Pangarchulla is not amongst the tallest summitable treks in India. It does not have the most difficult terrain; rather, a pretty straightforward climb up. Despite that, it is perhaps the closest one can get to an expedition-style climb at such a relatively low altitude.
The peak by itself is not imposing, in fact the other way around. It looks like a gentle climb up a ridge that takes you to the summit. But looks, like the cliché goes, are often deceptive than not.
Joshimath is the starting point of most treks that fall in the Nanda Devi sanctuary limits. You start off Day 1 with a short drive till Dhak village and begin climbing up, leaving behind the last few villages on the trail. Right from the very onset, you see the Pangarchulla peak in the distance even as you climb through oak forests and ascend to Gulling where you camp for the night.
Day 2 is relatively easier and has a short, moderate climb under the forest cover to the Khullara campsite. Khullara, set up on a large clearing on the edge of the forest, affords you the best views of the Garhwal mountain ranges.
You can attempt your summit climb from Khullara campsite directly or spend another day acclimatizing and move to an advanced base camp at Gailgad. The Gailgad campsite is often inhabitable in peak winters or even till late April when water sources are frozen over.
You begin your ascent early in the morning to ensure that you summit and climb back down before the snow starts melting. In complete darkness, with nothing but the light from your headlamps to guide you, you start climbing to make the summit on time.
The first light of the sun illuminating the outline of Dronagiri
If you thought the summit day was thrilling, you’re in for a surprise even on the last day. As you set out towards Auli, you’re presented with a buffet of excellent views beginning with forests full of rhododendrons, the mesmerizing Tali lake and when you think it could get no better, the grand stretch of Gorson Bugyals floats into view with no end in sight. It consists of some the widest stretches of greenlands that one could see at such high altitudes.
Tali lake with Mt. Dronagiri in the background. Pic courtesy - Anurag Satapathy | IH
As the day dawns upon you, you’ll start getting great views of the Garhwal ranges including Hathi parbat, ghori parbat, Chaukhamba, Neelkanth and Mt. Nanda Devi, the tallest mountain that’s entirely in India.
The massif of Mt. Nandadevi, India's tallest peak. Pic courtesy - Wiki Commons
Both the summit climb and the approach needs to be made with proper high ankle boots, crampons/micro-spikes and gaiters to ensure proper footing. It takes about 2 hours from the base to reach the summit. The incline, though not difficult, is not effortless either. It has several false summits and has some sections which might need technical expertise.
The summit is as breathtaking as you will imagine it to be. Standing at 15069 ft makes you feel proud, exhilarated and deep sense of achievement after a long, arduous climb. It being the tallest peak in the area, you get to enjoy some of the best views of the beautiful mountains of Uttarakhand.
Climbing down is much harder than it looks and takes about an hour and half to climb down completely. Khullara is another 1.5 hrs of descent after that.
The trek ends at Auli, leaving you with a week full of memories to last a lifetime.