A summer expedition – Indian Himalayas

I recently returned from a 3-week expedition to the Indian Himalayas with the British Exploring Society. Having previously lead on expeditions with BES as a science leader to Arctic Norway and Svalbard, I decided it was time to venture further afield – to the Himalayas.

British Exploring expeditions aim to develop Young Explorers through challenging situations with a good dose of science thrown in! While in the Himalayas we discussed and looked at a whole range of scientific disciplines including botany, lake sediments, geology, meteorology, geomorphology and by no means least, glaciology! Each science leader had their own area of expertise and designed suitable projects for the explorers to contribute to including identifying various plants and soils and looking at pollination methods. One project incorporated glacial geomorphology and glaciology, looking at the way glaciers had shaped the landscape we were camping in. This involved mapping large moraines systems using Google Earth imagery prior to the expedition which was then ground truthed with data collected in the field during the expedition.

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Geomorphological mapping of the expedition region in Ladakh using Google Earth imagery (completed by expedition participants prior to the expedition).

Of course when on expedition, or fieldwork for that matter, nothing ever goes exactly to plan; especially when dealing with altitude and young people. It took us 4 days to slowly make our way to basecamp at Pensi La due to the steady acclimatisation period. We travelled from Leh located at 3505 m up to 4400 m. Even arriving in Leh, the effects of altitude could be felt but with some rest and taking it easy for a day or so we were able to head towards our basecamp. Once at basecamp we spent a few days training and gaining skills such as ice axe arrests and walking on difficult terrain. After the training phase we managed to get onto the Drang Drung glacier and camped in the valley. The Drang Drung glacier is heavily debris-covered on the right hand side and enabled us to have a look at some of the impacts of debris on a glacier system. For many it was their first experience of being on a glacier and proved to be the highlight of the trip. In addition to exploring the glacier, we explored the ridge behind basecamp and managed to exceed 5000 m of altitude.

Ice skills training including ice axe arrests and students taking a break viewing the Drang Drung glacier.

It was a great expedition with the YE’s being able to get involved in all sorts of science projects, camp life and even our own expedition Olympics! We left the 5 week expeditioners at basecamp in Pensi La and made our journey back to Leh via Kargil.

Walking back to basecamp after a long day hiking. View of the Leh monastery which overlooks Leh.

To find out more about the expedition see the BES Science Journal detailing the science projects which will be available online later this year.

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Anne Stefaniak is a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University and the BSG Postgraduate Deputy Chair. The expedition was undertaken with the British Exploring Society.

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