Goechala is one of our more difficult treks. On a difficulty scale, we rate it as a moderate-difficult trek of level three, which means it is the more difficult of the moderate-difficult trek. This makes it tougher than the Rupin Pass and the Buran Ghati treks, and there are many reasons for it.
How do terrain and altitude gain affect you?
One of the first challenges in this trek is the altitude gain, coupled with steep ascents. Now, this is one of the most demanding of challenges on the trek because there are lots of things that can go wrong.
The trek starts at Yuksom, which is at an altitude of 5800 feet. You start by climbing up from Sachen to Tshoka, and you will be reaching Dzongri within three days of the trek. The altitude of Dzongri is at 13,000 feet, which means that you are climbing up around 7,000 feet over three days, and that is not easy in any way.
What is really challenging is the climb from Tshoka to Zary as you are climbing almost 3,500 feet within a single day, which is an extremely steep and continuous ascent.
So usually in these first three days of treks, you will know whether you are fit for the trek or not because you are climbing so fast and there is an altitude-induced fatigue in you.
What happens if you are hit by AMS?
Along with these steep climbs, there is a very high chance of getting acute mountain sickness on this trek.
In fact, Goechalla is notorious for AMS cases and even HAPE and HACE cases. We have personally seen these cases on the trek. What makes it very difficult to handle in such cases is that exiting the trek proves to be very difficult. Once you are three days into the trek, evacuation takes almost three days again to get you out of the tech all the way to Yuksom.
So if you have AMS, this is something you must be extremely watchful about because Tshoka and Dzongri are the last cutoff points. You must take a call over there about whether you must proceed further or go back. If you notice any symptoms of AMS, even at Tshoka, you should ideally turn around because from there onwards, it's only climbing higher.
Long days, high altitudes
During most treks, you climb to 13,000 feet, stay there for two or three days and then make the push to 15,000 feet and come back. However, in Goechala, you are hovering at this altitude of around 13,000 feet for five days, which is something you don't do on any other treks.
This is one of main reasons why it is so dangerous, and a very notorious trek for AMS.
The actual climb to viewpoint one is a daunting task - it is a very long day where you are trekking for almost 14 or 15 hours.
You usually start at very early hours like 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM, and because it is a continuous ascent, this is a day that will really test your endurance, especially because you are climbing for such long hours at such high altitudes.
What role does the weather play?
Another thing that makes this trek challenging could be the weather, especially if you are going in the summer in April and May. Usually, it rains quite a bit towards the second half of the day and it could also snow at the higher reaches. This light snow lasts only for two or three days. However, if you are trekking and there is snowfall, it is something that could make the terrain tricky to tackle.
A combination of factors
We feel that what really tests you is the altitude. However, along with altitude, the steep ascent is also a factor to consider, because even two kilometers can seem like five kilometers when you are trekking at such altitudes.
And apart from this, the long days, especially towards the second half of the trek, do take a toll on the trekker. During the last two days of the trek, when you are returning, you are climbing almost 13 or 14 kilometers on those days.
Goechala is a rewarding trek. Here you see Mt. Pandim towering over the trekkers. But a combination of long days, steep ascents and high altitude raise the difficulty of the Goechala trek. This is why it is important to prepare well for the Goechala trek. Photo by Hassan Kumar
How can you prepare for this?
These are the concerns you need to really prepare for. Of course, do not ignore AMS. What you can do to prepare is to firstly get fit for the trek. One would need at least two months of thorough fitness preparation to get fit for this trek.
Why running works
We recommend running because it's one of the most simple things to do, and it works on the same muscles that you use while trekking, namely the glutes, the calves, and the hamstrings. This builds your endurance at the same time.
We advise you that your target is to be able to run five kilometers in around 30. This target makes sure you can do this trek comfortably, but be sure to consistently hit this target multiple times before the trek. We would also recommend running 10 kilometers a couple of times, and seeing how long you take to run the distance. Ideally you should be able to do it in 60 minutes or so.
More than anything, it will show you where you stand in terms of fitness and whether you can do the Goechala trek or not. It'll also give your confidence a boost.
Doing your homework
If you are going to attempt the trek, one of the things you must do to prepare mentally is to study about AMS, learn about what symptoms to watch out for, and learn about how to treat it in case you get any symptoms.
Learning about your LSDs. (Life Saving Drugs) like Diamox, Nifedipine, and Dexamethasone, and more importantly, learning how to prevent AMS will do you good because you will ideally need to be on a preventive course of Diamox if you're going to Goechala. So, be very careful about AMS because that is what is the most challenging part of this trek.
If you have any questions, please do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have done the trek we would love to learn about how difficult it was for you and what you found challenging.