“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”― Cindy Ross
It was a late evening at Kedarkantha Juda ka Talab camp and the snow fall wouldn’t stop. Infact, it was getting heavier every passing minute. We, three of us in our tent spent the night flicking off the snow turn by turn. Our trek leader had instructed us not to sleep at the same time. He had warned us it might be the case that if we don’t keep flicking the snow off our tents, we might get buried in the snow. This being my first winter trek, I believed him. In the fear of getting entombed there, I religiously obeyed the leader. When I peeped through the tent the next morning, it appeared he was no kidding.
About Kedarkantha trek
At an elevation of 12,500 ft, Kedarkantha is a mountain peak of Garhwal Himalayas in Uttrakhand in India. The 5day trek to Kedarkantha peak can be done all around the year but my pick was to attempt it in winters. In winters, the route becomes magically snow white and instead of dashes of white on green, the landscape turns dazzling white with dashes of green and blue. The trek to Kedarkantha is a perfect starter for beginners as the trek is moderately challenging but studded with beautiful scenery throughout the route. On Kedarkantha trek you will be relatively warm during the days but the temperature during nights in winters drops down to subzero. I experienced minus 20degree Celsius on the trek.
Also read – A day hike to Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
The drive to Sankri village – Kedarkantha trek begins from there
Like my other travel plans, the plan to attempt Kedarkantha trek was impulsive too . I flew from Bangalore to Delhi and joined my friend Rajiv in the train to Dehradun. I met Akanksha, a friend from college at Dehradun station and deliberated again on our not so good physical fitness. But the plunge was taken and we were all for it. The team of Renok Adventures (a trek company with which I did my first winter trek) picked us up from Dehradun railway station and we headed towards Sankri, the village from where Kedarkantha trek starts. Google maps gave an idea of 7 hours drive to reach Sankri.
We zipped through the city of Dehradun, passed through Mussorie and got a chance to give a quick glance to the famous Kempty falls. The memories of visiting Kempty falls as a kid and the times spent with family flashed across my eyes. After a quick halt for breakfast, we were on our way to be greeted by the gorgeous Himalayan roads and Tons river giving us company. The river looked so inviting that we had pull over to spend some peaceful time by the riverside before lunch. We passed through quaint little towns like Purola and Mori to reach Sankri just in time to witness the dreamy hues of sun bidding good-bye behind the magnificent Himalayas. My body could feel the drop in temperature but my heart wouldn’t allow me to take shelter and let this sight go away even for a minute till the gorgeous shades lasted.
Trek to Juda Ka Talab, Kedarkantha
We were given a briefing of Do’s and Don’ts of trekking before hitting our comfortable beds that night. The concepts like AMS, frost bite, the right layers of clothing to be worn and much more were explained in detail. Infact the briefing gave me goosebumps and left me skeptical about the trek but it’s good to know and then be prepared for situations than to be left blind folded.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we, a bunch of trekkers led by a trek guide from Renok Adventures started walking our way. The aim was to reach the first milestone of Kedrakantha trek i.e Juda ka Talab before dusk. The seasoned trekkers were nowhere to be seen in few minutes of our walking on the trail. The mules loaded with our bagpacks were given way. Few of us, the first timers including truly yours followed everybody while carefully balancing ourselves on the slippery icy pathway. The initial stretch was a little muddy, little slippery but easy enough to get through. I was relishing every moment of my walk as I had never seen so much snow before. The last km of the 4kms till Juda ka Talaab felt quite strenous but the motivation of friends kept me going. We would wait for each other to catch up. Akanksha and I were the last ones to reach the Juda ka Talaab camp while Rajiv was kind enough to wait and guide us throughout the trek.
The camp was set few metres below Juda ka Talab ( JKT as populary called by locals). It was a flat landscape where the tents were plugged to the ground. It was 2ft deep snow and I was still soaking myself in the experience. I was sipping my hot tea and almost lost myself to the view when our trek leader asked us to trek few more meters to see Juda Ka Talab. I got grumpy as I was already tired and wanted to soak in the sunshine before doing anything else.
For the fear of missing out, I joined my fellow trekkers and reached JKT in no time. Least to say, Juda Ka Talab looked other wordly! A frozen lake with a backdrop of snow cladded tall pine trees transported me to an exotic place from postcards which I have only seen till now. The time stood still and suddenly I felt something on my cheek only to realize the touch of a flawless snowflake. I was still in awe of that snowflake when heavy snowfall embraced me. Like a kid, I bathed in the snowfall with both my arms wide open. Some photos and we headed back to the camp.
We had dinner, sang songs and retired for the night. But the snowfall wouldn’t stop. Three of us in the tent slept turn by turn ensuring that we don’t get entombed beneath the snow as warned by our trek leader. The temperature was minus 20 degree Celsius, no wonder I felt like sleeping on an ice bar. I could hardly fall asleep.
Trek to Kedarkantha Basecamp from Juda Ka Talab
Next morning, I peeped out of the tent to find 3 feet snow infront of our tent. I was glad that we survived the freaking cold night. We had the absolute privilege of hot tea and breakfast before heading to the Kedarkantha base camp. The snow fall had been crazy, hence the talks of returning from the base camp without trekking till the Kedarkantha peak started doing the rounds.
We could not see any trail as the massive snow fall had covered the previously made trail, thus the new trail had to be made. We followed the trek leader and tried to follow the new trail. It was quite taxing to walk in 3 feet snow. I would often stumble down and fell in the snow. The stretch of 3 kms till Kedarkantha base camp was gruelling for me. From a distance, snow carpet looked to be spread till the horizon. The first view of Kedarkantha peak blew me over and with all my heart I wanted to trek till the peak to witness the astounding views from the peak.
The weather didn’t appear too much in our favor and our trek leader suggested not to attempt the peak and start descending towards Sankri. The seasoned trekkers deliberated and stayed back at the base camp to continue their trek till the peak next morning. Rest of us decided to take our trek leader’s word and started our descent towards Sankri. Within few hours, all of us reached Sankri. Our feet lifted themselves faster on the thought of hot water and sleeping in a cozy bed. Still yours truly was the last one to reach Sankri because for me, descending is more spine chilling than ascending.
We stayed for the night at Sankri and left for Mussorie the next day. The entire bunch of trekkers who had returned from base camp stayed together for a day in Mussorie and left for their respective destinations the next day.
Tips for Beginners
- Physical fitness has very little to do with accomplishing the trek. If you have the will to trek up a mountain, you surely will be able to. But, physical fitness definitely is an advantage.
- Exercise a few days before the trek to be able to complete the trek smoothly.
- Follow the Do’s and Don’ts of the trek as guided by trek leaders religiously because they have learnt it all through experience.
- Right shoes can make or break your trek. Don’t think of saving on the shoes, buy the right ones.
- Be prepared to be out of touch with family and friends as you wont get signals on mountains. I am glad atleast mountains are spared.
- Don’t expect luxury while on a trek in terms of tents and food. Basic is luxury in mountains, embrace it!
Last but definitely the most important one –
- Slow down, enjoy yourself a little more. Don’t be so serious, hiking is not a race.