At 15,069 ft, Pangarchulla peak offers a challenging summit climb.
Not all trekkers who attempt the summit actually reach the top – only around 30% of the trekkers in a batch manage to get there.
And not all batches that set out on the trek even begin the summit climb.
Pangarchulla peak in the distance, with trekkers who have almost made it to the top
Given that it takes 12 hours on average to get to the summit and return, the weather has to be perfect for a summit attempt.
After all, you do not want to be caught in a thunderstorm or a blizzard on an exposed ridge.
Scroll down to view the photo story of this gruelling climb to the summit and back.
All the photographs you see here were clicked by Satyen Dasgupta in April 2017.
Trekkers following each other closely in the dark
Start from Gailgad campsite at 4.00 am to ensure that you cover a reasonable distance before the sun is up.
Once the snow starts to melt during the day, the rocks become slippery.
It also becomes harder to ascend when the sun is strong.
Make sure your headlamps are working and you carry plenty of water!
Take small steps so that you don’t tire out and turn around when you take a break.
The silhouettes of the big mountains surrounding the trail become clearer as the day draws near.
Silhoutte of Mt Dronagiri at dawn
Look out especially for the sunrise behind Mt Dronagiri (7,066 m).
You cross six ridges on the way to the summit.
The terrain alternates between snow and alpine grass as you move from wind blown areas where accumulated snow melts away quickly to shaded valleys filled with snow.
While trekking in snow takes more time, it is much safer than climbing the boulders that get exposed once the snow melts.
After the first couple of ridges, you can see the trail all the way to the summit.
Trekkers making their way through a snow filled valley
The boulders on the trail are huge.
If the snow covering is too thin, they become slippery.
If there is no snow at all, you are forced to climb up and down thousands of these all the way to the summit.
Exposed boulders on the trail
When you turn around, more mountains of the Garhwal Himalayas come into view.
In the picture below, the first snow capped mountain you see to the left is Mt Chaukhamba (7,138 m), the conical mountain a little to the right of this is Mt Neelkanth (6,596 m).
As you move your eyes further to the right, you spot the Hathi – Gauri mountains (6,727 m).
Peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas become visible at the back
While it is tempting to walk up straight to the summit up, it is better to thread your way around the boulders in a zig zag way.
This is easier than trying to cut a straight line to the summit.
Your body also acclimatises better as you gain altitude slowly.
Zig zag route to the summit
The final climb, once you cross all the ridges, is around 350 metres.
Depending on how much snow or ice there is, you might have to use a rope to get to the top.
This is because of the strong winds here.
Make sure you reach the summit by 11.00 am.
Trekkers on the final leg of the summit climb
The view from the summit is mind-blowing.
Your eyes feast on a series of summits that are part of mountaineering lore.
You get to capture the mighty Dronagiri (towards the left) and Mt Nanda Devi (the back, towards the right) in a single frame.
At 7,816 m, Nanda Devi is the tallest mountain that is completely in India.
View of Mt Dronagiri and Mt Nanda Devi from the summit
A little to the right of Mt Nanda Devi are the Bethartoli peaks.
They stand well above 6,000 m and are a part of the wall of mountains that encircle Nanda Devi.
View of the big mountains of Garhwal Himalayas from the summit
If you thought peeling your eyes off the view from the summit is going to be impossible, you have this reassuring view once you begin the descent.
Since the trail goes winding around the mountain on a successive ridges down the same trail that you ascended on, a big mountain is never out of sight for too long!
Beginning of the descent from Pangarchulla
The Pangarchulla summit climb is as rewarding as it is challenging.
Awaiting at the summit are 360 degree views of some of the tallest mountains in India.
Do you think you are ready, physically and mentally, to summit Pangarchulla?
Altitude at the summit: 15,069 ft
Start & end point:
Average time to summit and back:
Last turn around time:
Find trek details and upcoming batches here.
We run the Pangarchulla trek only in April and early May when the dangerous boulders on the trail are buried under several feet of snow.