Journey to Kedarkantha!
One day, my friend Bhushan happened to ask me, “Will you come to the Kedarkantha trek?” I thought to myself “Why not?” and I asked him to send me all the details about the trek. I started doing research about the trek, the route, the climate, the level of difficulty and who could do this trek. I decided to post this trek on the Vidya Valley Adventure club. In the past 7 years we have done numerous treks under our club’s banner and all the trekkers have gained a lot of experience of trekking in the Sahyadri ranges. This was going to be a real treat and an ideal trek for these trekkers!
Kedarkantha, located in Uttarakhand, is a mountain peak of the Himalayas. Its elevation is 12,500 ft. It is located within the Govind Wildlife Sanctuary in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. It is a five day trek in which one gets to experience a lot of snow especially at such low altitude. Although it is referred to as a trek, it is actually like a mini expedition. Participants have to walk through the snow and temperatures drop below -10°C. One gets a chance to see a proper 360° summit view of the beautiful mountain ranges around the peak.
I was a little sceptical about the prevailing Covid conditions and its effect on the trek but decided to post the trek on the club group all the same. To my surprise I got a very good response. So much so, that I had to plan two batches of the same trek.
I wanted to train the participants and make them physically fit before the trek. I started their special fitness training thrice a week in school. Everyone came regularly for the practice fitness sessions and it was a good bonding experience before the trek. This was going to be a winter trek and we wanted to avoid any risk. Hence everyone had to buy special winter wear like gloves, socks, jackets etc.
At last, the day arrived. On 18th February, 2021 we left for Dehradun by the morning flight.We reached Dehradun at 9.30 am and started our journey towards the village of Sankari by bus. Sankari is the last road head point of our trek. The entire journey up to Sankari was through Ghats and winding roads. En route we could see beautiful mountains, different types of trees and flowers. This type of journey was not new to me yet there seemed to be something new and eye pleasing. We just couldn’t get enough of it! For the first time in my life I saw a jackal in the Himalayas. We reached the village of Sankari post evening and we couldn’t see much. Everyone settled in their rooms while we waited for the dinner. Post dinner, the participants were briefed about the trek and were given all the necessary instructions before winding up for the day.
The next day in the morning, we packed our bags and started the trek around 9.30 am, post breakfast. The entire trek was through a dense jungle and we started gaining height gently. We could see many Deodar cedar trees and Rhododendron flowers. Even though all the participants had a lot of trekking experience in the Sahyadris, they did not have enough experience in the Himalayas. So everyone was walking at a slow pace to get their bodies properly acclimatised. Throughout the trek we saw many beautiful snowy peaks and everyone got busy clicking photos from different angles! But we still hadn’t got a glimpse of the Kedarkantha Peak.
We reached the Juda-ka-talab campsite after a 5 hour trek. It was a mesmerising campsite and the colourful tents added more to its beauty. Everyone was happy to see little snow around the tents. We were served a delicious meal of dal rice and pasta. Everyone ate to their heart’s content.
For proper acclimatisation it is very important to climb to a higher altitude and sleep at a lower one. So, the same evening, after a short rest, we went sightseeing to the Juda-ka-talab Lake, which was at a higher altitude than the campsite. On returning to the campsite, we were greeted with a pleasant surprise: yummy pakodas and hot tea on a chilly winter evening at 9600 feet!
The most beautiful thing about treks is that you have these stunning, sky-high mountains with alluring snowy peaks all around you and beautiful blue skies with clouds all just a touch away. Throughout the trek we witnessed the beautiful landscapes nature has to offer.
The next day we were going to shift to basecamp. The base camp was just a 2 and a half hours walk from Juda-ka-talab, so we had the luxury of starting a little late. This was the day to trek on snow and I advised the team to wear micro spikes and gaiters. My team members were walking in snow for the first time, so they took a little time to get used to the micro spikes. They were slipping, falling and joking all the way up. I was glad to see everyone enjoying themselves. We were to gain an altitude of 1500 feet over a distance of 2 to 3 km. The trek to the base camp was fairly easy and the micro spikes made trekking on snow a cakewalk. The weather was pleasant and we had the entire day to ourselves. We reached the base camp around 11.30 am and got our first glimpse of Kedarkantha peak. The views from the Kedarkantha Base camp were surreal. It was very cold even in the afternoon and we had to put on our feather jackets. After a fantastic lunch the entire team sat outside to enjoy the sun and the beauty around us. Team members had a lot of curiosity as well as a few doubts about the summit push. This was their first expedition, so I had expected them to ask a lot of questions. I enjoyed answering them because I know and I have experienced this thrill cum uncertainty of the summit push many times. I told them, “That no matter what happens, keep walking at a steady pace. For summiting any peak you need to have physical fitness but alongside that your mental fitness is in fact more important.” In the evening we gave them all the instructions for the next day.
Early morning everyone got ready. Tea and breakfast was served exactly at 2.00 am so that we could move by 3:00 am as decided. My team was both nervous and excited. It was their first summit trek and the idea of witnessing the world from a mountain peak was exhilarating for them. Their enthusiasm was contagious; even I could feel the excitement building in me.
The weather was clear but it was freezing cold. We started our summit push. Trekking in the moonlight was an altogether different experience. With our head torches on, we set out on the moonlit snow. The glittering rays from the moon fell on the shimmering snow, illuminating our path to the summit. Since the snow was hard it became relatively easy to walk on the hard snow. At times the route got very narrow, allowing only one trekker to pass through. After trekking for 2 straight hours, we stopped at a tea stall for some refreshments. The tea stall seemed like an oasis in the middle of the desert. After some hot ginger tea, we set out for the climax of our Himalayan summit quest. As the trail to the summit was unfolding itself, we began to witness the mighty Himalayan peaks. We stopped for a few minutes to capture the breath-taking views surrounding us. After the tea point, the route was one way. There was no option of turning back from here as the return route was from the other side of the summit. Everyone was walking at a good pace and I was confident that my entire team was going to summit the Kedarkantha peak successfully.
As we started climbing the ridge, slowly, the sun rose. The sky was bursting with vibrant colours and everything around us looked golden. We felt as if we were in heaven. Of course, we had to continue climbing cautiously as there was a steep drop on the right side. Finally, we stepped onto the summit at 7.30 am. The experience was beyond words. Everyone was overjoyed and content. Our hard work had paid off! We clicked pictures and videos with the Indian flag and the Vidya Valley school flag. But… this was not the end!
The fun started while descending. Members relived their childhood by sliding their way down on the snowy slopes and playing in the snow. The team reached the base camp, safe and sound having made memories of a lifetime!
By Anand Mali