Roopkund Trek – Steep Climb to Skeleton Lake

13 June, 2021 | Reccy Guide

The Roopkund trek is one of the most popular hikes within the Uttarakhand state in India. The ecosystem diversity, challenging climb, and view of Skeleton Lake have brought thousands of travellers to this region every year. 

Explore trip itineraries, accommodation, transport, required gear, fitness plan, insurance and more

This week-long journey begins in Kathgodam, Uttarakhand, which is located in northeast India. Most travellers fly into Pantnagar Airport and take a bus or taxi to reach the city. Trekkers then embark on a 10-hour ride to Lohajung. An overnight stay in this town gives your first look at the Didina Valley and Mount Nandaghunti.

The cool morning air will see you depart from Lohajung and enter the lush greenery of the valley. This includes soaring forests of oak and rhododendron, pear tree, and roses. You’ll climb to an altitude of 3,000m and walk along the Neel Ganga river until you reach the first campsite.

An early start the next day is required to tackle a challenging 700-meter ascent. You’ll re-enter the forest setting briefly, then the trees thin. At the top of your ascent lies the indescribably picturesque meadows. Rolling green hills are backed by the snow-capped Himalayas, as if pulled straight from a painting.

There are several adjoining meadows here, including Ali Bugyal, Bedni Bugyal, and Ghora Lotani. Fresh mountain streams provide an abundance of drinking water, which can be further purified by chlorine tablets or filters. You spend at least a full day and night here, although staying for two is highly recommended.

The acclimatization days give you a chance to rest, but they also offer plenty of smaller adventures too. A brief excursion will take you to the nearby Kalu Vinayak temple at 4,300m. It’s common practice to pray for safe passage before you depart for the lake.

Once your group has settled into the thin air, the time has come to see the trip’s destination. Plan for an early departure, challenging conditions, an altitude increase of 600m, and covering 15km on foot. The green meadows give way to steeper climbs and rocky switchbacks before the trail is entirely covered by snow and ice.

The final portion of the ascent requires to you climb up the outer ridge of the Roopkund crater. Expect to use ice axes, ropes, and all four limbs to reach the top. After you catch your breath, you can see Skeleton Lake shimmering innocently at the bottom. Carefully walk and slide your way to the shore.

Skeleton Lake is so named because of the 300-plus skeletons found within the water. This mystery has been featured in a National Geographic documentary, among others. Biological research and local history have pieced together an interesting story.

The well-preserved skeletons, weapons, and artefacts can be carbon-dated back to the 1300s and 800s. These unlucky travellers all seem to have perished due to violent hailstorms through the ages. The crater acts like a funnel, so the skeletons have collected in the pool at the basin, which is just three meters deep.

After you’ve had your fill of morbid beauty, it’s time to approach the end of your Roopkund trek Uttarakhand. A challenging scramble down the crater ridge will once again lead you back to the meadows. Your group will retrace your footsteps, occasionally choosing adjacent trails, until you reach Lohajung.

If you’re interested in further adventures in the area, there are plenty to choose from. Some of the most popular hikes include the Ajan Top trek and the Panchkedar trek. These are likewise challenging, but with different trip lengths and even more ecosystems to explore.

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