Snow Leopard Trek

Leh | India
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All You Need to Know About the Snow Leopard Trek

The Hemis National Park Snow Leopard trek is among the most thrilling treks in the mountainous region of Ladakh. A rare species, the majestic snow leopard, is listed as Vulnerable on the scale published by IUCN Red List. This beautiful animal has found its home in the protected area of Ladakh, where trekkers flock every year to catch a glimpse of it.

A snow leopard sighting mostly depends on the trekker's luck and patience. It is an elusive animal, so it dwells in the high mountain ranges. They are big solitary cats, and one is most likely to spot them at dawn or dusk. It is best to know more about the natural behavior of the snow leopard before going on the trek so that the trekkers can have the perfect chance of spotting one.

The mysterious snow leopard:

The snow leopard is native to the Ladakh region, perfectly adapted to the thick carpet of snow that the high mountainous areas remain covered with. Its paws are larger than the proportions of its body to prevent the animal from sinking in the snow. Its thick coat of grey-white fur helps with the cold and provides excellent camouflage in the territory it inhabits.

On the Snow Leopard trek in Ladakh, trekkers have often followed the paw prints of the white beast left on the snow to see the snow leopard. Trekkers mustn't move too close to the animal. The snow leopard is among the timid big cats who flees when it senses any disruption.

The picturesque Hemis National Park:

The Hemis National Park, the largest national park in India, is located in Leh. It has also been recognized in the Limca Book of Records for its coverage area at 4400 sq km. Established in 1981 near the Hemis Gompa, this national park currently houses the highest density of snow leopards in any protected area. It has become the site for one of the most popular winter treks in Ladakh.

Besides snow leopards, the Hemis National Park is also home to some spectacular species of flora and fauna. Animals like the Bharal (blue sheep), Argali (Great Tibetan Sheep), Shapu, Urial, Asiatic ibex, Tibetan wolf, red fox, and the Eurasian brown bear inhabit here. Large birds of prey like the Himalayan griffon vulture, golden eagle, snow cock, snow partridge, and the lammergeier vulture can also be spotted. The vegetation is primarily dry and deciduous as the park falls in the rain shadow region of the Greater Himalayas and is characterized by forests of juniper, birch, fir, and some rare medicinal plants.

Trekking Ladakh in Winter:

For the trekkers who love to hike through snow and can withstand the cold, Ladakh is the ideal spot for winter treks. There are summit treks and expeditions, while some adventurers opt for mountain biking activities. Among the most popular winter treks in Ladakh are the trek along the snow leopard trail, the Stok Kangri peak trek, the Kang Yatse peak trek, the Kanda La pass trek, and the Kongmaru La pass trek.

River valley treks also receive a large footfall during the winter trekking season in Ladakh. The Markha Valley trek and Zanskar River Valley trek are among the famous ones. Trekkers exploring the Snow Leopard trek can also club another trek in the region if time permits.

Overview of Snow Leopard Trek:

Location and basic information:

The Hemis National Park Snow Leopard trek is located in the northern Himalayan range at an altitude of 3000 meters to 6000 meters. This is the eastern part of Ladakh and covers the Markha Valley and the Rumbak Valley. The roads are motorable in the initial part of the trek, and vehicles are allowed up to the first checkpoint. But beyond that, no transportation is allowed here to preserve its natural beauty.

Budget and duration:

The 40 km trek is done over the duration of 7 nights and 8 days. The total budget for Snow Leopard Trek is around USD 640 to 870 (INR 48000 to 65000). Since this is a winter trek in a remote region where resources are not readily available, the cost tends to be larger than other Himalayan treks.

Solo trekking:

Doing the Snow Leopard trek solo is not unheard of, but hiking the trail with a group of trekkers is advisable. The trek is a moderate one, and a group of explorers can take care of each other and help out in times of crisis. Professional trekking guides and instructors make sure to keep the trekkers safe. Local experienced guides can also be hired to assist in navigation.

How difficult is the Snow Leopard Trek?

The Snow Leopard trek difficulty level is between easy to moderate. Since no peak climb is involved, the slopes are seldom too steep to cause serious difficulties for the trekkers. However, on the days of snow leopard spots, they will need to climb to high altitudes where the pressure is low.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is also a common occurrence since the trek might take one to a height of above 5000 meters, but proper hydration and rest will get the trekkers back on their feet. Experienced trekkers can conveniently do the trek. Physically fit amateur trekkers who have the experience of one or two treks can also attempt the Snow Leopard trek.

Few people can do the Snow Leopard trek solo. It is a remote area away from any settlement that would allow a solo traveler to seek resources if they run out. The budget is also considerably lessened if one travels with a group.

Best time to visit the Snow Leopard Trek:

Wildlife experts say that the Snow Leopard trek best time is from mid-November to mid-February. There was a dearth of food sources in the snow-covered mountains during this time. That increases the probability of spotting the elusive snow leopard when it comes down to the valleys searching for food in winter.

Winter is also the ideal time to experience the scenic beauty of Ladakh's Rumbak Valley. The valley is covered in thick layers of snow. Temperatures vary between 5C to -15C, and trekkers should take great care to protect themselves from the freezing cold.

Many trekkers do the Hemis National Park Snow Leopard trek in late February and March, too, when the cold is not severe. The average temperature rises as the days get warmer. It is more comfortable to trek when the flowers are in full bloom in the spring season.

Gear guide and checklist for the Snow Leopard Trek:

While packing for the Snow Leopard trek best time in winter, keep in mind the freezing temperatures one will experience here.

Regular clothes and winter wear:

A thermal innerwear set is primarily needed on a trek like this to keep the body warm and snug. Layering 2-3 polyester full-sleeve t-shirts will be ideal since the material dries quickly. 2-3 pairs of joggers and waterproof track pants can be coupled with these. The snow-covered topography may get your clothes wet easily, so remember to carry enough spares accordingly. On top of these, you can layer tight-knit woolen sweaters, pullovers, and hoodies. You will also need a knee-length padded jacket for overall protection from the cold.

Use beanies, woolen caps, or balaclavas, along with woolen mufflers and scarves for the head and neck, as they are most vulnerable to the weather. Carry a pair of woolen gloves and a pair of woolen socks to layer with several pairs of synthetic socks for the night.

Footwear and accessories:

The trekkers will be covering long distances on the snow-covered valley, so it is imperative to purchase a sturdy pair of trekking boots with good grip and maximum ankle support. A waterproof exterior and microspikes along with gaiters will be helpful on the snow.

Snow blindness is a common occurrence here as trekkers are often unaccustomed to the blinding brightness of the white snow, and it can seriously impair their vision. Since they are a lot closer and exposed to the sun's harmful rays than in the plains, they should also take care of their skin against rashes and damages. For this purpose, remember to carry a sun cap, sunscreen, and UV protection sunglasses.

You will also need a pair of quality trekking poles for the day treks. Battery-powered torches and a thick sleeping bag will be required if you stay in camps for the night.

Bags and waterproof covers:

A 50-liter backpack will suffice for the trek. Along with this, the trekker can also carry a 15-20 daypack that they will take on each day's excursions. If the trekker is staying in homestays in Zingchen, then there is no need for offloading, but if they are staying in camps, their best option for offloading is in Leh.

The weather can change suddenly in the mountains, and fresh snowfall can get your bags and their contents wet, so remember to bring waterproof covers for your backpacks and daypacks. Bags made of waterproof materials will also be useful.

Toiletries, hygiene products, and medicines:

To maintain personal hygiene, carry a small box of toiletries in your backpack. This should contain a biodegradable soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, moisturizer, lip balm, and a deodorant spray. Remember to carry wet wipes, toilet paper, and tissue rolls alongside.

Women should keep a stock of sanitary products at hand to maintain their menstrual hygiene. Carrying enough sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual cups will be for the best.

Contracting diseases on a trip is a common thing. Pack a medical kit containing paracetamols, flu medicines, antacids, antihistamines, painkillers, and anti-nausea medication. The snow is slippery, and one can sustain minor injuries on the trek. So, keep a first-aid at hand with cotton balls, antiseptic ointment and liquid, crepe bandages, bandaids, pain-relieving spray, and insect repellent cream. Water-purifying tablets should also be packed.

Important documents to be carried:

The Hemis National Park of Ladakh is a protected area, so the trekkers must carry a valid identity card along with multiple photocopies of it and a few passport-size photographs to produce at the checkpoints. Foreigners should have their passports and visas and keep them safe.

The Snow Leopard Trek Itinerary:

The best way to reach Ladakh is by air. The Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh is the nearest airport, only 3.8 km away from the city center. Major cities in North India, like Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar, and Jammu, are connected to it via regular flights.

  • Day 1: This is the acclimatization day as the trekkers arrive at Leh at an altitude of 3524 meters. The day is spent doing sightseeing around the area. The breathtaking beauty and calmness exuded by the Shanti Stupa premises will enchant the explorers. Sunset Point is the next stop to watch the sun go down behind the mountains and valleys of Leh. After visiting the Leh Palace, the trekkers can explore the local markets and sample the local delicacies for a relaxing evening. They will retire to the hotel for the night.
  • Day 2: The mountainous town of Leh offers more attractions. On the second day, the visitors hire a cab to see the spot where the Zanskar and Indus rivers intersect. This confluence site provides one of the most picturesque sceneries that Leh is famous for. Some parts of the trail for the Chadar trek over the frozen Zanskar River pass through here. The road to Chilling, the quaint village that serves as the base camp for the Chadar trek, is the opposite of the confluence site. The explorers will also visit the famous attractions like Spituk Gompa, Ladakh Hall of Fame, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, and Magnetic Hill, according to the time and accessibility throughout their stay. They will return to their hotel in Leh for the night.
  • Day 3: The trek finally begins on this day. Following an early breakfast, the trekkers hitch a ride to Zingchen (3400 meters), the starting point of the trek. This route becomes gradually steep as the trek moves towards the Rumbak Valley catchment area, famous for its reserve of snow leopards. The trekkers wait patiently for a snow leopard sighting in this spot as they quietly explore the surroundings. Winter is the Snow Leopard trek best time, so trekking on the snow is a great experience on its own.
  • Day 4: Today's goal is to trek from Rumbak Valley to Stok La, a Ladakhi pass at 4900 meters altitude, and return to Rumbak. There are high chances of spotting the snow leopard on this day's journey. The elevated altitude brings the trekkers closer to the beast's natural habitat. The trail is a part of the 9 km Stok La Pass trek and has a beautiful waterfall. However, the journey is quite arduous and has been categorized as difficult. Trekkers looking to extend their trek from the snow leopard spotting trail can consider this trek as an addition to their itinerary after discussing it with their trekking agency. Overnight stay is arranged at camps and homestays.
  • Day 5: The Rumbak Valley and its surroundings are explored. Trekkers can hike up to visit Husing Valley, Kharlung Valley, Tsarbung Valley, and Tarbung Valley. These places are well known for being common shelters for the snow leopard, and the trekkers might be able to follow the footprints and see one. They come back to their camps or homestays in Rumbak for the night.
  • Day 6: Another day devoted to the exploration of the Rumbak Valley! Sighting the flighty snow requires the trekker's patience and time. It is in their natural instincts to lurk in the shadows when they sense humans nearby, so it is best to explore the area quietly as much as you can. If the trekkers prefer, they can also visit the Ladakhi villages dotting the region and experience their culture, food, and customs on this day.
  • Day 7: This is the day to return to Leh from Rumbak Valley via Zingchen. Trekkers can also do sightseeing and visit the attractions offered by Leh and its neighboring areas before retiring to their hotel for the night.
  • Day 8: From Leh airport, the explorers can fly back to Delhi to return to their hometowns with the help of connecting flights. The Hemis National Park Snow Leopard trek comes to an end here.

Getting fit for the Snow Leopard Trek:

The Snow Leopard trek best time is in winter, which means the trekker should be physically fit and flexible to take on the snowy trekking trail. Regular freehand exercises and activities like running, walking, jogging, skipping ropes, swimming, and squats will help them. Meditation, pranayama, and yoga asanas will also help build focus and determination.

The Snow Leopard trek is among the most exciting adventures in Ladakh. The high-altitude trek brings you closest to the animal. Following the instructions of the trekking guide will increase the chances of a snow leopard sighting.