Of Making Fun, Friends and Fire…Tales from Kedarkantha Trek in December

The possibility of this trek was hovering around for months as I discussed this trek with one of my oldest buddies from school. It just had to happen and the excitement was boundless for many a reason. This was my first trek in Uttarakhand Himalayas and that too with school friends. To top it up, nothing is cooler than any Himalayan trek in December! Literally!

Not having an option to trek independently, we booked our seats in a guided trek organization (about which I wish to write a separate blog discussing the pros and cons of guided trek organizers).

Day 1: Dehradun to Sankri

After reaching Dehradun on 15th December at 10 pm, we hurriedly took shelter in a Hotel near to the railway station as this was our pick up point next day. We started at around 8am in the morning and thus begun the journey with making new friends. We stopped at Kempty falls to break our fast with an amazing balcony view.

view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls
view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls

Sankri is almost 200km and the sleepiness and the beautiful mountains kept on playing a tug of war in side our minds. We did not really realize when we left the Yamuna valley and were moving along the beautiful Tons river.

Tons river on the way
Tons river on the way

Once again we stopped for lunch at Purola and reached Sankri just before sunset. Sankri is a small village on the outskirts of Govind Pashu Vihar National park and Wildlife Sanctuary. We could spot only two prominent hotels and some more dhabas and shops selling basic necessities. No mobile networks operate here except for BSNL. We were given accommodation in one of the hotels and soon were served tea and snacks followed by briefing on the trek by our trek leaders. Soon we were served delicious food, most unlikely of the kind that one supposed to get in a trek. By the taste of the food, we could not say whether we were on a trek or a luxurious vacation. And this continued till the end of our trek.

While we were savoring the delicious food, a very disturbing forest fire distant in the mountains was continuously spreading its hot breath. and just like this day, every next day while we enjoyed our exceptionally good food, or walked beneath dense forest, or tried hard to summit, somewhere there were always some horrible forest fire spreading its wings.

sunset at sankri
sunset at sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri

Day 2: Sankri (6400ft) to juda ka Talab (9100ft) – 4km

Next day, after tea-snacks and a multi-course breakfast (this makes eating in less quantity really difficult, but somehow we managed not to eat more as it would not be good for the steep climb), we started our trek by entering to the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary. After a few meters walk over a paved path, we started climbing the mountains. Soon we came across a small bridge. Right after crossing this, the trail bifurcates. The left one leads to Juda ka Talab while the right one was coming from Hargaon. So we kept left. That time we did not have any idea that this steep climbing will have no end till we summit.

Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
setting off for the trek at Sankri
setting off for the trek at Sankri
bifurcation on the road
bifurcation on the road

Gradually we all adjusted ourselves with the initial steepness. The trail offers breathtaking vies of Swargarohini group of peaks. After taking rests in two of the places, we reached Juda ka talab camp site before lunch. This was not at all a tough trek and we were not tired also. This made me wonder whether we can reach the base-camp, which is the next camp site at a place called Lahusu, on the same day. Along with us there was a group of exuberant engineering students from Gujarat. They were sort of the life line of the whole group. As soon as we reached the semi frozen lake, they started exploring the possibility of walking over it and so they mannaged in no time. I was still a bit dubious about the safety. But, now I know that I should not have been. The most unbelievable sight to witness was the night sky at Juda ka Talab. After Dinner it was time for some fun and everyone were playing some games inside our dining tents. When we came out of the tent, we were chilled to our bones not only by the cool breeze but more so by the innumerable stars, shooting stars and the milky way right above our head.

pine trees along the trail
pine trees along the trail
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Juda ka talab camp site at night
Juda ka talab camp site at night
night sky at Juda ka talaab
night sky at Juda ka talaab

Day 3: Juda ka Talab (9100 ft) to Base camp at Lahusu (11250 ft) – 4 km

After reaching Juda ka Talab, we were told that the next days trek would be much more light and it was rightly so. Reaching base camp was merely two hours of trek and I was fully convinced that this place can very well be reached in a single day from Sankri. In fact, there is another base known as Base camp II, almost in a kilometer’s distance which can also be reached in a single day. The problem with the base camp II is scarcity of water. There is no water source nearby and only one dhaba was operating there with 60 lt of water only. Base camp location was truly magnificent. But the disturbing smokes coming out of many forest fires were constantly there.

this was a day of relaxing. Everyone was Sun-bathing after having lunch and we went for a short acclimatization walk. We could see the Kedarkantha peak from base camp and it did not seemed to be an easy hike. The purpose of the walk was to getting us acclimatize for the long hike to the summit.

Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
approaching base camp
approaching base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
smoke coming from forest fire
smoke coming from forest fire
view from base camp
view from base camp

Day 4: Base camp (11250 ft) to Kedarkantha summit (12500 ft) to Basecamp to Hargaon camp (8900 ft)-6km (but it seemed more than that)

This was the most important day of all and we were to start the trek sharp at 3 am. We got up at around 2-2.30 am but the morning rituals were the toughest in sub zero temperature. Some how we all managed and started the hike to the summit in a single file formation. The leaders and the guide were great in constantly encouraging us. Without their help this day could have very well resulted in utter disaster. We took 15 min break once we reached the base camp II but resting was even more impossible than to walk constantly over the steep slopes as the sub zero temperature was cutting down to our bones. We kept on walking or doing some kind of exercise to keep ourselves warm. We were again horrified by forest fires but the soothing dawn sky stole our minds from that. With a great team work and constant unimaginable support from the leaders and guide, we finally climbed to the summit.

Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
near to the summit
near to the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
cairns on the summit
cairns on the summit

The view from the summit was breathtaking. We were introduced to the major peaks seen from the summit by the trek leaders and were given 30 mins of time to roam around. There was a shrine on the summit. Surprisingly we got BSNL network up there!!! We clicked photos, Sat silently, ate some refreshments which we took while starting the hikes, sat silently again to appreciate the Almighty Himalayas and finally started the trek back to basecamp. By the time we reached base camp, next batch was already there and after the lunch we all took a quick nap inside the dining tent before setting off for the Hargaon camp, which again took only two hours or so.

Finally we reached the summit
Finally we reached the summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
the shrine on the summit
the shrine on the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit

After reaching Hargaon camp, we were informed of our complete independence. No acclimatization walk today, no rules and regulations, no nothing. So three of us decided to visit Juda ka Talab once more. From Hargaon camp site, Juda ka talab, according to our guide would take 30 mins or so for us. But we covered that in just about 15 mins. That time it was around 3 pm and the lake was again frozen. One of us being one of the perky college students, gave us courage to explore the frozen lake, and this time we did so. we walked over the frozen lake, sat on it, danced on it and cracked the ice a bit too. It was so much fun that i would have definitely regretted had i not done it. All thanks to the younger people for reminding us of our younger days. That moment was of wisdom and I learnt that I am never too old for stupid and innocent childishness.

Hargaon camp
Hargaon camp
Camp site location at Hargaon
Camp site location at Hargaon

The return journey from Juda ka talab to hargaon took only 7-8 mins. After reaching the camp site, we had delicious food as usual, and that night everyone started sharing some stories of their lives, had many giggles, made great fun and finally everybody slept in the dining tent only.

Day 5: Hargaon (8900 ft) to Sankri (6400 ft) – 6km

This was a steep descent and a tiring one, not for the lungs, but for our legs. We reached Sankri through some agricultural fields, villages overlooking “gorge-ous” valleys. While coming down, we posed for a final group photo with a backdrop of a cute village house.

on the way to Sankri from Hargaon
on the way to Sankri from Hargaon

all the team members
all the team members
view from the trail to Sankri
view from the trail to Sankri

The trail finally converged with the trail that we took 4 days ago right before the bridge. Finally we reached Sankri before lunch time. We were given accommodation in the same hotel but except for three of us, rest all left for rafting in Rishikesh.

Since we had lot of free times to explore, we decided to visit the village of Taluka which is also the starting point of Har ki Dun trek. We walked over the trail beside the river for 10 mins and decided up on our next trek. While coming back we witnessed the most horrible of all forest fires that we came across in these 5 days. The mere site of it was disturbing and horrifying to the core.

Through out the trek, we had no snow but all the places we camped had sub zero temperature!!! Soon we came from the trek, we had news of the season’s first snowfall on the mountains.

at taluka village
at taluka village
a horrible forest fire
a horrible forest fire

Day 6: Sankri to Dehradun (a 10 hours drive completed in 6 hours.)

My opinions about the trek:
1. One should not attempt this trek without a guide. Although there is proper trail in most of the times, having a guide serves good only specially when you are exploring the route for the first time.
2. The distance to base camp II can be covered in a single day, and Juda ka talab can be explored while coming down from Hargaon. but keeping in mind the steepness of the ascent, reaching the basecamp II in a single day could be tough if you are not properly acclimatized.
3. Base camp II has scarce water. So one has to be careful while choosing a campsite.
4. the trail seemed a lot cleaner than any other treks I have done. So please let us maintain it that way.