Mount Stok Kangri : Stepping up to lasting impressions!

Expeditions are journeys with a purpose and arguably the most exhilarating experience a person can have!

Since 2012-2013, I had the desire to hike up the peak of Mount Stok Kangri, located in Leh & Ladakh and towering at an altitude of 20,181 feet above the main sea level. The thought first occurred to me, while I was hiking in the Sahyadris and wanted to test my threshold by attempting to climb a
high Himalayan snow-clad peak.

Apart from the Sahyadris, I had successfully summited Mount Rudugaira, 5,819 metres above the sea level in 2013 and Mount Gangotri-1, 6,672 metres above the sea level in 2014. In the year 2015, I went on a biking expedition to Leh Ladakh with my friends. Leh is nestled between deep valleys, surrounded by high passes and snow-clad mountains. Mesmerised by the beauty of this valley, I was sure that this would be my next trek.

As we walked, right there in front of us was a daunting high peak, covered in snow, standing tall and enticing me. “This is it guys,” I told my friends. My friend Atul and I chalked out a plan for an alpine style attempt (which refers to a trek without the help of any guides or porters) to Mount Stok Kangri.

We came home and started the groundwork for the journey. We traced maps, planned the route, logistics and then started our preparation for the climb with rigorous training in the form of daily exercises, pranayama, yoga and not to forget, the several practice treks to the Sahyadris carrying heavy load in our backpacks to build our stamina and strength.

After nearly six months of preparation, we were ready to take on the challenge. We left from Pune on the 8th of September, 2017 and landed in Leh the next day. It was a feeling of coming back home! A cosy little Ladakhi hotel with a fabulous view was awaiting us. We spent the rest of the day roaming in and around the local markets of Leh and buying some gear required for the trek.

The same evening, we went up to the Leh Palace. The view from there was priceless. The rays of sunset on the snow peaks made the mountains appear gold plated; further enhanced by the fusion of colours in the sky and the surrounding landscape.

On the morning of 10th September, we left our guest house for an acclimatisation trek. We drove up to South Pullu with the intent to hike 14 km uphill to Khardung La Pass, in order to attune our bodies to that altitude. Owing to the on-going Ladakh marathon, we had to alter our plan and instead decided to attempt a small three-hour hike up to the Tsemo Gompa Monastery. We were now confident of the giant climb.

The same evening we bought all the remaining climbing gear, ready-toeat food packs, obtained necessary permits, packed our backpacks and were all set. We planned to start the trek early next morning to have a glimpse of the sunrise.

Next morning we reached the base point of the trek, Stok village. We sipped hot tea, had Maggi for breakfast and started our climb to the higher camp – Manokarma. Our backpacks weighed over 15 kg, and with each step, we slowly started to find the journey challenging due to the rough terrain, bone-chilling winds coming from the valley, the altitude gain, intermittent rain and snow showers. Exhausted and tired, we finally managed to reach camp Manokarma after a six-hour long climb.

It was only four o’clock in the evening, and the weather outside was already cold. Within an hour, we managed to put up our tents at Manokarma, followed by sipping some hot tea prepared by my friend Atul, a welcome relief from the shudders.

Manokarma, at an altitude of 14,000 feet, has far less amount of oxygen, which makes it difficult to breathe. Your fitness and mental strength are what helps you in such harsh conditions. After tea, it was time to give some rest to our legs. We had some delicious vegetable biryani for dinner and slept
by nine.

On 12th of September, we woke up at six in the morning. The sun was out, but because of surrounding high mountains, it took a while for its warmth to reach us. Post breakfast, we packed and geared up for our climb to the Stok Kangri Base camp – 4,980 metres above the sea level which was a three-hour journey.

As we progressed with our climb, the gain in altitude was slowly beginning to affect us. I started having a mild headache and decided to rest for a couple of hours. We spent the next two days – 13th & 14th of September acclimatising for the higher climb by trekking the nearby slopes, which were at
an altitude of 5,300 metres.

We returned to the base camp on the afternoon of 14th and after napping a while, we decided to start the climb to the summit at eleven that night. Night hours are usually the best for a climb, given that the snow doesn’t melt and the weather is much calmer than early morning hours. We carried some hot water with us for the journey and after having upma for dinner; we began our journey to climb the summit. The temperature outside was freezing at -50 C. Braving the snowfall, we reached the advance base camp at one o’ clock in the morning.

Though the sky was clear and filled with stars, it was chilly because of the wind’s speed. The fresh snowfall was another hurdle in front of us. My fellow trekker developed some breathing troubles and owing to the freezing temperatures ahead; he decided to return. I was now left with the choice to either join him or move ahead. After taking stock of his health and his assurance of reaching the base camp safely, I decided to continue with the trek.

Awaiting us was a long stretch of glacier, which had many hidden crevasses, not visible due to a thick layer of snow covering them, one thing that mountaineers fear the most.

Safely negotiating these, I reached the top of the glacier, where the temperatures had dipped to – 100 C. The winds were gaining speed. The progress was becoming slower. It was four in the morning when it started snowing, making it a challenge for me.

The altimeter read 5,550 metres and at that point, I decided to abort my summit and not move further. It was a hard decision, but as the saying goes “Getting to a summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” I took some pictures before my downward journey. After three hours of a tiring downhill climb, I reached the upper point of the base camp. The first light on the nearby mountains was a beautiful sight to behold.

In the next half an hour, by seven in the morning of the 15th, I was at the base camp. From there, I informed my wife about my wellbeing and my companion’s safety. My friend was happy to see me back safe, and so was I to see him healthy.

After a couple of hours of rest, we decided to get back to Stok village and then Leh and by seven in the evening after a continuous six hours of downhill trek, we made it back to our cosy beds, with a delicious spread of hot food awaiting us.

The best way I could summarise our journey is by remembering the quote by the Famous French climber Lionel Terray – “On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days, we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude”.

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