Kedarkantha Trek is one of the most picturesque winter treks in the Uttarakhand region of India. Situated at an altitude of around 3800 meters in Govind Wildlife Sanctuary, the majestic peaks of Kedarkantha offer stunning vistas the likes of which I had never seen before. My first visit to Kedarkantha happened in late December when most of Uttarakhand was covered in thick white sheets of snow. As a novice trekker who had only ever done day hikes till now, I was both excited and a little apprehensive about this multi-day high-altitude trek.
From Sankri to the Enchanting Govind National Park
We started our trek from Sankri village, the base camp for Kedarkantha Peak. The temperatures here were already way below freezing – a sign of the harsher climes ahead. The winding hike through the Govind National Park afforded sights of tall cedars, pines, and oaks laden with fresh snow. The tree line disappeared after a few kilometers and we walked over rolling hills blanketed in snow. As daylight faded, our guide led us to the campsite where other trekkers huddled together in the mess tent, seeking respite from the biting cold. At night, warm in my cozy sleeping bag in the tent, I lay awake too excited to sleep – anticipating views of the Himalayan peaks at dawn.
A Night Amidst the Snow
The second day’s hike was even more arduous. We trudged slowly uphill on snow that was ankle- to knee-deep in some places. Icy winds whipped across the exposed landscape and the thin air at high altitude made it difficult to catch my breath. As weariness and cold seeped into my bones, I focused on each step – the satisfying crunch of snow under my waterproof boots. Just when exhaustion threatened to overtake my wonder, our guide pointed – “There it is!” In the distance, through gently falling snow, I could make out the imposing ridges of Kedarkantha stretching upwards against a grey sky. Reenergized by the sight, I bounded up the last mile, my body warm with exhilaration.
Snowy Peaks to Lush Meadows
We halted for the night at the highest camp on the trail, glad for the hot cups of tea that were quickly served. Before retiring to our tent, we wandered a short distance away from the camp lights. As darkness fell, stars emerged by the thousands – the Milky Way a gossamer ribbon cutting across the vast firmament. Transfixed by this sky full of diamonds, we lost all sense of time. I had never gazed at so many stars!
After spending an exhilarating hour at the summit, soaking in the stupendous Himalayan views, we began our descent. The initial stretch involved steep progress down compact snow trails, using crampons for grip. Further below, the scene underwent a stark transformation. Lush green meadows with colorful wildflowers peeped out from under rapidly melting snow. The contrast was almost unreal – like two different seasons merging Trek in Uttarakhand!
We stopped for lunch at an open shelter, welcoming the chance to peel off a few layers. My appetite had returned with the drop in altitude and I devoured my packed lunch gazing at the splendid massif of peaks around us. Although the uphill climb had tested my limits, I felt new-found confidence at having completed such an arduous high-altitude trek.
Memories Etched in Snow and Stars
Our guide informed us that we would be halting for the night at Debkhona campsite, instead of continuing right till Sankri. We set up our tents alongside a babbling brook, surrounded by magnificent deodar trees. Shoots of new spring grass created a fresh emerald hue on the ground. The setting sun cast its golden glow on the icy tips of Kedarkantha, stretching their ragged silhouettes long over the valley. What could be better than spending a night in the lap of such beauty?
We huddled around the mess tent after savoring piping hot pakoras and masala tea. Lulled by the murmur of the brook, I recalled moments from the trek that were etched in my mind – gushing waterfalls plunging down vertical cliffs; tiny colorful birds fluttering from tree to tree in search of the first spring blossoms; musk deer and mountain goats grazing on ridgelines neither shy of trekkers nor the biting wind; the muted crunch of boots on fresh snow with miles of shimmering white nothingness ahead; icy flurries pelting my hooded face just minutes before spectacular views burst forth…
Kedarkantha’s Everlasting Magic
Kedarkantha in winter exceeded my expectations in every imaginable way. The ever-changing terrain and views, the physical challenge of climbing higher each day, the camaraderie of a shared experience with strangers who became friends – it all combined into a magical adventure. Above all, that spectacular dawn at the summit with mighty peaks arrayed all around will remain etched in memory forever. I knew at once that high-altitude winter treks would become my favorite outdoor pursuit, beckoning me to explore Himalayan realms year after year!
Now back in the comfort of home days later, I cannot get Kedarkantha out of my head. As I lie in bed or stare absently out of the window, my mind transports me to those hypnotic white slopes and emerald green meadows with their riotous wildflowers. That is the magic Kedarkantha casts through its raw, majestic beauty. No matter where I find myself, a part of me will now forever roam those rarefied realms filled with crystalline air and stunning vistas…where snow leopards silently stalk their prey leaving behind only pugmarks as clues…where whistling thrushes and red-billed blue magpies flit busily between gnarled old trees… where a chance encounter with a herd of Trek in Uttarakhand Himalayan tahr or blue sheep near vertiginous cliffs makes your breath stop midway…
That magic will pull me back up the trail to Kedarkantha again!
last day on the trail
The last day on the trail dawned bright and clear. The clouds had vanished overnight to reveal majestic Himalayan peaks all around us. Their snow-covered slopes sparkled as the first rays of the sun touched them.
The hour-long final ascent to the summit was challenging but I clambered steadily ahead, motivated by the incredible views. At the top, magnificent 360-degree vistas unfurled all around – of famous peaks like Swargarohini, Bandarpoonch, and Blackpeak amidst many unnamed sentinels. Miles and miles of pristine snowy wilderness extended in every direction. Moved to tears by intense beauty, I said a prayer of thanks. The stunning allure of Kedarkantha’s winter wonderland continues to pull me back.