I’ve been wanting to write this post for about four months now. Right from the time I went trekking in Ladakh, I felt that I had to come back and write about how to prepare oneself in order to have a successful trek in the region.
To start, I’m not someone who goes hiking or trekking regularly. I walk everyday but that is not the same as trekking so whatever I say comes from that perspective. If you’re someone who goes trekking in challenging terrain regularly you may find this post quite boring but I’m aware that a lot of people want to go trekking in Ladakh and may also not have any trekking experience previously and so I hope that this post will be useful for them/ you.
So here are a few things you need to be mindful of when you are planning to trek in Ladakh
- Altitude and acclimatisation: Any travel guide to Ladakh begins with the importance of acclimatisation to high altitude and for good reason especially if you are flying in to Leh. Lower levels of oxygen mean that your body cannot function properly until you give it sufficient time and rest to adjust. In my own example, I flew into Leh early the first day and then spent the whole of that day and half of the next in bed. I only got out of my room for my meals. On the afternoon of the second day I went out for a walk and on the third day I went out for a day trip to some monasteries in a car. I started my easy rated trek on the fourth day. By this time I thought my body would be used to the low oxygen levels except it wasn’t. Oh it was alright when I was walking on level ground or going downhill but every uphill stretch literally wrung out my lungs and I would clamber up panting like there was no tomorrow. It took me three days of trekking before my body could take uphill stretches. By the time my body was ok, it was time to leave.
And it doesn’t always have to be breathing trouble. Given that your brain is starved of oxygen it is quite possible to get disorientated very easily (especially in a terrain which is monotonously mountainous). One one of the days, I nearly screamed because I was racking my brains to remember who succeeded Augustus and I couldn’t remember (it was Tiberius). It bothered me so much that the rational part of me felt that I was losing my mind because of the rarefied environment.
Every person is unique and it may take some people longer to adjust to the low oxygen levels whereas others may be ok in a couple of days. What will help is that you plan adequate rest days in advance and do a few short trial uphill and downhill stretches around where you’re staying just to tell you’re body what it will be up for over the next few days.
If you have persistent headache or nausea please consult a doctor immediately and try and get to lower altitude. Altitude sickness can be fatal in extreme cases and you do not want to take that risk.
- Good footwear: Oh I know, good footwear is important for any hike or trek but in Ladakh it is more especially so. My sister had gifted me a pair of ‘La Sportiva’ trekking shoes and I cannot remember the number of times I thanked her in my heart when I did not slip or I could climb on tricky surfaces because my shoes were top class. Especially if you are a beginner, you need good shoes or the chances of you spraining your ankle or knees are quite high (and if you buy a new pair of shoes be sure to break it in before you bring in on the trek).
- Protection against the heat and the sun: I went trekking in early September which was already shoulder season up in the mountains but even though the temperature was only around 14 or 15C, the sun was intense once again because of high altitude and terrain (remember Ladakh is a high altitude desert so you do not get trees and shades except around villages in the valleys). So even if the weather is cool and especially in summer, hats and sunscreens are a must (as are clothes that fully cover you just so the sun doesn’t burn you up).
4. Keeping everyone informed: Connectivity outside the city of Leh is virtually non existent. Before you go out on a trek, please keep your friends and family back home informed about your plans. I’ve seen at least two occasions when families launched massive man hunts not having received any communication from the trekkers only to find that the trekkers had changed their plans or extended their trek without informing anyone. If you want to change your plans but can’t find phones at least leave word with people or request for a message to be passed by people on their way to Leh.
5. Travel with a local guide: Once again if you’re a seasoned solo trekker you may find it grating to get a guide. As a newbie, I didn’t even consider the option of trekking by myself (I used this lovely agency to hire guides for my trek). In addition to ensuring that locals have a livelihood you are also assured a stress free journey. When I was trekking, I saw a lot of other trekkers walk up to my guides to ask them the way to the next village. This was thoroughly shocking to me (as I’m someone who likes to know where they’re going next) but it can also be dangerous. Once again with the altitude, heat and the terrain it will be super easy to lose oneself if you don’t have the proper kit and know how to trek by yourself.
6. Prepping and warming up before your trek: A few weeks or a couple of months before your trek start warming up with exercises and trial runs so you’re in good physical condition to take up the trek. Some websites advise a high altitude trek to prepare for a high altitude trek which I find ridiculous (in that its not feasible for most of us). If you live in a multi-storied apartment I would recommend ditching the lift and taking up the stairs every day carrying a heavy backpack.
I can’t stress the importance of eating well both before and during the trek. Don’t be afraid to take that extra helping of carbs- you’ll burn it all up when you’re walking in Ladakh. And liquids. Ladakhis love their tea- I got into the routine of drinking at least one litre of regular tea or butter tea everyday when I was trekking(to put things in perspective I don’t have a single teabag in my house). It’s a natural way of giving the body more energy and rehydrating it so don’t refuse it when you’re there.
I hope you find the tips helpful- let me know if you have other tips you’d like to add for people considering their first ‘non challenging’ high altitude trek.