Himalayas are calling and I must go!
Yes, climbing Kedarkantha peak was perfect callback to the mountains who have been calling for past five years. I started hiking since my college days and have never stopped since then. I have hiked in the Sahyadris of Western Ghats, Alps in Europe, parts of Appalachian Trails and Rocky Mountains and even remotest National Park in the US. Having moved back to India five years ago, my heart was aching to climb the mighty Himalayas. The perfect opportunity beckoned me in winter last year when I stumbled upon Kedarkantha trek organized by Bikat adventures. After hearing good reviews from my friends, I decided to join the party!
About Kedarkantha Summit and Trek
Kedarkantha peak is situated in the mountains of the Tons river valley in Uttarakhand region. The summit lies at an altitude of 3850m (12,500 ft) and the Kedarkantha summit provides 360 degrees views of Himalayan peaks. Hence, the trekking experience is rewarding with breath-taking views of peaks like the Swargarohini, Banderpooch, Black peak and Ranglana.
As they say, ‘It is not about destination, but the journey towards it’. Kedarkantha is a beautiful ridge peak and one can trek throughout the year. The trek goes through the Govind National park and gives you ample time to enjoy Himalayan flora and fauna of this protected area. Imagine yourself walking through tall pine tree forests with sunlight playing hide-and-seek through the pine leaves atop, listening to cooing of birds, sighting woodpeckers and other Himalayan birds, resting on the branches of trees alongside mountain streams and collecting pine cones.
Our journey to Sankri
You may leave your home alone, but you never travel alone.
I met the trekking group and our trek leader Lalit at DehraDun bus station. We started to Sankri village which is about 200 kms from DehraDun. It takes about 7.5 hours due to windy roads as you move closer to the mountains. Personally, I always look forward to meeting new people from different backgrounds. Our trekking group was a motley crew ranging from young girls from Gujarat to PhD from Harvard to national level golfer. I instantly befriended Pawan and Rishabh – always easier to befriend people with similar interests and age. It took some time to break ice with other members. But by the time we reached Sankri, we were one large family.
Sankri is a scenic Himalayan hamlet surrounded by scenic mountains and valleys situated at a height of 3000 ft. The village is the last road before entering the Govind Balabh Pant Wildlife Sanctuary. This makes it a prime spot as starting point for many popular treks in Uttarakhand region including Kedarkantha trek. We took rest for the night in a quaint lodge to acclimatize ourselves.
Trekking to Kedarkantha
Day 1 – Sankri to Juda ka Taal
The trek to Kedarkantha was spread across 4-days. On the first day, we started from Sankri to reach our first overnight camp at Juda ka Talab. Juda ka Talab is located at 9100 feet and the camping site was a beautiful plateau providing unobstructed view of the Himalayas. It took around 5-6 hours on foot to reach Juda ka Talab with ample breaks for food, rest and of course photography. Along the route, we walked under the canopy of pine trees. We spotted woodpeckers and many other Himalayan birds along this part of the hike. After spending fun filled evening with games, some great food we rested in our respective tents. The temperature at night had dropped below zero and it was not the most comfortable even in our warm sleeping bags. But we woke up to this amazing view which took our breath away and felt rejuvenated for next leg of trek.
Day 2 – Juda ka Talab to Kedarkantha Base Camp
Next leg of the trek is about 4.5 kms to the base camp located at an altitude of 11250 feet. There are few steep patches in between. Hence our group made progress at a slower pace taking about 6-7 hours. This patch of hike provides some unobstructed views of snow-capped Himalayas in between and ground also gets covered with snow as you climb higher. The campsite is one of the most beautiful campsites nested in a snow-filled valley and surrounded by peaks. We also had first glimpse of Kedakantha peak which further increased our excitement for next day.
Day 3 – Hiking the summit
Our next day was the most strenuous of all days. But it was completely worth all the effort. Our day started at 3 am as our plan was to catch sunrise from the summit. It was quite cold and we were fully covered with additional layers of clothing. In order to avoid accidents, we walked in straight line with everyone carrying headlights. Although the hike was total 2.5 kms towards summit, darkness, snow covered terrain and temperature made it quite difficult for all of us. Wind chill added to our woes. Of course, the fact that Kedarkantha is one of the most popular winter treks means more crowd as you reach closer. Along with Bikat, there were trek groups like us led by IndiaHikes, Trek the Himalayas and others. Slowly, as it was nearing dawn, things begin to improve on cold front. But terrain became more difficult – more steep, rocky and gusts of winds as we approached summit. With a lot of physical effort, team work, we finally reached the summit!!
View from Summit
Photographs do not provide justice to the beauty of the place. The view from Kedarkantha summit is simply out of the world. The most prominent peaks visible from the top are Swargarohini, Black Peak and Bandarpoonch peaks. You will also see Gangotri, Yamunotri, Har Ki Dun, and Rupin mountain ranges from the top.
The journey back to the summit is dangerous only for first 500 metres due to steepness. But we had so much fun! Why? Because we slid down from the top on the snow-covered ground. The trick was to use jacket as the sliding sheet and to look up; a gentle push and a roller coaster ride down the track.
Initially, it was planned to spend night at base-camp and start to Sankri on the next day. But by the time we reached base-camp, it was just 11 am. So, we decided to use the day to climb down to Sankri and have a restful sleep in cosy lodge. Our leader Lalit agreed to the plan only if we agreed to take care of every member of the group and stay together. It was a long day of hike full of ups and downs (literally!) but such a rewarding day! The comfort of a bed after 3 days in the wild was quite delightful.
Tips for the Kedarkantha Trek
- Number of days: The time spent actually hiking in the woods is 3 days but one spends 2 whole days traveling from Dehra-Dun to Sankri and back. Trekkers should keep this in mind before planning their leave from office. Bikat Adventures have spread the whole 23 kms of Kedarkantha trek so that one can hike at a leisurely pace enjoying the beauty of Himalayas.
- Although the trek falls in ‘easy category’ for many agencies, I think there are fair amount of challenging patches. Hence, certain level of fitness is expected. One of members from the other groups at the camping site was sixty years old lady. She successfully completed the hike – kudos to her and Bikat trek leaders.
- Carry appropriate amount of luggage but don’t overstuff your hiking backpack. We had instances where trek leader had to offload unnecessary stuff from fellow hikers’ bags. Also, follow the instructions regarding hiking gear seriously. A good pair of hiking shoes, warm clothing layers and water bottle which can carry about 2 liters of water is a must.
- The mobile network is almost nil throughout the hike. We had BSNL reception at Sankri village and I had brief reception at the summit! I was fortunate to call my wife and daughter from the peak. But that’s just stroke of luck.
- Practice eco-tourism – leave no trace. Every Indian should treat Himalayas as a privilege granted to us by Mother Nature. It is essential to respect this privilege and keep it clean. Don’t litter plastic and other garbage; instead carry in your bag and dispose off only at designated places at campsites.
- Along with trek leader, there will be local guide with you. Spend good amount of time with him. It will provide insights into local way of life. Personally, meeting and interacting with Laibarsingh Chouhan was a memorable experience. Listening to his stories along the trail added another dimension to the experience.
- If you are planning to hike to Kedarkantha from farther place (like me from Bangalore), plan to spend a day or two at Dehra Dun and Mussourie. These two hill-towns have plenty to offer and you can accordingly customize your itinerary.
- The best memento from the hike were fallen pine cones I picked along the trail. Of course, you carry with you lifetime of memories. It was fun to paint the pine cones with my daughter while I reminisced my time in the Himalayas.
- Finally, Bikat Adventures experience was much more than just a trekking experience. There is so much learning to do from pitching your tent, hiking etiquette and methods. Our leader Lalit gave personalized attention to all of us and took care of our safety. We felt protected and relaxed during entire hike.
- Hat-tip – the food cooked at camp-site was amazing. Just go for the food!