Taking you through Nanda Devi National Park, the Pangarchulla Peak Trek is the perfect union of beauty and challenge. You witness some mesmerizing landscapes - from magical views of all the revered mountains in the Uttarakhand region to massive expanses of oak and pine forests followed by large meadows and of course some snow and big boulders, Pangarchulla's got it all!
A difficult trek, one requiring strength and endurance, Pangarchulla is a perfect introductory peak in case you want to up your trekking game by a notch or three. It is also a preparatory peak for those who want to take up climbing bigger and higher mountains. It serves the function of testing waters before jumping in the pool head-first.
Do not be fooled by its height, though. A climb up this little peak is nothing to throw a stick at. Altitude is only one kind of challenge in the Himalayas. Pangarchulla, at a humble height of 4481M introduces you to difficulties other than altitude 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.
This article discusses the difficulty level of Pangarchulla trek, the gear and skills you require to make a successful ascent up its unusual terrain and some of the challenges you are likely to encounter when you embark on this journey.
Difficulty Level of the Trek:
Pangarchulla Peak is a level 5 trek on the Bikat Rating Scale.
About the BRS: The Bikat Rating Scale rates the difficulty level of all treks and expeditions in our portfolio after taking into account their geographical and climatic conditions.
According to this scale, if you are a beginner who is unsure of your fitness level and don’t know what to expect on a trek, a trek rated one will be a good place to start.
If you liked your very first trekking experience and are looking to test your limits next, the treks rated 2 or 3 will do the job for you.
A beginner who is sure of their fitness level on the other hand is welcome to skip the first two levels and directly start with one of the treks rated 3.
From 4 onwards, the rules change a little. It is mandatory to have trekking experience of the previous level to participate in the next level.
The Trails of Pangarchulla Peak:
Although not identified as a technical peak, Pangarchulla presents you with an assortment of terrain, gradient and environment which is easier to navigate if you have some of the basic technical skills required in the mountains. If you are not overly familiar with mountaineering equipment and techniques, however, there is absolutely no need to worry! As a learning-based organization, we will be providing you with the equipment and training needed to use them during the trek. Nonetheless, it helps to know the challenges you are likely to encounter if you decide to undertake this journey. Let us help acquaint you to some exciting difficulties which make the trek challenging as well as fun!
Challenge 1: Getting to the Trail Head:
If you live away from the North of India, travelling to the Himalayas comes with an enormous cost in terms of time and money. And access to Pangarchulla is an investment in terms of time required to get to its base. The trailhead, Joshimath, is not directly accessible by trains or air travel. This means it takes an entire day to reach Joshimath from the closest city (Dehradun and Rishikesh).
If you are starting your journey from Dehradun, be prepared to gain quite a bit of altitude (430 M to 1,890 M) on the first day. Since we are moving upwards fairly quickly, acclimatization is crucial to completion of the trek and a safe return.
The weather on the trail of Pangarchulla has a way of surprising us too. With its sudden twists, we never know when we will be hit by our next snow storm, a sway of high winds or torrential rains - which makes the trek thrilling while also adding to its level of difficulty. This constantly changing weather makes adapting to newer heights a tricky business. The battle against altitude is not one you would want to take lightly on Pangarchulla.
Do remember to drink lots of water, layer up as instructed by the leader and take the climb at your own pace. These simple but effective strategies can help keep all altitude related discomforts at bay.
Challenge 2: Nature of the climb:
Known as the perfect trek to move up from trekking to mountaineering, the peak serves as a practice ground for a mildly technical and extremely steep climb. It introduces you to challenges that have a way of pushing you outside your comfort zone. The mountain also hand-delivers a lesson in the importance of softer skills like working together as a team. Even seemingly simple tasks like walking will get reassessed when you find yourself in the peculiar terrain that the extremely long summit push on the peak serves to you.
During snow time, it is a mystery what kind of snow or ice you will find on the trail. In case of fresh snow, the challenges are different as against those you might face when the snow is slushy or is hard ice. While this leaves you with little or no chance to pre-prepare your mind for the nature of your climb to the summit, it also keeps things fresh and mystical. This is during the months of March and April.
During winters, the challenges are completely the opposite – the lack of snow or ice. By the winter season, which is between the months of October and December, most of the snow from the previous season has already melted. The melted snow leaves in its wake a long stretch of exposed boulders as big as dreams. Climbing on ice is challenging but climbing on boulders with massive gaps in between needs a different set of skills and a mix of patience, focus and extreme caution.
That said, if you are someone who is new to these kinds of terrain, do not let these challenges deter you. We will be providing you with the training needed to handle both- the equipment and terrain- during the trek. Getting used to the terrain and altitude takes time, but that’s part of the joy of being in high mountains.
Challenge 3: Peculiar Terrain:
Pangarchulla peak is kind enough to introduce you to the strangest traits of a mountain- like steep ascends, massive open lands, heavily bouldered trails, exposed ridges, extreme snow, and a sudden and steep height gain on summit day – all in the span of less than a week! A trek up the peak is an on-field lesson in the variety of high-altitude features. Navigating the massive snow rocks, braving the unpredictable weather in knee-deep snow and walking brutal slopes on the trail keep the journey exhilarating throughout.
Each season on the peak is met with different kinds of challenges and hence, different visuals and a completely different experience. Even within the same season, the trail of the trek takes you through an assortment of landscapes, each with its own difficulties. It is like the mountain is teasing you out of your comfort zone – each time you get used to the terrain, it changes face and presents you with something new!
Challenge 4: Push Towards the Summit: A Sudden High
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. A 4481m peak with a 1100M altitude gain on the last day - Pangarchulla is known for its insanely long summit push which many have termed 'endless'.
Be prepared for a long day – at least 12 to 15 hours of walking up and down steep slopes in either a snowy terrain or miles long stretches of boulders as big as an idler’s debts. Along with that, the exposed ridges introduce you to high speed winds that are enough to take the chill right down to the bone. The views from the summit, however, makes every bit worth the effort- with a view of the entire Garhwal Range and layers and layers of mountains till your eyes can see.
Challenge 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). Embodying different challenges, the peak will present to you different views, a different vibe and a different approach to climb it in each season.
March and April: At this time, the challenge is walking on the snow which is as unpredictable as a drunkard’s walk! Apart from being inconsistent, it also requires the use of some mountaineering equipment such as microspikes and ice axes. That said, this is relatively easier than the winter season and has higher summit rates. But it is also true that the weather gets a tad bit moodier and much more unpredictable during this time. Unannounced showers of snow are commonplace in this season – affecting the climb and needing a shift in plans as well as the approach to climbing it.
October through December: During October and November, you are likely to be welcomed by a landscape in which the snow has retrieved for the season. Having melted away, the terrain is now miles of rocks and massive boulders with huge gaps in between them. Trust plays a major role in crossing this section. The boulders on this trail are fairly stable. Once you learn to trust the boulders and your feet a little, you will see how easy it is to walk over them without expending much energy. Jumping from one big rock surface to another, it almost feels like being part of a video game.
Handy tip: Try to find a straight path across from over the boulders instead of climbing up and down each rock which will only tire you out pretty soon.
The summit day runs longer during this season. When the slopes of the mountain are snowy (march and april), you could slide down them in one go and that would take not more than 5 minutes. This stretch of steep descend, in the absence of snow, has to be crossed with extreme caution, one step at a time. The rocky patch is likely to take upwards of three hours to navigate.
The verglas on the boulders does not make things any easier. The otherwise uneven terrain of the meadows, too, would be a straight walk on a massive ice field during March and April. But during winters, it takes much longer to cross.
By the mid of November and all of December, the area starts to get a fresh layer of snowfall. This, although not dangerous with skilled professionals around, may present you with difficulties of a different kind.
All in all, a climb up Pangarchulla is always shrouded in mystery – and is quite the experience each time you climb it. The unpredictability keeps you attentive and focused on the task, making the climb a soulful experience.
Challenge 6: Keeping your head in the game
It is relatively easier to keep your head in the game when you are involuntarily rid of distractions such as phone calls and messages. To climb a mountain requires a lot of focus; so much so that it is almost meditative. And it helps when the location is so remote that it keeps you away from such distractions automatically. The trail of Pangarchulla is not one of those! Almost the entire trail gets strong reception and it takes great resolve to keep your phones turned off so as to get all that you can from the mountain. While it also means that help is available whenever you might need it because of the connectivity, it also sometimes takes away from the climb a little.
GEAR REQUIRED FOR PANGARCHULLA
While we will be providing most of the technical equipment needed for the trek (tents, sleeping bags, microspikes, ice axe), there is some basic gear you will need from your end to get through your hike comfortably.
Some of the things you will need are:
1) A sturdy, lightweight backpack: A good backpack which sits comfortably on your back without putting too much pressure on it can be the deciding factor between making it to the summit or not. Good, however, is not a synonym for expensive.
One of our founders, Pankaj, purchased a non-branded pack for INR 1100 in 2010 and the pack continues to work just fine for him even today. In the article linked below, he shares some helpful tips on what to look for when choosing a trekking backpack.
2) Comfortable trekking shoes: Happy feet equal a happy trek. Conventional sports shoes don’t suit trekking trails. We recommend wearing high ankle shoes with sturdy soles. These not only provide better support but also reduce the possibility of injuries while hiking. In case, you need help with a list of deciding factors that make for good trekking shoes, please refer to the article below.
3) Right Clothing: Any high-altitude trek requires specific kinds of clothing. It should be warm but light weight. It should also be such that it is easily packaged. On high-altitude treks like Pangarchulla Peak, we usually employ the layering method where you put on multiple layers of clothing instead of one very heavy, thick jacket. This is for two reasons:
- The weather in Himalayan regions is unpredictable and changes very quickly. Layering gives you the freedom to adapt to that accordingly where you are not left feeling too hot or too cold.
- These are easy to carry and are packing-friendly.
4) Right Sunglasses: When you know you are going to be in and around snow or in any high-altitude location where the sun is harsh, you might want to carry a good pair of sunglasses. A lack of these could prove to be fatal. The article below can help you pick out just the right pair.
SKILLS REQUIRED FOR PANGARCHULLA PEAK
Bikat Adventures is primarily an adventure learning organization. This means our key objective is not just to help trekkers complete their treks but also to ensure they pick up some valuable lessons and skills in trekking along the way.
To achieve this, we have created learning modules and paired them to different levels on the Bikat Rating Scale.
These modules are taught real-time on the trails by our trek leaders.
The following are some skills that are likely to come in handy on a trek like Pangarchulla Peak.
While you will have all the assistance you need on the trek from our capable trek leaders and guides, we suggest browsing through the articles below to get an idea of what is involved.
1) Ascending & Descending on Trails
The summit for Pangarchulla Peak is full of steep ascents and equally steep descents. While ascending and descending on a rocky terrain is difficult, achieving this on icy slopes is tricky and a heavily bouldered landscape, even trickier. A set of simple techniques can help you navigate all kinds of terrain with considerable ease while also reducing chances of injuries and stress to specific body parts. The guide linked below shares some useful tips on how to ascend and descend on trails.
2) Packing Your Rucksack
Given how unpredictable the weather gets on Pangarchulla Peak, you are likely to keep changing your layering frequently along the way. Also, due to the vast difference in day temperature and that at night, you most probably will spend a lot of time packing and re-packing your sack.
Accessing your stuff can get a bit messy and confusing during this process.
A sack packed right can facilitate your trekking while incorrect packing can make even an easy trail seem difficult. Worry not, we are here to help. The article linked below shares some useful guidelines you can follow to pack efficiently.
3) How to Pitch a Tent
Our trek leaders will be guiding you on how to pitch a tent during the trek. Nevertheless, we are linking the article below for anyone who might be interested in reading about it.
4) Layering Basics
Layering appropriately to protect you from the cold is essential. The article linked below will give you a fair idea of the winter layers you will need and guide you on how to layer up at campsites and while hiking.
5) Understanding Equipment
Like we said before, Pangarchulla Peak takes you through an assortment of landscapes. This, along with its peculiar terrain and environment require you to use some mountaineering equipment. The articles below will acquaint you to a few of these and help you understand how to use them as well as how they can facilitate your climb.
We hope this article answers all the questions you may have about Pangarchulla Peak. In case you need further assistance/information with something, please feel free to reach out to us. We are only a phone call away.