4 lessons to learn from the current season of Chadar Trek

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Chadar got a new level of notoriety for being a difficult trek for everyone. This year January was warmer than usual. The river had a low density of Ice. Water seeping over the Ice was a common sight on many stretches. Trekkers faced a harrowing time negotiating a poorly formed Chadar.

News of few trekkers meeting with an accident came up on Social Media. A few batches were unable to reach Naerak Pullu. Dejected they turned back.

Historically, Chadar develops into its full glory from January on forth. For past couple of years, the trend has changed. Its formation is best seen from last week of January until end of February. The landslides in 2015 changed the dynamics of Chadar. Nobody can say for sure how Chadar will behave.

Contrary to the disappointment of trekkers, the locals are hopeful. “February is going to be good for trekkers and us”, says Tenzin Dorjee, a local Trek Organizer from Leh.

While we hope things to improve at Chadar, we list 4 lessons learned from the current season of Chadar Trek.

Lesson #1. Chadar Frozen river is an unpredictable, weather dependent trek

Chadar Trek is considered to be the world’s Wildest Trek. It also is the world most unpredictable Trek. What many people fail to grasp is the weather dictates the outcome of the trek.

The average day temperature from January till February is minus 10. This further drops to minus 20 to 30 at night time. The fast flowing Zanskar river freezes from the top creating an envelope of frozen ice. This is what we know as Chadar. At no point, the whole river freezes. That is a myth.

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Walking on Chadar, no cakewalk. Pic. Credit: Tenzin Dorjee

Ice forms, breaks, and changes color every few hours. At places, the ice does not form over the river. Trekkers got to climb over snowy embankments to descend to stable spots.

For Chadar to be trekkable, the minimum temperature has to be favorable. If this delicate balance gets disturbed, Chadar breaks up in many points. This occurrence needs monitoring. The Local Guides inspect if Chadar is safe for trekking. Sometimes the whole team halts for a day for Chadar to improve. In the worst case, they abort the trek. This is a tough decision. But is necessary.

Trekkers inquire about the best dates for trekking. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee the best dates for doing Chadar Trek. Trekkers come for Chadar trek with wrong expectations. Sometimes the weather in the valley is not cold enough for Chadar to be safe for trekking. There is nothing a Trek Organizer can do. Trekkers need to acknowledge this fact.

Lesson #2. Chadar Frozen river is not an easy trek

People have this preconception that Chadar Trek is all about walking on Frozen Ice. And going with that assumption it should be a cakewalk.

Chadar is not a flat walk over a frozen river. Depending upon the Chadar formation, climbing and descending the snow covered gullies is routine. At times the density of ice is weak. Walking over floating water on ice is a common sight.

Crawling on one’s belly to cross beneath a tight corner is a test of endurance. Walking on Slippery Ice which has no snow is tricky for beginners. Trekkers are seen taking a tumble. Sometimes a nasty one.

Trekking Tips: Wearing a Crampons can be useful. But can be avoided. Even a tiny teeth microspike (when used in huge numbers) causes a blemish on Chadar. The waterproof Gum-Boots are more than adequate for walking on Chadar.

The other issues seen on Chadar is of Altitude Sickness and Hypothermia. Trekkers arrive at Leh via a direct flight and report to Chilling the next day. A human body needs 48 hours to acclimatize at an altitude of 11,500 feet and above.

Trekking Tips: We recommend two days of stay in Leh for acclimatization.

Chadar is not a trek for someone new to trekking. A proper physical fitness preparation is essential. We recommend at least 15 days of cardio training.

Lesson #3. Choose your Trek Organizer carefully

This year we saw a lot of disgruntled trekkers at Chadar. There were stories of bad experiences of trekkers with the trek organizers they paid for the trek. Few of the complaints were to do with poor safety gear, guidance, negligence etc.

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A typical campsite, dated 25th Jan. 2016. Pic. Credit: Tenzin Dorjee

There is a huge list of Trekking Companies you can choose for Chadar Trek. There has been an influx of many startup Companies from outside Ladakh. Many Trek Organizers do not invest in the right safety gear, training of their field leaders etc. Unlike other treks, Chadar Trek has seen a dramatic cost cutting. The quoted price is tempting for any trekker. The Organizers compensate by lowering quality of service and gears provided. This compromises the safety of the trekkers.

When choosing a Trek Organizer, ask for the following things.

  • Inquire about the details of Trek Leaders and Support staff. Do they have prior experience of guiding and leading batches at Chadar? Do they hire local Guides?
  • Ask for the technical Field qualifications of the Trek Leader? Are they Mountain Course Qualified. Is there someone in the team qualified in Mountain Rescue and Evacuation procedures.
  • Ask for safety procedure and guidelines adhered by the Company. Is there someone qualified to perform Basic First aid and CPR.
  • Confirm the list of rescue gear and medicines provided. Do they keep O2 cylinder? Are they carrying prescription drugs in handling acute cases of HAPE and HACE?
  • What brand and material of Gears are they providing? Confirm the specifications of Tents, Sleeping bags and inners provided. Are they compliant to the weather condition? The Camping Gear used are not built for the extreme environment. Quechua Arpenaz/T3, Jaqana branded tents are most used. These tents are not built to shield from the extreme cold. The sleeping bags are also found not minus 10 compliant.

Trekking Tips: Carry your own inner-liner fleece for the sleeping bag. This will ensure hygiene and added warmth over the 2 Sleeping bags provided to you.

Lesson #4. Chadar Trek is not going to last long

You heard it right. The future of Chadar Trek is bleak. Looking at the condition of Chadar from past two years, we say it has a couple of more years before it will get shelved.

A motorable all-weather road will link the inaccessible Zanskar villages with Leh. Anyone then can access the valley in a hired Vehicle.

The local administrators have implemented regulations on Chadar Trek. But, this is not going to be of much help. Things will get crazier once the road opens bringing a huge number of tourists. Eventually, The Jeep Safari’s will take over Trekking.

Picture Credits: Tenzin Dorjee, Brokenmoon Treks & Tours (Permission obtained).

 

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15 thoughts on “4 lessons to learn from the current season of Chadar Trek

  1. It’s a sad state of affairs. Chadar Trek has now become like another feather in one’s cap and people plan it just for the sake of being able to show off as something they have done. There is no love for mountains, just this need to do something that seems to be impossible.
    And these companies are obviously not following standards and playing with lives of uninformed tourists (I will not call them trekkers, coz most of them are not)

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  2. Unless steps are taken asap to save this fragile ecology it’ll be another commercial disaster. unfortunately there are no authorities to check on mushrooming trek operators. Even sadder aspect is newbie trekkers have no knowledge on selection criteria for choosing trek operator. by default it’s either cost or word of mouth.

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    1. True that. I am more scared about the Couch potato Tourists who will flock in bulk once the road is open till Padum. Imagine people will have access to directly land to picturesque spots of Chadar. An in regulated circus crowd is going to mushroom. Just like we have seen at Rohtang Pass or khajiyar. The damage to Chadar will be catastrophic. More so the risks of people jumping on top of Chadar for a Selfie moment. I smell more accidents in the making. The Govt. inability in handling the issues related to private hire vehicles from outside Leh and case of Indiahikes at Chadar is known. This has created dangerous precedent of local tours and trekking operators of Leh taking dictating terms to tourists.At the end of the day, whoever win the battle, the loser be Chadar and the Zansakri traditions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well explained! And yes,in the name of trekking, we actually ruining the only transit route for locals in winter. Better trek organizers take extra measures in maintaining the sanctity of the place and not to be greedy by increasing the number of trekkers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very well said. Had a hands on experience of Chadar Trek in Jan mid. Lucky enough to reach Nerak and see the majestic waterfall. Had to, at many places, climb hills, walk in over 1 feet of water where the water went inside the gum boots while going. But while coming back, same places were frozen. the next 2 batches could not go ahead after Tibb Cave as Chadar did not form.
    Our company provided us micro spikes, wore them 2 times but avoided wearing later it as slipping, skidding, walking and running on ice is more fun than to break the ice and make crackling sound in such a peaceful enviornment.
    Due to the construction of road, already the distance has reduced fom 105km to 75km and looking at the progress of road, which is quiet close to Zanskar river, the formation of Chadar will unfortunately reduce and the trekking will be impossible after 4-5 years maximum. Even if formation doesn’t stop, with a motorable road nearby, the idea of trek, the peace, the adventure will not be present.
    I wish something can be done against the road construction as it will not only destroy the trek, but also it is the main source of revenue in Leh and locals during the off season time.

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    1. The question about the need for the road. Now that is a tough one. The local Zansakri people have been waiting for this road for decades. The walk we find glamorous is the only means of survival. It is a treacherous walk. Much longer to what most trekkers do. Imagine yourself doing a 2-week long walk in the brutal Ladakhi winter as routine part of your life.

      A new form of Tourism opportunities will start up once the road comes into operation. Jeep Safari’s, homestays at Padum and nearby Zansakri villages which till now have been cut off from rest of India.

      The only concern is going to be fragile environmental degradation of the valley. More tourists will sprawl into areas which are very sensitive to human pickings. Imagine people will be able to land to vantage points and climb down to Chadar for those Selfie shots moments. If they do not keep regulations of a number of tourists permitted to enter the valley, expect an ecological disaster of a proportion of what you see at Rohtang Pass.

      Indian Tourists are the most irresponsible one in the whole world. No Good can come with allowing bulk tourists enter such fragile eco-sensitive zones. Pray NGT puts in place regulations.

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  5. very well detailed.. n to the point. i still remember, when we used to choose a trek, we used to research n find out a remote trek, plan our arrangements, arrange local resources, do the trek, come back satisfied n as a different persons.. The trek was lived and moments still r so much of life..

    The sad thing is, now ppl trek, but they dont change. Sad that the Himalayas cud not inspire them.. all they want to is acheive a trek, but not live it. Though not all, but many.

    Somewhere, the spirit of trekking in its evolution in our country took a bad turn. I had perhaps suggested to more than 20 trekkers not to do this trek this year as I knew some organization were turning it into a fair ground with cheaper rates and offcourse having NO idea about wat trekking in Ladakh is all about. They just hear the noise, shout themselves, n sell the noises.. but more than irresponsible r the trekkers who buy the noise n want to create a pulse..

    In return, the Himalayas are the looser. But as you and other sensible one knows it very well – Himalayas can never b a loser.. it has shown n will show its fury.. time n again, until The Man understands..

    long comment, but that’s how emotional I got !!

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  6. We Have Completed Chadar Trek between 26th January to 2nd February 2017. It was an amazing experience. we are luckiest guys of these season since weather conditions were normal at that time also After we stated the trek, Leh government just banned chadar due to bad weather conditions but we had already started the trek before that.
    Treking Experience is awesome. Everyone Should go for this trek before its too late.
    I suggest you to start the trek around 26-28th January. But just go through weather reports before booking.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Could not agree more. Yes, once the motorable roads open, trekking will a backseat. People dont trek for love of mountains but to glorify their travel goals accomplishments on social media. How many of trekkers bring back or clean the litter? All of us have seen beer bottles and plastic waste along the treks. How many even think about them? Mountains dont inspire people anymore. Its very sad. Chadar will not last long, thanks to global warming which is again an outcome of human activities.

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  8. Hi,
    We are planning for chadar trek from 20 Jan 18. I have read you review, kindly tell me following
    1) Which travel agent did you book the trek
    2) Were they actual present in Leh or other local agent.
    3) If any local agent could you tell the agency name.

    Thanks in Advance

    Sukesh

    Like

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