Stok Kangri: Trek to the Summit
Early 2015 I had decided to do two treks, one in May and next in October. May was supposed to be Ladakh trek, however I later realized that Ladakh opens up in Mid to Late June, hence my next trek is in DANGER L
Anyways, I have just come back from my Ladakh trek, since my last trek EveresT base Camp took me to 17500fts, I was looking for a trek which would take me a little higher than that and there it was Stok Kangri Summit 6150 mts == 20500fts.
I reached Leh on 5th July, the moment I landed I could feel the altitude 11500fts. The difference between EBC and Ladakh trek is that we start the trek from a high altitude and gain altitude progressively very fast, which is very taxing for the body.
The first day in Leh was spent indoors and mostly trying to regain my breathing, every step was a reminder of the high altitude. By the 2nd day I was feeling much better, so decided to go out on a small hike after breakfast. Leh Monastery and Castle Semo are around 100-200mts hike from Leh market.
Once you reach the top you can appreciate the landscape of Ladakh, the valleys are green but rest of the area is barren and covered in ice, no wonder Ladakh is known as Cold Desert.
The dark brown and the pure white contrast of the landscape with shadows of clouds playing across the mountains was a sight of beauty.
I saw the start of the trek trail which we were supposed to take tomorrow to the highest peak in the range.
Came back to leh, had lunch at a local restaurant and headed to my room. I was feeling much better and confident about the trek after the hike.
At 6PM we met our guide (Nawaang), our trek was going to be a short one and that is what made it hard as we will be gaining altitude quite fast, we were at 11500fts and we would be at 20500fts in 4-5days.
Since it was a small trek so whatever item I thought I can do without I took it out of the backpack, trust me when you are carrying your own backpack up the mountain even a gram feels like a kilo, so make it as light as possible.
Next day we started our trek at 9AM, it took us an hours drive to reach stok village, the trek start point.
We met our guide and trek lead (Preet), shook hands with our support staff the cooks and the helpers, petted the mules who were to carry our supplies and ration, and so starts our trek from stok village to stok kangri.
The sun was bright and sunny, I applied sun screen, sent text messages to near and dear ones, as we weren’t sure of the network coverage.
The trek from stok village is alright, the valley has small streams and a river gushing downward with slight vegetation, the mountains are barren and rocky. Quite a contrast between streams, rivers, stones across and boulders along side the river and rocky mountains.
After an hour of trek we came to a small pass, a steep one, the first place (many to follow) where I was actually out of breath and I started cursing the heavy breakfast of aaloo paratha and butter (lots of it).
This was the last place of network coverage, after climbing 50mts, I was happy that we have gained some altitude but unfortunately the other side of the pass took us down to the river bed (all in vain L)
Anyways, we were trekking away to changma, where we were supposed to have our lunch, the landscape was a mix of rocky barren mountains, stone laden path, streams flowing across.
There was vegetation near the streams, dense in some places but usually the landscape remained the same. When we reached changma after a trek of almost 4 hrs, I was completely exhausted and was already considering calling it quits, the reason being the heavy breakfast.
After reaching changma, I was just sprawled out on the ground, so exhausted that I didn’t feel like having lunch.
The lunch point is just a small shop with an attached open space for trekkers to pitch the tents for the night. The landscape was no different, we met a trekker and he said that these mountains donot have any smell, he said that back home he is from the mountains and they have specific smell due to vegetation, however here it feels like a lunar landscape (quite true actually).
I was quite exhausted to even continue the conversation, however gathered some strength to munch on a few things. After lunch as soon as we started the trek, there is a climb (not so steep) and I was again in the quitting mode, by the time I reached the top of the small climb, I found myself lying breathless under a rock and the worst part was that our stop of the day ‘Manokarma’ was still 3hrs away.
The climb led to a descent all the way back to the streams. The streams were in full force, it was quite interesting to cross these cold streams, though I call them streams but one wrong step and the water will wash you down and you will come crashing down on rocks and you can bid goodbye to your summit dreams.
We had to take our shoes off to cross three different streams, after the third one I was unable to feel my feet. Our guide said that in the last 4-5yrs this is the first time that he had seen so much water, the reason being that the region had witnessed late snowfall (Feb) and it had just started melting a few weeks back.
This crossing of the streams did take away my mind from the extreme exhaustion, after the streams we had to walk for 2hrs straight to reach Manokarma.
Manokarma is a camp site at a height of 14000fts, surrounded by mountains and a stream flowing by. Our tents were setup and we had our dinner at 7PM and went straight to bed, outside it was chilly, windy and pitch dark.
The tents were cozy but I wasn’t able to get any sleep, next morning we got up at 6AM, TOILETS WERE A NIGHTMARE!!! J, so I found a spot behind the rock…. THE WORLD IS YOUR TOILET!! J
Had breakfast at 7AM and we were good to proceed, the next stop was base camp at a height of 16000ft. The trek towards base camp wasn’t as hard as the day before. It was a 3hr trek over frozen streams and barren land. We reached base camp around lunch time, pitched our tents, had lunch and at 4PM we went for a small hike of 200mts towards the start of the stock kangri trail and voila you do get a good cellular coverage at this height.
The hike was a little steep over loose rocks, mud and even loose rock shaving and the wind is quite chilly, so make sure to have proper clothing.
The view from the top, you can see snow all the way up the trail and you can see all stones all the way down the trail.
There isn’t much to do in the base camp plus the erratic weather makes it impossible to be outside of the tents, heavy rains, hailstorms, chilly winds, fog.
The next day our guide was not even sure if we would be able to start for summit in the night, however sometime around 8:30-9PM our guide said that the weather is clearing out. We geared up for sub zero temperatures and cold winds and knee deep snow, stocked up on energy bars and started off for the summit at 10:15PM. The weather conditions for the past 2 days had been bad and it made the climb even more hard with the fresh snow fall, the route started with a 45 degree to 60 degree slope with knee deep snow and if you miss the trail then you go almost waist deep in snow and obviously your clothes would be wet even the gaiters were of not much use. So wet clothes, chilly winds, snow, pitch dark, high altitude, and steep climb I guess you get the drift.
The last 2-2.5hrs of the climb which is from 5AM to 8:30AM is the most treacherous one with the incline being almost 80degrees, oxygen only 20% and your body tired and eye lids as heavy as lead, even 2-3 steps in these conditions push your heart rate beyond 130-140, every step is a huge task.
The last 30-40mins are a bit scary as the winds are too strong, hands are numb and there is a small shoulder just before the summit which has to be treaded very cautiously as its just a feet wide and one wrong step and you go all the way down. All of us were tied with ropes and the ropes were tied to ice axe, if anyone of us slips or falls, the others who are tied along with him, can atleast pull him back.
Reaching the summit took us 11hrs but we stayed there for 10mins. Taking pictures of even capturing the view was out of question as we were exhausted beyond imagination.
When we started back from the summit the only thing on our mind was the base camp and the tent and the mat inside it. We were sliding, slipping down the slope hardly any strength to carry us down. All our clothes were wet and there was no sun in sight, which was good otherwise it would have melted the snow and it would have been impossible to walk in the soft snow.
I hardly remember how I got to the base camp and when I fell asleep in the tent, but when we got up we had a congratulatory cake waiting for us J