” You don’t really conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself. You overcome your sickness and everything – your pain, aches and fear – to reach the summit”
– James Whittaker
This is what I had in my mind before I left Mumbai for my Himalayan trek. And this time, it was special – a summit trek in the middle of winter season.
The planning for the trek started as early as June. We booked as soon as the slots were open. This time we decided to trek with Indiahikes, unarguably the most famous trekking organization in India.
Here is a comprehensive guide for Kedarkantha trek –
- Difficulty level: Easy to moderate. Anyone with an average level of fitness can do this trek
- Best season: Needless to say winter
- Base camp: Gainchwan Gaon which is 5-6 KM from Netwar (for Indiahikes trekkers)
- As I always say trek with an organization of good reputation
- Don’t overpack and at the same time don’t compromise on safety and trekking gears. A good trekking shoe is most important of all. I trekked with Quechua Forclaz 500 high ankle shoe but if one is short on cash, I found liberty warrior jungle boots to be good enough. Feel free to reach out to me for detailed list on what all to carry
- Carry all emergency medical kit. Additionally, I would suggest carrying garlic capsules (for a good night’s sleep in mountains), Baidyanath Piorhoids tablets (for better nature’s call)
- Indiahikes usually ask its trekkers to prove fitness by running a couple of 5KM stretch in 40 mins. I totally agree with initiative and pushed all my group member to run at least one 5K and one 10K. Sadly, the trek leader was not so strict on this. I wish Indiahikes makes this compulsory
- If you are travelling with Indiahikes, carry your own utensils: Tiffin, mug, and spoon. Carry extra spoons
- Different and much better route: Indiahikes like others earlier used to start from Sankari itself but I guess from the last couple of years, they have shifted its base to Gainchwan Gaon (Netwar). This new route is not at all crowded and the last ascend of the summit day is relatively easier
Day 0: Mumbai – Delhi – Dehradun
The D-day for the last six month’s planning. We rushed to the airport well ahead of time only to get informed later that our flight – Air India – was delayed by more than 2 hours. Thankfully we had planned for this: our connecting train to Dehradun, Nanda Devi, was scheduled at 2350. Nonetheless, we had to rush through the metro to New Delhi station but we did reach well before time.
Day 1: Dehradun to Purola
The train was late and we reached Dehradun at around 7:15 AM. Since we had to start our next leg of the journey, we decided not to stop for breakfast and straightaway went to bus ticket counter which is just next to railway station (look for ‘parvatiya khsetra’ queue, not the Nainital queue)
NOTE: You can also hire a taxi. The fare is INR 5500 for Bolero Max and INR 10000 for Tempo Traveller. You can also get a shared taxi till Purola for INR 250 (And from Purola another taxi to Mori in INR 150 and then bus to Netwar/Sankari)
We purposely broke the journey to Netwar in two legs. Initially, we thought to travel till Mori, which just an hours distance from Netwar but then as suggested by folks at Indiahikes, we decided for Purola. The place is famous for its Parathas especially Rana Jee ke parathe. We had all our meals at this place only during our stay in Purola. Reach out to him on 9457896182, 9520003882.
There was nothing to do or see in Purola except a beautiful sunset and a chilly night. Also, it is the last place where almost all networks are available. Beyond Purola, only BSNL works.
GMVN at Purola was under renovation and most of the other hotels were sold out. We, however, managed to get rooms in Hotel Classic Hill View (01373 223 344, 9557765978). The hotel has no frills rooms at economical rates
DOs and DON’Ts
In the evening, take a small hike towards Mori road for a beautiful terrace farming landscape view
Day 2: Purola to Netwar
It was actually day 1 of the trek but since we were ahead on schedule, we gave ourselves the luxury of little extra sleeping time. We left Purola at around 12 noon and reached Netwar at around 2:30 PM (local bus as Bolero were not available). The landscape between Purola and Netwar is very pretty especially terrace farming landscape just after Purola and beautiful treeline just before Mori.
Indiahikes did a big goof-up by just informing base camp to be Netwar not the actual Guesthouse location of the base camp and no one in Netwar knew about their base camp as well. The icing on the cake was non-availability of any network. BSNL was available only at certain spots that too if you are lucky. All the folks at Netwar suggested us to go to Sankari as all Kedarkantha trek starts from there only. We, however, kept our cool and somehow managed to reach out trek instructor, Prathima who then gave us village name which as per her was just 10 minutes hike from Netwar. Well the village, Gainchwan Gaon is 5-6 KM hike from Netwar.
Google map shows 8km but we took shortcuts reducing our distance by couple of KM
We covered the distance in almost 2 hours just in time before the sunset – a good start to trek I would say.
After everyone reported to base camp, we had a small briefing session with trek leaders and then dinner and bedtime.
DOs and DONT’s
- You can drop extra language at Netwar base camp and get it back on the last day in Sankari (even your alcohol stash)
- Don’t overpack and keep a lot of space for memories. You must carry two water bottles though
- Carry chocolates and candies – a lot of them
Day 3: Gainchwan Gaon to Julota | Trek time: 4-5 hours
The day of the start of the actual trek wherein we would be gaining around 3000 ft altitude. After heavy breakfast, we hit the trail at around 9 AM. Initial ascent is gradual, followed by steep one. The trail veered through villages, farms, and a dhaba to the first hint of snow which was the campsite for the day.
Almost all of us in the group reached the campsite by 2 PM. After heavy lunch of kadhi-chawal, we, in fact, had a warm nap in the sun. Tents were allocated in a group of three after it started getting a bit cold.
The sunset was lovely and the night was much colder than that at Gainchwan gaon.
DOs and DON’Ts
- If you want solitude on the trek, choose the tent which is farthest from dinner tent. Usually, most folks in the group would want to chit chat or play mafia after dinner
- If possible, come out in the middle of the night or wake up at around 4 AM to enjoy beautiful star-show. The higher you go, the colder it will be, hence it will not be possible to do that at other campsites
- Wakeup early and freshen up before the queue at the pooping tents gets longer. In fact, I would suggest making this a habit throughout the trek
Sunset from Julota
Day 4: Julota to Pukhrola (Kedarkantha Base) | Trek time: 5 hours
We set off from our camping area around 9 AM for our next destination at Pukhlora – the base camp for Kedarkantha peak.
After breakfast, the group was all pumped up for a hike in the snow. For some, it was their first. I remember, in our first trek, we were so excited to find snow that in every camp we used to ask locals “Bhaiya aage barf milega kya?”. Back then winter treks were not common. Nowadays you get snow from second day onward.
After ascending in the meadows from 1 -2 hours, we found our first snow clearing as if it was waiting for us. Thus began the half an hour long snow fight. Snow fights are always fun until you are the target 😀
Post all the exhausting fun, the hunger made us climb rest of the stretch to Pukhrola in just a couple of hours. The KK base camp, Pukhrola, is exactly located at the base of Kedarkantha peak giving trekker a panoramic view of the majestic peak. The sunsets for this place is the prettiest.
DOs and DON’Ts
- There are a couple of streams along the trail for refilling your water bottles
- The gaiters and microspikes are distributed before sunset. Ensure that you put them on before the temperature starts dipping else your fingers will not be warm enough to put ’em on. Ask your trek leader to ensure all briefing sessions well ahead of sunset
- Find your spot for sunset view
Day 5: Pukhrola to Kedarkantha peak; descend to Munaila campsite | Trek time: 6-7 hours
The longest day of the trek. We had to get up at around 4 am in order to start off for the summit trek well before sunrise
It takes a close to 2 to 3 hours to climb the summit from the base. The summit gives you a magical 360-degree view. Don’t trust me? Here you go:
The guide gave us a detailed description of all the peaks and passes that were visible: Kinnaur Kailash ranges, HarkiDun, Chansil pass and many more
We spent a good amount of time to soak in all that the place had to offer.
The return journey was through regular route which other trekkers take. The descent has few slides to offer but nothing like the one I took in Sarpass. Some are even dangerous.
DOs and DON’Ts
- Carry two bottles of water and lot of candies without fail. The first water refill point you will find is on the return journey
- While on the summit, try not to disturb things as it is. Move less, speak less and soak in more. The efforts you took to get there is a lot higher to waste in doing futile things. Find a quiet spot to sit
- Don’t skip the GK session of the guide explaining all the peaks around you (Guess it was Indiahikes special)
- You will find a lot of stupids on your way, don’t be one and stay safe
- Don’t litter and collect other’s as well
- Don’t eat Maggie no matter how much tempting it might look. Here is a report that says Nestlé is responsible for 20.2% of all pieces of waste and almost 50% is that of Maggie (link)
Day 6: Munaila campsite to Sankari via Juda ka Talab | Trek time: 5-6 hours
Munaila campsite very pretty with a window view of the KK peak. Munaila is a base camp of other trekking organizations but for us, it is the last day of snow trek.
The previous day was very cloudy but as the night seeped in, the sky got clear giving way magical star shower. I still couldn’t muster the courage to come out at night for capturing the beauty. I now regret 😦
Anyways packing our bags with all the precious memories, we left for Sankari. On the route falls the beautiful Juda Ka Talab (जुड़ा का तालाब)
Juda-Ka-Talab is a very pretty campsite and many fly by night trekking organization pitch their tents beside the lake ruining the pristine nature of the surroundings. Responsible ones pith it away from the lake.
After a brief break, the group dispersed and we along with few more stayed back a bit more. The descent on the icy patch just after the lake is very risky, however safe it may look epically in patches where sunlight is doesn’t reach. One person travelling with us slipped and fainted. Since the trek guide was slightly ahead of us which meant we had to quickly administer some first aid. We somehow managed to get him back into senses but he fainted again, sending all of us into a panic. This was for the first time that something of this sort had happened with us. Thankfully Venkat, our guide rushed to the spot and Hitendra has enough medicines to bring the situation under control.
Couple of things I learned that day – first, carry enough medicine without fail and second, be extra cautious while descending.
By the time we reached Sankari, everyone was dead tired and guess what a hot shower was available in the offering (on payment basis though)
DOs and DON’Ts
- NEVER take descent lightly. Be extra careful with your surroundings
- Do not carry your stick in the hand which is on the valley side. Always switch hand as the direction changes
- Donate medicines to villagers of the last village
Day 7: Sankari to Mussorrie
The day of departure. We book one bolero though Indiahikes and left for Massoorie at 5 AM in the morning.
We again stopped at Rana Jee’s Dhaba for breakfast. This time the Parathas were even better.
Rest of the return trip was gloomy as always. I am sure this the case with every trekker. But there is always a hope to return back and hope is a very beautiful thing. Cheers !!!