Located in the magnificent high altitude kingdom of Ladakh, the Chadar trek is a surreal trek that takes you over the frozen Zanskar river during the deepest freeze of winter. Over hundreds of years, the Zanskar river has carved a path for itself through the rocky landscape of Ladakh, with the gorge walls going up to 2000 feet high in some places.
During the summer, the Zanskar river is a perfect location for rafting, and during the winters it transforms into a sheet of ice. The ice on the river forms such a thick layer that the locals use it as a road. Chadar trekkers will walk over this frozen river, camp in caves and in tents on the ice and trek past towering waterfalls that are frozen in mid-flow.
The trek route winds along the river surface, with very few inclines, so it isn’t a tough trek. However, the challenge lies in the high altitude and the extreme cold. The altitude is about 11,400 feet, and temperatures can drop as low as -25 degrees Celsius.
BEFORE THE TREK:
All routes above 8,000 feet are considered high altitude treks because the air pressure and moisture in the air decreases at this level. Reduced air pressure means there is less oxygen to breathe and this causes your body to work less efficiently. There are serious risks involved with high-altitude trekking such as pulmonary oedema and acute mountain sickness (AMS or altitude sickness).
Get physically fit
Before you go on a high-altitude hike, you need to train your body to work efficiently and build stamina. Begin at least 2 months in advance and focus on cardio and stretching. You should strengthen your calves, glutes and back through a series of simple exercises that can be done at home. Here’s a good reference:
Mon/Wed/Fri: Jogging/Running: 3-4 kms
Tues/Thurs/Sat: Do 15-20 surya namaskars + 10 squats
Sun: Rest day
Mon/Wed/Fri: Jogging/Running: 5-7 kms
Tues/Thurs/Sat: Do 20-25 surya namaskars + 10 squats + deep breathing exercises
Sun: Rest day
If you go to a gym or have a personal trainer, talk to them about getting stronger in time for your trek. You can also do cycling or swimming to get fit.
Practise breathing exercises
Learning how to control and maximise your breathing will help you on the trek when the oxygen is thinner and less available. But learning these exercises will also benefit you if you’re going scuba diving or snorkelling, during your regular exercise, and to deal with stressful times. There are a number of guided deep breathing videos on Youtube that you can use to help you learn the basic techniques of kapalbhati and pranayama.
Get a medical check-up
If you have asthma, cardiac conditions, and spine or knee problems, you might not be able to manage a high altitude trek like this. Consult your doctor and get a medical check-up to ensure you have no pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated during the Chadar trek. Make sure you explain the weather conditions of the trek, how many days it will entail and the distance you plan to trek each day.
Pack like a pro
Pack your bag in advance so you have time to check all your gear and try out your packed bag. All operators will provide you with a packing list. Break in new shoes, check the fastenings and zips on your jackets, put on gloves and hats, and pack everything into your bag and weigh it. This will give you an idea of what you’ll be carrying every day, and you’ll have time to buy or replace any gear that is not suitable for use.
DURING THE TREK
Know what you’re dealing with
It’s important for you to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of altitude sickness: Some of the more common symptoms are headaches, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and nosebleeds. More serious symptoms include cough, persistent severe headaches, nausea, loss of coordination and disorientation. If you feel unwell, inform your guide and you may have to stop at your current altitude and descend if the symptoms don’t improve over a day.
For the Chadar trek, you’ll be flying in to Leh. From most places in the country, this is a considerable height gain, and you should plan to spend time acclimatising. A good itinerary for the Chadar trek includes a day or two of very little activity to help your body adjust, but try and fit in some time on your own schedule if not. For the first day, you’re advised to rest in your hotel room and take a short walk in the evening. Take small sips of water and do some breathing exercises. Avoid alcohol and smoking while acclimatising.
Don’t rush the trek
While you’re trekking, take your own time and walk slowly, breathing deeply and evenly as you go. Eat well, and make sure you take regular sips of water. Avoid alcohol and smoking on the Chadar trek.
Dress like an onion
Dressing in layers ensures that you have enough clothing to keep you warm throughout your trek. The higher you go, the colder it gets, and it is imperative you have layers of clothes and the right gear to keep warm. Wear a snug, dry-fit inner layer to help keep you dry and add layers like woolly tops and fleece, insulated jackets etc that you can take off once you get warm while trekking. Avoid cotton, which gets wet and takes time to dry. The top layer should windproof and waterproof for both pants and jackets. Do remember to carry a hat and gloves to protect extremities.
Protect yourself from the elements
Wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses during the day, and use a moisturiser and lip balm too.
Choosing the right Chadar trek for you.
You can choose from whirlwind itineraries of the legendary frozen Zanskar river trek that gives you a Chadar Trek experience, without taking too long. It’s perfect for those who are not sure they’ll be able to handle longer durations in the freezing weather, or for those who have time restrictions. There are longer itineraries too, that will give you enough time on the Chadar. All itineraries will include at least a day’s stay in Leh to make sure you are fully acclimatized before you start the trek. Check out the different Chadar trek packages here, or call us to talk to an advisor who can help you find the right trek for you.