The Chadar Trek, also known as the Zanskar Gorge Trek, is a 105-kilometre trek over the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh, India. The trek lasts 15 days and is usually done between January and mid-February. While it is a thrilling adventure, it is also quite challenging. The trek is one of the most famous ones in the world but involves navigating the frozen river during winter when temperatures drop significantly between -15°C and -30°C. Although the walk seems simple with no ascents, the journey presents unique challenges, such as unpredictable ice formations and sudden snowfall. To ensure a safe and enjoyable Chadar Trek, proper preparation is essential.
We have created a comprehensive guide for those embarking on the challenging journey of Chadar Trek, covering all the essential information.
When dressing up for cold weather, layering is the key. To begin with, wear a thermal inner layer for the top, followed by a full-sleeved t-shirt, a woollen sweater or fleece jacket, and lastly, a windcheater or down jacket that is water- and windproof. For the bottom, layer with thermal or woollen innerwear and waterproof trekking pants. Make sure you have enough layers for your palms, feet, face, and head, with a special focus on using snow trekking boots for optimal comfort. Also, it's essential to equip your shoes with microspikes to avoid slipping on icy surfaces.
A successful Chadar Trek requires certain gears that are indispensable. Although not extensively required, a trekking pole proves handy on steep alternate patches. A hot water bag is a must to survive the frigid temperatures in your tent at night. Trekkers must also remember to carry two sleeping bags - one as a liner and the other as the main sleeping bag. An insulated water bottle that seals tightly is essential to prevent freezing. Additionally, it is advisable to carry extra pairs of clothes, gloves, and a cap, keeping them wrapped in plastic bags for added protection. Rain cover for the bag, a head torch, and enough toiletries are always good.
When going on winter treks in Leh, you can find a variety of trekking gear at local markets. These include woollen caps, balaclavas, socks, gloves, sweaters, pants, trekking poles, local gum boots, and sleeping bags. Use PU gum-boots instead of rubber ones, which offer better flexibility in freezing temperatures. For gear shopping, you can visit shops like Ladakh Tracks N Trails and Rimo Expeditions. Before arriving in Leh, purchasing essential items such as backpacks, trekking shoes, windcheaters, thermals, waterproof pants, sports socks, headlamps, torches, insulated water bottles, and sunglasses is essential.
Maintaining a good fitness level is essential to tackle the extreme conditions of Chadar Trek. It is recommended to incorporate regular jogging or equivalent workouts for 3-4 km daily for 1-2 months before the trek to prepare your body. In addition, you should also prepare your body for the cold by avoiding hot water, wearing warm clothes, and wearing blankets in the months leading up to the trek. This will help your body adjust to the cold weather and prevent discomfort or health issues during the trek.
Acclimatisation is just as important as the trek itself. Upon arrival in Leh, it is essential to prioritise complete rest on the first day with no strenuous activities or sightseeing. It is optimal to have two days of familiarising yourself before starting the trek, and avoiding using heaters in the room during this period is advisable. It is also essential to stay hydrated with hot liquids such as water, soup, and tea during trekking.
It's important to note that Chadar is a susceptible region, and even small climate changes can significantly impact the frozen state of the Zanskar River. As a result, it's crucial to have alternate plans in place, as certain points along the river may become impassable due to breaks in the Chadar. To remain adaptable, preparing and anticipating unforeseen challenges is essential.
Rather than avoiding the cold, embrace it and acclimate yourself by engaging with the environment and making the experience more enjoyable. If you prepare well and embrace the adventure, you can maximise the breathtaking Chadar Trek in Ladakh.
To reach the destination for the Chadar Trek, you must first travel to Leh, where the journey starts. From there, you'll continue to Chilling, where the Zanskar River begins to freeze. The trek's base camp is located at Tilad, about 65-70 kilometres from Leh and can be reached via Chilling.