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Kedarkanta trek: our 1st sub zero temperature experience

We were a group of 7 guys from Bengaluru (almost the same team as that of @Bhimashankar). We had been thinking about going on a Himalayan trek for about 2-3yrs but was getting postponed due to obvious reasons, our initial plan was for Chadar trek, but thought of trying a simpler one before attempting Chadar to get a glimpse of cold temperatures, thus decided on Kedarkanta trek which was on a level of “easy” to begin with. This was my 2nd Himalayan trek after Pangaruchulla , but for the rest 6 members it was their 1st (but had experience of trekking in south India). After years of thinking & planning, we finally booked our slot through Bikat adventures.

13-12-2019: The travel date to Kedarkanta had finally arrived! Everyone loaded with excitement and enthusiasm for the long awaited trip. All 7 of us reached Bengaluru airport with our rucksack packed. We had been shopping and arranging for gears from past few weeks to get everything we need for the rucksack to be packed. We had already seen the weather forecast of Dehradhun before boarding the flight, it was cloudy with a bit of rain and temperature of 14°C, just before the flight landing, the pilot announced that the temperature at Dehradhun was “one two” for a moment some of us were a bit shocked, later we realized that the pilot meant “twelve”. Reached Dehradhun @9:25am. We came out of the flight and it was cold, but OK tolerable. We took cabs to reach ISBT, 1st we had some yummy parathas to fill our empty tummies and then booked rooms nearby, dumped our bags, relaxed for a while. Meanwhile there was slight rain every now and then, we gradually started feeling the 12°C. FYI temperature in Bengaluru never dropped to 12°C (atleast in my lifetime), so it was a fun experience for us. Instead of wasting the day by just staying in the room, we decided to visit a Tibetan colony (buddhist shrine) nearby. We took the local rickshaw and reached the location. Beautiful structures built, peaceful ambiance, a nice place to spend some time.

Few of the Tibetan colony structures

14-12-2019: Bikat adventures had a vehicle (TT) ready for us @7am near ISBT gate. This is where we saw the rest of the trek batch mates. 13 of us seated in a TT (tempo traveller) and there were 3 more in a Bolero along with one of our trek leader, so totally 16 trekkers. We were heading to sankri, which is where our trek would start. It’s an approx 180+km journey. Once we cross the city limits of Dehradhun, it is all ghat roads until the end of journey. Not everyone are comfortable with ghat roads, some people get motion sickness. After traveling for more than an hour, we reached the most popular hill station, the so called queen of hill stations, MUSSOORIE! We were told and could clearly see that mussoorie had snowfall the previous day as we pass through the roads. For few of the folks in the vehicle, it was their 1st glimpse of snow ever. It was a beautiful view of and from mussoorie. Our vehicle stopped just at the end of mussoorie for breakfast. As we got out of our vehicle, most of us started shivering, that’s when we checked and realized it was 4°C. I could say it is one of the most memorable breakfast we had, memorable because of the cold, the view, the long wait for the food all these together made the moment. We had our garma garam parathas and resumed our journey. After a short span of time, our driver got instructions to halt the vehicle for a while and wait. When we asked for reason, we got to know that the 3 trekkers in the Bolero (apparently mother, son & daughter) wants to return back to Dehradhun! Seemed like their mother wasn’t comfortable with the weather and the journey. The Bolero turned back, but the trek lead in Bolero had to join us. So, we waited for him to reach and join us. Even before the Kedarkanta trek started, the trekkers count reduced from 16 to 13. We again resumed our journey, went on to cross purola and then took a short break for lunch. By this time, snow capped mountains were already in our sight. To talk about this road journey, the worst part is the motion sickness and the best part is the views, sometimes the wide landscape view of the mountain ranges in the far and then sometimes the view of the mountain valley by our side with the turquoise waters flowing effortlessly amidst the rocks on the riverbed is simply mesmerizing to watch. Just imagine sitting on a window seat with mild music on and then these views, bliss! Finally we reached sankri at around 5:30pm. We could see snow all around us, much more than mussoorie. We heard that there was snowfall in sankri couple of days back. All the roofs had chunks of snow on them. We were thrilled to see the snow all around us and also were shivering because of the cold. By now, all our mobiles had lost network range, so we couldn’t even check the temperature. Maybe we can guess, it was definitely <5°C. We were escorted to our accommodation location, got us rooms allotted. Dumped our bags and all of us assembled in a small dining area for tea! This is where all 13 of us plus our trek lead formally started talking, there was formal introductions and then a bit of briefing about the trek and then some casual talks and some personal experiences shared about trekking, it was fun! Can’t forget to mention the chilling cold breeze of air from the windows. The talks went on till about 8, the dinner was ready, time to eat and go to sleep. Even though we had blankets which were couple of inches thick, going to bed wasn’t an easy task! The bed is chilling cold, the blanket is chilling cold, only after sleeping in a fixed position for a while would we start feeling warm. Thus, one could easily guess, it wasn’t a comfy sleep as we regularly have.

As soon as we reached sankri, this was the view

The Kedarkanta trek day was here! We woke up around 6:30am, freshened up and assembled for breakfast. The most challenging task after having food was to wash our mug & plate. Tolerating the cold temperatures and chilling winds is one thing and putting your hands into the chilling cold water is altogether a different thing. It would be unfair if I don’t mention that our caretakers offered us to use warm water, but we chose tap water. We got ourselves ready for the kedarkanta trek but with just one layer of warmth (down jacket) because we knew our bodies would be heated up as we trek. Packed our rucksack along with a package of food for lunch and started off from our accommodations, reached the road. We were waiting for some formalities to be completed by our trek leads, it was some paperwork. Meanwhile, we were seeing that there were lot of batches from other companies like India hikes, Trek the Himalayas, Aahvan adventures, etc., began their march towards the starting point. We were given gaiters to carry on our bag. Finally we reached the starting point and began the Kedarkanta trek @11:30am. Since a lot of batches started off before us, we had a clear trail to follow. Initially we had a bit of wet and muddy trail. Later on, even though we could see mud in the middle of the trail, there was significant amount of snow around us. We were happy seeing the snow around us. After trekking for about 1km or so, we found a hut kind of structure (dhabha) serving or I would say selling refreshments like tea, Maggie! This was unexpected for me, I thought once we left sankri we wouldn’t find any such life support. We took a short break, had tea and resumed trekking. After trekking for a while, it was snow all around, we could no longer see mud in our trails. Since we had fresh snowfall 1 or 2 days ago, the 1-2ft of snow we saw all around was soft snow. The sight of undisturbed thick layer of soft snow on the landscape is so soothing to watch, it’s simply beautiful! We continued trekking, took a break @2:30pm for lunch. We took out the food package which were given to us in the morning. It had sandwiches, banana, appy juice and a 5 star chocolate. We sat on the wooden logs lying around and began eating our lunch, to our surprise, it began snowing all of a sudden! We were like woooooow! There is a popular saying in Himalayas, quoting it as I heard it “ladki ka mood, Mumbai ka fashion aur pahadonka mausam minto me badaltahai“. We had a wish to witness snowfall, didn’t expect that it would be fulfilled so early in the Kedarkanta trek. The snowfall stopped after 5-10mins. We resumed trekking again, by now we had snow up to our knee level. By 4:30pm we reached JUDA KA TALAB a small lake which was frozen! Our trek lead assured us that we would come back here the next day morning to continue the trek, so we just took a few pictures of it and left the place. Just after about 20mins of trek, we reached out camp site hargaon (11,200ft). It was a decent trek of about 5-6kms for the day with a fair amount of inclination. The tents were already pitched on beaten snow, we all assembled in the dining tent and were told to occupy our sleeping tents, 2 persons per tent. Since we stopped trekking for the day, our body gradually cooled down, the fun part begins, COLD! We dumped our rucksack in the tent and quickly wore 3 layers of warmth (thermals, fleece and down jacket) and assembled in the dining tent for tea. After a bit of chatting, it was time for some hot soup. After having soup, we had some free time, so we came out of the dining tent and was savoring the beauty of nature around us, the landscape view of majestically laid range of snow capped mountains, the pine trees around us with lumps of snow stuck on them, the entire ground covered with snow, it’s a scene to be experienced, cannot be explained in mere words. The most prominent peaks we could see was the Swargarohini. It was already dark by 6:15pm, again to our surprise it started to snow! This time a little heavier and lasted a little longer than what we saw in the noon. By 7:45pm the dinner was ready. The torso part of body was somehow covered with 3 layers of warmth. Even though we had waterproof synthetic gloves and shoes on, protecting our hand and feet from cold was very difficult. We had no other option but to bare the freezing cold in our all 20 fingers. Once we are done with the dinner, we got a demo on how to use the sleeping bag. We reached our tents and got ourselves into our respective sleeping bags. Sleeping bags does serve the purpose of keeping us warm, but its definitely not comfortable to sleep, thus we had short sessions of broken sleep.

Our camp site hargaon

Since we didn’t have proper sleep, we got out of our sleeping bags @6am. Just before getting out of the tent, observed that the water we had in our bottle for drinking had frozen! So, one can imagine the temperature in the night. Our trek lead told us it maybe around -6°C, but we suspect it to be much lower. Once we were out of our tents, finished our morning duties in the toilet tents pitched nearby. And was wandering near the camp site and making attempts to somehow warm our bodies a little, until we had our morning tea ready. During our breakfast, we got to know that 4 of our trek mates are planning to return to sankri because of their discomfort and health concerns. Now the team count came down to 9, our group of 7 plus 2 guys. After the breakfast we got ourselves ready to start for the day, the trek leads made an announcement, ‘because of too much of snow, we won’t be able to make it to the summit, we do not have permission from forest department to go to the summit’. Disappointment!! We can continue our journey till the summit base camp, but cannot go further. Since the decision was not negotiable, we had no choice. We started our journey towards the summit base camp. Juda ka talab is almost on the way, so we went close to the frozen lake this time. We knew the entire water wasn’t frozen, it was just the surface of the water was frozen and formed a layer of ice. Our local guide got on the frozen layer of ice, the ice was thick enough, he inspected and told we can go one after the other on the ice and take some pictures. So, along with the guide 2 of us went on to the ice took pictures. Looking at them another trek lead went on the ice and joined them. We were wondering if the ice layer was thick enough to support 4 people’s weight, just then we heard the sound of ice crack! Since they were not too far from land, they quickly returned to the land, meanwhile 2 of them had 1 leg sunk in, luckily water didn’t go into their shoes or tracks (thanks to gaiters and waterproof shoes). We all were happy that all 4 of them reached back safely in time, but the rest of us missed the chance to take a picture standing on the frozen lake. Without wasting much time we resumed our trekking. After trekking for about 30mins we found another dhabha for refreshments. I think it was the 3rd or 4th such dhabha we saw on this trek journey. We took a short break and resumed trekking. The trek distance to base camp was a relatively shorter one, maybe around 4 kms. We covered this distance pretty quickly compared to the previous day. Reached the base camp around 1:15pm. The snow here was much more than hargaon (our previous camp site), we could clearly see. The view of this snow was much more beautiful, since were at a higher altitude than the previous day, the view of mountain ranges was better. We could see the kedarkanta peak from here, the unconquered journey. We were told that there was 10ft of snow on the summit, which is the reason why we were not allowed for the summit. Most of the companies had pitched their tents here, it looked like a fair when seen from a distance. Our tent was pitched a bit away from the crowd. We were already told that they were not sure of the tent condition, once we reached our tent location we found our dinner tent had collapsed because of snow accumulation. We began the excavation work with whatever tools we had shovel, steel plates, hand, etc. Finally cleared the buried tent, to find out that its poles had broken. Trek lead told us to ignore it and have some hot pulav for lunch. Lunch was prepared in a hut kind of home which was right next to our collapsed tent. By the time we finished our lunch the trek leads had spoken to people from other companies and made arrangements for us to stay in their tents. We still had a lot of time and energy left for the day, so we decided to head back to hargaon and can stay there for the night, will get a bit easier for the next day return journey. We began our return journey to hargaon, on the way, in some stretch there was undisturbed snow, our local guide told us to create the trail! (for our fun) Only then did we realize how difficult it is to create trail in undisturbed snow and realized why we weren’t allowed to go to summit. When we stepped on the undisturbed snow to make trail, we had snow up to our waist level! Each step was challenging. This way, making new trails, our local guide took us through a lot of shortcuts and reached hargaon in 55 minutes! It was an awesome crazy 55 minute journey. Now the drill repeats, same as the previous day! Wear all our warm layers, assemble in dining tent, chitchat, have food amidst the freezing cold and get back to our sleeping bags in the tents.

Base camp location, kedarkanta peak in the background

It was time to leave our tents and start our journey back to sankri, had our breakfast, took packed food for lunch. Thanked our support staffs for the delicious food they made for us during the stay. Just like in any other trek, the descend journey was quick for kedarkanta as well. Our return path wasn’t the same as what we came on 1st day, so we had new view to enjoy during the descend, eventually even this path joined the same path we used for onward journey, after all we were returning to the same place! To our surprise, within just 2 days most of the snow what we saw in the initial part of our kedarkanta trek had already melted. When the path became more of mud than snow, we were told to take off the crampons and carry on our bag. When we were almost towards the end of the trek where we had no snow at all. It was all mud. To our disguise some patches of frozen water mixed in mud appeared as wet mud. Literally we couldn’t spot the difference between frozen mud and wet mud. The moment we step on frozen mud, it slips terribly. Many of us were falling like pandas, landing on our bumps. One of our group member slipped just few meters away from reaching the road and got his ankle twisted. Well, I cannot say that we all had a happy ending of the trek, but can definitely say that it was one of our most memorable trek ever! And we all were happy about it.

A short video clip of our journey.

That’s it folks!

Things to know for Kedarkanta trek:

  • Total Kedarkanta trek distance ~23 km
  • Max altitude of Kedarkanta 12,500 ft
  • Best season to visit Kedarkanta would be winter.