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Unexpected: 4 Problems For Himalayan Trekkers
Category Thursday Trek Talk Expert Opinion
By Swathi Chatrapathy
If you have a Himalayan trek coming up, 95% of the time, all is likely to go well. You will advance from one camp to the next, reaching the summit and back. You’ll have the best week of your life.
Yet, there is a 5% chance that your trek may topple over. It may rain incessantly, there may be snow, water sources may freeze, and sections of the trail may be blocked. You may not make it to the summit. You may not even make it to the second camp.
The mountains throw things at you when you least expect them. If you are not prepared, they can ruin how you look at trekking.
Yet, if you’re prepared for them, you’ll take these surprises in your stride. You’ll learn to be stoic — to deal with good and bad without much emotional upheaval. Over time, it will change your outlook on trekking and your life's ups and downs.
Just a small bit of preparation can go a long way toward teaching you some valuable life lessons.
So what are these unexpected events to be prepared for, and how do we prepare for them? Take a look.
1. Off-seasonal rain and snow (or sunshine)
Often, trekkers ask us if they must pack rain gear for a summer trek.
The answer is yes. Always a yes. It's never a Himalayan trek without a spell of rain.
This is one of the "unexpected" things you must always expect in the mountains. There is a science behind it too. The forests at the base of the mountains transpire during the day (where leaves emit excessive water in the plant as vapour). This water vapour floats up in the valley and hits the mountain tops at lower atmospheric temperatures. It immediately condenses and comes down as rain. This is something you’ll witness in almost any season.
Most of the time, this phenomenon usually comes and goes as mild afternoon rain. It doesn’t hamper your trek. But there are times when the precipitation is extremely high (especially when other weather phenomena like La Nina get into the mix.)
The year 2023 is a typical example of this. We are in the middle of May when the mountains must be bright with summery blue skies and green grass. But this is the current situation on the Rupin Pass trek, at around 13,000 ft.
The Lower Waterfall section in the second week of May 2023, Rupin Pass. Picture by Uttam Ji
To give you more context, this was the exact same location last year, around mid-May.
The Lower Waterfall in mid-May 2022. Picture by Diptarka Gupta
On the flip side, we have had winters where the mountains were supposed to be snowed in but have been bare with no snow. We have also had monsoons where trekkers have hardly seen any rain.
To conclude, off-seasonal weather is something you must always expect while trekking.
How do I prepare for off-seasonal weather while trekking?
- Always carry rainwear, no matter the season. It must be a permanent fixture in your trekking backpack.
- Carry a minimum of 3 warm layers in summer, 4 in monsoon and post-monsoon, and 5 in winter. If these are still not enough, layer up with your t-shirts.
- Stay up to date with current weather conditions before your trek. Accuweather and the IMD website are good sources of information.
2. Blocked mountain roads leading to the base camp
Chaainsheel Pass in May 2023. Picture by Lay Naik
It’s a boon and a bane that our trekking trails are extremely remote. The long separation from city life gives us that wonderful feeling of leaving the world behind.
On the other hand, it’s the same long drive that often causes issues for trekkers. We have noticed that road-related issues hamper trekkers more than the trekking route itself.
What are these road-related issues?
Landslides blocking roads:
We see this issue mostly during monsoons, especially while driving on the roads of Uttarakhand. (We don’t see as much in Himachal and Kashmir because those are either highways or more well-established roads.) These landslides are usually cleared off within a few hours, but they could sometimes take all day, hampering your journey. Several times, we have had trekkers pause their journey and arrange accommodation mid-way in such cases.
Snow blocking roads:
This doesn’t happen often, but a big snowfall could hamper your road journey. This is especially true if:
- Your base camp is higher than the usual 7,000 ft. The road is blocked because of a recent snowfall.
- Your base camp requires you to cross mountain passes to reach it. Eg. You need to cross Chaainsheel Pass (~11,800 ft) to reach Jiskun, the basecamp of Rupin Pass
When this happens, you may have to wait for the bad weather to pass, or you may have to change your trek altogether if there is no alternative route to the base camp.
How to prepare for blocked roads to the base camp:
- Always have a buffer day in your travel plan.
- Book flexible air tickets (they come at an added cost, but are worth every extra money)
- Carry plenty of water and snacks like fruits for your journey. Waiting for roads to get fixed makes people hungry.
- Keep your backpack in your own vehicle. If the road-fixing drags well beyond 4 p.m., you’ll want warm layers.
3. Changes in the campsite
You may not expect that we often shift campsites from the original itinerary. Sometimes we are compelled to do this for external reasons, such as when drinking water sources have dried up / frozen, or the presence of too much snow at a camp hampers our stay.
Yet, sometimes, we change campsites voluntarily for a better experience — if a campsite is too crowded or if we find a better location (read here to find out what makes a “great campsite” at Indiahikes), we shift camps.
To give you some real-life examples, in 2022, we had to change several of our campsites on the Miyar Valley trek. Why? The water sources at the original campsites had completely dried out.
Another example: in 2022, we shifted our Tarsar campsite a few hundred metres away. The reason for this was unfortunate. Large, disorderly crowds had taken over the originally selected campsite, ruining the outdoor camping experience.
How to prepare for changes in trekking routes/campsites:
- Work on your fitness before the trek. Changes in campsites may mean covering longer distances than originally planned.
- Time your trek in such a way that you reach the next camp by lunch. If you find your camp unsuitable, you will still be left with time to make alternate arrangements.
4. Changes in the trekking route
Here’s a final surprise that you may not expect on Himalayan treks: a change in your trekking route. Sometimes we are compelled to do this because sections of the trail are inaccessible. A part of the trail may be blocked off with too much snow / verglas / slippery trails.
But sometimes, we do this voluntarily to avoid crowds, make it more convenient for trekkers, and, most often, enhance their experience. We have done this at Ali Bedni Bugyal, Kedarkantha, Dayara Bugyal, and many more treks.
You’ll be surprised at how often we add new routes to improve a trekker’s experience. (Read about some surprising route-change stories here.)
There are other reasons, when whole national parks or highways to certain basecamps could get shut down, making treks inaccessible. Many of these sprout up very unexpectedly and are completely out of our control.
How to prepare for a change in trekking route:
- Always have a buffer day in your travel plan to iron out any extra trekking/travel days
- Trust Indiahikes with the changes in campsites/routes. At Indiahikes, we always have a contingency plan for such cases. Any time we have to shift trekkers because of such issues, we find alternate routes without causing inconvenience to trekkers. At the same time, we try to find something that will match up to what trekkers have signed up for.
These are some of the unforeseen problems that may affect your trek. But as we said at the beginning, 95% of the time, chances are that you’ll never face any of these issues.
Yet, for that 5%, which could affect anyone in any season or location, prepare well for it. We have had children as young as 7–10 years old brave hailstorms in the summer. We’ve had trekkers who had been expecting snow return to see bare landscapes. Whatever it is, we hope this post helps you take it in stride.
Finally, there’s always this cherry on top: if you’re disappointed at the end of the trek, you always have the Indiahikes Repeat Trek Philosophy to help you. You can return and complete your trek with us at another time of the year. You don’t have to pay us for it.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you faced such unexpected situations on your trek? Share your experience in the comments below.
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