As you go on reading this post, you will realize that there is nothing different which I am writing. Basic thumb rule of mountaineering is, “STICK TO THE BASICS” unless you are a gifted personality.
Below is my journey of not making till the Stok Kangri Summit and trust me it has boosted my confidence even more.
The dream to summit Stok Kangri (6153m) was seeded after my last years trek to SarPass. When I think about why I chose Stok Kangri, it was somewhere mentioned as “India’s Highest non technical trekkable Destination”. That was enough to boost the morale to dream big about reaching new heights.
Most of my earlier treks have been in Himachal region and I was completely unaware of Leh and Laddakh. Indeed its a beauty which is near to heaven and no one can take away the pride that its part of my country. Scenic panorama and barren mountains laden with snow.
Generally this trek is around 5-7 days of an expedition. In case if you are flying in to Leh then it is mandatory that you acclimatize with the terrain for two days so that your mind and body gets used to cold, thin air and frequent headaches. In case if you had a frostbite anytime in the past which you may have forgotten, this is the place where it will remind you of that. If you are reaching Leh by road then one day of acclimatization is enough since you have gradually gained the height however the above mentioned symptoms still remain and may affect you slowly.
**Note: The above is applicable only for individuals with decent level of fitness and I assume when you think about Stok Kangri, you already know it is for tough guns!
After you cross Rohtang Pass, the terrain and panorama changes completely. Suddenly you will start noticing that the greenery of Himachal is fading with barren land taking over and after some time you wont get a sight of a single Tree anywhere. Naturally the Oxygen is very thin.
We were delayed to reach Leh by complete one and half Day which again is part of another story but lets keep things simple and proceed further.
In an Ideal scenario, Stok Kangri is a 5 Days Expedition, however depending on your comfort level, experience you can tweak it to complete it in either 3 to 4 Days or extend it to 7 Days. Now I can safely recommend to go with later.
We started our trek around 1:00PM when the sun was right on top of us with our baggage. The reason why I called it baggage and not backpack because we had all of our 15 days clothes and winter wear along with protein bars and dry fruits. The baggage was 12KG+ and we didn’t realize this initially when we started climbing up. Soon the heat and excess weight was taking toll on our body and we started struggling with it. The actual realization happened when we had to cross a small hill to get to the other side of mountain and this gradient was approx 50-60 Degrees. Somehow we crossed this part and moved ahead but the quandary inside the mind was clear that it was impossible to move on with this much amount of weight. We reached Chang Ma around 3:30PM
Stok Kangri Trek is managed by an adventure tourism group called “MITRA” and they have their people and supplies at each camp site. You can lay down at these camps for INR 1500/Day and they provide you with tent, sleeping bags and Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner. So ideally, you are not required to carry anything except your personal belongings.
My friends and myself were in agreement that we could skip staying at this camp site and directly reach Mankarmo which was doable if we could leave the luggage at Chang Ma however the baggage had our necessary items like Wind/Rain cheaters and extra pair of clothing and required food items. Also we were carrying 2 tents and sleeping bag for each of us which we rented from Delhi. We were not aware of the facilities provided by MITRA before hand. Finally with the help of MITRA guide, we hired two ponies which agreed to carry our luggage till Stok Kangri base camp for INR 450/Baggage.
We recollected our energy and moved on towards Mankarmo. This time the path was rocky and the landscape has changed to sharp pointing mountains due to erosion and rain water flowing through them making them pointed and edgy. We could see two types of water stream flowing down and we just kept following them upwards. One was of clean water and other one of Chocolaty red colored. We reached a point where both these streams took different direction. The clear water stream ran from Rumbak and we saw few foreigners going in that direction. We followed the red colored stream which ran down from our destination direction. There are few markings on the rocks for direction pointing towards next camp site but you need to be careful not to miss them.
Around 7:30PM we reached Mankarmo and daylight was still there in Mountains. Although we carried lot of protein bars and eatables but its hard to skip freshly cooked and hot served Khichdi by the Kitchen from MITRA team. Its not mandatory to opt for the per day package hence you can buy Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner at INR 200/meal. They also serve basic things like Tea,Coffee,bread,Jam,peanut butter,biscuits and Mineral water etc. Please don’t complain about quality of food as lot of hard work is put to transport the grocery from Leh to these camps and we should appreciate that. Also you are required to pay INR 150 as camping and cleanliness charges if you are carrying your own Tents.
We were dead tired with today’s exercise as we had done below listed things in one day.
1. Traveled by Bus from Upshi to Leh
2. Roamed for an hour in Leh Bazaar to find few necessary things like Sleeping Insulation Mattress and medicines etc. (With Baggage)
3. Traveled in Omni Van from Leh to Choglamsar to Stok Village
4. Hiked from Stok Village to Chang Ma. (With Baggage)
5. Hiked from Chang Ma to Mankarmo. (Without Baggage)
Quite an adventurous day it was, I took a Dolo tab as I was not feeling well and soon crashed for better next day. But the adventure was still not over. Around 8:00PM suddenly the wind started blowing harshly and we were caught in Thunderstorm. We were five guys in total and had brought two tents (One Big and One Medium) which could accommodate Three+Two people respectively. The wind was so strong that the entire tent was flapping badly and I insisted my friend to keep laying straight inside our sleeping bag so that the tent remains in right shape due to our weight and should not get uprooted. It was pitch dark with loud thunder and Lightning and I could feel light shower of water on my face and around. When we powered ON the torch realized that this tent was not water proof and we were wet from outside on our sleeping Bags and also below our Sleeping Thermal Mattress. We had no option but to go and accommodate in the large tent but five people in 3 person tent?? Quiet an exercise..Phew!
The day began pretty early but till the time we packed our Baggage, re-collected our Tents, Finished breakfast and handed over the Baggage to Pony owner it was 10:30AM. We started our further journey. Since the energy level was restored we felt quite refueled today. We kept on walking ahead and the landscape kept changing as well. It started appearing more beautiful and scenic now. We could clearly see the snow laden mountain peaks. The path was still rocky and it kept making our climb difficult. I caught sight of couple of Marmot and they looked happy in these Mountains. We were still following the muddy/red water stream. Around 2:00PM we reached Stok Kangri base Camp and were completely exhausted. Somewhere we could feel that our body was against the normal but the enthusiasm is what kept us pushing ahead.
The air was very thin at this altitude and since we had gained lot of height the lungs were craving for Oxygen. We rested for a while and unpacked our luggage. Mounted our tents and while doing so prayed that it should not rain today. We had some light lunch at the kitchen and got to meet lots of people specially foreign nationals. Few people from Austria, Germany,UK and Norway. As we entered the kitchen camp, we could see that lots of climbing equipment like Crampon, Ankle Gaiter, ropes etc. Since I considered this expedition as completely non technical avoided renting any of these and was sure to climb the peak with normal Quechua boots. We met a group of people and since we had not hired guide with us, their guide agreed to assist us while climbing if required.
We were supposed to sleep in the afternoon since we had to begin for the summit at 9:00PM the same day. I tried resting in my tent but headache was quiet severe and one out of five breath was heavy and deep trying to pump in more oxygen in my craving lungs. I have a little frostbite on my right palm and it had suddenly started pinching me like a needle and making it uneasy to sleep.
Later when we went to the kitchen for evening Tea, people insisted us to take crampon but we avoided them. We were so sure to complete the summit without all these stuff.
Day2 – Day3
We got ready for the climb around 8:00PM everyone carefully packing very little stuff which was necessary like Water Bottle and few energy bars. It was pitch dark and we were trying to carefully prepare ourselves for the big haul. Innerwear >> Thermals >> T-Shirt >>Sweater >> Jacket/Wind cheater.
Thicker socks and tightly wrapped ankle length Boots. The other team’s guide informed us to start the initial climb and he will join us in a while with his team.
The initial climb from Base camp is not something where you simply walk but you start climbing vertically from 50 Mtrs itself. We all started well and things were going at right pace. We kept walking on rocky path and soon reached the Advanced base camp which was rather deserted and no more a place to camp due to the altitude. While moving forward, I came across a half frozen narrow stream which was flowing downwards and instead of taking a small diversion decided to jump and cross it. Well, I did cross the stream but not before getting drenched till the knee as the snow was weak and broke due to weight. I feel this is a point which changed the results in smaller way. As we moved on to cross the Glacier my body started getting hypothermic since my lower body was drenched in freezing cold water and the shoes and socks remained wet. It started getting difficult for me to breath now and I had to stop many times to breath and restore my energy level.
The next part of climb before the ridge was full of medium sized moving rocks half covered with snow. It was hard to judge whether it will slide off if you put your feet on them or not. My body had started giving up and I was feeling tired after every 5-10 steps. I decided to rest for a while but gradually I was dozing off in that freezing cold. Few of my friends moved on and I could hear them calling me to move ahead. We were the initial team of people who started the climb pretty early and we could see few torches long behind us closing in. Due to the numerous number of pauses I had taken, I could see few more groups crossing ahead. I tried to move on and this time the climb was again vertical around 60-70 degree gradient. The ice had somewhat hardened and since I wasn’t wearing crampons I kept slipping down and it had become difficult to move on. Also by doing this exercise I was moving ahead only around 7 to 10 steps and due to thin air had to rest frequently. My breathing had become very hard like whooping.
While I was resting eyes closed, I could hear people passing by. I saw a group of Japanese people nicely tied themselves with a rope connecting each other and wearing crampon walking slow but steadily. I was still not able to gather enough strength to stand up. Soon there was this group from Pune which reached closer to me and their guide was the same one which had promised us to help. One of the ladies from the group looked at me and was convinced that I wont be able to make it. She served me a hot cup of Tea which she carried in a flask. What a relief it was… She called upon my friends and instructed that we should not move upwards and help me climb down. I kept telling my friends that they should continue since they were in better shape and I will climb down but none of them wanted to leave me and carry on. (Lucky to have you guys!). This was just before the ridge of the Summit.
Finally after some argument we all decided to climb down. As we reached the Glacier, I decided to just skid myself down as walking was getting tougher due to lack of oxygen pumping and headache. Everyone was climbing down very quietly with lots of things going on inside our mind plus the cold and chilling wind. Soon we realized that we had taken a detour and we were in-front of another hill to be crossed not knowing where to go. We rested for a while and cried for help but none was in vicinity.
It was dawn now and the line of sight started getting better. We realized that we were at the other side of small frozen lake and crossing the lake was taking a big risk. We had no option to go backward which was again climbing up and then take the right path. Everyone realized that it was going to be tough for me but somehow I was able to make it and soon we were on right path. we all kept moving ahead like zombies and soon it was sunrise and we started feeling little better. Everyone was tired till the core and I was in the end of the beeline. We reached a small peak after after which we could see the base camp. I took a sigh of relief and decided to take final rest before climbing down the hill.
We reached base camp and every one was shit tired. we had some food and crashed to take rest.
We all packed our bags and handed over to Pony owner. Cleared the bills with MITRA and started walking down towards base camp. It was an easy climb down this time and around 1:30PM we reached Stok Kangri Village Trek start point.
This was one hell of an experience for a life time and going to haunt all of us till we come back and finish the undone.
Few learning from above would be:
1. Keep your backpack light.
2. Understand your fitness level and then plan for bigger goals.
3. Acclimatize! Acclimatize! Acclimatize! Spend more days in Mountains. Your mind maybe inspired but your body needs time.
4. DO take necessary gear and avoid trying to be a Superman!
5. If you are facing difficulty while climbing take Diamox (Acetazolamide) for two to three days. This will help you get better with heights.
6. Listen to your gut feeling and don’t push too hard, you only get to live once but will get many opportunities.
I hope everyone learns something from this write up and plan properly for your future expeditions.