Pangarchulla is the perfect introductory peak to up your trekking game and enter the world of high mountains. As a fine balance of beauty and challenge, Pangarchulla delivers a lot in its short duration of 6 days. Although it makes you sweat, it also has the ability to keep you inspired by offering you the most spectacular views of the entire Garhwal range and putting you bang in the middle of some of the most reverential peaks.
Apart from being an amphitheater for some of the greatest peaks, we get especially excited about its various features which prove be a delight for alpine style climbing - temperature shifts, unusual terrain, steep climbs, expansive views, harsh climate - you name it, you got it! It has all the features of a high altitude climb with plenty of challenges, at a comfortably lesser altitude.
Given that we have experienced the peak in all seasons, we figured we’d list down all the features of the trek we find endearing.
Highlight 1: Drive to Joshimath
The trailhead is a 10 hour drive from Dehradun and takes you through some of the most expansive and picturesque landscapes. Snaking through smooth mountain roads, the drive takes you through arrays of mountain settlements giving you a glimpse into the social and economic make-up of mountain living at all altitudes.
The drive to Joshimath – a mountain city in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, never leaves Ganga’s side. Once you enter Rishikesh from Dehradun, the road is bordered with thick, fresh forests with sunlight filtering through the gaps – making the green turn a bright color of dusty gold with tiny specs of life in the air dancing to the warm light. The road is smooth, the air nippy and the drive joyous. The bustle of the monkeys jumping across the forest, grooming each other on the side tracks and zipping past the smooth roads as you drive through the jungle is a mirthful reminder of whose territory you really are in.
Alaknanda is a constant companion through the journey. Before you reach Joshimath by early evening, you would have come across three of the five Panch Prayags, a term used to identify the five sacred river confluences in Garhwal Himalayas. The sight of each of these is nothing short of spectacular for the very identifiably distinct colours and personalities of the rivers that come together.
1) Devprayag: This is where the sacred Alaknanda river merges with Bhagirathi
2) Rudraprayag: Here is where the mighty Alaknanda forms an alliance with Mandakini
3) Karnprayag: This is the coming together of Alaknanda and Pindar river
Joshimath is a focal point for places such as Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Auli and even the temple of Badrinath. In case you want to stay put after the trek and explore a bit more of Uttarakhand, Joshimath is an ideal place to be at.
Highlight 2: Easy Peasy
There are treks which up their level of difficulty gradually through the days, and then there's Pangarchulla. A breezy walk for the first two days to an insanely long and arduous climb up the summit on the third day - the trek goes from a difficulty level of 1 to 5 in a matter of 2 days. This trek is known for its insanely long summit climb in which you gain close to 1,200M of altitude. Usually treks make you forget the weight of your body when you walk a beautiful trail, but not this one. You are completely aware of your body and your feet with its cumulative weight which seems to get heavier and heavier with each step. You can literally feel the way the gravity pulls on you, both during ascending and descending. With a view of the entire Garhwal Range from the summit, it's every bit worth the effort, however!
But the thing to note here is that, this is just one day’s worth of effort – summit day. The rest of the days on the trek offer ultimate beauty and peace for very minimal energy. Mountain towns, pristine streams, turquoise blue river, trees so tall they live in the skies, stars on the black canvas of the night with snow peaks shining like 1000 watt light bulbs with the perfect dark triangles of the pine trees making for an impeccable frame. We could go on about the visual stimulation you would receive at a comparatively low altitude and easy distances between camps. It is a relatively simple trek made difficult for its run to the summit.
Highlight 3: An Elite Establishment
There are many things special about Pangarchulla but the one that tops the list is that you are in the company of giants from the minute you start the trek. With unobstructed views of Nanda Devi, the glorious Dhronagiri wearing a golden crown at sun's downing and Kamet, Mana and Hathi Ghoda watching over you as you slowly inch towards the summit - you will see more peaks than you can remember names of! If all this is on the trail, imagine the view from the summit at its humble height of 4,590M - grand views of the Greater Himalayas with reverential peaks all soaked in historical relevance and mountaineering stories, alike. Don’t forget to keep asking your local guide to give you names of each of these with their corresponding stories!
What’s even more special is the show the peaks and the sun put on for you twice every day. You can barely keep a count of the number of times the skies and the peaks change color with the slightest movement of the sun. The campsites along with the summit push especially turn this into a magical shot and the massive open spaces provide for the best unobstructed views of the entire range.
Highlight 4: An Assortment of Terrain
You are in the midst of beauty as soon as you begin – just like Santa’s stockings, there’s all kinds of surprises waiting to be found along the way. Taking you through Nanda Devi National Park , Pangarchulla Trek offers up the most spectacular views throughout its assortment of terrains - from magical views of all the revered mountains in the Uttarakhand region to massive expanses of Oak and Pine tree forests to large meadows and of course some snow and big boulders to end the trail. Pangarchulla's got it all! The clear winter skies add to the magic. It's a perfect union of beauty and challenge.
Pangarchulla is a short trek which delivers a lot in its limited time of 6 days. It works all kinds of magic in this tiny duration introducing you to an assortment of terrains from local towns to dust trails leading to vast open meadows, thick forests, pristine streams, mushy ground, prickly trees, violent winds and high boulders going into the deep white of the snow.
Highlight 5: A Split Personality
Like many trekking trails that are accessible in multiple seasons, Pangarchulla has a split personality, too! You will witness a different face, a different intensity and a different mood of the peak in summers (March and April) and in winters (October through December). Each season on the peak is met with different kinds of challenges and hence, different visuals and a completely different experience.
The pristine winter skies provide for some of the clearest and best views on the Pangarchulla (4,590M) trail. The changing colours of the most prominent peaks in the Garhwal Range against the changing hues of the skies - from golden to pastels to deeper shades - it's like the skies and the mountains are talking to each other in colours! Whatever they might be saying, it's a beautiful conversation - one you wouldn't want to miss.
Pangarchulla may be a popular peak but in the winters, it is an off-beat trek which means that the magnificent views it hides are only for your viewing. All the major peaks in Uttarakhand including the second and third highest mountain in India, Nanda Devi and Kamet, show up just for you - watching over you and guiding you every step of the way! Who wouldn't want that?
Highlight 6: Midnight Climb
There’s something about waking up in the middle of the night and trekking in a white trail of head torches under the light of the moon in freezing temperatures. It gives you the feeling of a professional mountaineer and hence all the drive of one too. Summit Day is a test of your grit and a firm reminder of the fact that ‘a lot can happen in a day’. A continuous climb on steep slopes and exposed ridges and the achievement of making it to the summit comes with bragging rights. The entire journey takes you about 14-16 hours of walking, all within a span of one single day. Let no one convince you that this is a small feat for the height of the mountain – climbing this ‘little’ peak is nothing to throw a stick at. Navigating the large snowy boulders and all kinds of textures of the snow in the thick of the night comes with its own level of exhilaration. You are likely to experience a tiny tinge of a halo around you for having attempted this deed which is a complete test of your mettle.
Highlight 7: One Foot In: The perfect encounter
Like we mentioned before, Pangarchulla is the perfect introductory peak to up your trekking game and enter the world of high mountains. The peak, as small as it may be, does not allow you to cut corners; it’s fairly intolerant to sloppiness and expects you to bring your A game on, especially on the summit day. Pangarchulla, at a modest height, of 4,590M introduces you to difficulties other than height and thin air that make the climb a rewarding endeavour. Some say it's even harder to scale than some of the more prominent 6000M peaks like Stok Kangri and Kang Yatse II. Do not be surprised if the experience of climbing Pangarchulla’s got you thinking about climbing seriously.
Highlight 8: Support Systems and Local Engagement
One major concern while being outdoors and especially in the mountains is accessibility to support and medical services in case of an emergency. While most trekking trails are usually cut off and take you off the grid completely, the route for Pangarchulla is not one of them. There is network connectivity almost throughout the entire trail. It also takes you through a lot of villages which means that the campsites are not more than minutes away from any kind of support required.
Being so close to these mountain settlements is, as an added benefit, a good way to engage with the culture of the people who live at such altitudes and learn how they keep the entire ecosystem sustainable.
Climb this peak for much more than a view from the top. It has a lot to offer, especially if you are looking for some training ground to step into mountaineering.