What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

Pooja Dhiman

Last updated: 07-11-2023

Just the sheer thought of falling in ice cold water in -20 degrees stops your heart, right?

Chadar is one of the most glorious treks in the Himalayas. Its jaw-dropping beautiful, filled with wonders and frozen waterfalls, leaving everyone who steps foot on the frozen landscape, inspired. However, the sheer excitement of walking on an ice sheet for days leads people to oversee the dangers involved.

The most glorious trek is also one of the most dangerous treks in the world.

Here’s why.

1. Your worst nemesis: AMS

Leh is a small city and news spreads fast. In 2018, more than 15 trekkers were hospitalized even before their trek had begun. They were experiencing nausea, vomiting and breathlessness – all symptoms of AMS.

Here are a few facts you should know.

While most cities in India lie mostly within a 300M above sea level, Leh stands at an elevation of 3,500M. To put things in perspective, that’s almost like standing on the 900th floor of a building in your city. And this is the elevation at which you are going to trek for days. Such a sudden change in altitude has a massive impact on our bodies. And your entire treks success depends on how well you allow your body to adjust and acclimatize before the trek.

What should you do:

Get to Leh a few days in advance to allow your lungs to adjust to the altitude change. Leh is a beautiful city, use the days before the trek to go for acclimatization walks while exploring the city. If you feel great the day the trek begins, you are already acclimatized and the possibility of you getting AMS during the trek is almost nil as you don’t really gain any altitude during the entire trek.

What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

2. The ever changing forms of Chadar:

Here’s the thing, a slight change in the temperature has a huge impact on Chadar. Ice forms, breaks, and melts throughout the day. There is just no way of knowing what kind of terrain lies ahead of you. 

During the entire trek, you may have to navigate your way through massive chunks of ice blocks, hiding foot deep air pockets underneath...

What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

...or walk cautiously on extremely narrow and uneven paths, while dodging the sledges that can quite easily knock you off your feet.

And when the ice starts to melt, you might have to skip an entire stretch and go over the rocks and safely step back on the frozen bits of the river ...

What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

...or pitter-patter your way through slush.

What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

What should you do:

Walk in smaller groups of 6-7 with one leader who has rope, carabiners, harnesses, slings, a throw bag, sleeping bag, and most importantly is trained to handle emergencies. In case of a fall in deeper areas of the river, arresting your flow is most critical. If your leader can throw a throw-bag end and you can catch, then you would most probably be saved. However, it all happens so fast that this may not be possible in critical areas. To cover the risk, if your leader has a rope and can self-anchor himself (along with other rescuers), then chances of your rescue are much better. Know the following in case of a fall in the deep river:

-  Scream to attract attention

- Try to grab the bank and hang on 

- If swept away, your bag will provide some flotation, but face down. If possible remove it and fix it to the chest instead.

Fight to remain on the surface.

In the event of immersion rescue, replace wet clothes immediately.

For hypothermia cases use sleeping bags and hot water bottles to revive.

Ask your support staff to erect a tent and arrange a warm interior with stoves for serious cases.

Walk carefully and listen to the instructions of your team leaders. Most importantly, follow the sledge route. Always. 

*An advisory was originally published by IMF on their social handles as issued by Steve Long, Chairman of the Training Standards Panel of the UIAA. The same has been republished here in a slightly different way for the benefit of larger audiences and people interested in the Chadar trek.

3. The effects of the extreme cold on our body:

What happens to your body in extreme cold temperatures? To be honest, a lot can go wrong if you are not cautious or well prepared. 

First things first, the most crucial thing to be aware of is hypothermia. Hypothermia sets in on Chadar, when your body is not getting enough warmth, and that mostly happens when people get inside their sleeping bags in wet socks or t-shirts. 

Secondly, I would personally not recommend Chadar for anyone with weak bones or heart conditions. Given the slippery terrain, you are bound to fall multiple times during the day, and it just takes one wrong fall to incur a painful fracture. Also, cold weather tends to narrow blood vessels putting more pressure on your heart, and therefore is not advisable for trekkers with any kind of heart conditions or blood pressure issues.

What should you do:

Hypothermia: The best way to combat hypothermia is to stay active and keep your body warm. Explore your campsite, get to know the locals, or even play ice football with the team. And always make sure you get into your sleeping bag in dry clothes, especially socks. Pack your stuff in waterproof plastics inside the bag. Under no circumstance should your warm clothes get wet!

Heart conditions: please check with your doctor before signing up for Chadar. 

What are the dangers involved on Chadar Trek?

4. The unforgiving weather:

Now bearing -35 degrees in your cozy tents is one thing, but facing a blizzard is quite another. 2018 was a good year in terms of the weather, but in the previous years, there have been avalanches and snow blizzards on Chadar. It could get nerve-racking if the weather turns against you.

What should you do:

If you really want to do the trek, come mentally prepared for all kinds of weather. And book the trek with a reliable company, read reviews, talk to people before choosing your adventure partners. Make sure you choose an adventure company who has qualified trek leaders especially in first aid and rescue. Safety comes first. Also, bring the right clothes for Chadar. Invest in quality gear; this includes your thermals, socks, down jacket and gloves.

5. Rescue options: 

It is extremely important for you to understand the rescue options for Chadar. In case of an injury where you are unable to walk, it would take your team a bare minimum of 24 hours to bring you back at Leh. Why?

Because, one, there is no reception throughout the trek, except at Nerak village, which is quite far away and secondly, depending on where you are on the trail, one of your team members will have to trek all the way till the road-head, hitch a ride to Leh, inform the army and arrange for a heli-rescue, all of which could take up to 24 hours.

What should you do:

If you already have a serious precondition or if you are prone to fractures due to past surgeries, do not attempt this trek. It is not worth risking your life for a chance to walk on a frozen river. But if you are fit enough, go with an open mind and full enthusiasm. A trek this beautiful is not to be missed.

All of these are the challenges you are going to face on Chadar. Are they worth it? This is something I will let you decide on your own. Chadar is an extremely beautiful experience but is not meant for everyone.

Now that you know the dangers, here learn How to combat Challenges faced on Chadar Trek.


This article was originally written by Pooja Dhiman on 26-12-2018.
It was edited and updated by Neeti on 07-11-2023.

Pooja Dhiman

I am a solo backpacker, a muay thai boxer and a mountain goat. I quit my job in April 2016 to go see Read more

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