One question on the minds of trekkers when they are selecting a trek is whether they will find snow there. After all, who doesn’t want to trudge through ankle deep snow, make a snowman and have snow fights with fresh, powdery snow!
Getting to see snow on a trek is all about timing. If you’re on the right trail during the right month, you will get to see snow.
In this article, I will explain when and where you will find snow on our Himalayan treks. This will help you plan your trek accordingly.
First, at what altitude will you find snow?
As a general rule, the higher the altitude, longer the duration of snowfall it receives in a year. If a place is above the permanent snow line (around 14,500 ft in the Indian Himalayas), it will have snow all year long.
Let’s split the altitudes into smaller segments for easier understanding.
Above 14,500 ft
These treks take you above the permanent snow line. This doesn’t mean that it snows here all year long. It just means that the winter snow never completely melts away.
However, the amount of snow that you see varies with every month. Summer is the best time with just the right amount of snow. After that, there are just patches of snow but monsoons make most treks inaccessible. In late October, the first bout of winter snow comes in, blocking most of the trail.
The window for trekking at this altitude is quite small. This is not only because snow makes the trails inaccessible for a larger part of the year. The low temperatures here often cause water sources to freeze.
The kind of snow you find here is usually packed and hard. Not the powdery kind that slips through your fingers.
Indiahikes treks above 14,500 ft: Buran Ghati, Goechala, Rupin Pass, Pin Bhaba Pass, Kedartal, Kanamo Peak, Pangarchulla Peak
Best time to see snow: April-May for treks in Sikkim, May-June for treks in Uttarakhand, June-July for treks in Himachal Pradesh. October for all treks at this altitude.
Pro tip: Go on treks above 14,000 ft in the second week of June. The lower reaches at around 11,000 ft are a riot of colours with lush greenery and wild flowers. Higher up you experience lovely summer snow!
13,500 ft to 14,500 ft
It snows for over six months in a year at these altitudes. Snowfall typically starts in early December and carries on till mid-May. This is why treks that go this high have a limited window when they are accessible. There is just way too much snow in other months to trek here safely.
Indiahikes treks at 13,500 – 14,500 ft: Bhrigu Lake, Gaumukh Tapovan, Hampta Pass, Valley of Flowers, Kashmir Great Lakes.
Best time to see snow: April-May for treks in Uttarakhand, June-July for treks in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir
(I’ll explain why I have mentioned June and July for Himachal and Kashmir treks further below.)
10,500 ft – 13,000 ft
The duration for which you can trek gradually increases as you lose altitude. One obvious reason for this is the higher temperature as you come lower.
It begins snowing at these altitudes in December and goes on till April. You are likely to find snow till mid April on treks at this altitude.
In fact, treks such as Kedarkantha and Brahmatal are accessible even while it is snowing. These are the treks to do if you want to enjoy fresh snow.
This is the kind of snow that is so soft that you can hear it crunch with every step you take.
Indiahikes treks at 10,500 – 13,500 ft: Kedarkantha, Dayara bugyal, Brahmatal, Har ki Dun, Sandakhpu Phalut, Tarsar Marsar.
Best time to see snow: January-February for treks in West Bengal, December to April for treks in Uttarakhand, April-May for Himachal Pradesh, May-June for Kashmir.
9,000 ft to 10,000 ft
It snows only in the winter months at this altitude. That is for about 2 months in the year, from end of December to end of February. However, intermittent snowfall continues all the way till early April.
If the snowfall is substantial, the snow stays on the trails for around 2 weeks. So, you can find patches of snow on these trails till early April.
On parts of the trek exposed directly to the sun, you might not find any snow at all. Forest trails, which are generally shaded, will have snow for a little longer.
Indiahikes treks at 9,000-10,000 ft: Prashar Lake, Nag Tibba.
Best time to see snow: January – early March.
How does the latitude affect snow?
You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned different months to find snow in different states even though they are at the same altitude. This is where latitude comes into play.
Simply put, latitude is the position of a place with respect to the earth’s equator. The higher the latitude of a place, further away it is from the equator. And the farther away it is from the sun.
Get a hold of a map or a globe. Look at how far Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are from the equator. These are the states through which the Himalayas run in India.
Kashmir is the farthest away from the equator, followed by Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The states in the East are closest to the equator.
Remember, the temperature falls as the distance of a place from the equator increases.
So, Srinagar at 5,000 ft receives a substantial amount of snowfall in winter compared to Gangtok (5,500 ft), which receives barely any snow. By substantial, I mean 10-12 ft of snow under which entire houses get buried! This is very high compared to even the snow at similar places in Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh.
At the same time, snow stays accumulated for longer at places lying on higher latitudes. This is why if you trek to a Kedarkantha in Uttarakhand, which is at 12,500 ft, in June, you’ll see lush green meadows and a clear summit. The snow has already melted a good one month ago.
On the other hand, if you go to the Tarsar Pass in Kashmir, which is only 800 ft higher at 13,200 ft, the snow is still high and will remain high for another month. It melts only in the first week of July.
It might so happen that it hasn’t snowed enough one winter. Or snowfall gets delayed and peak winter passes away completely dry. However, these are rare occurrences.
By and large, if you time your trek well, you will not be disappointed.
I will leave you with a ready reckoner for when to find snow on your next trek in the Indian Himalayas –
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