It's nearly that time of the year when the Indian Himalayas are calling, so I thought I'd start up a new thread for our upcoming trip to Gulmarg. As always, this is a sponsored post but I will try and keep the shameless self-promotion to a minimum. This year, I thought I'd start a little earlier, so that anyone else who is going to Gulmarg this season, can use the information in this post to help plan their trip. I'm sure someone reading this might find this information useful as I know how daunting a trip to Kashmir and Gulmarg can be, first time around.
This year, I just have the one trip planned, with a small group of 4 guests. All the guests will be new to Gulmarg and we have people coming from around the world; two guys from the US, one ex-pat living in Singapore and one Australian. I will be meeting the guests on the 9th of February and we will be staying until the 23rd. This year I'm going over early on the 3rd of Feb, to get things ready and take care of some business in the capital, Srinagar. I'm excited as I'll be staying on the houseboats for a couple of extra nights on Dal Lake. I love the houseboats, for anyone who's not stayed there, they are not to be missed. This is where the Beatles used to stay in the 70's. I'm going to make it my mission to try and find the actual houseboat where they stayed and hopefully, get a photo of the guest book. If I do, I'll definitely post some pics.
So, it's interesting to note that there has been a big change in Gulmarg this year. Brian Newman, who lead the Gulmarg Snow Safety Team for a long time, is no more....... After (I think), 7 years of amazing service, he's decided to step aside. I personally think Brian did a great job, working in Gulmarg as the head avalanche forecaster would have been a tough assignment, it was a government posting and I know there was probably a lot of red-tape and bureaucracy that Brian had to work around, to get his job done. He was instrumental in getting explosives for avi control work for the local patrol (thanks must also be given to the previous patroller, Bill Barker, who also did a top notch job before Brian and effectively set-up the first patrol teams), initially obtained from the military (that is a whole story in itself, military grade explosives are a different grade to commercial explosives, more useful to blow up installations, bridges and other infrastructure, not so much for creating holes in the snow....) and now more recently and more importantly, obtained from the private sector. That was an important change right there.
Brian will be missed and I'm sure all those connected to him in Gulmarg, will wish him well. Brian has been replaced by Colin Mitchell. I've never met Colin, but I'm excited to meet him in Gulmarg this season. I don't know too much about him either, other than he was an experienced patroller at Eldora and a long time industry insider and avi educator. If he has taken over from Brian, then I'm sure he's super experienced and will no doubt be a great asset to the mountain and will do a great job. Already it seems that Colin is doing a bang up job. Every day he posts the avalanche advisory on the new Gulmarg Avalanche Conditions Facebook page. If you are going to Gulmarg and want to find where the daily reports are currently listed, then this is your site - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1374377929488226/. It's an open group forum, you just need to apply for access (which they will give you) and then you'll have access to all the important updates and discussions of all things Gulmarg and its' snowpack (or anything else important). The Gulmarg Avalanche Center (http://www.gulmargavalanche.org/)is still on-line, but current avi reports are not posted on there, but you have plenty of other important resources on there, such as the weather, local guide listing, overseas guiding company links, etc.
It's an amazing resource having a snow safety team (as well as the local patrol) in Gulmarg who puts out a daily report and also posts the danger rating at the gondola. I don't know of too many other "resorts" that offer lift-accessible backcountry terrain and post an easily accessible advisory. It's a pretty unique situation and a facility I'm glad they have. For me, the reports help give us a good understanding of how the snowpack is developing, before we head out there. This year, it's been a typical start to the season. They had some early snow before the season that sat around for several weeks and was exposed to some cold temperatures. That snow has turned to facets and now there is a persistent weak layer, lurking at the base of the snowpack. They've had a few larger storms in the last couple of weeks that has deposited 1 to 2m of new snow. Several slopes have slid naturally, during and after the last storm, but not everything has slid.
So, the slopes that haven't slid, still hang in the balance. What we need now, is another large storm to come in and get the rest of the slopes to slide and clean out the remaining layers/pockets of facets. (Whilst we hope that this natural cycle happens, we obviously hope that all in Gulmarg remain safe and no one gets hurt if this occurs!) Then the snowpack will be re-set and we can start again on a more solid foundation. This has certainly been the case the last few seasons I've been there, so this seems to be no different. Our trip is still several weeks away, so a lot can change between now and then. Needless to say, I'll be monitoring the daily reports so we can see how the snowpack is shaping up.
So, that's it for now. I'll chime in with any updates as I have them, but the more frequent reports will come in the lead up to departure and then when I get up to Gulmarg. This season's trip to Gulmarg is especially exciting, given the lack of snow we have here in Lake Tahoe (Squaw Valley) right now. My wife and I just moved here in mid-November, from Telluride, CO (who incidentally, have a ton of snow this year......). If I didn't have this trip on the horizon, I reckon I'd be going pretty crazy right now!