August 2015. There was this pact made on the summit of Dafeng, Siguniang between a group of climbers. This pact dictated that every year, a few of us would seek to come together and outdo our previous year’s achievement, proving to ourselves that we still have what is takes. Our commitment to each other was a year’s worth of discipline and training.
How do you decide on which mountain to choose to climb? Do you choose according to your budget…or time…or what enthralls your imagination? No matter what it takes to climb it?
Skip ahead to May 2016. We were still not really decided, but the choice was now limited to just 2. Either we’ll go for Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) the tallest mountain in Europe or Stok Kangri (6.153m) of the Indian Himalayas. Both were difficult choices. The notion of standing on top of one of the 7 summits was too good to refuse and yet to stand beyond 6,000m seduced us greatly. We almost came close to tossing a coin. Finally, we measured what we wanted to do against our time/budget and Stok Kangri happened to be the winner.
Region :- Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir
Grade :- Difficult
Max Altitude :- 20,800 Ft. (6339m)
Approx Trekking Km :- 40 Km over 9 days
Stok Kangri is easily one of the most fascinating places on our planet today. It lies in the beautiful area of Ladakh, which is located in the northern state of India and is famous for the compassion and support offered by its residents. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is situated at the height of 3500-3800 m of sea level and a most adventurous place for trekking lovers. Trekking in Leh is the best option for trekking in India, hence it attracts tourist from every corner of the world.
Stok Kangri is one of those peaks which has gained tremendous popularity in the last few years. Illustrating the Himalayan range with a wider perspective, this trek embraces deserted surroundings and offer its trekkers an opportunity to experience complete peace. The entire trail has incorporated many ridges so you can feel the sudden changes in scenery. In winter, the whole landscape attains a perfect magnificence. Stok Kangri peak provides you the entire view of Zanskar and the Indus Valley. (source: http://www.stokkangri.co.in/)
This pictorial journey offers a glimpse into my experiences with Stok Kangri.
After 2 days of acclimatization in the city of Leh, the team gathered at full strength for the first time. We took a chartered bus from Leh to the Stok Kangril trailhead, where we would spend the next 6 days on foot. This sign held a word of caution: step past me and there will be no turning back.
We signed up with an adventure agency that registered the 4 of us, but due to the small size of our time (and for cost efficiency, I suppose), our team was absorbed by a larger team of 24 members who came from India, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Holland.
I needed to take another look at what was expected of my feet in the days ahead. The distance up to the base camp seemed manageable. Maybe easy. But then my heart dropped when I saw on Summit Day that my feet would need to cover 14 km. That would be an intense 16-18 hours. Elevation gain? 1200m. My jaw dropped, along with my heart—and my stomach, too.
I tried to reassure myself that I could do this. Surely the guys knew what they were doing, organising expeditions like this. Yet I took a mental note to seek clarification – if I’m not too exhausted, that is.
“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”
This quote from the Dalai Lama was learnt during coffee the day before. It was like an ominous warning. A warning I didn’t want to think about. I paid attention to the beauty of my surroundings and engaged in a conversation with Howard, my climb partner.
Leh was originally a stop along the Silk Road for trading caravans. Now it’s known for its Buddhist sites and trekking opportunities.
Topographically, the whole of the district is a mountainous high desert area with three parallel ranges of the Himalayas: the Zanskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram.
The differences between Nepal and India are not always apparent, but this is one of the primary changes. Nepal has established trekking routes with guesthouses and facilities. There is no need to carry a tent or cooking stoves.
India requires you to carry up all the supplies you may need for your journey. This means animals must be deployed. You’ll see horses, donkeys, and mules all along the trekking route.
The high desert can still generate a lot of heat. Here I am thankful for my t-shirt, shorts, and sturdy trekking shoes to keep me comfortable.
I cannot say enough about my Vasque Inhaler II GTX trekking shoes. They handle rocky terrain with outstanding confidence. Instead of worrying about twisting an ankle on an odd loose stone, you trek forward with consistent stability.
There are also icy streams that need to be crossed on this adventure. The Goretex waterproofing system of these shoes keeps my feet dry and that lets me keep taking adventurous footsteps all day long.
In some ways, the scenery seems almost dystopian. I can’t help but think it would be possible to fake a moon landing without suspicion if someone had the right apparel along for the journey.
And what was that sound I heard? The opening notes of the soundtrack from 2001: A Space Odyssey perhaps?
This image also increases my gratefulness that I have comfortable shoes to wear.
There are no limits outside ourselves, not even when you are surrounded by rock monoliths of such fantastic grandeur. As we walked through the valley, I wonder what is going on in the minds of the other climbers.
Are they having the same fears as me that we are under the mercy of a force of nature? Any loose rocks that stumble could send us a quick and easy way end to this journey.
Then I think of the 14km Summit Day again. It’s time to think of something else. What do you think – doesn’t that cloud look a bit like a tortoise?
The warm-up trek took 3-4 hours. Here we’ve reached our camp site at Changma. I’m hoping those big rocky mountains are more stable than they look.
I find the safest place possible to pitch my tent. There might not be any spaceships landing here, but I don’t want some rock thinking it’s a spaceship to flatten my tent while it is sleeping.
No matter what the question may be, food will always be a suitable answer after a morning of hiking.
After finding a suitable place to avoid dreaming rocks pretending to be spaceships or spaceships pretending to be dreaming rocks, I find a moment of peace and happiness.
My shoes will guard this feeling with confidence.
After lunch, we went for an acclimisation walk (without our bagpacks) to prepare our bodies for the next day hike further up the mountain.
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Since I have a penchant for naming unique rocks after myself, I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for that perfect rock. It’s no use worrying over the location of my camp site nor the potential rockfalls.
Grit conquers mountains, anyway. And spaceships.
No cause of concern to you sirs and mdms?
Goodnight, sleep tight to you then. See you on Day 2 morning.