Vellarimala Trek – Now I know why it is rated as the toughest climb of South India
Ever since I have started trekking seriously Vellarimala and Vavul mala is in the wish list. But for some or the other reasons it was getting postponed for atleast 4 years now. I remember I first read about this place in an article related to Kerala’s highest peaks. Then I started digging the available articles and Sandeep’s link about Vellarimala trek and Vavul mala trek poured much info. Being debated as the toughest climb of South India I always had a crush on these range of hills. The information in google was enough and more for me to keep these ranges in top priority. But due to permission issues for security concerns and lack of guides I had to keep on waiting. Finally in the Month of October 2015 I almost made it to get the permission from forest officials for November and was all set to go climbing.
All of a sudden I got an Invite from Aneesh of Trekzon to Vellarimala. He managed to chip in with the officials and got the permission for a two days trek. I was suspicious on the actual feasibility of scaling Vavul mala in just 2 days and returning back to base but believed against all odds and kept myself optimistic. Having been blessed with a long week end we decided to get it done on the first week of October. It was my first trek with Trekzon and turned out to be one of the most memorable (in all aspects) of all the treks tills date. I started from Cochin on 2nd night and camped at Kozhikode. I remembered the old times when Ajith and me landed in Kozhikode in the late nights for Banasura trek and Brahmagiri trek.
Anas a member of Trekzon from Trivandrum (my home town) was supposed to meet me there. I reached by 12am on 3rd Oct and took a room near KSRTC bus stand itself. Anas joined by 1.30 and we lay down for some time. Though we didn’t had a good sleep it was worth a nap. We have planned to start off from Kozhikode to Muthappanpuzha by 4 am. The whole night was drizzling and I felt trouble. Our cab came sharp at 4 am and we were on the way to Muthappanpuzha which is approximately 53 km from our hotel without wasting any time.
We reached Muthappanpuzha by 5.30 and waited for the others to join. We sat on the veranda of the LP school in Muthappanpuzha. There were 3 night stay buses of KSRTC parked there. The bus drivers and conductors were curious to know why we were there. We spent some time relaxing there. The only recognizable sound was the sound made by the Iruvanchipuzha.( River name). Time passed by and morning light spread across. We could see the majestic Vellarimala range right from the backside of the school. It was a so scaring a scene It was so huge and felt inaccessible . Normally hill ranges will be a series of hills and the elevation will be slanting. But Vellarimala hills seemed like a piece of land elevated right in front of us without any access hills. I didn’t know how we are gonna make it. By 6.10 all our team members were there. It was a 10 member team in the beginning stages of planning and after last minutes dropout likes always we were a compact 6 member team good to go.Aneesh, Anas, Loga, Soma, Uday and myself constituted the army.
To reach the base of the trek we need to travel 4km from Muthappanpuzha to Vellarimala base. This is a tarred road and after four km it becomes a ghat road accessible via jeep only. We parked car at the end of the tarred road and packed our back packs. As we planned to stay overnight I was carrying tent sleeping bag food and clothes for two days. The backpack was so heavy. All of us were having heavy backpacks. It was an overcast days with drizzling and we could only expect it to get cleared. From the place where we parked the car we had to walk 2 km to the fenced lining of forest department. We need to cross some small streams in between. Soon after the fence the real trek starts into the jungle.
We entered into the lined fence and started walking. There are no inhabitants inside the fence and it is purely forest area after this point. The initial part itself was wild enough. Walking through a small trail for about 20 minutes we reached an almost dried up stream. Water flow was very low and the stream was full of small rocks. We walked through the stream for about 20 minutes again and deviated into another trail along the right side. By this time it started raining again and there was no other go than to get wet. This is one forest where we could not trek with camera or any other gadgets in hand. The trail is so tough and rough that we have to crawl, climb, support etc all the time throughout the trek. And it has been a long time since someone has used this trail due to restrictions. That made it very difficult to move along. Most of the time it was raining and I couldn’t take my camera even out of the bag.
In less than two hour we reached olichuchattam falls. It was almost 9 am by then. From the trail we need to deviate and walk for just 100 mtrs to reach olichuchattam falls. Rain has subsided to an extend and I could take some pics now. Though it was raining often there was not much water in the falls. We had our breakfast there. Dosa chutney porotta veg curry was there. We filled up our water bottles here. As we completed our breakfast it started raining heavily. We had to stay back for some time as route from olichuchattam is tougher and we cannot move along if it is raining. We opened some of the sleeping mats and had to get under them I kept my bag inside a rock cave. But by this time it was almost wet and I could feel the weight getting increased as the cloths inside getting wetter. We would have stayed there for atleast 30 minutes and Rain was somewhat subsiding. We returned back to the previous trail and started ascending. Route was more treacherous from this point. The rain had its effect and we started slipping every here and there. The soil become loose and we could not have our grip on the floor. Had to take utmost care while moving through the rocks. Some of us slipped dangerously over some places but narrowly escaped from landing into trouble. The rain continued and I cursed myself for not taking the rain cover for my backpack. I was sure that all the dry cloths would have been wet by then and I have to manage with that. In another 30-40 minutes we reached the top of olichuchattam falls. Getting out of the forest we entered into an open area and had to cross the stream through very slippery rock.
Crossing the stream we reach a rock where we had our first break. The view was superb from this point. The Wayanad range of hills was visible from this point. In fact this was the only place we could call a decent view point as all other viewpoints were fully covered in snow or fog due to rain. Spending some time there for snacks and snaps we ventured again into the forest. One thing about Vellarimala is we don’t come across many viewpoints or grass lands. There are no eye softeners either. Once we get into the woods we can’t even have a view for more than ten mtrs to the fron and of course can’t even see the sky for hours. The canopy growth is so horrible in some places as we move inside. Even sunlight keeps away from this forest.
As we move inside it become more and more wild. Leeches were everywhere and they continued feeding on us. May be we will be their first feast in last two years and they took their chances. There was nothing we could do than to ignore them. If we stop to pluck them off another dozen will stick on to us. All of us suffered more than a dozen bites even in the most tactical areas of our body :). I think we were moving criss-cross a stream. We would have atleast crossed it 3-4 times. This is one place where we cannot even think about going without a guide. At some places the trail just vanished over the stream or some rock boulders. Without a person knows in and out of the place it will be something next to impossible to complete the trek.
Our guides were so very familiar with these places and hence we could make it going. Another three hrs walk through steep trail we stopped at a stream for a short break. Soon after we started ascending again as we were already falling short of time and in this climate it may be dark soon. Another two hours again through the steep trail we reached near Domadaran kolli ( a place name after the accidental death of a man named Damodaran here long ago)we had our lunch here in the rain itself( bread and bananas some chocolates and a few free bites ). It was close to 3 by then and the rain doesn’t seem to be taking its leave. There is no grass land it seems to be in Vellarimala range. All of us longed to see an open ground or a grass land but it remained just a wish.
We have attained a lot of height by this time and it was evident from the climatic variation and the variations in flora. The type of flora we saw at Vellarimala was unique of its kind. So many varieties of flowering plants were seen including some rare species of wild balsams and all. I missed to capture lot of those things due to the relentless rain. By 5.50 we finally reached the top of Vellarimala. Surprisingly there was no view. The top of Vellarimala also was an open space bordered with thick forest covers all around. It was little disappointing a moment but we had to take it into our mind as we cannot do anything on that. By the time we reached Vellarimala all of us were exhausted to the core and wanted to crash down on the first seen plain ground. But the plans were different. We were planning to camp at REC para and it is still 30 minutes away from the top of Vellarimala. To reach REC para from Vellarimala top we have to lose some altitude and cover a 30 minutes’ walk again through the forest cover. It was not so tough in respect to altitude and descending but the forest was so wild in this part of the world and the undergrowth was so thick we have to strain to get through that.
After 30 minutes of walk we reached our destination for the day the REC para. REC para was nothing but an open land about 1.5 acres of open area with some marshy land, grass and rock. The place was completely surrounded by thick forest in all directions. One side was the Vavul mala standing tall and majestic covered in fog the other side was some other formidable hill ranges of Wayanad. The imposing structure of those hills made me feel like they are loftier than Vavul mala but they are technically not. Walking continuously in the rain has drained all of us and made us to kneel down within no time. It was chilling cold there and when wind blows I felt the chillness unbearable. We were completely wet and I checked my bag and camera. Camera was in a polythene cover and was intact. I sadly have to realize that I have to manage the whole night in this chilling cold with wet cloths only.
We decided to pitch the tents. The climate was becoming unbearably cold and I was shivering. Somehow managed to erect the tent and I went inside. Changed the dress and put on a new wet cloth :). After changing I came outside and it was chilling. I could not bear it. Tried withstanding but with wet cloths I was shivering. I could have managed with dry clothes or a jerkin. I heard the sound of crackers lighted by our guide along the margin of the forest covers. I had to get inside the tent wasting no time. Had some bananas bread and some dates to satiate hunger and laid down inside the tent. After sometime Anas also joined me inside. I badly wanted to slip into sleep but couldn’t help it with the wet cloths. I didn’t have any idea to get outside. The night was spent restlessly.
The next day morning was fine. Woke up to the morning light and came out of the tent. It was chill but was OK for me. I think I would have climatised to the conditions by this time. We had plans to climb Vavul mala if conditions are favorable. But it didn’t seem so. The day was overcast and was slightly drizzling. We had our morning rituals and was planning to start descending by 9 am. I roamed around with camera and clicked what all I could. The only thing I could get was the majestic Vavul mala completely engulfed in mist and some other hill ranges to the Wayanad area.
By 9.15 am everyone was ready after breakfast. All of us had only one notion in mind and that was to get out of that mess to the civilizations. But we were unaware of the horrible things which we had to face on the way back. Right after 30 minutes we reached Ketanpara. But we had to get disappointed to find the view point completely immersed in fog. We waited for some time but of no use.
The rain started again and this time the downpour was huge. It was raining cat and dogs and we could do nothing but to proceed. Rain water was flowing through the trail we walked up and every one slipped and landed on their butt “N” number of times. It was really unmanageable. Ascending was more difficult compared to descending at some places. It was really dangerous to step over the rocks and climb down. At some places we could just keep one foot the other side was deep gorge and one side was thick bushes. Soil was eroding from the footsteps. It was hell of a thing and we all had only one good thing to expect and that was getting out of the forest asap.
There was a potential danger down the line but none of us could think about it till the time our guide reminded us about that. THE FLOODED STREAMS and WATERFALLS. Only when the guide reminded us we realized the trouble we may land into if the streams are flooded. We moved fast so as to cross the stream and falls as soon as possible. We couldn’t take any rest in between. Rain continued. It was not the josh or passion which led us then. It was only fear which was driving us to move so fast. The fear of getting stranded before the stream. If we couldn’t cross the stream we have to stay back inside the forest for the entire day and night may be which would be so bad an idea. We were simply rushing through the treacherous path ignoring all pain, muscle sprain, scratches from the bushes, falls etc. Finally when we reached the main stream we realized the importance of moving fast. The stream was literally flooded. The one which we crossed easily yesterday had taken the face of a beast. It was very dangerous yet we had to do that. With great difficulty we crossed the first stream. Now everyone had a vague idea on what it is going to be at the next levels of the stream I was worried about the top portion of olichuchattam falls. We have to cross it above the plain rock. As it is an open ground we cannot catch hold on anything. We have to help each other nothing else we could do.
Rushed and rushed we reached top of Olichuchattam falls. The water level was atleast 10 times than yesterday. If we slip we will land on the base of olichuchattam falls fatally wounded or dead. Prayed to Mother Nature and gathered strength to do that. Somehow managed to cross the falls safely. There were some more streams to cross. Without stopping we continued. Body as well as the mind was in complete wreck. Last stream was the most flooded and we had to use a medium size tree trunk to use as a rope to hold on to. One by one we crossed the stream and when we come to know we are done with all the streams it was a relief. I would say it was the biggest risk of my life and I would never venture something like that again. Rain also subsided by then and we had almost 5 more kms to cover. Time was 2 by then. I couldn’t walk a bit. The legs where feeling so heavy that I have to drag them to take every step. Backpack was very heavy with wet cloths and tent. But in order to keep up with the other I pushed myself to the core.
Finally by 5 pm we came out of the forest and crossed the lined fence. The stretch from the lined fence to car was done swiftly. Before getting into the car we had a full body check for leeches. Bidding good bye to our guide friends we straight away went to Anakkampoyil junction and had a tea break there. I and Anas were dropped in Adivaram and from there we boarded a Kozhikode bus. We couldn’t even walk by that time. From Kozhikode we caught train to Ernakulam and Trivandrum. By 1.30 in the morning I reached Cochin and went to room. Anas went to Trivandrum. Back in the room I only remember praying to Mother Nature for keeping me safe and alive for another day. Crashed into the bed with heavy body pain and a joy filled heart. The sad thing about this trek was that we didn’t have any good view from the top. For that single reason I want to come here again but surely not in the rainy season. Only in the best of the best summer. And Vavul mala is still there undone. Hoping to get back there soon.