Chadar Trek – Preparation & Precaution
The Chadar Trek or the Zanskar Gorge is a winter trail in the Zanskar region of Ladakh. “Chadar” refers to the sheet of ice that form over Zanskar River as it transform itself from a rapid flowing river into a white blanket of ice during winter. Traditionally was the only means of travel in the area during the harsh winter months; the trail has become popular with adventure tourists. The trail connects village in Zanskar Valley with Tilad Do which is connected by road from Leh. It is the most sought adventure activity in the region. Walking miles on the frozen river in harsh conditions with basic facility is a test of your endurance. The most preferred time to cross the ice would be in February. During that time, the ice tends to be at its most stable state. The frozen river trek begins from the small village of Chilling from where the Zanskar River begins to freeze. It is considered as one of the challenging as well as tricky treks in the world.
Quick Facts about conditions
Temperature: -5 to -10 degrees (during the day) and -25 to -35 degrees (during the night)
Trekking Distance: 75 KM
Altitude: 10,390 to 11,400 ft
Difficulty Level: Difficult due to extremely harsh conditions
How to prepare
1) Prepare your mind first: This is a difficult trek that comes with a lot of extremities that involves extreme weather conditions and physical requirement. Train your mind to expect and accept the sub-zero level. Do bear in mind that there is life which exists there as well; for centuries Chadar is used as the only way to commute to Leh during winters. Your mental strength will signal your body to withstand the cold climb.
2) Keep yourself Warm: Next is to keep oneself warm as the temperature falls severely on this trek. Use multiple layers for the Torso that includes a jacket and a wind sheeter which is waterproof and has a fleece lining. Avoid heavy woollen or jackets. For the bottom, a base layer, thermal underpants and waterproof pants with a fleece lining, should suffice. Also carry synthetic track pants, full sleeves tees, thick jacket, fleece jacket, balaclava, & muffler.
3) Keep a woollen cap and gloves (a must). Essentially you need to sleep well during the night to keep you fresh for the next day of trek for that you should be able to keep yourself warm. Carry synthetic gloves or surgical gloves as well as they are better insulators. Keep an insulating water bottle to keep your sleeping bag warm during the night.
4) Footwear: The best option for chadar trek is Gumboots. At occasions, trekking on the Chadar involves wading through knee-deep cold water. Though hiking shoes are highly recommended, gumboots help keep your shoes and feet secure from the icy cold water. It is practically impossible to dry anything at Chadar, so gumboots are a compulsory and a crucial addition to the footwear.
5) Observe and keep moving: The locals can give you a firsthand training of how to cross the lake on your foot. On a closer observation, you would notice that they walk fast and take Penguin like strides on the ice. As you watch them, you will learn their ways of manoeuvring around on the ice blanket and learn when it is wiser to wait than to carry on or the reverse.
6) Keep your electronics warm: Extreme cold climate can drain the battery and your electronics item will be dead before even you can realise. Hence keep them warm by keeping them safe by tucking them into your pockets closer to your body it will keep them warm and long-lasting.
7) Protect your fingers and toes: In sub-zero temperatures, fingers and toes are the most exposed and can be frozen resulting in bad pain when camping. Carry waterproof woollen socks and gloves. An extra pair of socks would help as they gather moisture while wearing gumboots.
8) Warming pads: Warming pads are very helpful for those who feel cold sooner than others. These are exothermic pads to be slipped in your gloves and socks. They release heat and keep you warm for up to 10 hours.
9) Other important Packing: Goggles, sunscreen lotion, cold cream, cap, light towel, toiletries, & personal medicine. Advance equipments include backpack (55 – 65 L), trekking pole, LED torch with extra batteries, head lamps, camera, memory-cards, batteries, power bank, etc.
Across the Ice
It is always recommended to be aware of the ice conditions at all times. There are several factors to consider ensuring a safe journey. Most of these factors involve the conditions of the ice and the footing choices of the trekker. The precautions include:
The trekker must be aware of the ice sheet conditions.
Observe discipline and follow the instructions of guide. Respect the locals and their advice.
Cracks in the ice should be avoided.
Finding places with a coating of snow is the best place to walk normally.
Slippery sections should be walked on with utmost care.
Cracks may suddenly appear under one’s feet and it is required to move towards more solid footing immediately.
The ice is not a trekker’s friend and one should always respect it and be aware of the conditions at all times especially while choosing the camping spot.
Few more Do’s of Chadar Trek
– Needless to say that one should inform his/her family before coming for this trek, so in case of any emergency, they can come for help.
– As there won’t be any pharmacies on the trek, please do carry required medications and a first aid kit, in case of any bruises or cuts.
– The area of this trek has hardly any shop to stop for food or drinks; hence it is advisable to carry water and energy giving food like energy bars and other eateries to be had at regular intervals.
Dont’s of Chadar Trek
– It is the responsibility of every trekker to maintain the serenity of the surroundings. Thus, one should not litter anywhere and spoil the magnificence.
– When meeting monks or other locals on the way, pinpointing is not advisable as they make take offense.
– Respect the serenity of the shrines and thus one should never disturb the monks or prayers in the monasteries on the route.
– Trekking in the Frozen River is certainly a difficult task and thus, one should not try to be over-smart. Following the tips and guidelines is a must to carry out this trek safely.
Click here for my experience.