A to Z of my first winter solo trek
Complete itinerary of Nag Tibba Trek
Long thought and it finally happened.
2019 was the year when I stepped into the pool of solo trips with the first one to Spiti. It was indeed an unforgettable and learning experience.
2020 was here and it was the time to push the limits a bit further.
From the last few months, a thought was lingering in my mind. A thought to go on a solo trek where I will manage everything- be it accommodation, food, travel etc. by my own. It might sound very normal for many of you, but for a risk-averse guy like me, it was not that simple. However, to break that bubble of fear, I had to push myself.
First week of Jan and I finally decided to convert that thought into reality. I knew that it was not going to be easy to convince my parents for a solo trek that too in winters. But what other choice did I have? Uncalculated risk is not my piece of cake so it was time to get into some pre-planning.
It was the start of the year, and there was no chance of getting long leaves. So, the only option I had was to plan a weekend trek. That brought me down to limited options. Nag Tibba was one of them but its reviews weren’t that great. It was more of a beginner’s trek. However since it was winters, I thought snow might add a bit of fun. I started bugging my friends who had gone for the trek recently, read around 4–5 blogs on the web and finally decided to go ahead with it. Sadly, that wasn’t enough. Although I had come up with a destination for the trek, there was still a tussle going inside my mind. I wasn’t confident about the decision. I spent the whole day thinking whether I really want to do this, or is it just some social media driven fantasy or was it nothing more than a stupid thought. I thought of dropping the plan and instead of going along with a group. One moment I was on trekking gear websites and the other I was scrolling through trek packages.
Sunday morning, and I was yet to make a decision. Out of nowhere, an adrenaline rush went through my nerves and within a few minutes, I booked my bus tickets to Dehradun.
Woah, that was quick, what exactly happened?
That is exactly what my reaction was when I gave a second thought to my actions. Probably it was my subconscious mind that helped me cut through the clutter and did what my inner self wanted. Travel was sorted but there were a still lot of things that I had to plan for.
- The most important- How to convince Mom and Dad?
- How will I get to the base village?
- How will I ensure that I trek on the right trail? What if I get lost?
- Where will I stay?
- What will I eat?
Before approaching my parents, it was important to figure out the answers of other four questions. So, I started step by step. A quick walkthrough of Nag tibba travel blogs and quick response by fellow trekkers in a facebook group, helped in planning the route to the base village.
How will I get to the base village?
Nag tibba trek starts from Pantwari. Pantwari is around 90kms from Dehradun. One can reach Pantwari by taking a bus from Dehradun to Nainbagh, followed by local shared taxis from Nainbagh to Pantwari. There are 4 buses that run from Dehradun to Nainbagh — 5.30, 6.30, 12.30, 14.30. All of these buses run from the Old bus stand(also called as Mussoorie Bus stand) which is near the railway station. Since these were daily route buses, no pre-booking was possible, neither I was interested in doing so.
How will I ensure that I trek on the right trail?
Moving on to the trail, Rohit came to my rescue. He had gone to Nag Tibba last year November and was smart enough to record the complete trail on Alltrails. He explained the whole route to me and shared the trail that he had recorded.
Where will I stay?
40% of things looked sorted, and my mind had slowly started gaining confidence. For the stay, there were hardly any options. I was thinking of buying tents and other stuff but later decided to rent them out. Browsed through a few rent websites and rented a tent & sleeping bag using rentbean.com. Another thing off the checklist ✅.
What will I eat?
Your meals play an important part in a trek especially on high altitudes , so no matter how fit you are don’t ever think of ignoring your diet during the trek. Carrying stove etc. would have increased the weight of the backpack and I like to travel light 😅. I also thought about contacting some local guide to arrange the food near the basecamp at Nag Tibba but there was no fun in that 😝. As I always say, life is a learning and you can learn from anyone, and anytime. During the Kedarkantha trek, I had met a group who had brought ready-to-eat food packages- just add warm water and your food is ready. Sounds cool, no? Not just that, there are variety of food options available- Kadi Chawal, Lemon Rice, Biryani, Poha, etc. I immediately pinged one of them and asked about the company’s name and went to the market in search of food packets. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything other than ready to eat noodles. Later, while I was browsing through the web, I found their website and thankfully it has the option to place online orders.
Few hours of work and I was ready with my artillery. It was now time to get into the battlefield to play the war of convincing my parents. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. It was hardly a week since I had returned from the Kedarkanth trek and now another one. No parents would want to see their child in trouble and I agree with their viewpoints but even a lion cub has to go for a hunt alone someday. It’s learning from everyday experiences that prepare us for the situations of the long term. The battle lasted for an hour and you know who won 😅. Had I chosen a secluded and a more difficult trek for the first trip itself, then the situation would have been different.
A well-spent Sunday and almost everything was done!
Though I had thought through most of the things, there was still a fear of doubt in my mind. I wasn’t fully confident whether to go with it or just chill at home.
It was Thursday evening. Food packets arrived well in time. But wait, what about the hot water? How was I supposed to prepare the food? Bonfire was going to be a difficult task given the winters.
Time to look for an alternative. The easiest way out was to carry warm water from Delhi itself. And to my luck, my thermos was broken. There was just a day left but Amazon prime made it easier. I ordered a new one and it got delivered on Friday morning. Tent and sleeping bag also got delivered by evening. It was time to pack all the stuff in the backpack.
While doing the packing, I realised that I didn’t have any mattress. And that was one of the major mistakes that I did during this trek. I thought that I would be able to handle the temperature and everything would be fine.
I reached the bus stand on time and left for Dehradun around 10.30p.m
The bus journey went well and I reached Dehradun by 4.20 in the morning. Luckily the inquiry counter was open and I checked about the connecting bus to Nainbagh. And as the people in the Facebook group had recommended, the person at the counter also told me to go to Mussoorie bus stand.
In case you are traveling on this route for the first time, then don’t get into the trap of taxis or private autos. There are shared autos called Vikram that run within the Dehradun city and charge nominal rates. You can find them easily outside the ISBT. I boarded one and reached the other bus stand.
The bus to Nainbagh was at 5.30a.m. The route from Dehradun to Mussoorie was closed due to heavy snowfall. The buses were going from a different route via Vikasnagar. Snowfall in Mussoorie meant that there was surely gonna be snow at Nag tibba. This was both a good and a bad news for me 😛.
It took about 3 hours and I reached Nainbagh. A few more guys on the bus were going for the Nag Tibba trek, so I joined them for the cab to Pantwari. Pantwari is 17kms from Nainbagh and it hardly takes half an hour to reach there. After reaching there, I had my breakfast and it was time to begin the trek.
Initial trail is a bit rocky though not very steep. With backpack, tent and stuff it was tricky but was still fine. There were very few people on the trail probably because I had started very early. Most of them were mule owners with mules who were taking supplies for the groups.
Traces of snow started appearing as I continued to move up. It took me around 1.5 hours to reach the forest check post. The base camp was still 2–3kms away from the post. But I could see a lot of tents pitched in just before the gate. This confused me.
The basecamp was far away as per the trail map but all I could see ahead was snow. I thought it might be similar to campsite of Kedarkantha and continued walking. Apparently, I was the only one within 200 metres radius of me 😆. My mind kept asking me whether I was on the right path or I was lost. To kill the doubt, I tried calling Rohit and luckily the phone got connected. He told me to follow the trail as they had also pitched their tents far away from the gate. He had marked that point on the trail. Heeding to his advice, I started moving ahead.
After a few minutes, all I could see was thick snow, trees, me and my shadow. The trail started becoming steeper and the absence of spikes was making it difficult to climb up along with baggage. I was making cavities by hitting toe into the hard snow for tighter grip and to ensure that I don’t slip. Though it helped, it was consuming a lot of energy. While I was struggling with the snow, I saw some tents at a distance pitched on the lower right side of the mountain I was climbing. This confused me entirely. On one side, the trail was showing me on the right path and on the other, the tents were on some completely different path.
After a bit of dilemma, I decided to take a de-tour and go towards those tents. I tried looking for some trail and with rough estimate, started moving towards them. Luckily I saw a person with his mule going towards that side. I rushed towards him and joined him on the way. His name was Ajit and was a local guide. He was taking the tents, food, vegetables for a group of 35 people which was yet to start from Pantwari. Ajit took me through some random routes. I could hardly see any definite trail but I was enjoying it. After an hour or so, we reach an almost plain area. I had reached near the tents I had seen from the checkpost. I asked whether it was basecamp and he replied no.
The basecamp was on the other side of the mountain. Damn! Had I done another mistake? I was a bit worried as he told that it would take around 2 more hours to reach the basecamp. But I was relieved when he further added that there was no point of going there as the whole area was covered with dense snow. Pitching up tents at basecamp was not at all recommended. Most of the groups had pitched their tents near the checkpost itself. There were 2 other groups who were camping near the point I had just reached.
Good news as I wasn’t lost but snow was surely going to spoil my plan for the day and after. It was just 12.30 and I had a lot of time to kill. Sun was shining bright in the sky. Ajit started unloading his stuff. His partners also reached the campsite within a few minutes. I asked them about the permission to pitch in my tent near their campsite and they were perfectly fine with it. I unloaded my baggage and got straight into the most important task of the day: setting up the shelter 😁.
While unpacking the tent, I realized that the company had sent a summer tent. There was no outer layer, just a simple single layered tent. The night was surely going to be amazing. Without putting in much thought, I continued and the tent was ready.
The thought of not bringing the mattress was still hovering above my mind but clear skies, bright sunshine and peaceful landscapes weren’t letting that thought go inside my brain. Having nothing much to do, I started helping out Ajit and his friends in setting up their tents. Slowly and steadily, we pitched in all the 15 tents. Their group was still far away.
I basked in the sun for sometime, wandered around and later went in the tent to relax a bit. The moment I lied down, I felt the cold floor. Though it was sunny, I could still feel the snow beneath me. I had thought that sleeping bag was going to be enough but I was wrong. I was worried about spending the night.
While I was caught up in this tussle of thoughts, Ajit’s friend called me out. They had prepared lunch for themselves and invited me to join in. What better treat one could have thought of 😄? The food was delicious. I thanked the guys and went back to stroll around. Everything was going fine. I was having a good time. The sun was about to set and Ajit’s group finally reached the campsite.
Misery started after the sunset. With the possibility of temperature dropping soon, I had to prepare myself for the night. I increased the number of layers and started testing how well it was working along with sleeping bag. Sadly, everything went in vain. No matter how many layers I had, absence of insulation layer between the tent and sleeping bag was not letting the body get warm. I even tried adding a layer of clothes between my body and sleeping bag, but it was of no use. Tired after all the attempts, I went to the other camps to check if they had extra mattress and to my bad luck they didn’t have any. Now I was at my own.
This was going to be one of the most difficult nights for me. I lied down in hopes of some magic to happen after an hour or so but nothing was working. With every second passing by, my back was getting colder & colder. I was regretting the decision of underestimating the snow and not bringing the mattress. It was the first time, I realized how big a second is. I just wanted the night to pass as fast as possible. Fear of getting sick was also making me more anxious 😥. I somehow got into short naps but they didn’t last for more than 15 minutes.
The plan of the next day was to start the trek around 3–4a.m. Ajit and his friends had suggested me to start early as reaching the basecamp would take atleast 2 hours followed by 2 more hours to reach the summit. And given that I had to catch the last bus to Dehradun, I had to reach Pantwari latest by 1p.m. The guy had shown me the trail during the day. Though, I couldn’t see the complete path but I got a rough idea.
Generally, I try minimal use of social media during a trip but this time, things were different. I needed a distraction to take my mind away from the thoughts of cold. I also turned on the music on my phone. But nothing helped much. Every minute was looking like an hour. This was the first time I had felt so helpless on a trek.
Few hours passed, and my body finally started getting warm. Thinking how did that happen? Miracle? No, the temperature started rising because of fever. It wasn’t a good news. I wasn’t expecting that. My throat also became sore and I could feel the effort while breathing. I thought of sitting up instead of lying down but that didn’t help as well. Sleeping bag was chilled as ice.
It was around 1.30. I could hear some noises from the camps down under. I thought the other groups might be starting the ascend. Since the trail was just behind my tent, I could join the other groups going up and minimize the chances of getting lost.
With that hope, I got up. Prepared some breakfast, took a medicine and tried to regain some energy. Ajit had suggested me not to take the luggage for the trek to the summit and neither was I in a situation to climb with the baggage. I took my camera ,water bottle, first aid, torch and came out of the tent. And damn, the conditions outside my tent were much better than that of inside. The sky was filled with bright moonlight with some stars shining beneath the clouds. For a moment, I thought that I was dead and had reached the heaven 😬. I roamed around a bit to warm up the body. The folks were still chatting down near the other campsite. I waited outside for sometime to see if their group was going for the summit. But they weren’t looking in any mood to start the hike.
Dejected, I decided to start alone. A few minutes into walking and trail got invisible. The entire path was covered with snow, making it difficult to figure out the way. With no other option, I tried going along one of the way which looked right.
Couple of steps and BANG! I slipped and went 4 feet down on the other side.
Luckily, I opened my legs at the right moment and used the shoes to stop the downfall. Else, God knows what could have happened. It was a bit of setback. First cold floor, followed by fever and now this. Something was not right. I gathered myself and went around the way to reach near the tent. Everyone around were still sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone just to have some company.
There was no point of sitting back and waiting so I decided to give a second shot. I looked around for a wooden stick and found one easily. Climbing up with a stick would ensure that I didn’t put my foot at wrong place.
Time for Attempt 2. I went past the point where I slipped earlier and kept moving with a rough idea. The trail was not still clear and the moon light was getting dimmer. Something struck my mind and it told me to return back rather than taking more risk. I returned back and waited for half an hour to see if I could find anyone else to accompany. Nothing changed.
It was time for attempt 3. I started again and went farther ahead. Trail was nowhere to be found yet. I felt lost. That was too much. Even if I continued like this, there was no surety that I would reach the summit. There was no point of getting lost like a fool. I returned back to the tent.
There was a whole train of thoughts going around my brain. Had I made a big mistake by coming alone this time? What was the point of bearing this cold? Above all, there was ray of positivity that was continuously saying, “Vivek, glad that you came here. This learning was much needed for you. It was important to kill that over confidence.”
Now the only way to reach the top was to find some group going that way. I was going to wait till the sunrise, else would then start the descend. Even this wait was painful as I couldn’t lie down again on the snow. The time passed somehow and after waiting for 1.5 hours, I heard some voices. This time the voices were much closer
It was a moment of joy. A group of four guys was going to the summit. I immediately jumped out of my tent. They had gone to the tent Ajit as they were also not aware of the trail 😝. I called them and told them about the situation.
It was time for attempt 4. Though none of us knew the right trail, but when you have more minds working towards a problem, it’s easier to find the solution. We started moving along the way I was going. And luckily we found the trail. I was just a few metres away from the trail. The heavy snowcover had made it invisible. Happiness was at peak but there was still a lot to go.
As we continued moving up, snow kept on becoming denser. It took us 2 hours to go through the snowy trails and reach the basecamp. I could hardly believe that it was the basecamp. There was no tent around, only snow and more snow. Now, I understood why everyone had changed the location of their tents.
We were the first to reach on that day. It was already 8 in the clock and summit was still 2 hours away. Going to the summit meant that we would not be able to catch the last bus to Dehradun. Moreover the snow ahead was more dense and going without spikes and gaiters was nothing more than stupidity. We chilled around for some time and then decided to return back.
It was only during the descend that we found the other groups going up. The descend was much easier and we reached back the campsite in less than an hour. It was time to bid farewell to the awesome place. I packed up my stuff and went to the camps of the folks who helped me reach the top. Had they not come, the story would have been something else.
Everything afterwards went smooth and I reached back safe and sound.
The trip was much needed and indeed an eye-opening experience for me. It made me realize that even after more than 5 years of trekking, anything can happen to anyone. Thankfully everything ended well and I was able to burst that bubble of fear. With such an amazing start of 2020, I am looking to a much more adventurous year ahead
Vivek Sharma writes on travel, life and a bit of product management. You can follow Vivek on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
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