For many years I've heard enough winter myths to fill a book. Today I've rounded up some of the biggest myths we've heard.
Some of them will surprise you. Some others you can empathize with, and some can be dangerous if you really believe them.
These are myths that we've heard for years and, surprisingly, still hear.
So it is time to destroy those myths now!
If you've heard of any other myths, feel free to add them to the list of mythbusters on this page.
Alright! Let's dive in!
1. "It's winter. It will snow all the time."
This is perhaps the most common myth I have heard. And I still hear it. Many hikers believe that every time they hike in winter they are likely to see snowfall. If only!
| The real truth: It doesn't always snow in winter. Snowfall is a lot like rain. Just as it doesn't rain all the time (not even in the monsoons), it doesn't snow all the time. The snow in our country is powered by Western Disturbances (WD), a weather system that is created near the Mediterranean Sea. These WDs come in waves and bring with them moisture-laden clouds that fall as snow due to the low air temperature over the Himalayas.
Every time there is western disruption you can be sure that it will snow. But these waves only come in occasionally. To give you an idea, we see snowfall about twice a month. This is not a fact, but a rough estimate. There have even been times when we barely saw snowfall twice in 4 months (2018) or when we saw snow so regularly that we prayed for it to stop (2019).
So if you see snowfall, consider yourself lucky! You can read more about this weather phenomenon here, where I interview an experienced meteorologist.
By the way, do not confuse this with the presence of already fallen snow on the path. On Himalayan hikes, there is usually snow from mid-December, which constantly accumulates with every snowfall. It stays until the end of April.
2. "The temperature will be below zero all day."
Here's another myth I'm pretty comfortable with. It is normal to imagine very cold temperatures when you see pictures with so much snow on winter hikes. But that is far from reality.
| The real truth: When the weather is clear, it gets quite warm during the day. The temperature could rise up to 15 ° C. Plus, the sun is much harder at high altitude than it is at sea level, and you can feel it easily. The temperature only drops to zero and negative temperatures after sunset. It could also fall when it is cloudy and raining.
Many trekkers also think they won't sweat because of this myth. But as you make an effort, you tend to sweat. So don't discount this fact. Change to dry, warm layers as soon as you reach camp. This is even more important in winter. It keeps your body temperature stable.
3. "Trekking in winter is too difficult for beginners."
In fact, many hikers are very scared of hiking in winter, especially when coming from hot cities and southern India. In fact, I think I tackle about 4 such questions a day.
| The real truth: Trekking in winter is a challenge indeed. There is snow on the paths, it gets very cold and you are climbing steep paths. Even so, it's not something that beginners cannot do. Previous experience does not play a major role here. The most important thing is to get fit and layer yourself well. Fitness helps you get up easily on any terrain, and layers help fight the cold.
To give you some stats, around 80% of our trekkers are beginners, and most of them are from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Bangalore, all known for their warm climates. They all hike comfortably in winter. They make sure they train for at least a month and wear at least 5 warm layers in the winter. Only these two aspects do the trick! You can check this guide on how to correctly overlay for a winter hike. It will help.
4. "My nose runs while trekking, I have a cold"
Well, that's something I hear a lot on the hike. Many hikers believe they have a cold because their noses are constantly running. However, this is not the case.
| The real truth: Your nose has a tendency to run when it's cold due to condensation. The warmth in the air you exhale meets the cold air and condenses in your nose. This will cause your nose to run. This is usually early morning and late evening when it is colder.
To tackle this, keep your face and head covered as much as possible. You can peel off those warm layers when you feel warmer. You should also carry a tissue (not tissue paper!) With you along with these 13 other things that need to be easily accessible when trekking.
5. “I have a really thick jacket. I'll be wearing it instead of layers. "
This is a mistake that trekkers very often make when they are just wearing a thick parka or jacket and think that this will balance out the layers.
| The real truth: No matter how thick, a jacket doesn't make up for the warmth of layering. The reason lies in the way the overlay works. When you wear 2-3 layers (even if these are thin) there are air gaps between the layers. These gaps in air trap the warmth of your own body by keeping you warm. The gaps in the levels play a decisive role here. Not the thickness of the jackets.
So make sure you wear at least 5 warm layers in winter. They are needed to cope with temperatures that drop below -10 degrees in the Himalayan winter.
6. "I'm used to the cold. I don't need many layers."
We hear a lot about it, especially from those who think they're "too cool" to layer up. (Where's that eye-catching smiley face 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. Trekking at high altitude is a sport where you need to maximize the energy that you have reserved in your body. You use this energy to conquer steep inclines, find your way in the snow and protect yourself from illness or AMS. When you expose yourself to the cold, your body uses all of its energy to keep you as warm as possible and leaves you little energy to actually do the hike. It is not a smart way to use energy.
So if you see someone like this telling you, "I'm not cold" or "I'm used to it," please give them some meaning.
7. "Alcohol keeps you warm."
If I had a nickel for every time someone said this, I could afford a personal helicopter to summit Everest. Hikers 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 doesn't keep you warm. Not in the mountains, not even in the plains. It gives you a brief feeling of warmth because it causes a sudden rush of blood to your extremities. But it lowers your body temperature, which is a terrible thing to do to yourself at high altitude in winter. It could cause hypothermia and be fatal.
You must do everything possible to keep your core temperature normal. For this reason, at high altitudes, layering, eating well, and keeping the core warm is the most important.
8. "You don't need sunscreen or sunglasses for a winter hike."
This is very similar to the second myth I talked about. Many hikers believe that winter means no sun, no heat. This is also not true.
| The real truth: Sunburn or snow blindness can easily occur in winter. In fact, you are far more susceptible to these in winter than in summer, simply because of the snow and cold, dry air. Snow is a highly reflective surface and can dazzle you if you don't protect your eyes. Not wearing sunscreen can also damage your skin, especially because the air just draws all of the moisture away from your skin.
Another related myth is that people believe that snow blindness only occurs after long hours of light snow. That is not true. It only takes half an hour when exposed to light snow to damage your cornea (it's basically sunburn in your eyes). We have faced this several times with our wearers who hate wearing sunglasses. Although temporary, it can be painful and terrifying. You can't see anything in front of you, just dark spots. So protect your eyes and skin at all times on a winter hike.
9. "Winter only lasts in December"
I really wish people would stop thinking about it because it concentrates all of the winter masses 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 in November as the first snowfall occurs that month. (The first snow reports have just come in when I write this by the way!)
It lasts throughout November and December and peaks in January and February when you see the most snow and the coldest temperatures. Even March and April could be considered late winter almost until the end of April due to the snow cover!
So don't hesitate to plan a winter hike in January, February, March or April. You will see beautiful winter scenery minus the crowds.
10. "Kedarkantha is the best winter hike."
Well, I had to include that. My colleagues suggested this myth and it made me smile. 🙂 With all the demand for the Kedarkantha Trek, you find it hard to believe that it is the best winter trek. While it is a very nice winter hike, the fact that it is "the best winter hike" is a thing of the past.
| The real truth: We opened Kedarkantha back in 2011 when winter trekking, especially in Uttarakhand, was unknown to the trekking community. For a long time it was the only winter hike and therefore the best winter hike.
But we've come a long way since then and we have at least 6 more winter tours that can give Kedarkantha a run for its money!
So go to this page and check out those other Winter tours – https://www.indiahikes.com/winter-snow-treks-dec-jan-feb-india-himalayas/
Also, plan your hike soon if you want to hike in the snow. Winter dates fill up quickly!
In the meantime, if you know of any other myths that need to be destroyed, leave a comment on this page.