There are few feats in life that represent a bigger challenge, both physically and mentally than undertaking a winter trek in Ladakh. A cold desert even in summer months, Ladakh is one of the coldest inhabited places on earth during the winter months of November to March with temperatures hovering around -20 degree centigrade even in the day time. Trekking through this snow land requires braving not only the brain chilling cold but also walking on tricky ice and snow sheets, wading six inches deep through ice cold water as well as climbing steep and slippery mountain rock among other hazards. None of this is easy but worth trekking for the sheer joy of witnessing the beauty of the mystical Himalayas enveloped in a blanket of snow.
Winter trekking in Ladakh is neither for the faint hearted nor for the ill prepared. While it requires courage to traverse through frozen lakes and snow covered mountain slopes, it also requires an equal if not greater measure of preparation to make the journey an adventure to remember. While one part of the preparation involves preparing your body and mind for the hard journey, the other part involves ensuring you are sufficiently equipped to battle the chilly winter weather.
Preparing your body
Trekking in the Himalayas even in summer can take a toll on your body, winter trekking in Ladakh deep inside the Himalayas can test the limits of both your physical strength as well as your mental capacity to endure and adapt to a harsh and unforgiving environment. Preparing your body and mind with an exercise regimen will come in handy. Additionally you can also acclimatize yourself by way of the following;
- Build up your leg muscles with smaller treks on steep nearby hills. This will also help in learning how to navigate narrow slippery mountain rocks.
- Carry a backpack with weights while undertaking these smaller treks so that you get accustomed to carrying weight on your shoulders.
What to carry
Half the preparation is in knowing what to expect and being equipped to deal with the unexpected. Since you need to carry the weight on your shoulders you need to be prudent in not packing non-essentials. However at the same time the sub-zero winter temperatures in Ladakh demand that you are not found wanting. Some essential items to carry in winters include:
- Good quality sleeping bag with thermal liners that provide extra warmth while sleeping.
- Hooded parka as well as a rain jacket .
- Night thermals are a must have to tackle those plummeting temperatures. .
- Long sleeve synthetic tops and bottoms, partly or fully waterproof.
- Gum boots or waterproof hiking boots.
- Trekking poles.
- 2-3 pairs of insulated gloves.
- Balaclava or warm hat.
- Sunglasses, Sunhat, Sunscreen and Moisturizer
- LED Torch Light
- First Aid kit
- Enough water to keep you hydrated
- Dry fruits and nutrition and cereal bars to keep you energetic.
- Daypack large enough to carry things for the day like a water bottle, jacket, camera and some extra fleece. Look for one that can be tied around with the waist as well for extra strength to the back.
- In addition remember to carry adequate cash as this just isn’t any other tourist destination with many ATMs. A safe bet is to withdraw enough cash to last you the entire trip, at Leh. Also remember to carry your photo identification proofs at all times.
Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you make the most of a memorable and exhilarating journey:
- Always keep an extra day in your itinerary to provide for unforeseen delays caused by inclement weather conditions or broken roads and bridges.
- Avoid wearing denims, frilly or flowing clothes since they can hinder movement and make walking on ice or mountain roads difficult. Keep your head covered during your treks since constant exposure to chilly winds can cause headaches and other symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness to set in.
- Remember to take an update on the weather and road condition before embarking on a trek. It is prudent to abide by local advise since they know local roads and weather conditions the best
- Always trek in a group to avoid being trapped alone in a dangerous situation. Travelling with a local guide is recommended. Avoid trekking at night, which can be downright dangerous.
- Wherever possible, avoid spending the night at a high altitude instead descend to a safe altitude for the night to avoid AMS.
- Keep yourself well hydrated by drinking water regularly. Avoid drinking soda or other aerated drinks. Keep munching on nutrition bars and dry fruits to maintain energy levels.
In addition, keep the following pointers in mind while trekking, it can save you many a slippery fall:
- Always spend the first couple of minutes observing the locals as they navigate the slippery mountain surfaces. Watch their penguin like slow steps and practice walking slow and careful on mountain treks
- Take smaller steps on stepper slopes, it can save you a lot of effort and energy
- Try taking rhythmic deep breaths instead of short fast breaths as longer breaths help retain more oxygen
Trekking in Ladakh in winter is an unforgettable experience- nearly bordering on the spiritual; the incredible journey has made many people return year after year to recapture the beauty of this desert land in all its winter glory.