Roopkund is a high altitude trek. The risks associated with a high altitude trek are different from other treks. Here are few of them - these are not meant to scare you but to help you come better prepared for the trek.
Risk 1: Altitude and terrain
Many people find it difficult to cope with high altitude. Our base camp, Lohajung, is at 8,250 feet. This is already at a high altitude. The Roopkund trek takes you to 15,750 feet. This is considered very high altitude. Trekkers often don’t understand the implications of starting a trek at high altitude. By the time trekkers reach Camp 2 at Bedni Bugyal (at 11,500 ft), they begin to display symptoms of high altitude – mild headache, nausea and general uneasiness. These are signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness.) Trekkers must read this article on AMS and understand it fully before going on high altitude treks like Roopkund.
More information on AMS is given in the following tutorial: Altitude Tutorial
At Indiahikes, we believe that a preventive step taken before you start the trek is better than giving into AMS and dropping out of a trek. We recommend trekkers to start on a course of Acetazolamide (Diamox ®) when they arrive at Delhi.
On a Himalayan trek like the Roopkund, there is no alternative but to gain altitude rapidly. Even though we have designed the trek to ascend as slowly as possible, there is a considerable altitude gain every day of the trek.
Risk 2: Weather
On a high altitude trek, the weather is not predictable. On the Roopkund trek, the higher regions are in permafrost. This means whether it is summer or winter, the final stages of the trek are almost always covered in snow. Even though we can predict with reasonable certainty that the months of June and September are the best time to trek, a slight change in atmospheric pressure or a shift in the winds can bring snowfall during the Roopkund trek, especially in the upper reaches. In a worst case scenario, we may curtail the trek at Bhagwabasa or at any point where we feel it is safe. Under no circumstances will Indiahikes proceed with the trek if the snow looks too dangerous to be trekked on. Trek Leaders and Guides leading the team take this call.
Another weather-related issue is a burst of hailstones on your trek. Most of the Roopkund trek is above the tree line. In such terrains, it is difficult to find shelter from hailstones. The best thing to do is to head to your nearest camp as quickly as possible. Rain accompanied by hail stones is common above 11,000 ft. They are fun to watch and experience. However, if a trekker is caught in a hail storm while trekking, he/she should protect himself in multiple layers of clothes (including covering the head with a woolen cap). Rarely do you find life-threatening hail stones in these regions.
The Roopkund trek has not been designed to accommodate a second attempt at Roopkund. In case of extremely bad weather lasting for more than two days, trekkers have to return from the highest point reached.
Note: Monsoon in Roopkund starts only during the first week of July and not in June like rest of our country.
Risk 3: Physical injuries
On a trek, it is not uncommon to sprain a leg or accidentally fall down, especially in snow. Sprains, cuts and bruises are easier to manage. Fractures and dislocations are rare and more difficult to tackle. The trekker needs to be immobilised and brought down to the base camp as soon as possible. Our Trek Leaders are trained to handle emergencies like these but they are not doctors. The nearest medical aid is more than 100 km away and it may take anything from 24-48 hours to get the trekker to a hospital. As a participant on the trek you must be aware of these risks before starting the trek.
Risk 4: Evacuation, emergency and communication
Evacuation of an affected trekker is not a quick process; it takes time. Sometimes, the trekker has to be put on a stretcher. At other times, he must be carried down with the help of porters. It requires a team of 4-6 porters to bring down a victim. The trails are narrow and sometimes steep. At times there is not enough room for the porters to stand while bringing down a victim. This makes any evacuation a slow process – slower than the usual trekking time. During an emergency, when time is of the essence, this can be deeply frustrating to the victim as well as those who are with him.
Emergency evacuation by helicopter is not a possibility. Helicopters need to fly from the nearest base at Delhi or Jammu. They need to refuel once in between, usually at Dehradun. This is time consuming. It could take 7-8 hours before a helicopter reaches you. Helicopters also need a flat area of 20X30 meters to land and a clear sky. Usually, in the regions we trek, there is a cloud cover by 2-3 pm in the afternoon. Even in a life-threatening situation, the common rule applied is to move down and not wait for a helicopter to reach the victim. This rule is applied universally across the globe.
Communication on the trek is limited to the use of walkie-talkies and runners to send information. Use of satellite phones was banned in our country until recently. Mobile phones do not work. Once on the trek, you are cut off from the rest of the world until you complete the trek. The implication is that even during an emergency, communication is difficult. During an emergency, it takes time for help to reach you. We at IH, use walkie–talkies for communication. However they too have a limited range.
Please understand these risks before starting a high altitude trek in the Himalayas.
How Indiahikes takes care of its trekker’s safety on a high altitude trek like Roopkund
Each trekker is allotted a pair of micro spikes for the entire trek to add on his/her shoe to walk on snow sections.
All camps above 10,000 ft have oxygen cylinders which last 3-4 hours and can sustain the length of an evacuation.
Oxygen saturation levels of trekkers are checked everyday at all camps above 9,000 ft. If o2 levels are lower than medically acceptable limits, those trekkers are not allowed to climb higher on the trek.
Trek teams are always accompanied trek leaders. They are qualified (with basic, advanced mountaineering courses), trained, urban and are knowledgeable about the mountains.
During high snow seasons, the Roopkund treks have special technical staff - extensively trained in mountaineering skills in addition to our trek leaders and other support staff.
How Indiahikes is prepared for an emergency
Every group is accompanied by a Trek Leader, who is trained to handle emergencies. He knows how to administer first aid, address altitude related problems and issue emergency medications.
A high altitude medical kit always accompanies the group on the trek. An evacuation team is ready in case a trekker has to be brought down to a safer camp.
Bottled oxygen is available at all camps above 10,000 ft.
All trekkers are checked for their blood oxygen saturation levels everyday once above 9,000 ft. Trek leaders assess the trekkers ability to acclimatize based on the oxygen saturation readings.
All campsites are equipped with stretchers to carry a patient down.
Note: The details mentioned below are for your personal knowledge and not to scare you.
2,500 – 3,500 metres (High Altitude)
3,500 – 5,500 metres (Very High Altitude)
5,500 – 6,500 metres (Extremely High Altitude)
Above 6,500 meters (Defined as Death Zone, because here, smallest amount of negligence could threaten your life)