skiing on the way back to the hotel, through the trees.


    20190304_133513.jpg Gav scoring some end of day freshies.


    20190305_102626.jpg The line that could have been.... this is where I dropped in (I skied the center of the face down the shallow ridgeline, towards that isolated tree, then cut back to the ridge). This is where Gav lost his ski. He donated his remaining ski to one of the local guides and he will go back out later in the season to try and find it.


    20190305_102629.jpg Picking our way down the ridge to the trees. It would have been a great run.


    20190305_143641.jpg Gav had a great attitude after a tough day in the office. Hopefully travel insurance will cover a lot of it and he was wanting to get some new skis anyway, so he wasn't too upset.


    20190306_101204.jpg Heading out to Shark's Fin and the Khilanmarg bowls on March 6th.


    20190306_101213.jpg People heading to the summit. We would cut left and go around.


    20190306_103308.jpg Skinning up past 13,000ft.


    20190306_111139.jpg Shark's Fin looking prime.


    20190306_112954.jpg Skiing the first face, our tracks to the right.


    20190306_113014.jpg


    20190306_123011.jpg Transitioning to downhill mode.


    20190306_123534.jpg The first couple of pitches on the ridge were great.


    20190306_123540.jpg Claire with some nice turns. We had a couple more lines and then the clouds rolled in and it was skiing blind time.


    20190307_081346.jpg
    We had a visitor for breakfast the next day....

    - Matt
     
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  3. James

    James Skiing the powder Instructor

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    Are tree wells an issue?
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    G'day James,
    They are there and something that we prepare our guests for. Everyone must ski with a partner in the trees, carries a transceiver, whistle and radio and we have 2 guides per group so we have a sweep to make sure the whole group gets through safely. The old growth fir and pine trees have very tight canopies and there are no branches down low. We have done some digging around the base of the trees and the wells are very tight to the trunks. There is not much of a gap between the trunk and the pretty firm snow surrounding the base of the trees. I don't think an adult would get enveloped but we still take precautions. I think the bigger risk in the trees are the massive tree bombs that fall off the trees during storms and if one of those hits you, it's going to give you a serious headache. We try and set skin tracks that avoid any of the loaded trees. Thanks for the question.

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    A couple of turns in Sheenmai bowl, before Gav lost his ski....



    - Matt
     


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    Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    Skiing down to Khilanmarg on March 6th. This was a really nice open pitch, with stunning views of Shark's Fin at bottom. There is normally a small cliff band on this face so I was skiing conservatively, but it was filled in with all the snow so we could ski anywhere on this face.



    - Matt
     
  7. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    March 7th - 9th

    Time to finish off the writing for this blog. I'm back safe in Denver after a long journey back. It was a longer than usual return trip: after the flight from Srinagar back to Delhi (delayed due to snow, so nearly 4 hours as we had a stop in Jammu), then the flight to Newark was also delayed for 2 hours, so we didn't end up leaving Delhi until after 1am. The flight was also diverted to Frankfurt so they could avoid flying over Pakistan and that meant 10 hours flying to Frankfurt, 1.5 hours to refuel and change crew, then 8.5 hours to fly to Newark. Then it was straight onto the flight back to Denver and another 4 hours. That was the longest flight I have ever done I think at over 28 hours in the air, not including transit time......

    Anyway, back to the blog. On the 7th, I had to say goodbye to my group and head down to Srinagar with my guide Jeremy and two of his guests. Jeremy had not stayed on the houseboats before and my group wanted to stay in Gulmarg for one more night, so they stayed up and I had one of our local guides Ahanger, guide the group for one extra day of skiing. I had organized transport back to the airport, for people needing it on the 8th.

    It was hectic drive down to Srinagar, as it usually is. We stopped at Dal Lake at Stream restaurant, for lunch and some more Butter Chicken. Then we headed across to the houseboats by Shikara (water taxi) and it was time to unwind. It was a much needed getaway, time to de-stress from all the tensions of the past week with the India/Pakistan. It's a great way to unwind, chilling out on the houseboats and watching the world slowly pass-by. This was exactly what I needed.....

    We were up early at 630am to visit the floating vegetable markets on the 8th. This is behind the houseboats in a clearing about a 30 minute paddle away from our boat. Here the vegetable growers on Dal Lake sell to market stall owners, houseboat owners and anyone else needing to buy bulk quantities of veggies. It's always a fun time watching the traders do their business. Then it was time to paddle back to our boat for a shower and breakfast. Then around 9am it was time for the two guests to head off to the airport. Then it was just Jeremy and I.

    Rather than just sit around, we decided to call up my friend and local guide Asil, to take us around touring for a couple of days. The first day we focused on the Dal Lake area and the newer parts of Srinagar. We visited a Buddhist/Muslim shrine on a hilltop above Srinagar (Shankaracharya temple, but you couldn't take photos as it is also a military area, but the views of Dal Lake were great) and then headed to the Royal Srinagar Golf Club and then to Pari Mahal (an old center for astronomy and a library, with a lovely garden and views of Dal Lake).

    Then we headed into the new part of the city. Asil took us to an amazing restaurant, Ahdoos Restaurant in Lal Chowk. They serve the best Kashmiri Wazwan (small, multi-course dishes that are very tasty) and have been operating since 1918. It's an awesome place and well-worth checking out if you are in the area. We finished the day with a nice walk along the Jhelum river and a walk over bridge 1, a pedestrian only bridge that is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. That was it for the day and we headed back to the houseboat for a relaxing evening.

    The next day (9th March) we headed into the Old City with Asil. We started in the Mughal Fort (the Zaberwan Fort) with amazing views of Srinagar and Dal Lake. We had some Led Zeppelin playing (the song Kashmir) as we drove around the city, that was pretty cool. Then he took us into the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Kashmir which can accommodate up to 30,000 worshipers with way more outside. Then we wondered the streets of Old Srinagar, spending some time watching workers nickle-plate copper plates and dinning ware in dingy backstreets. That was really interesting and we met plenty of friendly locals. Then we had lunch at Goodfellow's restaurant, a place popular with young Kashmiri students. They were playing some live music and we were warmly greeted. We had a nice tandoori chicken lunch and listened to a few songs before heading back to the houseboats. The houseboat has a small boat and we took that for a spin around the lake and through the canals. The locals got a kick out of that and it was a great way to finish the day.......

    20190307_134020.jpg
    Heading to Stream restaurant for some awesome Butter Chicken..... yep, I do enjoy me some Butter Chicken!


    20190307_153039.jpg Chilling out in the living room of the houseboats. A great way to relax and unwind after a trip to Gulmarg.


    20190307_172431.jpg Evening over Dal Lake....


    20190307_173748.jpg Awesome, a little eveing snack of chicken tikka, cooked right in front of us.


    20190307_174508.jpg 400 rupees for 4 skewers.


    20190307_180929.jpg
    Dal Lake life....


    20190307_180946.jpg The sunsets. It's hard to take a bad photo with this backdrop...


    20190307_181951.jpg The Zaberwan fort.


    20190308_071857.jpg Up at 6:30am for a visit to the floating vegetable markets.


    20190308_071902.jpg Vegetable trading


    20190308_123713.jpg Myself and Jeremy enjoying the views from Pari Mahal


    20190308_123759.jpg This was a center for astrology and they had a library here


    20190308_124759.jpg Lovely gardens getting ready for spring


    20190308_132551.jpg Hole #1 at the Royal Srinagar Golf Club


    20190308_132616.jpg


    20190308_140824.jpg Asil taking is to Ahdoos restaurant for some "baby Wazwan."


    20190308_140902.jpg Love the fresh lime (lemon) soda.


    20190308_145947.jpg
    A newer mosque on the banks of the Jhelum river.


    20190308_150848.jpg The Jhelum river flows all the way to Pakistan.


    20190308_155237.jpg Tuk-tuk ride through Srinagar. Lot's of fun!


    20190309_112143.jpg The Zaberwan fort


    20190309_120427.jpg Amazing views over to Old Srinagar.


    20190309_120921.jpg


    20190309_121035.jpg Amazing views of Dal Lake


    20190309_125703.jpg
    The Zaberwan fort from the Jama Masjid


    20190309_131028.jpg
    Old City architecture


    20190309_133006.jpg
    Rolling the dice with some street food in the Old City. These are fired potato slices and onion. They were quite good and we didn't get sick!


    20190309_133306.jpg Nickle-plating copper items in the backstreets of Old Srinagar.


    20190309_133926.jpg
    Copper salesman. He was a nice guy and we chatted for a while.


    20190309_134215.jpg Jhelum river flowing through the Old City


    20190309_134824.jpg
    One of many bridges that cross the Jhelum river



    20190309_140849.jpg Stopping in at Cafe Liberty, very popular with students but they didn't have room for us so we went to Goodfellows.


    20190309_171855.jpg
    Taking the small boat out for a spin and it was literally a spin. It took us a while to figure out how to make it go straight.


    20190310_092357.jpg Heading back to the airport


    20190310_092410.jpg
    We had amazing views of Gulmarg (the center mountain) which are rare from Dal Lake. This photo doesn't do it justice unfortunately.

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    That was a wrap for session 1..... then it was time for session 2. We only had a couple of people come out (5 out of 12) after all the problems between India and Pakistan, but we pushed on and worked with what we had. I was sad that so many had chosen not to come, but definitely understood their concerns and ultimately their decisions, but was excited for the people that did come, knowing that they were going to have small groups, great snow and no one else there to compete with for fresh tracks.

    I'm not going to write anything for this session, just focus on the photo and video highlights (of which there were many). Here's the highlight of the first day of skiing....



    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    A few photos from the day....

    20190312_113516.jpg
    We'd done all the avi safety training the day before. This was the reward. Bluebird powder day on the mountain. What a way to start their trip.


    20190312_113525.jpg Su warming up on the first run in the main gondola bowl.


    20190312_122601.jpg Second run we hiked for 5 minutes and traversed into Apharwat South Bowl on the north side of the ski area (just on the north side of Army Ridge).


    20190312_122626.jpg Bennett enjoying the conditions!


    20190312_123040.jpg A good look at the size and scale of the terrain. Still plenty of fresh to be had.


    20190312_131257.jpg Heading over to Sheenmai Bowl for our 3rd lap. This bowl was completely untouched. We found a mellow (sub 30 degree) entrance and then skied down the middle. Avi danger was low.


    20190312_131803.jpg Karl leading the second pitch as Bennett and Su look on. We were just above the clouds.


    20190312_133316.jpg
    The final pitch as we busted out of the clouds and enjoyed more quality turns on this open ridge. Then it was a long ski down across the flats with a traverse to get back to the mid-station.

    - Matt
     
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  12. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    Matt, sorry you had such terrible snow for the second group. It must have been tough to put up with! ogwink
     
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  13. dbostedo

    dbostedo Asst. Gathermeister-- Jackson Hole 2020 Moderator Team Gathermeister

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    Out of curiosity, how "heavy" is the snow there? How heavy does it get with all that sun?
     
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  14. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    When I skied it, it was a mix of everything from beautiful wind buff to sun crust to lighter snow to pretty heavy and dense along with some wind slab. Wide skis are kind of a must. It is incredible skiing though. It's backcountry skiing that has a huge lift to get most of the vertical ascent out of the way.

    Mike
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Ha ha, it definitely helped to make up for the challenges of session 1! I really enjoyed the skiing during both sessions, but there was only about 15 people left on the mountain during session 2, so it was pretty amazing.....
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    I think Mike answered it pretty well.... it is late in the season and conditions do change quickly, especially down low, at the end of the season. I've been coming to Gulmarg for 10 years now and I've tried all the different time frames, from early Jan to late March and I have to say I like late Feb and especially March, the best. The biggest part of that is the lack of crowds in March, everyone leaves. We had about 15 people waiting for the gondola to open during this second session. It was amazing. Later on we hiked from the chairlift to the top of the gondola (about a 2.5 hour skin) and we had 14 people on top of the mountain (there was another group heading up there as well, but they went north whilst we went south) and we had the whole of the Drung Bowls, untouched, to ourselves. I've never seen anything like it. That's a 7 mile off-piste run, to ourselves, untouched......

    This late in the season though, it is starting to warm up. As long as you stay high (up in the Alpine, above 3,000m), then the snow stays cold enough and the powder is good. It's not going to be super-light weight, with faceshots, but you are going to enjoy soft, predictable, fun powder for quite a ways down. As you get below 3,000m then snow quality does change. It does start to get heavy, but if you have wide skis on, it's still great skiing. You have to watch your aspect though, as soon as you start to get off the north-facing stuff then you are likely to find crusts and the skiing can be tough. Just a slight deviation and the snow can change dramatically, so you have to be aware. I was trying to work on that with my guests for session 2. Just a slight change in aspect can dramatically change the feel of the snow, so keep following the more northern aspects as much as possible.

    Now as you gain the treeline, then even the north-facing stuff is going to start to change, even if it's been in the shade as the ambient temperatures are going to heat all aspects up. Again, if you have the fatties on, it's less of an issue. If you then hit stuff that has re-frozen, then that's going to be tough skiing and we found that on our way down to Drung down low. You'll see that coming up later..... There wasn't a lot of wind around for us this season and that can really change things (both in terms of snow quality and stability). That wasn't a big issue this season whilst we were there, thankfully.

    - Matt
     
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  17. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    So, when I went to Gulmarg, it was my first real backcountry skiing experience. And Gulmarg, at least when I was there, was really backcountry, with everything that that entails: unconsolidated snow, variable snow conditions, from light to heavy, dry to slab, etc. Finally, it is true big mountain terrain -- with significant avalanche danger, some rocks, etc. You need to bring your A game. And, as importantly, you need a qualified guide to keep you safe and explore the terrain. I highly recommend Matt -- he's well acquainted with the terrain and is very concerned about keeping everyone safe. And having fun. But not having fun at the expense of safety.

    Mike
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    1st tracks in Sheenmai Bowl..... this was a dream run!



    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    I still have quite a bit of footage from our session 2 group in Gulmarg. I don't remember the dates on these runs, but we are about halfway through the session. We'd had some new snow and the clouds were starting to clear, so we did a quick lap in the main gondola bowl (not shown) and then headed up the gondola from a second lap. We headed to the north-side of the gondola and after a quick 5 minute walk, traversed over to the north side of Army Ridge. We are just outside of the ski area boundary.

    The clouds were still playing hide and seek but we had decent visibility for most of the run. The tracks were almost filled in but you couldn't feel them. The new snow was very predictable so you could let the skis run. I enjoyed some nice GS turns at the top of the run and enjoyed watching the group make some nice turns down......



    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    And then the sun came out for the start of the next run. Here you have much better contrast and can see the snow quality....



    - Matt
     
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