The Kashmir Great Lakes trek is one of the most beautiful treks in India. Stretching across 75 km, and spanning over 3 high altitude passes, this trek is as difficult as it is beautiful. It takes 7 days to complete the trek, covering an average of 12-14 km every day.
In August 2018, two Indiahikes Trek Leaders, Bhupinder and Naman set a record of completing the entire trek in 15 hours. Well, almost the entire trek. They had to turn back at 65 km at an army check post, as it was too dark to continue. Their astonishing record of completing 65 km in 15 hours stood unmatched.
Earlier this month, Trek Leaders Gautam Thapliyal and Devang Thapliyal (no, they are not brothers) completed the entire Kashmir Great Lakes Trek in 13 hours 53 minutes and 38 seconds!
While this seems like a spur of the moment idea, it was made possible only through their years of experience trekking in the mountains.
A challenge only a few can take on
A seven day trek is never easy. It drains you not only physically but also mentally. So doing it in a single day is unthinkable for most people. But not for Gautam and Devang.
Both of them are experienced Trek Leaders. Gautam is a yoga practitioner and teacher, and has been with Indiahikes for over a year now. Trekkers often describe him as a very observant, and proactive person, who gets along well with everyone.
Devang has been Trek Leader with Indiahikes for 2 years. When not leading treks, he is a cross fit trainer based out of Shanghai. He is also known as a headstand expert.
Both of them have prior fast-trekking experience. Gautam completed the entire Hampta Pass Trek, a 6-day moderate difficult trek, in a single day. Devang, in 2017, completed the same Kashmir Great Lakes trek in 18 hours. “I wanted to challenge myself, and push my limits. I wanted to beat my previous record,” he says.
The Kashmir Great Lakes Plan
Though Gautam and Devang have led many trek batches on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, covering the entire trail in 14 hours was a huge challenge. Trekking through snow covered trails, under sheeting rains, and bitter winds, with almost no rest stops, is truly a superhuman feat.
This is what the trail looks like when done over 7 days.
To finish this trek in a mere 14 hours, Gautam and Devang decided to use certain techniques to save time. Instead of taking switchbacks to ascend, like our trek batches normally do, Gautam and Devang decided to climb straight up mountain slopes. This makes the trek much harder than it is.
The goal was to complete the entire trek as quickly as safely possible.
The journey: 75 km in under 14 hours
Gautam and Devang started out on their quest from Gagangir at 7 am. They made their way to Shitkadi (7,780 ft), where the trek begins.
Upon reaching Shitkadi, they faced their first obstacle – the army post would not let them pass. Precious time was slipping away. It was only when Devang called a Major he knew from the 24 Rifles Unit for help, were they allowed to pass. By then it was around 8:30 am.
They began climbing quickly. With no breaks they covered the 11.6 km to Nichnai (11,838 ft), which is the first camp, in just 2.5 hours! They crossed the Nichnai pass without pausing, and continued trekking to Vishnusar, about 13 km away. They reached around 12.30 pm.
From Vishnusar, the trail is a steep ascent to Gadsar Pass (13,850 ft), and only towards the end is there is flat terrain. Only to be met with another gradient that kept rising further.
The weather takes a turn
By the time they crossed Gadsar pass, the clouds were pouring, making visibility minimum. While rain normally prompts trekkers to slow down, to be more sure footed, Gautam and Devang continued to push forward.
They reached Satsar(12,100 ft) at 5 pm. They were yet to face the most challenging part of the trek.
After you cross Satsar, the terrain is a vast expanse of boulders. The pair had to carefully maneuver themselves from one slippery boulder to the next, bracing themselves against the beating rain. From Satsar they could see Gangabal below them, but a 1,400ft descent stood between the two.
They were running out of time, and had to make their way as fast as they could. They still had another 22 km to finish, and nightfall was approaching.
The final leg
Once they crossed the boulder section, they raced through green meadows and saw the treeline emerge at Gangabal, and icy cold rivers, which was followed by more ascents and descents. What our trekkers normally cover in 7 hours, they raced through in 2!
Continuing in the rain, they pushed forward, and finally reached the end point, Naranag (7,450 ft) at 10:30 pm.
They had made it through in under 14 hours, through difficult conditions, and with little food for sustenance. “Throughout the day we must have stopped only for about 45 minutes to 1 hour,” says Gautam. “It didn’t feel like a trek, it was more like an ultra-marathon,” says Devang.
The strategy behind the achievement
According to Head of Trek Leaders, Dushyant Sharma, this feat can not be attempted without the right training and experience. “You don’t wake up and decide to finish a 75 km trek in a single day. The speed, confidence and the ability to sustain themselves at such a fast pace for a long time comes from their years of trekking experience; and their meticulous preparation before the trek,” says Dushyant.
Indeed, to finish the trek, Gautam and Devang formulated a strategy. “We would keep walking as fast as we could without taking breaks in the middle,” says Devang. They each had their own strengths – while Gautam ‘flew’ downhills, Devang led them during uphill sections.
To make their backpacks lighter, they carried less food. The entire day they survived only on dry fruits, a handful of jaggery, and 2 rotis that they were coaxed into eating by the Indiahikes camp staff as they crossed Gadsar Camp.
“But we made sure to stay hydrated,” says Devang. However, this wasn’t easy. Due to heavy rains, the water sources along the trail become muddy. “We had no other choice but to drink it,” Devang adds.
It would have been easy to carry ready-to-mix ORS packets, but since they come in plastic packets, Devang and Gautam chose to make their own ORS with salt and sugar. After some time they realized that the salt was only making them more thirsty, so they moved to only eating sugar.
They also made sure to keep their muscles adequately flexed. “I kept stretching whenever I had the opportunity to. I did not want my legs to cramp,” says Gautam.
Mental strength is as important as physical strength
While a great amount of physical strength is required to complete this trek, mental strength is just as important, if not more.
Devang recalls how at several points during the trek, the weather was very foggy. “We couldn’t even see each other. But could only hear each other’s voices. This kept us motivated throughout,” he says.
Words of motivation came from unexpected sources too. “Word got around among the shepherds, that we were trying to finish the trek in a single day. Out of curiosity, some even asked to see our permit. One shepherd said “you both have been walking as fast as the wind”! It felt good,” says Devang.
Back to work in a day
After completing the trek in 14 hours, Devang and Gautam set off again to lead their respective batches on the KGL trek.
This feat is not just a testament of the two trek leaders’ physical strength, but also of their mental perseverance. This is at the very core of our Trek Leaders’ spirit.
Other Trek Leaders are surely keen to give Gautam and Devang’s record another challenge.