This was my first ever snow trek. It had also been long since I went on a trek before. I had carefully opted for a batch starting in March as this time was supposed to be a safe choice in terms of weather. Just 3 days before the trek started, it started raining in the region and it didn’t stop until the very last day. As we set off on our trail, it started raining again.
Himalayas are famous for being unpredictable in nature, and so we were prepared for it, but no one had expected this amount of downpour. This could potentially fail our summit attempt. Would we make it?
This is the second part of the story of my travel to Kedarkantha Peak. If you haven’t already, read my previous post where I wrote about my journey from Dehradun to Sankri.
I stayed in a village near Chakrata for two nights and later spent a night at Mori. From here, I found a government bus going in my direction to Sankri, I hopped on to it and reached Sankri after a picturesque uphill drive through the mountains. The way I was dressed, my fellow passengers could easily tell that I was an outsider. They were happy to help me spot some views on the way. Sankri is an extremely beautiful village and also the roadhead / starting point for some famous treks in the region.
Other trekmates who had started from Dehradun earlier in the day also reached within one hour after my arrival. Indiahikes had arranged our stay in Wild Orchid Hotel here. The rooms and balcony had a breathtaking view of the valley formed by Supin river below.
This was the first time I was trekking with Indiahikes and I liked their approach to it. They don’t consider themselves as a commercial trekking company, rather a community that is there to document treks in India. These group treks are just a way of sustaining the company to fulfil the original mission.
This was also the first time after school days that I was travelling with such a big group. There were 19 members in our group, excluding the support staff, trek leader and guides. I was a little apprehensive about the presence of so many people initially, but I gradually started liking this aspect of the trek. The friendships formed on the trek would be cherished for life. It was one journey and everyone was a part of it. This shared responsibility made us one unit. We walked, ate, laughed and jumped together.
Next day, we started early for our first destination, Juda Ka Talab (जुड़ा का तालाब), on a gradual ascent that weaved through the forest. We witnessed some rain when we started. After walking for about 2 hours we started noticing scattered snow here and there. Just when we were about to reach our camping ground, someone shouted, “It’s a snowfall!”. Within moments I could feel also feel the snowflakes flying in the thin air. It could be a normal thing for the locals there, but for us, coming from places like Delhi and Bangalore it was a very special feeling. We took about 5 hours to reach our destination, which by then was completely covered in snow.
We made friends with some mountains dogs at Sankri, but little did we know that this friendship would be carried all the way to the peak. They followed us on the trek and at some places even lead us in the right direction. They were vigilant guards for our tent area at night.
The nights were already freezing cold and still we were supposed to gain more altitude the next day. This meant a greater drop in the temperature. Our trek leaders said that the temperature was in the range of -1 to -3 degree celsius, but no one would believe them.
Next day, I woke up before sunrise. The moon had set by then and the number of stars had multiplied with such a huge number that it almost looked unreal. With a clear sky this day, we set off from our camping area around 9am for our next destination, Kedarkantha Base.
The stretch from Juda Ka Taal to Kedarkantha Base felt rather easy. It was approximately 3 km hike which we completed in about 2 hours. It was also the first time we got to see Kedarkantha Peak. The people coming from Purola had seen it from the other side a couple of days back, but it was the first time for me. Mt. Swargarohini also kept playing hide and seek with us throughout the duration of the trail. After crossing a beautiful forest laden with pine trees, we reached our camping ground.
On one side we could see Kedarkantha top, on the other side, it opened to a huge valley. It was only a few minutes since we had reached there, suddenly the weather started taking a turn. The sky was full of dark clouds which appeared to have come from nowhere.
People started speculating about our summit attempt. If this weather persisted till the next day, it would result in cancellation of our summit climb. We were the first group in this season. While we had luxury of pitching tents on virgin slopes with no footmarks at all, this also came with a difficulty — we would need to open the route as well. The trail had vanished after all the snowfall this season. So, we couldn’t take the risk of climbing the peak if weather remained that way.
Within minutes, a heavy snowfall started. This was the first time I was witnessing a snowfall this dense. We still trusted our luck and enjoyed this first ever downpour of snow.
As our luck had it, the clouds started disappearing in a similar fashion as they had appeared in. Post sun-set, we got to see a clear sky again. This also meant that there were high chances that we would be able to make our summit attempt.
In our evening stand-up with Gurdip, our trek leader, it was decided that we would start at 4:30am from our campsite next morning. The tea would be served at 3am and 4am would be the breakfast time. We were taking a safe bet. At this altitude in the mountains, the weather usually turns violent post afternoon, which was the time by when we wanted to get back.
The night saw little sleep as the temperature had dipped way below zero. Everybody woke up as per the plan and we set off for our destination at 4:40 am while the trail was lit by the moon and our headlamps.
We took about 4–5 hours and then there was the moment. We had reached the summit. It was a strange feeling. My head was void of all kinds of thoughts. For the last few hours, in fact a few days actually, I had been thinking about this very moment. Now that I was there, I had no feelings to express. Zero. Blank. I was looking around, at the blue colored sky, the valley below, the mountains in front, which were taller than us but looked smaller for some reason, my fellow trekkers, some of whom were jumping in with joy.
Time had stopped for me and I was observing the world moving around. I could listen to the songs that the wind was singing to me. I could see the colors that the sun rays were painting on the high peaks in front. I had never felt such a strong spiritual force before.
We stayed at the top for about half an hour and then started descending back. The initial 500m was the most interesting part where we slid down from the top. The trick was to use poncho as the sliding sheet and to look up as a bird, a gentle push and a roller coaster ride down the track.
We were supposed to camp at the site at Hargaon, but we decided to stay at the same place for one more night. The weather gods were very happy with us this day. We had a bright and warm Sun shining above whole of the day. This was especially helpful since most of us were fully drenched in snow and our clothes, shoes needed some warmth to dry up soon.
Dinner was the time that we would fondly wait for. All of the trekmates sat together in the dining tent for hours discussing anything possible under the Sun. We sang songs, traded our stories, cracked PJs and learned new games.
While everybody was still in the dining tent, I decided to shoot the night sky during this time. Although, the day was warm, the nights still brought bone chilling cold.
Strangely enough, this was the first night when I had a very sound sleep. All the previous nights on the snowbed, I was shivering with cold, despite wearing the army of woolens I had been carrying along. I entered my sleeping bag and slept like a baby. Probably the feeling of reaching the summit played a role here.
After these four beautiful days in the wild, it was time for us to say bye to the Jungle. We started descending back for Sankri early in the morning, the distance was easily covered in about 4 hours.
We reached back Sankri by afternoon where we stayed at the same hotel. The comfort of a bed after 4 days in the wild was quite delightful. I hopped on to a bus originating from Sankri the next morning at 5:30am. Taking some warmth from a tea stop, I bid farewell to Kedarkantha, to return back someday again.
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Also published on Medium.