Pin Parvati Pass is an old route, opened by British in 1884 to gain access to the remote Spiti Valley. The Himachal Pradesh Government opened this route for trekkers in 1993- and since then, trekkers followed the traditional route to Spiti valley. At Indiahikes, we do this trek from Spiti region instead of the traditional Parvati region. I’ll tell you why.
The beginning of the trek at Mudh. Picture by Sandeep
Trekkers don’t realise the benefits of starting the Pin Parvati pass trek from the Spiti side.
There are 3 benefits actually. I’ll lay them out here.
Pin Parvati is a difficult trek. At over 100 km it is also gruelling. When you start the trek from the Spiti side it makes the trek easier. This matters a lot.
Climbing from Spiti translates into a longer decent on the Parvati side. Which means for a good part of the trek you are descending. On Pin Parvati anything that makes the trek easier matters. There are sections that need careful navigation: glacier crossings, snow fields, crevasses, scree slopes and overhangs. You need to keep your eyes peeled all the time. For this you need legs that are less tired. A misstep can land you in serious trouble.
Tricky sections on the way to Pin basecamp, Picture by Sandeep
How is the descent easier? It is simple calculation actually. From the Parvati side the trek starts at 7,200 feet, climbs for over 8 tough days until you get to the top of the Pin Parvati pass at 17,700 feet. It is a 10,000 feet altitude gain. Contrast this with the Spiti side. The trek begins at 12,200 feet. The altitude difference to the top of the pass is 5,500 feet — almost half the other side.
Crossing over to the other side of the Pass. Picture by Sandeep Janardan
Does this compromise acclimatisation? It does not. There is sufficient acclimatisation time including rest days on the Spiti side. So climbing from either side is almost equal for acclimatisation.
You’ve also got to keep in mind the weather. The Pin Parvati trek is done in July, August and September, when it’s usually wet. A wet day can make a trail tricky. Pacing yourself according to the weather is very important. In such conditions descending is better when you can rush through bad weather.
There are several tricky sections on the Pin Parvati trail. Overhangs, narrow trails, angry river-crossings are common. Picture by Sandeep Janardan
Finally, I come to the reason why we are doing the trek from Spiti. Apart from it being a great adventure, the trek is extremely beautiful– whichever side you do it from. However, there is unique effect when you climb from deserts of Spiti to descend to lushness of Parvati Valley.
The Tunda Bhuj campsite. Picture by Sandeep Janardan
Pin Parvati trek builds on you- a layer at a time. From moonlands of Spiti to the marshlands of Mantalai, the greenery starts creeping in slowly, inch by inch, till you are hit by a riot of flowers near Odi Thach. Allowing this ever changing landscape to build on you as you descend is far more enriching than climbing the same valley from the other side, especially when it is a tiring climb all the way.
The section between Mantalai to Odi Thach. Picture by Sandeep Janardan
Then there is Spiti. These mountain deserts of Spiti stun you with it’s otherworldliness. The colours and culture of Spiti is not something that you get everyday. Getting an opportunity to spend time in Spiti must be a priority. If you climb from the Pin side, you get 5 days in Spiti. This gives you time to take in the unique terrain, the people, the monasteries. Compare it to the 3 days that you get when you descend from the Pin side. Added to the woes most of the time is spent in getting out of Spiti, which is really sad.
Overlooking the Spiti River. PC-Sanjhi Khanna
Trekkers aren’t traditionally used to doing the trek from Spiti. The practice has always been to start from the Parvati side. There is a practical reason why it has been so. During the early days of trekking it was infinitely easier to organise the trek from Parvati valley. Kullu was a stone throw away. Getting porters and guides was easier. So was supplies.
Things have changed now. Spiti is easily accessible. Supplies reach faster. Starting the trek from Spiti is not a mammoth organisational headache anymore.
Under these new circumstances it makes a lot of sense to do the trek from Spiti. Just for the ease, the safety it brings and an opportunity to soak in the beauty of both Spiti and Parvati in a far deeper way.