The intention of the expedition during planning was to arrive in the Garhwal just as the monsoon was leaving the area. This would have given us the maximum amount of climbing before having to return to university at the start of October. However, the weather on this occasion did not seem to follow its usual reliable patterns.
Before we left Britain, we knew that the weather situation would be different from our expectations. Reports had reached English newspapers about the complete failure of the monsoon on the plains.
Our week in Delhi saw the start of a significant period of rain, two months after the monsoon should have begun, with sporadic heavy showers often drenching us unexpectedly. In our stay there, the city became noticeably less dusty and more humid.
In the foothills around Uttar Kashi, very little rain had fallen before we arrived there by mini-bus. Upon our arrival it rained solidly for many hours. The effects of this downpour were immediately apparent the next day on the road to Gangotri, in the form of a huge land slide.
Thankfully, the days spent on the walk-in were free of rain. The sun shone during much of the day, and the sky was so free of cloud that Thalay Sagar, at the head of the valley, could be seen from the first camp. The sun remained visible until the afternoon we arrived at base-camp, when, whilst we were unpacking the porter loads, cloud suddenly blew in from the col by Thalay Sagar and the rains started. The monsoon had finally caught up with us.
From that time onwards, the weather followed a predictable pattern. Mornings were always the clearest time of the day, and we were generally able to see Manda for all of the first week. By the time the sun had reached half way down Jogin II, wisps of cloud were already blowing in from the south to hang above the valley. Afternoons were marked by cloud, often with heavy rain or snow. This would continue through the night.
The head of the valley held cloud almost permanently. During the second week, trekkers started to arrive at base-camp to view Thalay Sagar, but very few were lucky enough even to glimpse it during their stay. The temperature steadily dropped and the amount of precipitation rose during our stay at Kedar Tal. The temperature in base-camp (4700m) fell to -12 degrees, and by the end several inches of snow were falling each night.
On the mountains these conditions were accentuated. With daily snow falls, little consolidation occurred on the faces. This made for dangerous avalanche conditions and painfully slow progress. The incredible speed with which cloud appeared and closed in added to difficulties.
The final week in base-camp was spent in virtually perpetual cloud and drizzle, with visibility less than 30 yards. This was extremely demoralising and provided little incentive to try and stick it out another week, in the hopes of a let-up so the snow could consolidate. The weather did finally improve, but too late. John, Richard and Jim descended in weather as perfect as when they had arrived.
This season's weather in the Himalaya was some of the most anomalous in living memory. Because of the extremely late monsoon, instead of arriving at the beginning of ever-improving clear weather, we found ourselves climbing through conditions more akin to Patagonia. We felt sorely cheated by the weather. The monsoon reigns supreme!