Chadar Trek

There are certain reasons why Chadar trek is one of the most difficult and wildest walks in the world. Simply put, Chadar is a test of endurance and patience. The trek requires mental, physical, and logistical preparations more than any other treks because of the weather conditions and demography of the region. Altitude and subzero temperatures are not the only factors responsible for making the trek difficult but long and unsteady walk on a slippery sheet of frozen river for a week, unusual campsites, and the fast-changing climate make it the most unique trek on earth. The temperatures plummet as low as –25 degrees to defy all logics in your mind and multiple layers of fleece that you hide under your expensive down jacket.

Winters in Ladakh are merciless. Most of the region remains closed during this season. It’s not just travelers who face wrath of extreme climate conditions but local people as well. Subzero temperatures freeze water to ice, raising difficulty level of everyone in the valley to entirely a new level. Hotels and guest houses have to shut down their doors due to shortage of water and other daily essential commodities. All supplies reach Ladakh through air route, amounting to an extra cost of reasonably priced daily need products. It is always advisable to come prepared for the trek in order to save some money. However warm socks, gloves, caps at reasonable prices can purchased at a military shop.

Decoding Altitude Sickness (AMS)

One of the most powerful and omnipresent daemon you will have to fight all the time during Chadar trek is high altitude. You will be swinging to and fro at an average altitude of 12,000 to 13,000 ft, posing some unforeseen atmospheric interferences and challenges in your way. So, having a better understanding of altitude factor is always a privilege you carry along for a better and desirable trekking expedition. To comprehend each and every element associated with altitude, you need to understand the scale which categorizes it:

High: 2,438–3,658 m 8,000–12,000 ft)

Very high: 3,658–5,487 m (12,000–18,000 ft)

Extremely high: 5,500+ m (18,000+ ft)

Altitude sickness, also known as AMS (acute mountain sickness), can hit anybody at any point in time while being on the trek. Susceptibility for altitude sickness is absolutely independent of factors like age, sex, physical condition, etc. Some people face it in very initial stages while others don’t. People you might have thought would find it hard to acclimatize at high altitudes turn out to be the best players in some cases or vice-versa.

Most of the people can go up to 2,750 m (9,000 ft) with minimal or no effect. Nerak is situated at an altitude of about 3,322 m (10,900 ft) above sea level. You don’t have to worry at all if you haven’t climbed this high before, until or unless you have any serious health issues. If you have stood at that altitude before without facing any issues, then you can probably do it again without having to worry about it, as long as you are properly acclimatized.

Delhi is at an altitude of 293 m (960 ft) whereas Leh is situated about 3,524 m (11,562 ft) above sea level. When you fly from Delhi to Leh, you gain an altitude of over 10,000 ft, without getting ample time for acclimatization. Your body finds it hard to cope with such an instant transformation in demographic as well as climatic conditions in time interval of less than four hours when you de-board the plane in Leh. Upon reaching Leh, it’s completely a new experience for most of the people. High altitude, thin air and minus temperatures pose some immediate risks to health. You need to keep yourself hydrated, away from heaters, and cozy with the help of warm clothes. Try not to fall asleep during the daytime and have your meals in time. If you have any of the symptoms like nausea, mild headache, fatigue after walking a few steps, or loss of appetite, contact your trek leader without any delay.

Chadar is all about long walking on frozen water of river Zanskar flowing through a narrow valley, hence does not have the element of climbing. It is extremely low temperatures and thin air that make this trek difficult. Average temperature in Leh and on the entire trek usually remains around -8 degrees, which falls drastically to a point as low as -30 degrees. The ultimate challenge is to keep yourself focused and motivated, not for few hours or a day, but a complete week.

Pre-trek fitness preparations are very necessary. You need to be fit internally as well as externally. You should have strength in your lungs; they should be trained in way that they are capable of pulling in maximum amount of oxygen in thin air in order to keep you going when you feel completely breathless. And for this, you need not hit the gym. All you have to do is starting long brisk walks a month prior to the trek in order to train and enhance endurance of your body.

Like they say, charity begins at home: you can take stairs instead of using lifts and escalators. Try and do deep breathing exercises in order to make your lungs expand and contain more air for better and enhanced performance while walking in subzero temperatures. Intensity workout is best for increasing stamina and strength. Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, skipping rope, and crunches are few best set of exercises you can do at home for building stamina and strength. Try and increase intake of fluids in form of water, fresh juice and shake to keep your body hydrated. Try and grow a healthy body, you don’t have to worry about the rest.

What To Pack

Quantity Item Quantity Item
1 Rucksack/backpack of 60 to 70 liter capacity 1 Rain cover or poncho
1 Pair of waterproof trekking shoes with a firm grip 1 Pair of gumboots
2 Pairs of waterproof trekking lowers 1 Warm down jacket
1 Windproof jacket 1 Fleece sweater
3 Cotton t-shirts 2 Pairs of thermal inners (upper & lower)
3 Pairs of sports cotton socks, and 2 pairs of woolen socks 2 Pairs of woolen and waterproof gloves
2 Pairs of woolen caps or balaclava 1 Sun/golf cap
1 Small drying towel 2 One liter water bottles
1 Torch/headlamp with spare batteries 1 Moisturizing lotion
1 Sun block lotion 1 Personal toilet kit
1 Toilet paper roll 1 Pair of sunglasses

These accessories are must-have for the trek. Reflection of the sunrays from shining crystals of snow can burn your face or cause a complete state of whiteout in which you won’t be able to see anything clearly. It is always advised to buy a pair of quality sunglasses in order to avert this effect. You don’t have to worry if you are a specky person; you can use photochromic lens or dark power glasses. Use of contact lenses on the trek is not recommended. However, you can try and put on sunglasses if you are too habitual of wearing contact lenses.


However, the tour operators have a medicine box and first aid kit with them, but it’s always recommended to keep some tablets and other small medical dressing accessories at your disposal. If you think you might have a stroke of AMS, you can go for Diamox on doctor’s advice.

You can carry a pair of kneecaps, crepe bandages, some anti-inflammatory pain relief ointment or spray with you.

Small medical dressing accessories

Kneecaps Reusable crepe bandages Bandages Cotton rolls Betadine Dettol Moov
Crocin Avomine Combiflam Brufen Norflox Diamox

Some energy drinks like Glucose-D, ORS, and Gatorade are few great options to enhance your stamina and fix hydration loss during the trek.

How To Pack

When packing for a week-long walk on the frozen Zanskar River, try and make small packets of similar items so that you don’t have to waste time finding them. For example: you can keep socks, gloves and t-shirts in one packet, toiletries and medicine in one pack, and so on.

  • Like mentioned here, try to carry as little as possible.
  • Try to pack important stuff in a way that total weight of your backpack doesn’t exceed 10 kg.
  • Keep a jacket and waterproof raincoat on top so that you can fish it out quickly as and when needed.
  • Keep a headlamp/torch in external pocket of your backpack, nicely wrapped in waterproof cover.
  • Once you reach a camp, keep the torch handy.
  • Mount the headlamp over your skullcap.
  • Keep spare batteries in the warmest corner of your backpack, or in your pocket, because batteries drain out very fast in cold weather conditions.
  • Carry a reasonably large polythene packet to keep clothes that get wet during the trek.

While Walking

  • You walk on a thick sheet of frozen ice. So safety is of utmost importance. Watch out for each and every step you take on a slippery surface. Please be all ears to instructions of your trek leader.
  • Never try to walk ahead of your guides, because this is entirely an alien terrain to you. Your trek leaders and guides have mastered the art of walking on this unforgiving route. They are well-versed with each and every nitty-gritty of this terrain. They are your saviors in this land, so you need to have faith in them. First they check if the ice sheet is thick and strong enough to take your weight. They will find an alternate route along the river bank or along the slopes V-shaped valley if they find layer of ice ahead weak and fragile.
  • At some places, subzero temperatures fail to create a durable sheet of ice on the river bank, so the only way to move forward onto the other side is by ducking and crawling under the protruding rocks at points.
  • Don’t walk in groups.
  • Don’t stand for a long time at a place, or spot where cracks are visible.
  • Remove batteries from your camera and keep them in your pocket after you are done with taking photographs.
  • Be careful while changing lenses as vapors can damage your expensive camera. Thin silk gloves are a great help while taking pictures in subzero temperatures.
  • Stay hydrated. Try to take small sips as the water is too cold. Staying hydrated is the key to be at your absolute best at high altitudes. Right amount of water level in your body helps the blood pump right amount of oxygen to your organs for proper functioning of your body. At high altitudes, there is a greater rate of water vapor lost from the lungs.
  • You don’t feel so cold while walking because your body is in motion. But once you reach a camp, you start feeling the chills. So keep a warm jacket ready, and put it on as soon as you reach a camp.

At Campsite

  • Try to make sure you keep yourself body warm once you reach the campsite. Don’t burn even a couple of calories walking or standing unnecessarily here and there. Instead, change clothes which are wet. Consume plenty of fluids like soup and warm water. If you feel sick, contact your trek leader immediately. Get your oxygen level checked. Relax and conserve your energy for the next day. Eat properly.
  • Tuck yourself into your sleeping bag and fleece inners in a tidy manner immediately after refueling your body. You might not be able to catch a goodnight’s sleep if your bed is not cozy enough to stand subzero temperatures outside, result into a bad morning and bad trekking experience throughout day.
  • Make sure the zips of your sleeping bag and tent are fastened properly. Try and keep your water bottle inside your sleeping bag at night so that the first thing to gulp down your throat in the morning is not freezing glacial water. Drink lots of lukewarm or not very cold water in the morning.
  • Please try to be a civilized traveler. If you think travel is your religion and the mighty Himalayas are the holy abode of the blue-throated god, then try not to leave any carbon footprint. Try to set an example to others by not littering around your campsite. Keep a compartment in your bag for wrappers, waste, etc. Respect the most beautiful gift of the Mother Nature, i.e., Himalayas – that are more than liberal to let you spend amazing time here.
  • Don’t smoke or consume alcohol during the trek. It can be fatal.