Chadar Trek is one of the most fascinating yet daunting treks in the Himalayas. Period!
The answer to how one should prepare for Chadar Trek lies more in the mental preparedness than physical preparedness. Chadar Trek is all about mind over matter. If you are strong-willed and unflinching, you can face all the daunting challenges that Chadar Trek throws your way. For it is better to be prepared beforehand than to be sorry later. In spite of the challenges, Chadar is a spellbinding trek loaded with adventure and landscapes that will leave you wondering if you have been transported to another planet. With the right kind of preparation and experience, Chadar is not unconquerable.
One of the strategies of war is to know your enemy well. You should do the same in this case. I am not asking you to consider Chadar Trek as your enemy for it is going to be the most heavenly experience of your life. But it will help you profusely to know about all the hurdles Chadar Trek has in store for you.
Difficulty Level of the Trek
Chadar - The Frozen River Trek 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 Frozen Trails of Chadar
Chadar is a trek that largely involves traversing over a frozen river, which is challenging to say the least. But that is only one of the challenges that the trek poses. While it does display the grandiosity and beauty of the mountains around you, it is no cake walk and will test you both physically and mentally. Hold up, that does not mean you should not attempt it, it only means you should be well aware of the challenges and how to tackle them in order to complete this adventure. Following are a few of the challenges we might encounter:
Challenge 1: Extreme Temperature
It is no secret that temperatures on Chadar Trek drop down to -30℃. If such extreme temperatures can freeze the Zanskar River and the waterfall of Nerak, think of what it can do to our bones. Thanks to human anatomy, we humans are warm-blooded creatures. Our bodies regulate the temperature regardless of the external variations to help keep us comfortable. This however, is not sufficient in itself to keep us warm in freezing temperatures.
What to do: You should carry insulation jackets, windcheaters, thermals, gloves and thick socks on the trek to fight the bone-chilling cold. It helps to wear multiple layers of insulation instead of just one thick sweater. More layers mean more warmth.
We advise strictly adhering to the packing list for Chadar Trek. Do not leave even the smallest thing out of it.
Challenge 2: Long Stretches of Walking
Chadar Trek does not have many ascents and descents like other Himalayan treks but it does involve walking long distances on a frozen bed of the river. Sounds like fun, no?
Each day, we will travel a distance of 14-15 km for 5-6 hours. Add the weight of our rucksack to it. There will be a few parts on the trail where we may have to manoeuvre around the broken or more dangerous parts of the Chadar. There are going to be portions when the frozen bed is just 5 m wide, making it a tricky adventure. The trek will test your physical and mental endurance while throwing the most amazing views your way. You may be able to walk long distances in the plains but any kind of activity that is physically strenuous at that altitude is bound to demand more from you.
What to do: It is best to start your preparation in advance and aim to walk at least 5 km every day. Even better if you add an incline to it!
Challenge 3: Unpredictable Weather
As we all know, the mountains make their own weather. No amount of weather forecast or planning can prepare you for weather change in the mountains. Chadar is no exception. We should be prepared to deal with unexpected rain or snowfall on the trail.
What to do: Keeping your rain cover and windcheater handy always helps to quickly cover yourself and avoid getting soaked in such temperatures.
Challenge 4: Water & Food
With temperatures so low, everything freezes very quickly. The water will turn ice-cold in no time. We will not get packed lunches with us because it will go cold and freeze in all likelihood.
Chadar is the only trek where we carry cooking supplies along the trail, make pit stops to prepare fresh, hot meals in between camps before heading back on the trail. It is quite an experience! Looking for the right water sources where water is suitable for drinking is another difficulty you might face on the trek. Do not fill any water you come across, your trek leader will inform you of the right water sources.
What to do: It always helps to carry nuts and dry fruits to keep you going during treks. Ensure these are packed in such a way that they are not exposed to the low temperatures.
Challenge 5: Acute Mountain Sickness
Chadar Trek is situated at the altitude of 3,413M which can result in issues like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). It is always advisable to spend a day or two in Leh prior to the trek in order to allow your bodies to acclimatise to the change in environment. Despite that, some of us may experience nausea, headaches, or breathlessness in the night due to low levels of oxygen on the trek.
What to do: Remember to drink 5-6 litres of water every day to remain hydrated and to also help the body acclimatise to the altitude. Eating meals and snacks at regular intervals also helps the body recuperate and adjust itself to the change in the environment. It is also important to look out for signs such as headaches, strained breathing, and flu like symptoms. In the event that any of these are noticed, the trek leader should be informed right away so that any necessary action can be taken.
Gear Required for Chadar - The Frozen River Trek
We will be providing most of the equipment needed for the trek such as tents, sleeping bags and other technical equipment that will be needed during the trek. Here are some basic gear you will need from your end to get through your trek 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.
You will also need gumboots for the Chadar trek - you can hire/buy these at Leh market. They are easily available.
3) Right Clothing: Any high-altitude trek requires specific kinds of clothing. It should be warm but lightweight. It should also be such that it is easily packaged. 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.
Skills Required for Chadar: The Frozen River Trek:
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 Chadar.
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.
Chadar can be a particularly tricky and difficult trail given the terrain and altitude at which it is located. Walking on a frozen river is no child’s play and requires the use of certain techniques and skills. The guide linked below shares some useful tips on how to traverse on ice and frozen surfaces.
Given how unpredictable the weather gets in the mountains, 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 depending on whether you are on-trail or at the campsite, have chanced upon sudden rains or are stuck in a suddenly arrived cold hour. The area is also prone to unannounced rains. Under such changeable circumstances, accessing your stuff can get a bit messy and confusing.
Also, a sack packed right can facilitate your trekking while incorrect packing can even make 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.
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.
Layering appropriately to protect yourself 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.
When you know you are going to be 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.
When on any trek, it is each person’s responsibility to know the requirements of the area, some campsite basics and how to manage our own selves as well as the environment around us. While our trek leaders will keep you abreast about the basic dos and don’ts, do read the article below to brush up on some basic principles before the trek.
We hope this article answers all the questions you may have about Chadar. Read about the Highlights of The Chadar Trek. In case you need further assistance/information with something, please feel free to reach out to us. We are only a phone call away.
This article was originally written by Pooja Dhiman in September 2019.
It was edited and updated by Geethanjali on 27/09/2023.