1. What is the best time to attempt a winter Kedarkantha Trek and what are the things to keep in mind?

Considering the fact most people want to see snow on their first winter Himalayan trek, the end of December would be an ideal and safe time to go for it. I say safe because later in peak winters, drastic weather conditions might not permit you to scale till the summit. It’s not impossible but depends on everyday weather. We have a saying here in the mountains that ‘you go as far as the mountain lets you’ and I have experienced it to be inexplicably true. I have personally led 11 batches in the winter season of 2019-20 (mid-November to February first week), and we were able to reach the summit in nine of the batches. Of course, it’s not all about the summit when you embark upon a trek, it’s so much more. The sheer peace and tranquility that the mountains offer is a priceless reward in itself. 

Here are some of the things that you need to keep in mind before going for the trek:

  1. Physical Fitness - I understand that the very fact that you were finally able to book the trek in spite of uncertain leaves and friends backing out at the eleventh hour is an achievement in itself. But that does not mean your work is done. Even though we rate the trek as easy-moderate, you require a decent level of physical fitness to be able to enjoy the trek. I’ll talk more about it a little later.

  1. Be Prepared Mentally -  I would say this is even more important than the former, especially because it is the winter season. Most of us are not accustomed to that kind of freezing cold temperatures in our regular lives. Being mentally prepared gives you an edge over anything that is to come before you. It’s always mind over body. 

  1. Break in your shoes - This might not seem to be a big one, but will make a huge difference on the trek. It is suggested that you start wearing your trekking shoes at least a month before going to the mountains. This will ensure that you are comfortable in the shoes (they tend to be a little heavier than usual) and the shoes can take the shape of your feet. If you skip this part, there are high chances of you getting blisters on the trek. I have seen a lot of trekkers get blisters on their very first day which can compromise the experience to come. 

  1. What is layering and how to layer for a Kedarkantha Trek?

Layering is simply wearing multiple layers of clothing instead of one big layer. For example, we have all studied in our school time, that two thin blankets are more effective than one thick one. The reason for this is that heat is trapped between the multiple layers.

Similarly, when you use layered clothing in the mountains, your body warmth is trapped and thus it is more effective. During the day when the sun is out, you might not need a lot of layers. Sometimes one shirt would also suffice. But, if it’s cloudy or snowing, then you will need multiple layers. Starting from the innermost one, they comprise a shirt (full-sleeves would be preferable), a fleece jacket, a down/padded jacket, and finally a rain jacket or a windcheater. While walking in any weather, usually one bottom layer (good quality trek pants) will be enough. If it rains/snows, you could wear a poncho or rain pants.

During the night, when you sleep in your tents, it can get pretty cold. Though you will have a very warm and thick sleeping bag, proper layering during the night will ensure a good and uninterrupted sleep. In addition to all the layers mentioned above, you could also wear your thermals as the innermost layer. Thermals are only effective when they are in direct contact with the skin. And thermals are not to be worn when you are walking as it could get very warm and irritable, because as it is your body is giving off a lot of heat in the form of sweat while trekking.

Apart from this, you should also carry good gloves and socks. At night, you can wear woollen socks too. Keeping your extremities warm and cozy is the best possible care in the winters. Also, cover your head at all times as most of the body heat escapes through our head. You could use a sun-cap in the day and a woollen cap in the night.

On a side note, do not forget your sunglasses as they will shield your eyes from the direct sunlight reflected by the snow. Your sunglasses should be UV rays protected. This is especially important in the winters as there is a lot of snow everywhere. Avoiding this might lead to snow blindness, if exposed for a longer duration of time.

  1. Do I need gaiters and spikes for Kedarkantha Trek?

First, let me just explain to you what gaiters and spikes really are. So, a pair of gaiters is a waterproof gear that goes around your shins and ankle and latches to the shoes. It prevents the snow from entering your shoes from the ankle and thus keeping your foot dry. On the other hand, spikes are pointed metal projections that you can wear on the sole of your shoes. They help you get better grip if the surface is too slippery (hard snow or ice).
To answer the question if you need gaiters and spikes for a winter Kedarkantha trek depends totally on the weather on that particular day. Since we can’t always predict the weather, it would be better if you carry it with you, just in case.

Gaiters are a blessing when you have to walk in fresh snow. That soft snow could easily get inside your shoes and completely wet your socks and feet, especially if you are the one who is breaking the trail. Gaiters could prove to be useful when you are descending from the summit. This is because in winters there is a lot of snow, and it starts to melt once the sun is out. Also, the descent from the summit involves a lot of fun and long snow-slides wherein the gaiters would be quite helpful. Trust me, the slides are exhilarating and you must not miss them. I once had a trekker who had partial vertigo and he simply refused to slide. He would rather choose the long descent. I somehow convinced him to just give it a try once and then there was no stopping. It was an amazing experience for him.

Like I said, the spikes give you a lot of advantage when the surface you’re walking on is slippery (hard snow or ice), especially when you are descending. Personally speaking, they have helped me many times on the slopes. It just gets easier, and the risk of slipping and falling is almost eliminated. Do keep in mind not to use spikes in a rocky trail as that will damage them.

In my experience in the winters, it’s preferable to have gaiters and spikes handy. You never know when you might need them.

  1. How safe is it to plan a solo winter kedarkantha trek?

It’s quite safe to plan a solo winter Kedarkantha trek, but I would have to say it highly depends on the level of your preparedness. You should have all the right gear that you may or may not need during the trek. You should be prepared for any kind of adversity that could happen.

You’ll need to start by acquiring a forest permit for yourself to camp in the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary. You’ll come across a check post while travelling to Sankri, the base village of Kedarkantha. You can easily get a forest permit by giving the relevant government authorised ID.

An easier option would be to choose the popular trail to Kedarkantha which goes from Sankri - Juda Ka Tabaab - KK Basecamp - Summit - Hargaon - Sankri. This is the conventional trail and it would be easier because you’ll find a lot of groups taking the same route, and you won’t lose your way. Also, food won’t really be an issue as there are a lot of dhabas on this trail. On the downside, winter is the busiest season for Kedarkantha and the crowds on the trail can sometimes be overwhelming. You would have come this far to the mountains for some peace and quiet, but that could get difficult.

The more adventurous and exciting way would be to take the not-so-popular trail that starts from a village called Kothgaon which is a mere 4 kms from Sankri. If you follow this route, you’ll definitely get your much needed calm and seclusion. We at Indiahikes take this route for the very same reasons. You can get a GPX file (navigation) for the same from our website.

A rather important factor while trekking in the mountains is the availability of water. More so when you are doing it on your own. You will find small streams on your way from which you can fill your bottles. In the peak winter season this situation can pose a challenge as the streams might freeze due to the temperatures. This is just something to keep in mind. This is being prepared for the worst. On the other hand, if you choose the popular trail, I don’t think getting water would be that difficult due to the presence of dhabas. Don’t shy away from asking for help during the trek. Mountain people are the best kind of people I have met, they are very generous and helpful. If at any point in time you need help, just ask for it. It’s very likely that they would do so even without you asking them.

In all probability, it can snow anytime in the winters. It usually snows during the night because of the low temperatures. On such days, it’s not surprising to wake up and see that the entire trail is covered in fresh white snow. Or to be more precise, the trail just vanishes overnight after heavy snowfall. Then it would come upon you to break the trail. I have had to do it a couple of times this winter and believe me when I say that it is tiring. It quite literally takes double the effort as well as time.

You should take your decisions based on the weather and the situation. The mountain is always going to be there, what’s more important is your safety and well-being.

  1. What is the fitness required for Winter Kedarkantha Trek?

Like I said earlier, even though we categorise Kedarkantha as an easy-moderate trek, a decent level of fitness is required. I say this because if you struggle the entire trek, you won’t be able to enjoy the journey. You don’t just have to finish the trek or reach till the summit, it’s the experience that comes with it that matters.

Also, the difficulty of a trek increases a little bit in the winter months. This is true for any other trek out there. High levels of snow can sometimes pose as a challenge. That is why it is imperative that you prepare well before going to the mountains.

You could start running, at least a month before the trek. If you are able to cover a distance of 5 km under 35 minutes, lack of stamina will definitely not be a problem on the slopes. You can start small and then work your way up.

I understand that not everyone likes to run. For those of us who don’t, you could do any other kind of exercise that helps you build your stamina as well as strength. You can traverse the stairs of your apartment a couple of times. Different kinds of squats are something that’ll help you build your leg muscles. This will prove to be very beneficial on the trek, as it wouldn’t be a new chore for your muscles.

Personally, I feel that playing a sport can turn out to be the best kind of exercise. Before I moved to the mountains, I used to play badminton every single day and I gave the game a lot of credit for whatever fitness I have today. If you don’t like running or working out, this is your best option. Any kind of sport will do as long as it keeps you on the go.

After all this, I think you are more than ready for Kedarkantha this winter. Hope to see you on the slopes.
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