Is walking on a frozen river on your bucket list yet? When we first heard about the Chadar Trek years and years ago we were amazed by the symphony of this frozen world – frozen river, frozen waterfalls, frozen caves! We wanted to know more about the ‘frozen’ Chadar.
The first thing we learned was that Chadar trek is rightly called so because the word ‘Chadar’ signifies ‘Blanket’ in the local language. After all, what would you name a thick frozen sheet of ice that miraculously forms the floor of the entire valley?
In winters, all routes from Leh to Zanskar are closed, making this frozen river the only way to get there. Walking on this crystal blanket was initially a mode to access the remote and mysterious Zanskar, but it’s now established as the most thrilling experience for the adventurous folks.
We receive a lot of questions from our readers about this enchanting land and the beautiful Frozen River Trek, so we decided to answer the most asked ones for you.
How hard is the Chadar Trek?
If we were to rate the level of difficulty of Chadar Trek, we would pick Moderate-Difficult. However, the challenging aspect of this trek is not the usual exertion caused by trekking on a difficult terrain. Because Chadar Trek is mostly about walking on the flat surface of frozen river (if you are lucky to get a well formed Chadar). Sections that are not formed well will require you to negotiate some icy rocks or boulders or crawl on your belly to get through a narrow stretch, which is challenging. But the most challenging aspect is the unsettling temperatures, that may drop to as low as -30 to -35 degrees at nights. Having said that, Ladakh’s Chadar trek is very doable by anyone and the key to survive this grueling cold is to dress in layers.
Can Chadar Trek be my first trek?
Yes. Chadar trek can be your first trek, however, the answer is subjective depending on how well-prepared you are – mentally and physically. Having said that, we also believe that some kind of trekking experience is always helpful as it helps you realize your true potential in uncontrollable circumstances like your stamina, required food intake, ability to bear the cold etc. If your body is fit and ready to walk for 15-17 kms everyday and bear temperatures as low as -35 degrees, then Ladakh’s Chadar ice trek can certainly be your first trek.
What is the best time to visit Chadar?
The best time to experience this trek is the winter months of January and February. More specifically, mid-January to end of February is the time when most treks are carried on. It is because the Chadar (frozen river) is well formed in this period, which would prevent you from climbing steep untrodden mountain passes.
There are many operators offering this trek at different prices. How to determine what cost and operator is the best?
There has been an influx of companies organising the Chadar Trek with substantial cost-cutting. The quoted price can be tempting for you. However, you have to understand that organisers do this by compensating on the quality of services and safety gears provided to you. To determine the best offer, you should consider the cost inclusions and exclusions to see what provisions are included in the overall cost and what are not. There may be a few hidden costs also that you might not be able to recognise at first that may be for travel, food or anything else.
Check everything carefully including the number of days provided in the package because even a single day can change the price by around Rs.3000, but that one extra day might be extremely essential for acclimatization or easing yourself into this unfamiliar environment.
Enquire about the nitty-gritties: What kind of experience does the trek leader hold? Is there someone from the team that is qualified in Mountain Rescue and Evacuation procedures? Is the quality of camping and safety gear sufficient to sustain you in the harshest of weather? So on and so forth. Don’t be afraid to ask before you decide which company/ operators you want to go with.
What kind of food is provided on the trek?
Chadar trek is a journey that covers a total of 105 km and most of this stretch is covered by foot. The cook or helper arranged by the respective operator chosen by you have already been briefed about the nutrition intake required for this arduous journey. For a trek like Chadar, it’s a prerequisite that your dietary needs are fulfilled. So you are provided with a protein rich diet that includes vegetables, eggs and other nutritional food. The cook and the helpers make sure you get three meals a day. Towards the end of every day, they also get to the campsite before the group to make some hot tea and serve you as soon as you reach.
Where do you get your drinking water from on the trek?
Himalayan waters are considered safe for direct consumption. However, the water from the Zanskar river is so cold that it needs to be boiled invariably. Generally, the cooks of the respective groups boil the water with chlorine tablets or other water purifying tablets and the group members fill their bottles up before starting their walking journey of the day.
How to charge your electronics?
In a land where cellular network doesn’t exist, you are only going to use your electronics to click pictures and shoot videos of the marvels of nature. It is obviously going to be a no charge zone for days and the cold weather will drain out your already charged batteries insanely faster. You can carry extra batteries with you. More so, try to keep your batteries warm by tucking them away in your jacket pockets or storing them in gloves and socks. The key is to keep the batteries warm while carrying some extras.
How should one dress up for Chadar trek?
The KEY to dress up for Chadar trek is to dress in LAYERS.
Another KEY is to keep 2 separate sets of outer clothing for trekking in the day and sleeping in the night respectively. It is because temperatures drop particularly low at nights (-25 to -35 degrees). Your body isn’t moving and producing heat while you’re sleeping, so you need to make sure your outer layer is compliant with nighttime temperatures.
Your layers of clothing for the Chadar Trek can somewhat look like this:
Layer 1: Thermal Inners
Layer 2: Full Sleeves Tshirt
Layer 3: Fleece Jacket
Layer 4: A water and wind resistant Down Jacket and Synthetic Hiking
Layer 5: Rain Poncho/ Any Waterproof Cover (Optional)
It’s extremely important that you carry multiple pairs of socks. You will only thank yourself later. It is because they get completely damp inside your shoes after the whole day of trekking. So when you reach your campsite you will want to change into a dry set of socks which will keep your feet warm and allow you to have a good night’s sleep (especially woolen socks). Multiple pairs of socks are everything for this trek. The Leh market sells some super quality military socks, try getting your hands on them.
For the head, stick to a woollen cap, a sun cap and a balaclava.
For your hands you could wear a simple fleece liner inside your big water/ snow resistant gloves. You can click photos easily by removing those huge gloves as the fleece liner won’t expose your hands to the cold, giving you a good grip simultaneously.
You could also be a little smart and invest in small pocket sized hand warmers that you can slide inside your gloves to produce heat and keep you extra warm (especially during nights).
For your eyes, opt for curved UV/ Polarized sunglasses that cover your eyes well. Avoid multi tone sunglasses because they don’t block Uv rays efficiently. Apart from blocking Uv rays, wearing sunglasses on Chadar trek prevents snow blindness.
For the feet, gumboots are the best type of shoes to sustain on the Chadar trek. You could also take your water/ snow resistant hiking shoes, but nothing works on the Chadar like Gumboots. You could carry your gumboots or buy some really good ones from the Leh market at just 350-400 Rs (preferably buy them from the Leh market as they are cheap and sturdy). You can also attach microspikes under your boots to give you a good grip on the glossy sheet of ice if there is no snow covering it, but usually Gumboots are all you need.
For making your walk easier, carry a trekking pole. It will serve two very important purposes: 1. For getting a good grip on the icy/ snowy surface and 2. For checking how firm the surface is before stepping on it.
How does one feel after finishing Chadar trek?
We are happy to share a small glimpse of how some of our users felt after finishing the trek:
How to acclimatize for Chadar Trek?
If you have a direct flight to Leh, you have to give your body the time to adapt to the sudden high altitude. The air gradually becomes rarified and the oxygen levels drop. You need to give your body the time to adapt to thin air. This process is called Acclimatization. It plays a very key role in avoiding Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
The best way to acclimatize for Chadar Trek is to rest for 48 hours after entering Leh. Your body slowly eases itself into the environment.
You could consult your doctor or physician before starting your trek and get some preventive medicines beforehand. These medicines should only be taken after proper prescription by the doctor.
How do you need to prepare yourself physically before setting off on this trek?
Physical endurance is as important as mental endurance for this trek. The mind is where it all starts.
Make sure you don’t have any physical ailments or breathing problems. You have to check with your doctor if you can subject your body to the extreme conditions of this trek. You have to produce a fitness certificate by a certified medical practitioner.
To develop your physical endurance, start way ahead of the date of your departure. You could focus on developing your cardiovascular health, accompanied with strength training and yoga.
By cardiovascular health, we mean you could start with interval training – a method of elevating your heartbeat, then letting it calm down and recover before elevating it again. For example, you can run and get your heart rate up, then stop and let it recover before starting to run again.
By strength training we mean, your arms, back, shoulders and even legs should be trained to carry load while you hike at such a high altitude. Yes you will have porters to carry your luggage, but you have to be prepared for the extremes too. You could start training at home by climbing stairs with load on your back. Gradually start long runs and long walks to build on the stamina. Yoga is another activity you can do because it has great breathing exercises that will benefit you for embracing higher altitudes.
Any Do’s and Don’ts for this trek?
Chadar Trek Do’s
Make sure your trek leaders hold proper knowledge of first aid.
Check if they have adequate medical supplies.
Pack light. Remember, you only have to pack the essentials for survival.
Give your body ample of time to acclimatize.
Start going on short walks 45-60 days prior to the trek, gradually turning them into longer walks 15-20 days before.
Carry small hot water bags which will be great to fill boiling water on chilly nights.
Carry an extra inner-line fleece for your sleeping bag.
Carry healthy energy based snacks like dry fruits.
Keep sipping on water, your body needs hydration.
At nights, take your water bottles, socks, gloves or anything that you want to keep warm inside your sleeping bag.
Chadar Trek Don’ts
Do not litter. The Chadar Trek is an exquisite and pristine trail. Be responsible and keep it that way.
Do not carry denims.
Do not contaminate the waterfall or the river by the use of soaps or shampoos.
Do not expose your hands/ legs to the cold directly for a long period. Frostbite is very easy to kick in at this altitude.
Do not be harsh on your trekking guide, cook, helper, porters. They work very hard to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Do not rush to reach the campsite before your friends. Enjoy your experience at a soothing pace and absorb the greatness of each and every moment.
What are the things we need to carry on Chadar Trek?
Here’s a list of all the essentials we think you need on this trek. You can take a print-out of the following and tick each item as you pack. This will make your process of preparation organised.
To download the complete checklist in Pdf format, click on the link below:
In the process of preparing yourself for this other-wordly experience, don’t forget to treasure every moment while you’re on this trek.
We hope we were helpful and this was instrumental in solving all your queries about the Chadar trek. If you have any more questions, ask us in the comments section below. Also, write to us if you want us to cover any other Adventure destination in detail. We are happy to help.
Until Next Time 🙂