Sitting like a crown of Kibber and Ki Gompa in Spiti, India, Kanamo Peak is a non-technical trekker’s dream come true. With proper acclimatization, a reasonably fit person can climb this 19,553 feet (5960 meters) snowbound mountain ridge and feel good about having climbed 67% of the height of Mount Everest.
At least I am mighty kicked about it!
Everyone has their own reason for wanting to climb this white hostess! For many, it’s a physical challenge, for few it’s the 360-degree panoramic view of Ladakh, Spiti, Kullu and Kinnaur peaks and for few the right to boast of having climbed an almost 20,000 feet (6000 meters) mountain.
- 54-Year-old Mich, my inspirationally fit tent mate told me she has been to many mountains and this high-altitude mountain seemed to suit her dates of vacations.
- Francois from Canada said that he wanted to climb an Extreme-high-altitude non-technical mountain in India and Mount Kanamo came top in his search results.
- I wanted to climb Kanamo because I had never climbed beyond 17,224 feet (Mount Shitidhar 5,250 mts) and Kanamo was a relatively easier trek to do at this altitude.
Whatever it is that draws you to this place, the altitude, the frosty wind and the scenic beauty from the top will take your breath away (quite literally 😉 )!
So are you prepared to get blown away!?
Thinking About Climbing Kanamo? Here’s What To Consider
Any extremely high altitude (above 18,000 feet ) trek would require you to be not only physically but mentally fit and strong. With each consecutive day of climbing higher the body keeps getting exhausted.
You don’t need to be “iron-man” or “iron-woman” fit, but the fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy the climb. However, no amount of fitness will prepare you for the high altitude. If you have not been to high altitude before, caution and honest-discretion are strongly recommended. This trek cannot and should not be your first trek.
How fit was I?
Well, I could comfortably climb Mount Kanamo so it will be safe to assume that you if you are close to my fitness level you can comfortably climb the peak as well. Just before the climb I could run
3k in 17 minutes
5k in 27 minutes
7k in 47 minutes
10k in 67 minutes
I am not a regular runner so by running standards I might be slow but as far as fitness for climbing this mountain is concerned this will do. Most importantly, I have previous experience of climbing ‘very-high-altitude’ mountains (this should not be your first trek!). I was strength training for almost 3 months.
Strength training is a type of physical exercise which builds the anaerobic endurance, strength, and size of skeletal muscles.
Your General Health
Have your doctor examine you for any pre-existing conditions or injuries that may make it unwise to trek to extreme altitude. Most of the reputable tour operators will ask you to fill a medical fitness form from your doctor.
The best part of climbing Mount Kanamo is that it is not technical – you don’t need any special skills or equipment to climb it. Effectively, it’s a hard hike at extremely high altitude. After all climbing 19,553 feet is no mean feat!
Unless you are based in a high-altitude region like Spiti, proper acclimatization is required. More than often, people who fail to reach the summit or fall ill on the mountain, do so as a result of altitude sickness.
At higher elevations, oxygen molecules per breath decreases. In order to properly oxygenate the body, the breathing rate (even while at rest) has to increase. In a day or two, the body adapts to the decrease in oxygen molecules at a specific altitude. This process is called acclimatization.
Most of the trekkers who can not climb Kanamo Peak or fall sick while climbing is because they go too high, too fast and overexert themselves. So proper acclimatization is the key! Your trek itinerary should have rest and acclimatization days.
Altitude Mountain Sickness
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a negative effect of high altitude on health, caused by acute exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high altitude.
Altitude sickness typically occurs at about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. Some symptoms of this condition are headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. In rare cases, altitude sickness can become severe and cause complications with the lungs or brain.
On the advice of my Cardiologist Friend, I started on a 250mg dose (per day) of Acetazolamide (sold under the trade name Diamox among others) the day I reached Manali and continued with the dosage till I returned back to Manali.
Choosing a Tour Operator
Spiti has recently come on the ‘Off-beat traveler’s’ radar and so many tour operators are coming up with Kanamo treks. Few trek companies will insist on you furnishing your fitness level and if you do not fit the bill, they will not take you for the climb with them. My advice would be to go with trek operators who insist on a certain physical fitness.
Our Trek Lead monitored our health on various parameters on a daily basis!
Altitude Mountain Sickness is a real danger on Kanamo so do your research before you book! Don’t risk it with agents who promise to take you in-spite of your poor physical strength. Find out if the agency has well-trained guides who are trained in medical and evacuation emergencies.
There are of course scrupulous agents who would promise to fit this trek in your ‘limited leave plan’ and ‘limited physical fitness’. I have personally witnessed an entire batch of trekkers who were camping near our camps at Kanamo Base Camp, coming back without reaching the summit as they were not fully acclimatized. Their tour company, in fact, ranks pretty high on Google’s first rank page.
Do your research well and beware of such companies.
My Experience of Kanamo Trek
I trekked with Indiahikes and my experience was good. Here’s why:-
Guide knowledge and safety training: We had one ‘Trek-Lead’ and one ‘Technical Guide’ who were both trained in medical and evacuation emergencies. We had one Local who was our ‘Route-Guide’.
‘Chacha’ as he was fondly called knew the not-so-steep route on the steep slope of Kanamo.
It is good to hire locals as you not only help the locals get livelihood but with their knowledge you also get to walk on better and less stressful routes.
Guide-to-climber ratio: On the day of the summit for the 13 of us there were 5 guides!
Quality of the equipment used: The tents were leak proof and the sleeping bags were warm enough. In the mountains with different trekkers using the same sleeping bags, these bags are exposed to mud, perspiration, odd squashed insect … the list goes on. Thankfully, Indiahikes provided us with washed ‘Fleece Sleeping Bag Liners‘ which not only provided the added warmth but also acted as a hygiene layer between the body and the sleeping bags.
Ethical treatment (wages) for the porters Green trail: The porters were well paid and were given a warm tent to sleep in and food to eat.
The reason why India Hikes gets my brownie points is that of their Green Trail Initiative. Through their Green Trails initiative, they are trying to find alternative ways to process, reduce and recycle waste.
Here’s a short itinerary for the Kanamo Peak trek
Crossing lush green farms of Buddhist villages at 14,108 ft (4300 meters) you would be climbing the snow-clad scree mountain of Kanamo at 19,553 ft (5960 meters). Here’s an overview of how the trek is likely to be.
Day 1: Arrive at Manali (6,725 feet / 2050 meters) at any time and rest.
You can utilize this day to shop for essentials, medicines and for booking cab. You can book cabs near Rambagh circle on Mall Road, near Manali bus stand.
A sumo (5-6 seater) takes Rs.10,000 to go from Manali to Kaza and it is most economical if you are sharing the ride.
Day 2: Drive from Manali (6,725 feet / 2050 meters) to Kaza (12,467 ft / 3800 meters)
The road from Manali to Kaza is a very bumpy and tiring one. If you have a tendency to get motion sickness it’s best to have a tablet of Avomine (active ingredient promethazine). It will also help you to sleep through the treacherous route. However, don’t forget to catch the breathtaking Spiti views in between your winks.
Beware of Pagal Naala (the mad channel) infamous for causing traffic jams.
Just to give you an idea of how wild this ride is, here's what few of my fellow trekkers have identified the route as:- Pagal Nala (Mad Channel) Strikhedonia: The pleasure of being able to say "to hell with it." Utterly Butterly Painful
Not to miss Kunzum pass on the way!
Kaza has hotels, cafes, electricity and Internet connectivity! Amongst other things don’t forget to try the butter tea.
Day 3: Short drive from Kaza (12,467 ft / 3800 meters) to Kibber (14,108 ft / 4300 meters)
The drive from Kaza to Kibber is a short scenic drive.
Kibber is a very scenic small sleepy village. One can stay in guest houses or home stays in Kibber. On way to Kibber you can visit the Highest Post Office in the World at 14,567 feet (4440 mts) in Hikkim (pin code 172114).
Also worth visiting is the second largest monastery of Spiti, the Key Monastery.
The Key Monastery looks like a fort, with temples built on top of one another. The walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals.
Day 4: Acclimatisation day at Kibber:
Mountaineers like to use the old adage, “Climb high; sleep low.” What this means is that you should do day hikes that gain significant altitude, say around 2,000-3,000 feet (610-914 meters), and then return to sleep and recuperate at lower altitudes.
On the day of acclimatization, we packed 2 liters of water and our sleeping bag in our backpacks just to get the feel of weight on our backs. We passed through potato and pea fields to climb the desert mountain for around an hour or so.
Till Kibber we were traversing in motored vehicles and it was only on the day of acclimatization that we were using man-power (or woman-power) and not horse-power. Needless to say, most of us were huffing and puffing very early on.
Having walked for around 1 to 1 1/2 hours to the height of 15300 feet we took a short break to catch a breath, enjoy the view and play Frisbee!
This Frisee has now become a favorite travel companion because its foam structure enables it to absorb shocks and does not hurt children and poor fielders like me. Also if you want to travel light this is super light and as our 22-year trek-lead suggested we could just wash it – turn it over and VOILA! – you have a plate to eat your meal from 😉
As we descended we crossed this beautiful lake which provides water to the village of Kibber.
Day 5: Kibber (14,108 ft / 4300 meters) to Kanamo Base Camp (15,748 ft / 4800 meters)
If you wish you can take a shower in Kibber as post this day for next three days there will be no facility for taking a shower.
With our backpacks and packed lunch, we started for the much awaited Kanamo Base Camp. The previous day’s acclimatization walk makes it easier to hike the 6 km distance. The mountain is initially steep but gradually the climb becomes easier. It gets mostly hot and so a half sleeves easy breathe T-shirt and trek pants will do. It does get sunny so keep your sun cap and sunglasses handy.
The mountain is initially steep but gradually the climb becomes easier. It gets mostly hot and so a half sleeves easy breathe T-shirt and trek pants will do. It does get sunny so keep your sun cap and sunglasses handy. I would also advise sunscreen. I used my homemade, zero chemical sunscreen lotion.
Just half an hour before the base camp we came across another beautiful lake and it was mesmerizing to see the reflections of the mighty Kanamo in water.
It gets very windy and cold as you climb higher. The hike from Kibber to Kanamo Base Camp is rather a long, hot hike until when the temperature eventually drops in the evening at the base camp making you seek the warmth of a down jacket.
It is interesting how each one of us chooses the place to pitch their tents. Few like it near the Dining tent, few like the ones with the best view, me? I like the one which is the least windy!!
Signs of AMS? or Not!?
Unfortunately, many of us including me experienced a headache en route or on reaching the base camp. Honestly, I was a bit nervous as a headache is the first sign of AMS. But my trek lead put me at ease and ensured that by drinking a lot of water things should get better and that most of the trekkers including the locals were experiencing headache.
Sadly I found solace in the pain of others!! Knowing that you are not the only one undergoing something unusual assured me that there was nothing wrong with only me!
The trek-lead strictly advised against sleeping during daytime as respiration decreases during sleep, worsening the symptoms. After a dose of Crocin(Paracetamol (500mg)) I was back to normal and was, in fact, looking forward to the next day’s acclimatization walk.
Day 6: Acclimatisation day at Kanamo Base Camp
Kanamo base camp is a fossiliferous region and there are a lot of repositories of marine fossils. However, the more attractive ones have been already picked up by locals to sell to tourists. If you are lucky and most importantly persistent (only 3 out of 14 of us were) you will spot good fossils.
Some of the earliest legged creatures, relatives of crabs and spiders can be found in these Paleozoic Era fossils. It’s then not without reason that Spiti has come to be known as the ‘Fossil park of the Himalayas’.
I could not find any Indian law which prohibits sale and purchase of fossils. To discourage exploitation of natural resources I did not buy fossils. There are many other ways to support locals, and I decided to buy fossils was not one of them!
During acclimatization, we climbed to the height of 16200 feet from the base camp. If you are lucky you can spot Blue sheep, Tibetan wolves, Himalayan Ibex. As luck would have it, I spotted none of them. Well maybe a herd of Blue sheep or maybe they were Himalayan Ibex… they were far away in the valley and looked like white dots.
The undying optimism, of course, makes you secretly feel you are being watched by the elusive snow leopard!
I kept myself well hydrated throughout the day as I knew the next day is going to be tough. I had a light early dinner and slept around 8 pm.
Day 7: Kanamo Base Camp (15,748 ft) to Kanamo Peak (19,553 ft) and back to base camp
The day of the summit can be tough. Very tough. The trail is steep in some parts and very steep in most parts of the slope being covered with scree (mass of small loose stones) and moraines (sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier). An easy pace helps conserve energy and in acclimatization.
We woke up around 2 am ready to leave around 3 am. We had a heavy breakfast of ‘Dry Chana Masala’ (white chickpea) and packed parathas for lunch. With our headlights on and our local guide ‘Chacha’ leading us we started our summit with the slowest trekker ahead of us.
The disadvantage of trekking in a group is that you have to keep up with the slowest trekker and the advantage is that YOU could be that slow trekker. Many of my friends (including me) prefer a non-conversational, self-contemplation time while climbing. But as you scale higher and the going gets tough it’s nice to see familiar faces around!
Once there was daylight, our trek lead let each trekker decide their own pace and he remained with the slower ones.
Depending upon the fitness level of the trekker it can take 5 to 7 hours to Summit the mountain. In terms of shortness of breath, climbing Kanamo Peak can loosely be compared to filling the air in a balloon with the mouth when you have a stuffy nose!
Glancing at the huge ridges and the faint, thin trail ahead, chacha would lay out with a hillman’s generous breadth of vision the easiest path to take on the steep slope.
As you climb higher, lack of oxygen can make breathing difficult. Remember to keep yourself hydrated. If you are reasonably fit, well fed, well acclimatized, with prior high-altitude experience this trek should not be very difficult. But if you are not, then this trek is likely to test your boundaries both physically and mentally.
You can see 50 and more shades of grey all around you in form of vegetation-less mountains!
The worst part about climbing Kanamo is that you can see it right there but it takes ages to reach the top. Not only this, you need to maintain a firm footing on the scree and moraines or you will end up taking 5 steps up and 2 steps down.. do the maths yourself!
Once on top, the 360-degree view is simply mesmerizing. I had taken Prayer flags to thank the mountain for letting us climb it! The locals worship the mountains and care need to be taken that you are not offensive in your language when you speak about the mighty mountains.
Remember to have your packed lunch on your way down and stay hydrated as you still need the energy to take you down. The same scree which made climbing difficult will help you slide down faster.
Day 8: Kanamo Base Camp (15,748 ft) to Kibber (14,108 ft); 5 hours. Drive to Kaza
Having been there – done that the speed of all the trekkers is faster downhill. Not only because it is downhill but because everyone wants to now reach home and before that have a good hot shower.
Day 9: Drive from Kaza to Manali.
Be ready for yet another grueling cab ride on the treacherous road! God bless our backs!!
You may consider taking a detour to visit Chandrataal viz Kunzum Pass.
The what and how of Kanamo Peak Trek – the Essentials
What to take on the Kanamo Peak trek!
Most importantly your sense of Adventure! Duh!! If you are hiring a tour operator then camping gear would be carried by them. You need a backpack for other days and a day pack for the day of the summit. On the day of the summit, I was wearing 4 layers of clothing on top and 2 layers on the bottom. Also, you would be climbing on scree and moraines and so taking (at least one) trekking pole would be extremely helpful.
For a detailed list check out Indiahikes list here.
How to pack your rucksack!
I would advise you to beg, borrow or well go ahead and buy, the necessary items on the list and start gathering it at one place before you go on your trek. Also try packing and unpacking your rucksack at home so that in the dark early mornings you are not scrambling around wondering where that glove liner has gone (well it happened with me…everyday! I think just like pens at home, my glove liner has a tendency to get lost…on it’s own!)
Accessibility – For things to be accessible
Balance – so that there is no undue pressure on your back
Compactness – it’s snug and feels like an extension of your body
Done the above – Duh!!
A Typical Day On Mount Kanamo
(Of course, this varies …)
Morning Tea: You would be served hot tea/ginger-tea early morning to wake up your sleepy bones from your sleeping bag.
Attend your ‘Business’: During your strength training don’t miss to do stretching as you will need all the flexibility to squat to use the dry toilets. The toilets up here are basically cat holes dug deep into the earth, where you use the toilet and cover it up with coco-peat. This might take some time getting used to. Thankfully, there are proper toilets available in Kibber and Kaza.
Breakfast and other meals: would normally be high on carbohydrates. The food is non-spicy Indian cuisine. Dinner time is the time when the Trek lead gives instructions about what to expect the next day. It’s also a good time to bond with fellow trekkers.
Health check: The Trek lead checks for blood oxygen saturation and asks questions to check if you are feeling alright (for your own good, remember to be honest). (Note: not all operators do daily health checks, so when you are hiring, remember to check it with them).
Water: There are lakes and water points between Kibber and Kanamo Base Camp but it is advisable to carry at least 2 liters of water. On the day of the summit, I would advise carrying at least 3 liters of water as there is no water source. At the camp, the water source is the water from a flowing river.
Have you trekked to Kanamo or any other high altitude mountain? Which peak is on your bucket list!? We would love to hear about it in the comments section.