Five years ago in 2017, I had registered for a trek with Sar Pass, but I could not go then due to multiple constraints. Ever since then I have always wanted to go on a trek. In an impromptu decision around 3-4 months back, I booked a winter trek to Kedarkantha Peak with Indiahikes. What followed then was a rigorous routine to maintain a fitness schedule to make myself fit for the trek. It wasn't easy as, I had been deep into the sedentary lifestyle over the last two years and getting back was harder than expected.
About the Trek :
Kedarkantha (not to be confused with the popular Temple Kedarnath) is a 6-day long trek in Govind Pashu Vihar National Park in Uttarakhand (6 when including the travel days from Dehradun to the base camp and back). Kedarkantha is easily one of the most popular treks in India — popular amongst seasoned trekkers and beginners alike during the winter season.
As the dates of the trek came close by, I was very anxious if I'd be able to do it. Majorly because, I had fallen sick that week and was physically low on energy. But still went for it!
Day 1 : Travel to base camp ( Gaichawan Gaun)
I reached Dehradun the day before, and we were arranged a pickup van from Dehradun to our basecamp (Gaichawan Gaun). We left early morning around 6:30 AM and had to travel around 10-11 hours to reach our base camp. Our trek group was 22 members in total. Also there were 5 (including me) from Tamilnadu as well!
The roads were very narrow , through the mountains. Some snaps on our way :
From the basecamp , The kedarkantha peak looked so far away! And this is the summit we will be climbing in another couple of days. It looked so far, I was still hopeless if I can make it till the summit! :D
Day 2 : Trek to Julota
We were all set for today's trek to Julota.
So far , in the fitness journey, I never used backpack to run, nor did I run in an uneven surface. Climbing uneven rocks with a loaded backpack was a different challenge altogether. First ten minutes in the trek, my lungs had already started to give up and I was panting for breath and energy. This was a real test to fitness and stamina levels. But the trek leader always said, : Go one step at a time, Go slowly but keep going. That was helpful to set the momentum and keep going! Slowly and steadily, we arrived at the lunch point for our lunch break. We were served Dal, Rice, Roti and Salads. One thing about IndiaHikes Treks are that, you are fed really well and according to your current body needs. Mornings are filled with calories rich food like idly, Upma etc, your noon and dinner meals are filled with nutrients required for your body.
Ever since the beginning of the trek, there was a tad bit disappointment in the group, as Kedarkantha had not witnessed snowfall yet and most of our journey did not have snow which is very surprising for a Winter Himalayan Trek. One wishlist which was common for most of the trekkers was to get the snow experience! As soon as we landed in our first campsite, we were in for a surprise. We had little drops of snow falling on us due to a cloud overcast that evening. It was not a full fledged snowfall, but we had our little snow moment!:)
Starry night are always the best
Something blissful about the mountains is the clear skies away from the hustle and bustle. Lying down in your campsite, Watching the stars, Trying to identify constellations is a humble reminder of the fact that we are so insignificant in this massive universe. Always a humbling experience to watch the stars.
Looking at the stars, always reminds me of the Carl Segan's quote :
Post an eventful day at first campsite, we went to sleep. Sleeping inside a sleeping bag was definitely not the most comfortable but kept you from freezing in the cold. At the night, temperatures go upto -10 °C!
Day 3 : Trek to Pukhrola
We were already informed that today would be a lighter day in comparison with the previous day's trek and we were all relaxed hearing that. To add a little bit of thrill to our journey, our trek leaders decided to take a break that day and wanted us to lead the trail. This is part of the DIY day which IndiaHikes promotes for trekkers to be more self reliant and start trekking on their own. :D
Our trek route was filled with beautiful oak trees and meadows which was a breeze to walk in. Also it was only in the third day, it began to sink that, it was my third day without any connectivity with the outer world! For someone whose work is always on-line, staying disconnected has always been difficult. And here, one week without any internet and mobile network was a detox in itself. Enjoying the nature, one trail and one step at a time was a journey not only externally but also internally. Choosing to trek is a sure suited way for struggle and challenge, you always have a choice, to watch Netflix at the comfort of your couch, to sleep comfortably in your bed, to use your home's restroom, but you still choose to trek. For the ones around you, the question is always, which fool would want to carry a loaded backpack , go and walk in the mountains with a bunch of strangers? But then, it's not about the trek, it's not about the peak, it's about the journey, every step is a lesson in itself. You learn so much about yourself and the world around you! And you also learn that your body adapts to the difficult environments sooner than you expected. The sleeping bags, The bio toilets or the extreme cold weather no longer seemed like a barrier in the pursuit.
And , in this pursuit, tomorrow is our D-Day where we would climb the Kedarkantha Summit. But yes - let's not go there now, because it's Christmas today. Our trek leaders surprised us by making a Christmas Cake followed by songs and games to wind down the night! Also IndiaHikes is known for surprising with good food. So who on earth would have wanted to treat trekkers with Pani Puri at around 10,000 FT? :) It was definitely a worthwhile experience to have Pani Puri for snacks!
Day 4 : On to the summit - Kedarkantha Peak!
We woke up at 3 AM and we started our ascent towards the summit at around 4 AM. We followed the slowest-trekker first algorithm for the climb. This was helpful in multiple ways, where it gives you enough time to slow down, and take the trek in your own pace. Also I recently read the book, GOAL by GoldRatt and was wondering if the slowest-trekker first algorithm was really efficient. Unlike the theory of constraints, we kept rotating the slowest trekker to the first of the group to make sure no one was left behind. The summit day can make people experience a myriad of emotions. It is very easy for a person to give up and quit the journey. I felt I couldn't do it and wanted to quit multiple times. And by making sure everyone went together, the trek leaders ensured that no one felt left behind or demotivated and everyone made it until the summit! Until around 6 AM there were very little light and we were only able to see one step at a time with our head lamps on. By the time, the sun had risen, we were able to see the summit ahead of us!
Getting there :
While we were at the last stretch before the summit, There was a myriad of emotions flowing within and a renowned sense of energies kept flowing from within. On one side, it was extremely windy and the temperature was below 0 degrees, on other side, your journey over the last 3-4 months of trek preparation was coming to a closure with this. Reaching the summit was the end-goal for the last few months, and that moment was finally so close and you end up feeling very emotional and get a sense of accomplishment. From being the fit-less person I knew to climbing the summit for a trek was a proud moment for me. We pushed our way through the last few meters in the summit to finally reach the summit on top. It was surreal! So far, we had only seen the Himalayan Range from one side and now you have the entire 360 degree view from the summit.
You can see the Chainsheel Pass, Rupin valley, and Har Ki Dun Valley from the summit. Mt Swargarohini also comes into view along with Mt Bandarpoonch and Mt Kalanag. We had visited the summit a few hours after the sunrise which also meant there was lesser crowd in the summit when we reached and we almost had the entire summit for us to spend time in. It was extremely windy and cold but the mountains calm you and take you to a whole different level. I would definitely come back for an experience like this.
I climbed on one of the rocks, and just sat there watching the beautiful Swargarohini range, and there was something magical about the summit. No amount of words can express the experience which I felt. As we stayed there, the weather got a bit cloudy and we were advised to start descending before it starts raining. Now here's the tricky part. So far in the trek we were only ascending and it took 3 days for me to be comfortable with it, and now we're already descending which is a whole lot different. For any first time trekker, descending if not done properly can make the trek a very difficult experience, which in my case was true. My shoes were tight and every time I took a step , my toe would hurt badly. But it's not only about the shoes, but even during descent it's important to not fight against the gravity. You end up creating a lot more stress to your legs and body when you do it. But after sometime, I got used to it. But sometimes, when you cannot walk, you can always do a snow slide to descend ;) We had the opportunity to do a small slide while descending.
Here's a video :
Day 5: Akhoti Thatch to Gaichawan Gaon
Today was the final day of our trek. We stayed at Akhoti Thatch Campsite last night. This area was filled with Walnut Trees and hence the name! I woke up with terrible cramps on both my legs and wasn't able to move at all. Thanks to kind co-trekkers in the trek , who were able to immediately assist with muscle relaxants and a few stretch exercises which helped relieve the pain. Without their help, I might have needed a Pony to take me to the basecamp. However, the last day was filled with reflection, deep thoughts and the nature of life itself. I started realizing how in the last 4 days, Our biases kept getting shattered, Our sense of possibilities got wider and how as humans, we adapt so well to our constraints. Our trek leader , Sanjay then organized a team activity to write postcards to ourselves / our loved ones about this experience. Post cards always carry a very personal touch to writing experiences, and I wrote a few reflections for myself! By evening, we reached the basecamp , and what seemed impossible few days back was finally completed.
The trek has taught me a few important lessons which I hope to continue following as we begin a new year as well. When I began this trek, I met a fellow traveller in train to Dehradun who was in his 15th trek and I told him, this was my first trek ever. He asked me to enjoy and be careful about the experience, as trekking is addictive. And here on my last day, could relate to it even more as we were planning our next trek as a group!