Your ultimate guide to the Kedarkantha Winter Trek

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Your ultimate guide to the Kedarkantha Winter Trek

Category Thursday Trek Talk

By Swathi Chatrapathy

2016-08-10

When it comes to trekking in India in winter, the Kedarkantha trek would be your best bet. From December to April, Kedarkantha makes for a terrific trek in virgin snow, with pretty campsites and astonishingly wide clearings in the forests. So, if you are planning to trek the Himalayas in winter, go for the Kedarkantha trek. You will not regret it. Take a look at this fabulous blog to get an idea about the trek.

Here are the Top 5 reasons to do the Kedarkantha trek in winter

Snow till April

Not many know but on the Kedarkantha trek, the winter snow sets in by the middle of December and lasts until the third week of April.  You will probably come across snow just as you cross the 10,000 feet mark, lying on the forest floor among the pine trees. When you reach the meadows, it is likely to be a huge blanket of white around you in every direction.

A snow white gujjar hut in the background of dark clouds PC-Praveen Kumar

Prettiest campsites

This trek has the prettiest campsites in the Himalayas. Not all treks can boast of the beauty of its campsite like the Kedarkantha trek. Each of its campsites are unique in their beauty. The Juda-Ka-Talab campsite sits in a clearing surrounded by giant pine trees, the Kedarkantha Base campsite is on an open meadow with snow peaks all around, the Hargaon camp is again on a clearing of pines and oaks. It is almost as if each one of them competes with each other in their beautiful setting.

Hargaon campsite PC-Abhineet Sawa

Best drive in Himalayas

The drive to Kedarkantha takes you through Mussoorie, Nowgaon, Purola, Mori and Naitwar. It is a remote route so exquisite that it is one of the most beautiful drives in the Indian Himalayas. Trekkers need to especially watch out for the section after Purola right until Sankri, the base camp.

A shallow stream enroute Sankri PC-Swathi

The pleasure of walking on a carpet of brown leaves

The Kedarkantha trek starts in a dense pine forest. The trail is always covered by a carpet of brown leaves. Walking on this is a crunchy delight!

Close up shot of leaves fallen on snow creates a perfect ambience of the winter setting PC-Kiran Nalwade

Snow peaks all around

This is a huge perk of trekking Kedarkantha. Right from the Kedarkantha base camp, you’ll see stunning 360 degree view of famous mountain summits around you is jaw dropping.When you get to the Kedarkantha summit, it is as if you have touched the sky and all the summits are at your eye level!

The Garhwal range as seen from Kedarkantha summit PC-Vishwas Deshpande

About the Kedarkantha trek:

Here are some quick details about the Kedarkantha trek:

Difficulty: Easy. No prior trek experience required.

Trail type: Round trail. The trek starts and ends at Sankri.

Region: Uttarakhand

Rail head: Dehradun is the nearest rail head to the base camp.

Altitude/heightheight: The trek starts at 6,000 ft climbs to 12,500 ft.

Base Camp: Sankri (10 hr drive from Dehradun)

Best Season: Winter. Expect a good amount of snow from mid-December to the end of April.

Note that winter in the Himalayas can be unpredictable sometimes. The weather could get a bit difficult to manage with temperatures dropping to around -10 degree Celcius. So if you plan to trek the Himalayas in winter, make sure you are well-equipped with at least five layers of warm clothes.

Best time to trek

Kedarkantha is best done as a winter trek – from December to April. It is an out-and-out snow trek during these months. You’ll see the first snows on the very first day of the trek, while trekking from Sankri to Juda Ka Talab.

Moreover, Kedarkantha is one of the few treks accessible in winter. The Himalayas are not always accessible in winter – most trails get too much snowfall, the weather gets unmanageable, making the entire trek inaccessible. But Kedarkantha promises just the right amount of snow and at the same time gives you access to a summit that stands tall at 12,500 ft! It’s a heavenly feeling to be up on the summit at sunrise. There is a harmony of beauty in the majestic peaks around you and an astonishing golden light that seems to come from another age. It is a sight beyond all superlatives.

Sunset at Kedarkantha base camp PC-Vishwas Deshpande

So if you want to trek the Himalayas around Christmas holidays or perhaps start your New Year at the summit, then you should register for the Kedarkantha trek.

Here are some quick details about the temperature possibilities:

December to January

  •         The temperature will be around 13-18 degree Celcius during the day.
  •         After the sun sets, the temperature could go as low as -7 degree Celcius.
  •         As you go higher, it will get colder. The Kedarkantha base camp will have cold winds as well. So make sure         you have enough warm clothes.

If you’re worried about how to keep warm on a high altitude trek, you can take a look at this video.

March to May

  •         The temperature during the day will be around 16-20 degrees.
  •         During the night, the temperature could drop to 3-4 degrees, and in the presence of snow, could go to zero degrees.

Considering there is snow all the way till April, summer holidays will also be a fantastic time to go or the Kedarkantha trek. This trek is rated as easy-moderate, so it is well-suited for children as well! Click here to read the Kedarkantha experience of a 12 year old.

Difficulty

We have rated Kedarkantha as an easy trek in summer, and a moderate trek in winter. Now, what does this mean?

Well, first things first. When you trek the Himalayas, the main factors that help decide the difficulty level of a trek are:

  •         How high does it go — maximum altitude
  •         What is the trail like — gravely, slippery, smooth, icy etc
  •         How close to civilization is it — for emergency evacuation
  •         How wide is the trail / is it easily visible
  •         What is the gradient on the trek (ups and downs)
  •         Are there any dangerous sections on the trail — like landslide-prone areas, crevasses, rockfall, overhangs

The Kedarkantha trek starts at around 6,000 ft and rises to 12,500 ft. This means you gain an altitude of 6,500 ft over four days of trekking. On an average, you gain around 1,500 ft everyday, which is a good amount of altitude gain in a day. Most of the Indian Himalayas involve forced ascents, where you’re forced to ascend more than 2000-3000ft everyday, which is not advisable, but is unavoidable because of lack of campsites in between. But the trek to Kedarkantha climbs at a comfortable pace, and you gain just around 1500 ft every day.

In terms of the terrain, the trail is easy. From Sankri to Kedarkantha Base, the trail goes through lovely forests. So, most of it is forest floor, with crunchy brown leaves that are a delight to step on! This forest floor leads the way through the first two days of the trek, after which you begin walking on snow.

The trail is well-marked throughout, so it is easy even for a solo trekker to navigate. The climb to the Kedarkantha summit is covered in snow in winter and this might be a little tricky without a guide, but since the destination is clearly visible, there is no possibility of getting lost.

If you compare Kedarkantha to few of the toughest treks in India, like he Rupin Pass trek or the Goechala trek, then it would rate very low on the difficulty scale. So, if you are looking to trek the Himalayas in winter and you’re a first timer, then go for the Kedarkantha trek.

 

Risks and precautions

The Kedarkantha trek does not involve too many risks.

Snow

If you’re going on a winter trek, naturally, you can expect to see a lot of snow in the Himalayas. In winter, you’ll begin to see snow right from Day 1 of the trek! So carry micro-spikes and gaiters. This will ensure good grip on the snow and you will not slip.

Gradient

The Kedarkantha trek might be easy, but it involves a good amount of ascending and descending as opposed to flat trails. With just half an hour of constant ascending, you might tire yourself out. So take a trekking pole with you. A trekking pole will act as a third leg and reduce stress on your legs to a great extent! You can save up to 40% of your energy! Also, it will increase your balance and stability. It will make your trek a lot more comfortable. Here is how.

Altitude gain

The only thing you need to be wary of is gaining altitude wisely. On the first day, from Sankri to Juda Ka Talab, you gain around 2,650 ft. Make sure you trek slowly, so that your body acclimatizes well.

In the next two days, you’ll hit an altitude of 12,500 ft, so it is important to keep your body well hydrated to keep any symptoms of altitude sickness at bay.

An important thing you need to be informed about before going on a high altitude trek is Acute Mountain Sickness. You can learn about it through this video and take the appropriate precautions.  AMS is quite common while as you trek the Himalayas. A dose of Diamox one day before your trek will help reduce chances of AMS to a great extent.

Dehydration leads to most of the high altitude trekking dangers. So make sure you hydrate yourself with at least 5-6 litres of water a day. Drink water right from the time you wake up, while trekking and before going to bed.

Emergency communication is difficult as most of the trail after Sankri will not have mobile network. If you are trekking with an organisation, they will most likely have walkie-talkies that connect to the base camp, from where mobile contact will be possible.

Preparing for your trek

Any high altitude trek requires prior preparation, whether it is an easy trek or a difficult one.

Fitness

The first and second days of the Kedarkantha trek are quite easy. But the day of the summit climb will have you huffing and puffing, wishing you had more stamina! Ensure you go jogging for at least one or two months before the trek. You’ll need to be able to jog 4 km in 25 minutes.

In addition to jogging, do some stretches to strengthen your thigh muscles. Also, do some stretches to avoid getting stiff. Work especially on stretching your shoulder muscles so that carrying a backpack on the trek doesn’t feel like a hassle. This will help you have a comfortable trek. This video will give you an idea of how you should go about your preparation.

Speaking of backpacks, let’s talk about the things you need on the Kedarkantha trek.

Things to take on the trek

The most important trekking gear you’ll need at high altitude are a good pair of trekking shoes, a comfortable backpack and warm clothing.

On the Kedarkantha winter trek, the temperature could drop to -7 degree Celsius during the night! Added to that, if there are cold winds, your bones will freeze! So you’ll need at least 5 layers of warm clothes. If you are more prone to feeling cold, then you can layer up with two t shirts to insulate yourself.

Not only tshirts and warm clothes, you’ll also need accessories such as a good pair of synthetic gloves, a balaclava, neck warmer and woolen socks to stay warm.

You can watch a video of the Things to take on the Kedarkantha trek here to know all about trekking essentials. If you plan to trek the Himalayas, remember to keep your backpack light, your trekking clothing minimal and your shoes as comfortable as possible.

About the trek

Given below is a detailed documentation of the Kedarkantha trek.

Day 1: Getting to the base camp – Sankri

  •         Distance: 220 km
  •         Time taken: 10 – 11 hours

Leave Dehradhun by 6:30 am and reach Sankri at 5:30pm. Sankri is a small pretty village. A few dhabas and some shops make Sankri. Stay at the GMVN guest house slightly up the road. Most trekkers get to Sankri in the evening, which is a good time to lookout for the sun setting on the Greater Himalayan mountain ranges. The peaks of Swargarohini shimmer in the evening sun, standing tall over the ridges beyond Sankri.

Day 2: Sankri to Juda-ka-Talab

  •         Altitude: 6,400 feet to 9,100 feet
  •         Distance: 4 km
  •         Time taken: 5 hours

Take the tarred road out of Sankri until you come to an extension of the Sankri village called Sol. Once you cross the village, the road takes a wide curve. Around 7-8 minutes later, look for a trail to your right that climbs sharply – it is next to a stream. This is the trail that leads to Kedarkantha. If in doubt, wait for a local to pass by and ask for directions. The trail gets into the pine forest and starts to climb sharply until you reach a ridge ten minutes later. On the ridge, the trail evens out and widens for almost the rest of the day.

An hour later, look for a small wooden bridge on your right. A hut that belongs to a shepherd is visible beyond the bridge, about 40-50 metres higher on the trail. You are a quarter of your way to Juda-ka-Talab here.

After a while, the stream that you have been hearing catches up with you. This is your last water point, so fill up your bottles to last until Juda-ka-Talab, another thousand feet higher and 2½ hours further.

Don’t take the trail that goes over the bridge, but continue on the trail that runs to your left – it is clearly visible and forks clearly at the stream. Half an hour later, in a large grove of Maple trees, look for a large trunk of a tree fallen on the ground. Beyond the tree, a dark forest beckons you mysteriously from the southern edge of the clearing. At 8,100 feet, you are half way into your trek to Juda-Ka-Talab here.

Carry on the trail through the clearing to re-enter the sparse pine and maple forest on its northern edge. Through a series of switchbacks, the trail climbs rapidly through dense oaks finally emerging out in the open over a rising mound to greet you with the spectacular camp site of Juda-Ka-Talab.

Juda-Ka-Talab is almost too perfect in its setting as a campsite. On your left is the large lake that was once two lakes but now conjoined as one, and on your right is the thick edge of an oak and pine forest. The forest is so dense that light hardly seeps through it. The campsite is a series of gentle undulating mounds that form the clearing and campsite of Juda-Ka-Talab. High above, on your left, is the ridge line through which the afternoon light filters in. The area is entirely in shadows of some of the densest pine forest you will ever see.

Day 3: Juda ka Talab to Kedarkantha Base

  •         Altitude: 9,100 feet to 11,250 feet
  •         Distance: 4 km
  •         Time taken: 2.5 hours

The trail out of Juda Ka Talab is clearly visible and straight forward. The trail rises to a ridge at the edge of the lake. At the ridge, take a sharp left turn and dive into the dense pine forest climbing higher.

The trail veers further left sticking to the slope directly above Juda Ka Talab, though the lake is not visible. Climbing swiftly, the trail pops out at a ridge in another half hour, gaining about 800 feet over Juda Ka Talab. The ridge flattens out with oaks mainly as company.

Continue walking on the ridge to the edge of the meadow and start another sharp climb through the oaks. Half an hour later, the ridge opens out to yet another open meadow on your right with a solitary shepherd’s hut (Hut Point). The setting is strikingly beautiful and calls for a break from the trek. You have less than a thousand feet to climb from here to the Kedarkantha base.

A short climb later, again in the shades of the oaks, the trail opens out to a large clearing on the northern edge of which is another shepherd’s hut.  Look behind you for your first awe inspiring 180 degree view of snow ranges surrounding the Kedarkantha summit.

The trail switches direction moving in a northerly direction under the dry oak trees. Usually over snow, the trail climbs gently in two stages to another clearing. You have arrived at the Kedarkantha base camp site, marked by another dilapidated shepherd’s hut.

White peaks stretch from your left to your right forming a wide arc. Bandarpoonch, Swargarohini, Kala Nag and Ranglana stand out from the scores others.

Note: The cold in the open is intense and it often gets windy. Carry enough woolen wear to protect you from the elements.

Day 4: Kedarkantha Base to Kedarkantha peak; descend to Hargaon camp

  •         Altitude: 11,250 feet to 12,500 feet to 8,900 feet
  •         Distance: 6 km
  •         Time taken: 6 – 7 hours

Sunrise from the Kedarkantha Base is something worth getting out of your sleeping bags early for. The Kedarkantha peak is clearly visible from the KK Base. There are many trails that go to the top.

The best route is to catch the northern ridge of the Kedarkantha summit, climb up in a series of switchbacks to reach the Kedarkantha summit. It takes an hour and half to climb the summit from the Kedarkantha base campsite.

The Kedarkantha summit is marked by a square arrangement of stones with a Trishul that points to the sky. Towering over the rest of the region, the summit gives you a 360 degree view of the mighty snow clad ranges of Uttarakhand. The Gangotri and the Yamunotri ranges are clearly visible from the summit, as are the Chanshil Pass and Kinnaur Kailash ranges.

Getting down from the summit, take an alternate route down to your camp following the southern ridge of Kedarkantha. It is a straight forward ridge descent to the oak forest below.

Note: Depending on the amount of snow, many trekkers prefer to climb Kedarkantha from the southern ridge and descend by the northern side. The snow is less on the southern ridge and makes climbing easier. Both routes take approximately the same time, so choose a route depending on the snow.

Get back to your Kedarkantha base camp site by noon and not later than that. A quick lunch later, wrap your camp and begin your descent to Hargaon.

The trail is spectacular as it ascends and descends through oaks, pines and frozen streams. It moves through small clearings every half hour or so. The clearings are a unique feature to the Kedarkantha trail and a rarity in the Indian Himalayas. Some of the clearings are marked by huts of the shepherds.

Continue your descent until you come to the wide clearing of Hut Point. Instead of taking the ridge down from here, descend to the meadow that runs below you. At the end of the meadow, move to your right, cross the open stream and take the trail that moves down the slope but avoids the ridge that runs parallel above. A while later, get to the cluster of four shepherds’ huts that you saw on your way up from the trail on the ridge.

Continue past the cluster of four huts and re-enter the deep dark pine forest that engulfs the trail as it moves further and further away from the ridge. The trail gets exquisitely beautiful as it winds its way down an enchanted forest of pines to reach the Hargaon clearing in an hour and half’s time.

Day 5: Hargaon camp to Sankri

  •         Altitude: 8,900 feet to 6,400 feet
  •         Distance: 6 km
  •         Time taken: 4 hours

The trail to Sankri is clearly marked by stones and its well-paved nature. Descend through the pines and in a series of switchbacks, come to a stream to your left. This is a good spot to fill water. The trail evens out and gradually descends through the pine forest to come to a ridge. From the ridge, catch a view of the vast open Har-ki-dun valley. Slightly below, as you descend, an apple orchard mixed with potato and cauliflower farms greet you. Huts that belong to local farmers line up on the right, standing out in the skyline.

There are numerous trails to Sankri, but the main one is the five foot-broad trail that everyone uses. Resume your descent until you get to the pine forest a couple of hundred feet above Sankri. The trail forks multiple times here, with each heading to a different part of Sankri. Wait for a local to show you the direction to GMVN, which is a sharp detour from the main trail to the left. Descend down to GMVN in ten minutes to culminate a grand trek in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.

Day 6: Drive to Dehradun from Sankri

  •         Distance: 220 km
  •         Time taken: 10 – 11 hours

Drive back to Dehradun through lovely pine forests and beside the Tons river. It’s a long 8 hour drive. Try and get the window seat on the right side to get a good view! Stop for lunch somewhere near Kempty Falls. You’ll reach Dehradun by 8 pm.

You can read these trek blogs to know of some trekkers’ experiences on the Kedarkantha trek.

You could also watch a video of the Kedarkantha trek here.

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Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers. A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content. Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.