How to prepare for The Chadar Trek

Chadar Trek has always been on the list of top treks of every trekker. Due to the glamour it has garnered over the years, even amateur trekkers try to attempt it. Since the trek doesn’t involve much of climbing, it is a moderate to difficult trek. The major challenge a trekker faces during the trek is getting used to the extreme cold at high altitude. Although the maximum altitude is only about 11,400 ft, coping with extreme cold at this altitude is not an easy task. Even in my case, the question – “How to prepare for the Chadar Trek?” started squirming in my head with every passing day. So, after reading from different sources and from my own personal experience, I finally prepared this detailed guide.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE CHADAR TREK

So, I would be breaking this article into following sections:

  1. Physical Fitness
  2. Mental Preparation
  3. Acclimatization
  4. Clothing & Accessories
  5. Other Essentials
  6. Medicines
  7. Things to remember
  8. My Gear for The Chadar Trek

PHYSICAL FITNESS

Like with any other trek, fitness is of utmost importance for Chadar Trek. Although the trek doesn’t require trekkers to climb, walking on ice at sub zero temperatures for 5-6 hours everyday does require some fitness. Make sure you start your preparation 1-2 months prior to the trek. Start with a brisk walk for 2-3 km daily for first couple of weeks. After that you can start jogging 4-5 km daily.

If you are not inclined towards running, you may replace this exercise with climbing stairs of your residential or office building for 20-25 minutes. At 11,000+ ft altitude, the air is thin resulting in breathing difficulties. Cardio exercises like jogging will actually help you improve your lung capacity. If you are into Yoga, emphasize more on Pranayama. You should also try avoiding hot water shower and warm clothes/ blankets to train your body to handle the cold.

MENTAL PREPARATION

In trekking and mountaineering, more than physical fitness, it is the right frame of mind which makes all the difference. Due to the uncertain climatic conditions at high altitudes, there could be last-minute changes in plans, change in weather conditions, etc. A person should be mentally prepared to get adapted to such situations. Although it is normal to get intimidated by imagining the survival in extreme weather conditions, a right attitude and approach could make Chadar Trek seem easier to complete.

ACCLIMATIZATION

Whenever you are going on a high altitude trek, it is imperative that you reach the base camp city/ village 2-3 days in advance. It helps you in getting accustomed to the weather conditions before the start of the trek. For Chadar Trek, you start from Leh which is at 3,500 m altitude. During winters, the only way to reach Leh is to take a flight from Delhi (duration: 90-120 minutes) which is at about 216 m altitude.

When you gain so much of altitude within such a short duration, your body takes time to adjust to the conditions. Hence, it is necessary that you don’t indulge in any kind of sightseeing or strenuous activities on first day of landing in Leh. No matter how much comfortable you feel on day 1, you better take rest for the entire day. Please remember your primary goal, that is completing the Chadar Trek.

Also, it is necessary to consume as much fluid (water, tea, soup) as you can, during the acclimatization days and also on trek days. The temperature in Leh in the morning is usually around -7 to -10 C during January and February. Even in afternoon, the temperature doesn’t usually go above 2 C. The best way to beat the cold is to get used to it. On day 2, if you feel comfortable in 4-5 layers, try removing 1-2 layers to feel the cold and get your body adjusted to it. Remember that the cold during Chadar Trek would only be worse than that in Leh. So, it’s better to be well prepared to face it.

CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES

The most important rule for surviving in subzero temperatures is wearing layers instead of carrying thick and heavy sweaters. The key here is to wear light and warm since you would be carrying the same clothes in your rucksack for 8-9 days. The layers should be as follows:

For top:

  • Layer 1: Thermal inners. Carry one cotton inner for night and a synthetic one during day.

Recommended: Cotton thermals by Lux Inferno or Jockey; Freshwarm Ski Base Layer (available at Decathlon)

  • Layer 2: Thin fleece or Full sleeves T-shirt with collar (avoid cotton).

Recommended: Forclaz 20 Mountain Hiking Fleece

  • Layer 3: Fleece thick jacket.

Recommended: Quechua SH500 Warm Snow Hiking Jacket

  • Layer 4: Full down feather jacket.
  • Layer 5: Windcheater/ Rain jacket/ Poncho.

Recommended: Arpenaz 100 Hiking Rain Jacket

For bottoms:

  • Layer 1: Thermal inners. Cotton one for night and a synthetic one during the day.

Recommended: Cotton thermals by Lux Inferno or Jockey; Freshwarm Ski Base Layer (available at Decathlon)

  • Layer 2: A synthetic trek pant for walking during the day (one backup) and fleece hiking trek pant for night.

Recommended (for synthetic trek pant): Men’s Trek 500 Mountain Trekking Convertible Trousers

Recommended (for fleece trek pant): SH100 Warm Men’s Snow Hiking Trousers

  • Layer 3: Rain pant

For palms:

  • Layer 1: Thin inner gloves (woolen/ synthetic).

Recommended: Arpenaz 50 Touchscreen Adult Hiking Inner Gloves (Silk Black)

  • Layer 2: Waterproof fleece gloves.

Recommended: First Heat Adult Ski Gloves (although they are only water repellent, they do a good job at Chadar Trek and are available at only Rs. 399)

For eyes:

Sunglasses are mandatory for Chadar Trek to prevent snow blindness. Category 3 or 4 wraparound sunglasses with 100% UV protection are recommended (polarized ones would be better). Avoid wearing wayfarer or aviators while walking on the snow/ice. And do not opt for sunglasses with blue shade. If you wear spectacles, you can either wear contact lenses (and sunglasses over them) or spectacles with big sunglasses covering them.

Recommended:

  • Hiking 300 Adult Category 3 Hiking Glasses – Black & Red
  • MH 570 Adult Category 4 Polarized Hiking Glasses – Black & Red

For face, neck and head:

  • Thick beanie/ Buff
  • Suncap
  • Balaclava
  • Fleece neck warmer/ Muffler/ Scarf

Recommended: You may buy these things at a Decathlon store, Amazon or at the Leh market.

For feet:

  • Normal trekking shoes for roaming around in Leh and till Shingra Koma (starting point of Chadar Trek). From there you would be wearing gum boots.
  • Four pairs of thick cotton socks while walking during the day.
  • Two pairs of woolen socks at night. You can buy Military woolen socks at Leh market for Rs. 60 per pair. If you are brand conscious, then go for SH900 Adult Warm Snow Hiking Socks.

OTHER ESSENTIALS

  • Rucksack/ Daypack

A 60-70 L rucksack and/or a 20-30 L daypack with sturdy straps and a support frame (if you plan to offload your rucksack and wish to keep camera, dryfruits, snacks handy)

Recommended: Rucksacks by Quechua or Wildcraft are good.

  • Rain Cover

A rain cover for the rucksack is mandatory to prevent it from getting wet. You could get it from Decathlon store according to the capacity of your rucksack.

  • Headlamp/ Flashlight/ Torch

Although you wouldn’t need to trek after sunset in Chadar Trek’s case, a good headlamp/ torch would be needed for answering nature’s call in the early morning.

Recommended: A headlamp with a combination of Flood/ Spot beam is recommended. For budget headlamps, you can explore these options. For mid-budget headlamp, you can buy Coast HL7. If you have deep pockets and want to go for the best in the business, go for Petzl or Black Diamond headlamps.

  • Trek Pole

Since you would be walking on a thick ice sheet throughout the trek, trek pole would be of little help.

Recommended: CrossTrek 56 Trekking Pole

  • Thermos/ Flask (Mandatory)

Preferably 750 ml or 1 L by Milton.

  • Moisturizer

Preferably by Nivea/ Lotus Herbals.

  • Sunscreen

Preferably SPF-50 by Lotus Herbals / Neutrogena / Biotique/ Nivea.

  • Tissue Papers
  • Hot water bag
  • Body warmers
  • Wet wipes by Dettol or Apollo
  • Toilet paper
  • Quick dry napkin and towel
  • Air-tight tiffin box and utensils
  • Glass// mug
  • Lip Balm/ Chapstick
  • Sanitary napkins
  • Sanitizer
  • Mouthwash
  • Deodorant
  • Undergarments
  • Power bank
  • Extra batteries for camera, mobile, headlamp/ torch, etc.

MEDICINES

Although I have never required to use the medicines on any of the high altitude treks so far, I do carry the basic medicine kit with me. If you are going with your friends, it is better to carry only single set of medicines for the entire group.

  • Diamox – to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
  • Dexamethasone – to prevent conditions like allergies, skin conditions, breathing problems, etc.
  • Nifedipine – to manage Angina (chest pain) and high blood pressure
  • Crocin – for fever
  • Avomine – for motion sickness
  • Avil 25 mg – for allergies
  • Combiflam – pain killer
  • Disprin – headache
  • Norflox & Lomofen – diarrhoea
  • Digene – for acidity
  • Omez & Ranitidine – antacids
  • Crepe Bandage – 3 to 5 metres
  • Gauze – 1 small roll
  • Band aid – 10 strips
  • Cotton – 1 small roll
  • ORS
  • Betadine (or any antiseptic cream)
  • Moov / Volini spray for aching and sprains
  • Saline Nasal Spray/ Drops

THINGS TO REMEMBER

  • First and the foremost, if you are not a regular trekker, then you should opt for “Beg-Borrow” principle for the trek gear. There’s no need to spend a bomb on things which you are unlikely going to use again in future.
  • In terms of physical fitness, your goal is to be fit for the trek. So if you are not a regular to exercises, do not overdo an exercise and get injured. But make sure that you continue your fitness regime even after the trek. It would help you in the long run.
  • Remember that it’s the mind which always fails first. If you are mentally prepared to complete this trek, come what may (except unavoidable circumstances ofcourse) your body would definitely respond positively.
  • When you land in Leh (mostly in the morning), the temperature will be in negative. So make sure you wear appropriate layers at Delhi Airport only.
  • Nose bleeding is very common at high altitudes. It happens due to dry nose membranes. If you face such problem, keep applying the Saline nasal spray/ drops at regular intervals.
  • It is better to avoid wearing cotton thermals or even fleece trek pant during day. Since you would be walking during the day, they might get sweaty and you will have to remove all layers to get rid of them. Wear synthetic clothes during the day.
  • Avoid heavy sweaters (except the one mentioned above from Decathlon) and denim material.
  • It is okay if you don’t have T-shirts with collar unless and until your neck is covered by buff or a neck warmer.
  • It is better to buy down jacket in Leh itself (check for any defects and you must be aware of proportion of feather, etc.) or get it on rent in your local city. Buy a bigger size so that it would accommodate multiple layers of fleece and thermals.
  • Please opt for a windcheater or a rain jacket (and rain pants) instead of a Poncho. Poncho becomes difficult to wear and take off at times. It also covers you only till the knees.
  • The Chadar or the ice usually has a thin layer of dust/ sand on it which is bearly visible. Make sure you wear the rain jacket and rain pant during the trek to protect your clothes from this dust.
  • Make sure you wear sunglasses as much as you can while walking on the snow. Not only to prevent snow blindness but also to protect your eyes from dust/ sand.
  • Some people feel uncomfortable and suffocated in a Balaclava. But it protects your face and lips from strong winds and cold to a great extent.
  • It is not advisable to wear Sports shoes while walking on the Chadar. The PVC sole of the Sports shoes doesn’t offer a good grip on the ice.
  • Gum boots are highly recommended for walking on the Chadar. You can buy them in Leh market for Rs. 300-400. Make sure you break them in well in advance before the trek to avoid shoe-bite. Also, buy one size bigger than what is comfortable to you to accommodate double layer of socks and to avoid shoe-bite.
  • Four pairs of cotton socks are enough for trekking during the day (layers of two pairs worn on alternate days). You will have to dry the used socks during night at campfire.
  • I wouldn’t recommend carrying a trekking pole from my personal experience. That is because if your both hands are free, you would be able to balance yourself much better during a fall.
  • Check with your trek operators well in advance if they would be providing the tiffin box/ mug/ utensils during the trek. On almost on days, the lunch and dinner were served at the campsites and hence there was no need of a tiffin box.
  • Thermos/ Flask is mandatory for this trek. Unlike normal bottle, the flask would prevent the water from freezing during the night.
  • If you are acclimatized well in Leh, you would be able to bear the cold on Chadar pretty well. In fact you get acclimatized with the Chadar conditions in first couple of days only. So there is hardly any use of body warmers or hot water bag.
  • Keep your phones and batteries inside your jacket to prevent them from getting drained due to cold.
  • The sleeping bags used for Chadar Treks are similar to the ones used by Indian Army at Siachen. They are very warm with two thick layers. You wouldn’t need to wear more than two layers while sleeping.
  • NEVER consume a Diamox as a preventive measure. Just avoid it completely. Having headache or feeling nauseated on first day in Leh is very common. There is no need to press the panic button immediately. Let your body get adjusted to the conditions. Remember that once you start consuming Diamox, you will have to drink atleast 5-6 litres of water everyday to keep your body hydrated.
  • If you cannot bear cold water, DO NOT TAKE A DIP IN THE RIVER. You might feel tempted to go for it just because others are doing it. But trust me, it’s not worth risking your life for (Read: cardiac arrest).

MY GEAR FOR THE CHADAR TREK

The list of things mentioned above has been fine-tuned after my personal experience at Chadar Trek. But you might want to know the things I actually carried and successfully completed this trek. So there you go:

For top:

  • Layer 1: Thermal inners – Cotton thermals by Jockey
  • Layer 2: Thin Fleece – Forclaz 20 Mountain Hiking Fleece
  • Layer 3: Fleece thick jacket – SH500 Warm Snow Hiking Sweater
  • Layer 4: Full down feather jacket – rented it for Rs. 500 from Mountain Sports Academy, Borivali, Mumbai.
  • Layer 5: Rain jacket – Arpenaz 100 Hiking Rain Jacket

For bottoms:

  • Layer 1: Thermal inners – Cotton thermals by Jockey
  • Layer 2: Men’s Trek 500 Mountain Trekking Convertible Trousers (day) and SH100 Warm Men’s Snow Hiking Trousers (night)
  • Layer 3: Rain pant from Decathlon.

For palms:

  • Layer 1: Arpenaz 50 Touchscreen Adult Hiking Inner Gloves (Silk Black)
  • Layer 2: First Heat Adult Ski Gloves

For eyes:

MH 570 Adult Category 4 Polarized Hiking Glasses – Black & Red

For face, neck and head:

Buff, Balaclava, Fleece neck warmer (all from Decathlon), Beanie, Suncap

For feet:

  • For movement in and around Leh: The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack Boots
  • For entire Chadar Trek: Gum boots from Leh market
  • Four pairs of cotton socks
  • Two pairs of Military woolen socks

Other important things

  • Rucksack: Forclaz 70L Rucksack from Decathlon
  • Daypack: NH100 30L Hiking Backpack from Decathlon. Kept it at hotel in Leh along with things not required for the trek.
  • Rain cover from Decathlon
  • Headlamp: Coast HL7
  • Trek Pole: CrossTrek 56 Trekking Pole
  • Thermos: Gulmarg (1 L)
  • Moisturizer: Nivea Nourishing Lotion Body Milk, 400ml
  • Sunscreen: Lotus Herbals Safe Sun UV Screen Matte Gel SPF 50, 100g
  • Tissue Papers
  • Toilet paper (2 rolls)
  • Quick dry napkin and towel
  • Lip balm: Himalaya Herbals Lip Balm
  • Deodorant
  • Undergarments (6 pcs)
  • Power Bank: Ambrane 10000 mAh power bank. Total 250+ HDR images were taken and HD videos of total 8 GB size were recorded during the trek days on MI Note 4 phone.

Medicines

  • Diamox
  • Nifedipine
  • Crocin
  • Avomine
  • Avil 25 mg
  • Combiflam
  • Disprin
  • Norflox & Lomofen
  • Digene
  • Omez
  • Crepe Bandage
  • Gauze
  • Band aid
  • Cotton
  • ORS
  • Betadine
  • Volini spray

Note: I usually buy all medicines from the local chemist and return the unused ones after the trek.

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Till then…Happy Travelizing!!!