For many years now I’ve heard enough winter myths to fill a book. Today I’ve pulled together a few of the biggest myths that we’ve heard.
Some of these are going to take you by surprise. Some others, you may empathise with, and some could be dangerous if they are truly believed.
These are myths we’ve heard for years, and surprisingly, still hear them.
So it’s time to bust these myths now!
If you have heard of any more myths, feel free to add to the list of myth busters on this page.
Alright! Let’s dive in!
1. “It’s winter. It’s going to be snowing all the time.”
This is perhaps the most widespread myth I have heard. And I still hear it. Many trekkers believe that any time they trek in winter, they are likely to see snowfall. If only!
| The real truth: It doesn’t snow all the time in winter. Snowfall is a lot like rainfall. Just like it doesn’t rain all the time (even in monsoon), it doesn’t snow all the time. The snow in our country is driven by Western Disturbances (WD), which is a weather system that originates near the Mediterranean Sea. These WDs come in waves, bringing with them moisture-laden clouds, which come down as snow because of the low atmospheric temperature over the Himalayas.
So every time there’s a Western Disturbance, you can be sure that it will snow. But these waves come in only occasionally. Just to give you an idea, we see snowfall around twice a month. This is not factual, but a rough guesstimate. There have even been times when we have seen snowfall hardly twice in 4 months (2018), or when we have seen snow so regularly that we prayed for it to stop (2019).
So if you get to see snowfall, consider yourself lucky! You can read more about this weather phenomenon here, where I interview an expert meteorologist.
Btw, don’t confuse this with the presence of already fallen snow on the trail. There is usually snow on Himalayan treks from mid-December onward, constantly accumulating with each snowfall. It remains all the way till the end of April.
2. “The temperature is going to be sub-zero throughout the day.”
Here’s another myth, which I quite empathise with. It’s normal to imagine very low temperatures when you see pictures with so much snow on winter treks. But that’s far from reality.
| The real truth: It gets quite warm during the day if the weather is clear. The temperature could climb as high as 15°C. Additionally, the sun is much harsher at high altitude than at sea level, and you feel it easily. The temperature drops only post sun-down to zero and negative temperatures. It could also drop if it is overcast and raining.
Many trekkers also think they’re not going to sweat because of this myth. But given that you’re exerting yourself, you do tend to sweat. So don’t discount that fact. Change into dry warm layers as soon as you reach camp. In winter it is even more important to do that. It keeps your core body temperature stable.
3. “Trekking in winter is too difficult for a beginner.”
Many trekkers are actually very scared to trek in winter, especially if they are from hot cities, and from South India. In fact, I think I tackle around 4 such questions on a daily basis.
| The real truth: Trekking in winter is indeed challenging. There’s snow on trails, it gets very cold, and you’re climbing steep trails. Having said that, it is nothing that cannot be managed by beginners. Prior experience doesn’t play much of a role here. What’s most important is getting fit, and layering up well. Fitness helps climb up easily on any terrain, and layering helps tackle the cold.
To give you some stats, around 80% of our trekkers are beginners, and most of them from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, all of which are known for their warm climate. They all trek comfortably in winter. They make sure they train for at least a month and carry at least 5 warm layers in winter. Just those two aspects do the trick! You can check this guide to layering correctly for a winter trek. It will help.
4. “I have a cold, my nose is running while trekking.”
Well, this is something I hear a lot while on the trek. Many trekkers think they have a cold because their noses are constantly running. But that’s not the case.
| The real truth: Your nose tends to run when its cold because of condensation. The warmth in the air you breathe out, meets the cold air and condenses in your nose. This is what causes your nose to run. This tends to happen more often early in the morning and late in the evening, when it’s colder.
To tackle this, keep your face and head covered as much as possible. You could peel off these warm layers as and when you feel warmer. You should also carry a handkerchief with you (not tissue papers!), along with these 13 other things that must be easily accessible while trekking.
5. “I have one really thick jacket. I’ll wear it instead of layers.”
This is a mistake trekkers make very often, carrying just one thick parka or jacket, thinking it will make up for the layers.
| The real truth: No matter how thick, one jacket will not make up for the warmth of layering. The reason lies in how layering works. When you wear 2-3 layers (even if they are thin), there are air gaps in between the layers. These air gaps trap your own body’s warmth, there by keeping you warm. So it’s the gaps in the layers that play a crucial role here. Not the thickness of the jackets.
So make sure you carry at least 5 warm layers in winter. You’ll need them to tackle temperatures dropping below -10 degrees in the Himalayan winter.
6. “I’m used to the cold. I don’t need many layers.”
We hear a lot of this, especially from those who think they’re “too cool” to layer up. (Where’s that eye-rolling smiley when I need it!)
| The real truth: No matter how cool you are, your body still feels cold when it’s winter in the Himalayas. High altitude trekking is a sport that requires you maximise on the energy you have reserved in your body. You use this energy to climb steep gradients, to navigate your way in snow, and to keep yourself from falling sick or getting AMS. If you’re exposing yourself to the cold, your body is spending all its energy in keeping you as warm as possible, leaving you with little energy to actually do the trek. It’s not a wise way to spend your energy.
So if you see someone like this telling you “I don’t feel cold” or “I’m used to this,” please drive some sense into them.
7. “Alcohol keeps you warm.”
If I had a nickel for every time someone said this, I’d be able to afford a personal chopper to the Everest summit. Trekkers insist (and sometimes argue) that they’d like to drink in the mountains because it keeps them warm. And they don’t like that we have a strict no-alcohol policy.
| The real truth: Alcohol does not keep you warm. Not in the mountains, not even in the plains. It gives you momentary feeling of warmth, because it causes a sudden rush of blood to your extremities. But it decreases your core body temperature, which is a terrible thing to inflict upon yourself at high altitude in winter. It could cause hypothermia and be fatal.
You must do everything you can to keep your core temperature normal. Which is why layering, eating well and keeping your core warm is what matters the most at high altitudes.
8. “You don’t need sunscreen / sunglasses on a winter trek.”
This is very similar to the second myth I spoke about. Many trekkers believe that winter means no sun, no heat. Again, this is not true.
| The real truth: You can easily get sunburnt or snowblind in winter. In fact you are far more susceptible to these in winter than in summer, simply because of the presence of snow, and cold, dry air. Snow is a highly reflective surface and it could blind you if you don’t protect your eyes. It could also cause damage to your skin if you’re not wearing sunscreen, especially so because the air just sucks out all the moisture from your skin.
Another related myth here is that people think snow blindness occurs only after long hours of exposure to bright snow. This is not true. It takes just half an hour of exposure to bright snow to cause damage to your cornea (it’s basically a sunburn in your eyes). We have faced this several times with our porters, who hate wearing sunglasses. Although temporary, it can be painful and terrifying. You cannot see a thing before you, just dark spots. So protect your eyes and skin at all times on a winter trek.
9. “I’ll skip washing my hands, because this hand sanitiser will do the job.”
This is another myth that we have come across more recently. Many trekkers think using a not-so-cold hand sanitiser is a good replacement for washing their hands with cold water and soap (even after using the toilet. Ick!)
| The real truth: A hand sanitiser kills bacteria only if it has over 60% alcohol content. Considering most sanitisers don’t mention the alcohol percentage, it’s best to not take a chance. In the mountains, the hard core way is the way to go! Get those hands dirty and wash them with cold water and soap.
10. “Winter lasts only during the month of December”
I really wish people would stop thinking this, because it concentrates all winter crowds mostly in December, as I shared in my stats earlier this month.
| The real truth: Winter is not just the month of December. It starts somewhere around November as the first bout of snowfall happens around this month. (The first snow reports have just come in as I’m typing this btw!)
It lasts throughout November and December, peaking in January and February, when you see most snow and the coldest temperatures. Even March and April could be considered late winter because of the snow cover they have, almost till the end of April!
So don’t hesitate to plan a winter trek in Jan, Feb, March or April. You’ll see a lovely winter setting, minus the crowds.
11. “Kedarkantha is the best winter trek.”
Well, I had to put this in. My colleagues suggested this myth and it made me smile. 🙂 For all the demand we have for the Kedarkantha trek, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that it is the best winter trek. While it’s a very beautiful winter trek, the fact that it’s “the best winter trek” is a thing of the past.
| The real truth: We opened Kedarkantha back in 2011 when trekking in winter, especially in Uttarakhand, was unknown to the trekking community. For a long time, it stuck around as the only winter trek to do, and hence the best winter trek to do.
But we have come a long way since, and we have at least 9 other winter treks, which can give Kedarkantha a run for its money!
So head over to this page and take a look at the other winter treks – https://indiahikes.com/winter-snow-treks-dec-jan-feb-india-himalayas/
Also, plan your trek soon if you want to trek in snow. Winter dates tend to fill up fast!
Meanwhile, if you know of any other myths to be busted, drop in a comment on this page – https://indiahikes.com/himalayan-winter-trekking-myths-busted/