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.
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.
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.