Considered to be the ultimate testing ground for trekking enthusiast, the Chadar trek is meant only to be undertaken by the experts in the field. The trek is named so because of the fact that the participants are required to perform a penguin walk on the layers of frozen ice, commonly referred to as the “Chadar”, covering the Zanskar River in the peak winter months.
The adventure, which is completed over a period of 9 days and 8 nights, requires the participants to prepare themselves physically as well as mentally long before they actually commence the trek. The main aspects of preparing for the trek include knowing what to pack for the trek and also gaining basic information about the most common challenges that they are likely to face. Both these aspects are discussed in detail as follows.
Most Important Things to Pack
Even though the Zanskar River is one of the most popular places to visit in Leh, only a few brave hearts possess the courage to trek over its frozen surface in the winter. This is primarily because withstanding the teeth chattering cold that the trekkers experience during every single moment of the journey, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even for the select few who dare to take up the challenge, packing well is the only way to survive the bone-numbing cold. Keeping these facts in mind, it is essential for the participants to pack the following essentials for the exciting adventure of the chadar trek the most thrilling and adventurous trek.
Shoes & Slippers : Shoes form the most important piece of equipment that the participants use in any trekking expedition. When it comes to choosing the shoes for Chadar trekking, it is important to ensure that they have a high-rise ankle, are waterproof and come with an exterior insulation. In addition, carrying a pair gum boots and open-toe slippers or crocs that can come handy in wading through water and for use at campsite respectively.
Clothing : It is important for the trekking participants to pack smart and pack light rather than become a victim of over packing and bear the burden of heaving their heavy backpack along the already tedious trekking trail. Rather than packing heavy woollen and fur clothes, it is better to opt for fleece jackets and wind cheaters along with body warmers and woollen socks. In addition, the trekkers should pack enough undergarments, track pants and full sleeves t-shirts. Apart from these items of everyday clothing, packing woollen gloves along with synthetic waterproof gloves and woollen caps or balcava as well as woollen stole is also necessary.
Toiletries & Medicine Kit : The trekkers should make sure to carry their usual set of toiletries in quantities that can last for at least 10 days. In addition, they should also pack a good quality lip balm, sunscreen cream and clod cream to prevent the skin damage resulting from exposure to snow and freezing winds. It is also advisable to pack a small medical kit containing some basic medication and pain killers along with muscle spays and items of first aid.
Miscellaneous Items : The trekkers also need to pack a variety of items that will come in handy during the journey. The most important of these is a pair of UV protection sunglasses for protection against snow blindness. Other items included in this category are a trekking pole, head torch, insulated water bottle and utensils etc. It is also advisable for the trekkers to pack several zip lock bags or poly bags to store wet, dry and dirty clothes separately. Most importantly, the trekkers should carry some cash to cover the miscellaneous Chadar trek cost that cannot be paid for with plastic money.
Challenges That The Trekkers Should Expect And Prepare For
The very idea of trekking over the frozen and high altitude Chadar River during peak winter months is enough to give make the body hair of most people stand on its ends. However, contrary to the common perception, preparing for the trek is more about overcoming the mental blocks and fears than ensuring the physical fitness required to travel to such high altitude. This can be ensured by gaining ample information about the various challenges that the trekkers are likely to face during the course of the journey. It helps them to not only gain the mental strength to face these challenges head on but also to overcome them with proper planning. Discussed below are the most common challenges that the trekkers have to face while trekking in this remote Himalayan destination.
Unrealistically Low Temperatures : It is important for the participants to know that the temperatures on the Chadar trek trail can drop to as low as -30 degree centigrade. It is not difficult to imagine the bone chilling effect that such low temperatures, which are enough to freeze not only the Zanskar River but even the Nearak waterfall, can have on the participants. The best way to overcome this challenge is by dressing appropriately for the trek and preferably in layers as it increases the level of insulation from such cold.
Unpredictable Weather : The unpredictable behaviour of weather in the region is yet another major challenge that the trekkers have to face during this high altitude adventure. It is not uncommon for the trekkers to have to bear the brunt of untimely rain or even snowfall during their journey and they might even have to go on without seeing the sun for several days in a row. The trekkers also need to prepare themselves mentally as well as physically to face the risk of running into a snow blizzard.
Acclimatization : Getting adjusted to the high altitude is another common challenge that the trekkers need to learn to overcome. Given the scarcity of oxygen at such high altitudes, it is not uncommon for the Chadar trekking participants to experience nausea, headaches, vomiting and breathlessness. The most effective way for the trekkers to overcome this challenge is by spending a couple of days in Leh and allowing the body become used to the environmental changes at such high altitudes as compared to the plains.
Long Walking Stretches : Even though trekking is all about walking for long distances over extremely rough terrain, the inhospitable conditions of Chadar trek make the distance seem endless. On an average the participants will be covering a distance of 14-15 kms within 5-6 hours on a daily basis. However, given that the trekking trail is relatively straight, without any ascents and descends, the trekkers are not likely to face the exhaustion that they generally experience in mountain trekking.
Extreme Shortage Of Food & Water : Given the freezing weather conditions of the Chadar trekking trail, it is almost impossible carry packed lunches or other such eatables. The trekkers are required to make pit stops to prepare lunch and eat it while it is still warm. The meals are generally quite simple and do not offer the necessary supply of nutrients required by the trekkers to replenish their energy. While there are quite a few water sources on the way, the liquid is freezing cold which makes it impossible to during more than a couple of mouthfuls at one time. As such it is advisable for the trekkers to carry insulated water bottles and energy bars to make up for the scarcity of nutritious food.