As the surprisingly long winter finally departs and the snow begins to melt, the imminent summer ushers in a manic rush among trekkers to head to our Himalayan trails. Six years ago, when I decided to graduate from going on little hikes to actually going on a full-fledged trek, I'd picked the, now wildly popular Roopkund as my initial foray into the world of trekking. Back then trekking had yet not taken off and it was actually possible to enjoy some relative solitude on the trails. Being a trekker, I understand the need for trekking companies to scale up and to meet the demand that exists but the pitfalls of commercialization are aplenty. From the overcrowding of trails and campsites to the increased presence of waste and plastic to the higher lapses in judgement and increased chances of death, the negatives do sometimes seem to outweigh the positives of this blossoming field of mainstream trekking. Some of us though, would still much rather trek somewhere where we can enjoy a high altitude trek without the presence of human traffic jams.
Keeping this in mind, last winter, I began my research to shortlist and narrow down on what trek I'd be climbing the next summer. Having done my fair share of pretty treks, my main criteria now was to do something that challenged the limits of my physical and mental endurance and something that would fill me with a sense of accomplishment. I'd done the Rupin Pass the year before and, pretty as it may have been, it just did not live up to my expectations of a truly strenuous and challenging trek. So I began to look up some treks before I narrowed it down to 3: Friendship Peak, Stok Kangri and a bit of an unheard one, Kang Yatse. When the logistics and timing didn't match for Friendship Peak, it became clear to me that I'd be returning to a familiar Ladakhi territory. Having done two winter treks in Ladakh, I'm used to the ubiquitous presence of Stok Kangri in Leh. As you land in Leh and from almost anywhere in the city, if there's one sight, one mountain that is just always towering right over you, it's Stok Kangri. As any serious trekker in India knows, Stok is our so called highest trekkable peak in the country and ever since my first trek, this was one I'd looked forward to one day standing on top of. However, due to its immense popularity, it's always a bit of mess in terms of the sheer number of human beings attempting it every season and the massive number of campsites at Base Camp. Challenging as it would be, this was not exactly my idea of escaping the city life by jumping headfirst into another large congregation of people. Selection by elimination was now confirmed for me and I'd finally settled upon Kang Yatse II as my peak for the summer of 2018.
What is Kang Yatse?
Kang Yatse, as some research showed, consists of a couple of peaks. There's KYI, KY II, KY III and KY IV. The latter two are not really offered by any of the trekking agencies I came about and of the former two, KY I is more of a technical climb that requires a bit more experience than I possessed. 43m or so higher than Stok Kangri, this was a potentially harder climb as well as a far more remote and peaceful one. It's relative obscurity and higher costs being a deterrent to most trekkers, this is a great high altitude trek for those who want an experience like Stok Kangri minus the traffic jams.
Where is Kang Yatse?
Unlike Stok Kangri, Kang Yatse is a peak you will not be able to see from Leh or its surrounding areas. Kang Yatse's various peaks are located at the end of Markha Valley, a trek that in itself is extremely popular in Ladakh. It takes you 3-4 days of trekking along the Markha trail before you get any sight at all of your target and even once you do get a glimpse, it hides and reveals in equal measure, playfully covering itself and hiding behind the clouds that cover it. Until you do get to base camp, you're never really guaranteed a constant view of the mountain.
If you do plan to do this trek, there are two different routes you can take:
1) This is the one I did and the one, which, in my opinion, is the far more sensible route to take. This begins at Chilling (only a couple of hours from Leh) and goes through the Markha Valley before you get to Nimaling and then the base camp. This is a slightly longer route but it's a far more suitable one to help you acclimatize as it's a far slower ascent than the other path.
2) The second route is one I would not recommend people to attempt unless they're already well acclimatized and are doing KY as their second peak of the trip. This approach begins at the village of Shang Sumdo and follows a rapid and steep ascent up the Markha Gorge and gets you to Nimaling via the Kongmaru La pass (5200m). This route is quite a jump in height from Leh to Shang Sumdo to Nimaling at 5000m. I came across people who took this route and were utterly exhausted and needed to spend a day or two at Nimaling to acclimatize. Besides, it's not remotely as pretty as the the other trail through the Markha Valley.
We didn't really have a choice in the selection for the route though as the trekking agency that we went with, Rocky Feet, had it all figured out already and I'm glad this was the route they chose.
What's the best time to attempt this?
This is a peak that's best attempted from July to somewhere around mid-September and that's the time you'll find most of the organizations willing to take you. Ladakh being extremely harsh and cold in winter and not to mention the higher amount of snowfall then, this isn't a peak that you can really attempt in the winters unless you get extraordinarily good conditions.
Why not Stok Kangri?
If you're looking to scale similar heights as at Stok and climb a 6000m mountain without having to navigate through a truckload of people on the trail while also requiring a far more scenic route all the way to the base camp, KY is the mountain for you.
Are you qualified to do this trek?
I'd definitely not recommend this trek if you don't have prior high altitude experience in the Himalayas. With the heights you scale on this trek, acclimatization is a must and AMS is a real possibility if you don't look after yourself and study your symptoms. While it's not any more difficult than most of your other Himalayan treks for most of the way, after that is where it really gets tough. It's a far more difficult trek than most of those you'd find in the sub 5000m and probably even higher peaks. Do not attempt this if you aren't extremely fit and if you haven't done other high altitude peaks (15000 feet and above) prior to this.
Day 1: Land in Leh.
Day 2: Acclimatize in Leh and see the tourist spots and shop in Leh market.
Day 3: Drive from Leh to Chilling and then trek till Skiu.
Day 4: Trek from Skiu to Markha (3700m)
Day 5: Trek from Markha to Thachungtse (4200m)
Day 6: Trek from Thachungtse to Nimaling (4700m)
Day 7: Trek from Nimaling to KY Base Camp (5100m)
Day 8: Rest day at Base Camp
Day 9: Midnight push to the summit and back
Day 10: Trek to Shang Sumdo via Kongmaru La Pass and then get to Leh
Day 11: Fly back from Leh