We’ve been tracking Eddie Bauer guides Jake Norton and David Morton, along with adventure filmmaker Pete McBride, as they travel through India from the source of the Ganges River on the Gangotri Glacier to its outlet in the world’s largest delta at the Bay of Bengal. Their mission flows from a desire to better understand the relationship between a dramatically growing population and the crisis of securing clean, drinkable water for all. But it starts at the summit. In David Morton’s first new report from the subcontinent, he sits below the summit of Chaukhamba IV (6,854 meters), waiting for weather and wondering if the peak will cooperate with their plan. —LYA Editor
Words by David Morton, Images by Jake Norton, David Morton and Pete McBride
Colorful. Raw. Intense. Organic. Adjectives swirled in my head as I imagined the world I’d soon inhabit. India always seemed like an old friend that I’d never actually met. I could smell the smells, see the sights, and feel the energy of the daily pace. Though as this trip neared the reality was clear, I’d only imagined being in India. My ten-year Indian visa sat neglected in my passport for nine years. I always thought I’d make it to this magical land sooner, but here I was after years of travel in South Asia having never been to the largest country in the region.
There couldn’t have been a more perfectly packaged opportunity. Travel to India, attempt an unclimbed 6,800+-meter peak in the Garhwal, then travel the length of the Ganges visually documenting the diverse universe this sacred river supports. The intersection of cultural immersion and wilderness experience is where my heart lies. No arm twisting needed. Without the fascination of international travel and the learning that goes hand in hand with it, the mountains would hold a much less compelling place in my mind. Luckily for me, one need not exist without the other.
Though I’ve spent the past 12 years climbing often in the Nepal Himalaya as well as Pakistan, the Indian Himalaya has eluded me. As I sit below the summit of Shivling writing, I can’t help but wonder why it’s taken so long. The mountains are as spectacular as the river is revered. Dramatic rock faces, knife-edge ridgelines, and perfectly capped summits surround us. It’s an amphitheater of the gods, and hardly anybody has showed up. It’s taken us five days by vehicle and foot through terrain that’s been destroyed by unusual monsoon flooding. We’re the only people in the valley this season aside from ibex herds and the few sadhus, or holy men, who have come here to be closer to Shiva and leave the trappings of another life. We have no complaints and selfishly wish the mountains could be this way more often. We’ll spend the next two weeks here attempting to climb Chaukhamba IV (6,854 meters) at the head of the valley before returning to the trappings of “the other life.” But for us, it will begin a three-week journey into the belly of the Ganges.
I imagine my sense of already having known India comes from many years spent in Nepal scrapping through twisting streets of Kathmandu dotted with shrines and temples dedicated to Hindu gods. Of course, I’m mistaken to equate one place with another, and if our first night in Rishikesh was any indication, we’re in for a fascinating ride. As sadhus, children, mothers and fathers gathered on the steps of the Ganges for the evening aarti, or daily offering, the skies unloaded in a downpour reinforcing the life-giving and life-taking connection to water. As I sat taking in the multi-sensory experience along the powerful riverbank, I understood what I’d been told by an Indian gentleman in the airport as we arrived: “Maa Ganga (mother Ganges) IS life.”
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