My name is Laurent Berthod (Canada) and I have been watching a lot of your content recently, finding your will to explore solo very inspiring! I am a Quebecois hiker preparing a solo Himalayan traverse starting in Leh the 1st of October and ending at the border of Nepal, probably in Dharchula. I saw your blog post with Leon Perrin’s itinerary and was thinking of a similar route, but I am worried about the snowfall and the snowline, especially in the Himachal Pradesh region, as you said that options were quite limited in late October.
I am planning on linking waymarked trails in OSM and was wondering if I could get your opinion on a good route to avoid unnecessarily dangerous passes. I plan on going as light as possible, but am pondering bringing my small portable stove and pot since villages may be deserted in early November? As well, I am completely open to financially compensate route planning and communication with you during the trip if need be. I don’t have the biggest budget, but I completely understand that such extensive knowledge of the Himalayas is rare and very valuable.
[29 Aug 2023 Peter]
Nice to connect with a solo lightweight hiker!
Leon is attending my Alpine Field Bootcamp in Manali on Sep 17-23 so he’ll just be 1 week ahead of you. Feel free to reach out to him in case you both are interested in teaming up.
With respect to October / onset of winter – Ladakh & Spiti should be fine as they are behind the Great Himalayan Range, a 5-6000m wall which blocks most of the monsoon / snowfall. Beyond that we enter Kinnaur via Pin Baba (4850m) which gets directly hit by fresh winter snow – this might indeed be too optimistic to cross by the time you reach here in mid October. Next Rupin (4650m) to hop into Shimla could be another showstopper. Thanks for pointing out this error in the first draft plan.
Beyond that while traversing trans Uttarakhand I drop below 4000m which should probably be fine. Additionally I mapped lots of lower altitude passes in UK so here we can easily go higher / lower as per the actual snowline during winter 2023.
We have a few options to bypass Pin Bhaba / Rupin to get from Spiti to Kinnaur/Shimla:
1. We could follow the road – Kaza to Reckong Peo (East side of Spiti/Sutlej river) which of course beats the purpose of identifying a continuous hiking traverse
2. Alternatively there is a hiking path on the West side of Spiti/Sutlej river valley (not yet mapped in OSM) via Hangrang / Hango Pass / Rurang Be / Urang La to reach Reckong Peo. I have partly mapped this on via satellite maps and it’s also present on the Survey of India maps. Should be fairly easy to figure out as it connects various villages on the West bank.
3. Another option is to bypass Spiti altogether. Instead of Tso Moriri – Parang La – Kaza one could descend South towards Himachal via Sarchu (accessible through several routes) – Baralacha La – Chandra Tal – Attal tunnel and then follow a lower altitude traverse from Kullu valley towards Uttarakhand as per Sant’s Kullu_2_Nepal travers.
Avoiding dangerous passes – I have done some 350+ passes in the Himalayas so I can review any continuous traverse you connect and give you feedback on most passes.
Portable stove – big NO – I ve traversed the India Himalayas in all seasons and especially in winter you are usually traversing lower altitude passes (sub 3-4000m) and therefore closer to the permanent villages (2-2500m) so resupply is easy. Most mid-altitude passes can be done in a single day so you hardly have to carry much food and most night stays are in the valleys / villages. A stove 400gr + fuel 600gr is too much of drag for a lightweight hiker.
Compensation – no worries – always glad to share my experience in helping a fellow solo hiker. If you really want to appreciate my efforts then become a Patreon (advanced level) for a meagre monthly subscription. I’ll be most happy to guide you in planning a suitable traverse for the given season and dynamically adjust the route as per the actual weather conditions / snowline. I personally love those beautiful winter traverses and rerouting as per the dynamic snowline.
There are some 2000+ mountain passes, 13 thousand kms OSM routes and 63 thousand kms of Survey trails at our disposal so I always find a way!
[30 Aug 2023 Laurent]
First, thank you for responding this fast to my message! I subscribed to your Patreon and am looking forward to creating the best traverse possible! As you mentioned, those two passes (Pin Bhaba and Rupin) were my main concern. I estimated potentially crossing Pin Bhaba the 13th or 14th of October and the weather window may be closing by then, although I read somewhere it was potentially possible. In any case, I am considering roads only as a last resort, since as you said it defeats the purpose of a traverse.
Now, I am open to both options regarding a potential reroute if necessary, although I would prefer staying up north (through Reckong Peo), as I feel it would be a more direct route and the Rumtse – Karzok – Parang La – Kibber section sounds incredible! Also, there are many possibilities in Uttarakhand and I must say I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount of options. I examined Leon’s itinerary and it seemed to flow quite nicely, without many cuts where you have to walk on roads, but I would gladly have your opinion on the most aesthetic (flowy) and interesting route.
I also had a couple of questions regarding logistics :
– Do I need a special pair of sunglasses for the snowline (category 4 lens and side-eye protection for example)?
– I have a -2C sleeping bag, should I get a -12C like the one you used on your winter traverse?
– Is it worth it to bring some micro spikes for potentially technical glacier or moraine traverses considering my itinerary and the winter weather?
– I normally don’t use poles, in your experience, are they essential for the terrain I am going to be crossing, since streams are not going to be very large due to the winter conditions?
-How do you go about checking the weather without a cell signal, and how do you normally communicate with hikers when they don’t have reception? Is it worth trying to sneak in a satellite device?
I know it makes a lot of questions, so I really appreciate you taking the time to answer!
[30 Aug 2023 Peter]
Thanks for supporting me through Patreon. I quit my job in 2017 to pursue my passion of exploring and mapping the India Himalayas. I rented out my house, sold my car and am basically homeless now 😉 but happier than before!
If you prefer to stick to the Eastern Ladakh traverse till Kibber then we’ll find a way forward!
West Sutlej traverse
Sumra – Hangrang pass – Shialkhar – Yulang – Leo – Hango – Hango pass – Giabong – Temso lake – Lapo – Urang La – Pangi – Reckong Peo
I suggest you review the hires satellite map above and refine it if you require more in between waypoints. Trails are generally quite easy to spot in the open / gradual alpine desert of Spiti
I’ve explored some 3000km of routes in Uttarakhand – no worries about that side 😉 No matter how the snowline moves up or down we can easily get you through to Nepal. There’s so much mapped here that we can make a nice continuous traverse. One of my favorite places – raw and wild… and overwhelming hospitality as a solo hiker in these less touristic regions.
I suggest you take a look at Sant’s traverse (Kullu 2 Nepal) as a first start – he did this after my bootcamp in April when the snowline was around 3500m. (similar to October) You can join this traverse after Rampur. Sant was able to complete it 50% (he had to go back to work). Many of these passes are documented on my blog or Sant’s blog. Leon will follow more or less the same from Shimla/Uttarakhand.
I never used sunglasses on my winter traverses but then again I recently noticed my lenses have some UV protection. Still…. Snow blindness is more likely in frozen morning snow with heavy sun reflection at higher altitude. Haven’t had any issues during my long winter traverses in the mid ranges. A normal sunglasses should do Laurent. We usually go through snow within a few hundreds of meters below the passes and then quickly descend into the forest below the snowline.
-2C should be fine. -12C is too bulky – it was only useful while camping on some exposed snow covered peaks just to capture the sunset/rise views. Usually we ll plan to camp in the valleys / villages at lower / warmer altitude. 50%+ of your night halts you’ll get hospitality in UK and you’ll sleep beneath cosy blankets in someone’s home.
Don’t carry spikes please. We cannot justify carrying 350gr extra weight over such long traverses. We can easily avoid steep / hard snow / ice so you ll not require them especially in mid range during winter (mostly fresh snow / not hard during day at lower altitudes)
I also do not use poles to walk. I use them to 1. pitch up my ultra light tent or 2. some tricky stream crossings (not in winter obviously) or 3. cross steep landslide areas or 4. hike up steep / deep snow. My poles are carbon so just 250 grams. If you feel you don’t need them then drop them. As per my experience on long winter traverses they were useful though in case of (4).
Mobile reception used to be a challenge in the Himalayas. Although in recent years it’s gotten much better now. Especially in Himachal/uttarakhand during winter at mid range altitude you might get a network 60% of the time which is frequent enough to get recent weather updates. Additionally, the weather is much more stable during winter compared to summer or monsoon. Get a JIO SIM which has wide coverage. You can try to sneak in a Garmin inReach – some are successful like Pete who just completed a long traverse through Ladakh/Zanskar – over here. Others say any they are stopped while entering and taken to the police station. So there’s risk.
Digging a little deeper into crossing over from Spiti to Kinnaur via Pin Bhaba – refer attached.
Topography – PB seems shielded by a few high ranges (red lines, 5000m) from the South which could prevent it from getting more rain / snowfall early winter
Precipitation (10 days from today, windy.com) – PB receives less rainfall (snow if sub-zero) compared to South/West so it appears to be shielded from current monsoon rains in foothills
Snow depth – PB is on the edge here which is a positive sign.
We could take a call once you reach Kaza but my feeling says that you might still be able to cross it mid October. I’ve done PB and it’s a fairly straightforward approach (especially from Mud/Spiti). Bit steeper from Kinnaur. If the snow is too deep then simply take a bus from Mud back to Dhankar and follow the backup traverse on the West side of the Sutlej river to reach Reckong Peo.
[31 Aug 2023 Laurent]
Thank you for the extensive information about the West Sutlej Traverse as well as the weather info of PB pass. I agree that taking a call in mid October would be the best option, as I have heard that the PB pass is an incredible change of scenery and would love to traverse it if I can. Now, if I am able to take the PB pass, I imagine that the Rupin Pass would at this period be out of the question? In that case what would be the best alternative since I believe from that point on I think I absolutely have to head south to be comfortably below 4500m? I saw that the Buran Gatti named trail on OSM was a possible option to reach Chirgoan, but I probably have to look at the SOI maps since there are no OSM trails from that point.
As for the potential reroute through the West Sutlej Traverse, I am going to take some time to review the course and get back to you soon with probably a few questions!
[1 Sep 2023 Peter]
Which application are you using to plan your traverse? If nothing yet, I suggest you either use QGIS on laptop or OSMAnd on mobile. You can use any basecamp in these and overlay hiking routes to plan your continuous traverse. You can mark your passes, food stops and night halts.
Do you want to stay on pre-recorded (GPS) OpenStreetMap hiking routes or are you open to explore Survey of India map trails? If yes, you can download thousands kms of trails / paths from here.
Survey Map trails will give you a much more extensive trail network to choose from compared to OSM. Although legacy maps, these are usually 90% accurate. I have used them on various previous month long ultra journeys to explore, record and map 3000km+ new hiking routes in OSM.
Survey Maps are the most detailed available maps of the Indian HImalayas. They were created during the Great Trigonometrical Survey on India by the British in the 18th century and updated periodically after that. In OSM/QGIS you can overlay Survey Maps (bitmaps) using this overlay URL:
[1 Sep 2023 Peter]
In case you are interested to learn more on planning individual sections / pass crossings yourself:
For example: say we wish to cross over from the Sutlej river valley (Rampur) to the Pabbar river valley (Chirgaon):
Option 1: In case you wanna give it a shot: Baspa valley – Barua – Buran Ghati (4560m) – Chirgaon. I did 4800m last year in the first week of Oct but each year the weather is different. Buran has direct exposure to new snowfall + steepness on the South side. Image below: current snow depth in Kinnaur – you can see that Buran is currently located in a snow – less corridor (which makes it more favorable). We can check snow depth mid Oct and make a call,
Option 2: Sant traverse, lower altitude, mapped in OSM: Jhakri – unnamed pass (2900m) – Kuhl – road section – Nogli Gad valley – Theda – Sarota Ghati (2700m) – Dalog – road section – Sungri – Maral Kanda (3720m) – Dumrera – road section – Chirgaon. These were Survey trails which Sant explored and mapped in OSM. He had to stay at a lower altitude last April as the snowline was around 3300m. These are smaller disconnected sections (road in between) as this lower altitude region is more inhabited. From Chirgaon onward it’s a more continuous traverse through green / forest regions.
Option 3: If you wanna try something new you simply check the Survey maps – overlay the Survey GPXs (or map) I shared in the previous email and you’ll see multiple options to traverse from North to South. Additionally you can move between West (lower altitude, less snow) or East (higher altitude). Refer screenshot 3 attached:
- Sutlej river valley
- Ridgeline 1 (purple) – three unnamed passes (blue circles): 2900, 3200, 3350m
- Nogli gad valley
- Ridgeline 2 (purple) – three passes: Maraln Kanda (3700m), Jhalsu Ghati (4150m), Kathrech Ghati (3900m)
- Pabbar river valley (Chirgaon)
I usually keep my route dynamic based on the current weather / snow conditions and take the highest possible pass where the snow level is manageable (read: below knee level). As new snowfall occurs in between I simply move dynamically to lower altitude Survey trails.
[Laurent Sep 2nd]
I will definitely check all of those out and come up with a more detailed route which we can adjust afterwards. I will use OSMAnd on my phone and will also try QGIS on my computer. I am definitely open to exploring SOI trails during my traverse to make it more unique, so I will also try fusing the survey and OSM to find appealing routes!
[Peter Sep 3rd]
One thing I learned from my past winter journeys is to be flexible. You can have a fixed / planned route but based on actual weather / snow conditions always be ready to adjust the route to slightly higher / lower passes
With 2000+ mountain passes mapped across the Western Himalayas there’s is always the perfect crossing for any snowline 😉
And with 65 thousand Survey map trails you never run out of a backup routes
Leh to Kaza section you can consider fixed / straightforward as these are frequented by many hikers / accurately GPS recorded
We can just focus on studying / finetuning the Rampur 2 Nepal section. Once you enter Uttarakhand you ll have 3000km of OSM mapped routes also but it ll definitely be interesting to try to explore some Survey trails which have not been mapped yet. This will benefit the outdoor community
Traversing West to East you basically cross several ridgelines (passes) in between valleys (food, night stay). Each ridgeline has multiple passes to cross over – you just chose the highest one without pushing the snowline too much
The beauty of the Indian Himalayas is that you ll find thousands of human settlements (villages/red, hamlets/yellow, dwellings/green) which are perfect spots for food supply and night halt. I usually connect the last inhabited settlements in each valley
[Laurent Sep 11th]
Hi Peter, after looking extensively at the potential options, I traced an 80% complete traverse using OSMand and QGis, I need to further mark the settlements and potential campsites, but it looks quite straightforward.
Kibber-To-Rampur and Chrigoan to Hanuman Chatti are the 2 sections where I am a bit less sure where to traverse. I checked the passes that you sent me but they seemed maybe a bit too high for the season? And the Survey Maps seemed to make big detours. I wonder if I should just follow the road south to connect to Human Chatti. Curious to see if you have any insights about this and if you have recommendations of things to add to my offline map as well!
I have identified 5 major road sections that I wondered if I could avoid :
- – Kafnu to Rampur
- – Rampur to (close to Dumrera)
- – Sonprayag to Okimath
- – Urgam to Joshimath (I saw there were SOI trails nearby, but they are incomplete and the elevation seems crazy)
- – Teejam to Dharchula
[Peter Sep 14th]
Kafnu to Rampur can be connected via Survey map trails along the North slope of the Sutlej river valley. It s not a straight line but it avoids the highway and goes through lower altitude trails connecting smaller hamlets
With respect to Rampur to Dumrera you could try below traverse instead:
- Start from Sarahan (instead of Rampur)
- Take bus to Mashhu
- 3200m pass
- Sharnu pass 2900m
- Jhalsu Gati 4150m
The Sonprayag to Okhimat section is indeed highway although mid way onwards you could follow some paths north of the Mandakini valley to reach Okhimat
Urgam to Joshimath – did you check out the trails on the west side of the Alaknanda?
Teejam to Darchula – the government has not released the border Survey maps so we have no further info on the region. Bus will be the only way forward here
Instead of coming down to the road in Spiti valley you can do an upper traverse through Kibber – Tashigang – Langza – Hikkim – Demul – Dhankar
If possible try to explore / GPS record / map some survey routes instead of following already mapped OSM routes for some crossings: e.g. Ajricha pass instead of Darwa pass
The more Survey trails we explore and map into OSM the more extensive hiking network we create for the outdoor community
Depending on the snowline you can divert to higher altitude routes for some crossings: e.g. Pinwala – Dayara – Dayara pass – Uchalar – Sungar.
Based on my own experience during past Autumn/Winter traverses I usually keep my route dynamic as the snow line keeps changing – you usually have multiple options / passes to cross over: e.g. Kyarki Khal, Kalaipir, Belakhal, Badri ki Chani between Bhagirathi to Dharm Ganga valleys
[Peter Sep 16th]
Chirgoan to Hanuman Chatti: a few options below:
- Pabbar – Rupin valley:
Banwari – Tangan Khal 3600m – Dharagaon (Survey trail)
Chansal Ghati 3750m (road pass)
Jarkot – Ratora peak 3900m – Dhaula (OSM route)
Jakhi – ridge 3700m – Dhaula (OSM route incomplete)
- Rupin – Yamuna valley:
Masri – ridge 3650m – Rekcha – Supin river – Kuparkhal 3500m – Tons river – Chaunda pass 3700m – Sar (Survey trail)
Tons river – Suchangaon – Kedarkantha 3800m – ridgeline South – Rajgarhi (OSM route, partly Survey trail)
Just load the Survey map trails to see various options between Chirgaon and Hanuman Chatti
I had a closer look at the Western slope of the Sutlej river valley and marked some trails on hires Google / Bing sat maps. This should be a good backup in case Pin Bhaba is closed by snow
- Spiti river
- Hamrang 4200m
- Spiti river
- Takal Tach 3850m
- Yulang Dogri
- Amdan Puh valley
- Pass 3800m
- Spiti river
- Road section
- Kirasang valley
- Hango pass 4400m
- Ropa Gad valley
- Runang Be 4350m
- Kirang Khad valley
- Kiari We 4220m
- Kashang Khad valley
After the Hango Pass you have coverage by the Survey maps
You can clearly spot the trails on hires sat maps at 1:1000m scale
[Laurent 17th Sep]
Ok so I checked all of your propositions and ajusted my route accordingly. I have chosen to do the Spiti/Kinnaur western traverse instead of the PB pass, as I find it more interesting. My only concern was snow and the visibility of the trail, but if there is less snow in this area in late october then I think I will be fine. I downloaded the offline Survey map on my phone to make adjustements with the snowline if needed. I would need if possible the precise gpx file to get all the passes with their names attached, as the one I downloaded only shows the dots without the names on QGIS and the OSMand app on my phone.
As for getting to Hanuman Chatti, I wondered if it was possible to follow the ridgeline the entire way to Kedar Khanta and then Chaunda and Mogarkanda as per highlighted in blue, as I find it is the simplest and purest way to get there?
Also do I need any permits along the way? I know I am crossing several national parks so I wondered if they had regulations about that? As well thank you for taking the time to analyse this extensively my traverse, it is a tremendous help!
[Peter 17th Sep]
The Spiti/Kinnaur Western Traverse will be an amazing addition to OSM. Please do GPS record this section. It ll open up a new connection between Spiti and Kinnaur !
I checked new snow for next 10 days along the Spiti / Sutlej valley and it looks minimal so I think you should be fine. We ll check again once you reach Kaza
Names of passes are on OSM and Survey maps. Some passes are unnamed. Let me know which ones are missing
The ridgeline from Kedarkanta to Hanuman Chatti would definitely be a beautiful option if the Survey trail is clear / still in use and not much above the snowline
Regarding permits – Yes PAP for foreigners and ILP for Indians. There were no check points entering Korzok (via Tso Kar). There is a police check point at the other end of the village but I think they’re more interested in tourists coming in by car.
I think technically you need 2 permits. The above mentioned PAP for the Ladakh side and another for the Spiti (HP) side. But info is rather lacking. I didn’t bother with the second permit. I did run into an army patrol (great guys!) when I reached the Pare Chu but they were only interested in my passport.
Langza to Dhankar is a nice high altitude traverse North of the Spiti valley instead of following the road from Kibber-Kaza-Dhankar in main valley. Find attached waypoints for the traverse Langzha to Demul and Demul to Dhankar
[Laurent 17th Sep]
I will be taking the northern route Langza-Dhankar! As for the PAP permits, I checked and all the tibetan settlements requiring a permit are not going to be on my itinerary, so I should be fine without them!
Also, after Dharchula, I am continuing my traverse to nepal where I plan to finish at Everest Base Camp. I know it is not related to the Indian Himalayas, but if you happen to know some good survey maps of Nepal (like the SOI for India) I would be grateful!
[Peter 18th Sep]
Good amount of snowfall at Pin Baba pass yesterday while Spiti / Sutlej valley backup route has much less
Topomaps for Nepal – https://nationalgeoportal.gov.np/topo/
OSM also appears to show lots of trails in Nepal although few are mapped as hiking routes in waymarked trails.
Not sure how accurate is windy but it shows snow depth as 35cm at Pin Bhaba. The Sutlej river valley seems like a “window of opportunity” as the snowline will descend in coming month
Find here the nine campsites for the initial high altitude section from Ladakah to Spiti via Rumtse to Tso Kar to Karzok to Kibber
[Laurent 21 Sep 2023]
For now, that is the full traverse, there are very tiny links that are not connected, but these are small road sections where I will try to find some SOI paths