There’s an increasing trend I’m noticing among trekkers. They want to do challenging treks, above 14,000-15,000 ft — Goechala, Rupin Pass, Pangarchulla, etc. That’s great, I love that people are taking on such adventures!
But what is not ok is that many of them are opting to do these treks off-seasonally, at any whimsical time of the year.
I was recently in conversation with a friend who went to Goechala in the first week of December. Goechala is a high mountain pass in Sikkim, climbing up to 15,100 ft.
Even before he went, I thought he must be mad to go in such a wrong season. I was also worried for him. The Goechala trek is notorious for severe winters and high chances of HAPE. He was not trekking with Indiahikes, so I was worried about his safety as well.
Once he came back, he confirmed my thought.
Out of a team of around 12, only 3-4 of them made it to View Point 1, the final destination on the Goechala trek. The rest of them could not make it.
I was not surprised.
Goechala is not a December trek by any stretch of imagination. It becomes bitterly cold, the terrain gets very dry, water becomes scarce and frozen, the snow in the upper reaches can be very hard to manage.
“The cold is often intolerable on this trek… it is not like our winter treks where there is snow all around, but the cold, dry icy cold that grips your bones. Add to it the wind that blows through the valley making it feel like we are in the poles,” shares Arjun Majumdar, the founder and CEO of Indiahikes, who has been to Goechala multiple times, even before he founded Indiahikes.
At the end of the day, it’s simply not a trek you do in the wrong season.
Another trekker I was talking to went on the Pangarchulla trek in December. Frankly, I was in disbelief when I first heard him say December.
Pangarchulla is a high summit climb, at 15,000 ft. Amongst all our high altitude treks, Pangarchulla has the shortest window when it’s accessible — only the month of April. Before April, there’s too much residual winter snow and the climb gets very technical. After April, the boulders on the trail get exposed, making it very risky.
So when he said December, I was a bit at my wits end. Even our most qualified Trek Leaders would think twice about venturing out to Pangarchulla in December.
Again, as expected, not one member of the team of 12-13 made it to the Pangarchulla peak. Out of the whole lot, only 2-3 of them made it to mini Pangarchulla, which is a false peak. It’s the same as climbing a bit higher than Kuari Pass and returning.
Now, these are just two trekkers’ stories.
I don’t know how many more trekkers are falling into this trap of being enticed by challenging treks in the wrong seasons.
This is where I have a bone to pick with trekkers.
I must admit that a few years ago, trekkers did not have access to information about trekking. They did not know what weather to expect, what was the best time to do a certain trek. They would often pick the wrong treks in the wrong seasons.
But now, when there is so much information available, why not research a bit before you sign up for a Himalayan trek?
A typical trekker’s tendency is to (a) see dates, (b) look up the organisation and (c) book a trek.
Just a handful of trekkers actually research the trek they are going on. Most of them blindly trust the organisation to run treks at the right time — often to their own peril. More and more organisers are keen to cash in on the holiday season rather than choose a trek that is appropriate for a trekker.
At Indiahikes, our first priority is to ensure a trek is always safe, yet adventurous.
Then we look at the beauty of the trail itself. When trekkers go to a certain trek, they must be able to see it at its best. Just like the Valley of Flowers has its blooming season in monsoon, every trek has its own season when it’s at its best. That’s when we want trekkers to see it.
Finally, we come to the success rate. We don’t want trekkers having incomplete treks. We do not want our poor planning or off-season trekking to lead to incomplete treks.
But not all organisations look into these aspects.
That’s why I’m not ok with a blind approach towards trekking, when trekkers don’t research their treks, especially the more difficult ones like Goechala, Rupin Pass, Pangarchulla and others.
It could quickly turn out to be the most dangerous decision of their lives.
That’s not wise.
On a different note…
I wish organisations would also be more considerate towards trekkers. Listing out dates in totally wrong seasons is not fair to trekkers, especially when they know that the majority of them are not likely to successfully complete the trek.
This is the difference between running treks and running a business.
“The mountains have their rules and timings. Even Everest is climbed in winters. It is attempted by professionals with years of practice behind them. Doing a trek in the wrong season is not being adventurous. It is being foolhardy,” says Sandhya UC, the co-founder of Indiahikes.
Trekking is a transformative journey for your mind, body and spirit. A successful trek can leave you deeply touched inside, like nothing else can. It can impact your well being to an extent we cannot imagine.
But a trek in the wrong season can mean injuries, altitude sickness, a drop in confidence, a deep feeling of regret, and sometimes even fatalities. It’s the thin line between adventure and a devil-may-care attitude.
I wonder if you agree with me.
I would really like to hear your thoughts about this.
Can you drop in your thoughts on this page?