This has been one thrilling experience. An experience of failure and success within a span of 24 hours. I have been planning on stok kangri ever since the mountain climbing bug bit me late last year. Initial plan on stok kangri were clouded by the inability to decide on the agent to go with in part. The other part was work commitments that kept me tied to the office.
Inbetween i managed to sneak out for a couple of days for Kerinci and Rinjani. However, Stok Kangri is in the karakoram, Himalayas and at 6,100+ m isn’t something that you can do over the weekend.
After a lot of emails, forum posts in a couple of websites and blogs, i decided finally on an agency and set the dates for 2-august to 10-august. Not particularly the cheapest, but they responded to my emails and the boss really took the initiative to call on ISD to enquire if everything was OK. I liked his sincerity and also the fact that his was a start up and i saw myself in him 10 years back. I liked giving the under dog a chance. So, i decided on him and i was not disappointed.
The plan came to fruition sometime in early July after which i began some serious exercise on cardio. Needless to say, it was not sufficient and the climb was much harder due to the lack of good fitness regime.
2 days before the trip i started taking Diamox so that i wouldn’t have any health related issues. But upon arrival in Leh i had stopped it and didn’t feel any problems with AMS.
Day 1 (3-August) – Arrive Leh
Leh, located at 3,500 m is one of the most beautiful places i have ever visited. The calm, easy going and friendly nature of the people gave me immense pleasure and peace. Having landed in Leh in the morning from two stop overs, one at Kuala Lumpur and the other at Delhi, i was pretty tired. Checked into the hotel, had some breakfast and slept.
Luckily, i did not show any signs off AMS since Delhi was at sea level and Leh, at 3,500 m. The rest of the day was spent walking in the bazaar and buying some items for the climb.
Day 2 (4-august) – Rest at Leh
Spent the whole day resting and reading books. Took a cab to the Shanti Stupa. In the evening, met with the guide, porter and cook. Asked some questions with my limited climbing knowledge to check the guide’s competency. Felt good and comfortable with him. Tried the crampons and ice axe. Rented out all the items.
Day 3 (5-august) – Leh to Stok Village. Trek to Mankarmo
Today was the starting point of our trek. The guide picked me up at 9 am. We picked up the other climber, a British woman in her late forties who seemed to have done a lot of travelling. We stopped over to buy vegetables on the way to Stok Village. At about 10 am, we started the trek through the valley and stopped at lunch. The pace was brisk and we reached Mankarmo by 4 pm. The camp was setup and we mingled with the other tourists. The dinner prepared was fantastic and we ate well and retired to bed early.
Day 4 (6-august) – Mankarmo to Stok Kangri Base Camp
The trek today was more tedious than yesterday. The altitude gain was significant and the route was quite tough. Base camp is located at around 4,200 m. It is already higher than the highest point i have ever climbed in my short history of climbing. We managed to reach the base camp by 4 hours. I felt a bit of head ache to which i took some aspirin.
The plan was to start for the summit at 12 am and reach the top at around 6 am. Towards the evening i took an practice walk around the area. We ate an early dinner which was excellently prepared by the cook and we went to our respective tents. I couldn’t sleep much due to the headache and the noise from the nearby river flowing.
Day 5 (7-august) – The climb
I was awake the whole night and was out of my tent all ready to go by 12 am. The cook made us some delicious chai and some soup and potatoes. I didn’t want to eat anything but the guide insisted that i eat something before we commence our climb – big mistake.
Soon after we started the climb. The move up the trail started well, but soon after Advanced Base Camp, i started to feel sleepy and the head ache came back with a vengeance. I took one more aspirin and started the climb. We walked towards the glacier. One look at it and there wasn’t any need for crampons or ice axe.
Once we crossed the glacier, the climb became quite steep, and at about 5,200 m i decided to turn back because i became extremely sleepy and the head ache was worsening. So, i turned back and the guide followed me across the glacier. From there the route was pretty straight forward, so i went all the way to base camp. I reached base camp at around 8 am and i hit the tent. There i had a very disturbed sleep.
I woke up at lunch and by that time, the British lady was back from the summit telling me the details as i listened with a sense of awe and disappointment.
Then It struck me. I had a spare day planned into my trek. The day was to be used for the summit if in case of bad weather. I immediately turned towards my guide and told him that we are going up again that night. He was mighty shocked having witnessed my failure that morning.
He instead asked me if i wanted to climb Golep Kangri instead which shared the same base camp and was lower in altitude to Stok Kangri. I thought for awhile and insisted that i still wanted to climb Stok. He agreed with a smile without any reservations. The only thing was that the porter who carried the emergency oxygen tank the night before would not join us on this climb. I was fine with that.
A renewed sense of confidence surged inside me. Something that I did not have the previous night. Yes! I was already in pain and weak. But the thought of coming here and not being able to summit was something that i couldn’t accept. All was not lost. There is another chance.
That night i ate very little and managed to sleep for a couple of hours.
Day 6 (8-august) – The climb Redux
Was woken up at 11pm. Had a glass of hot Masala tea. Again the cook insisted that i eat something before climbing. I responded with a stern no and instead had a biscuit. The climb started by 11:30pm and we made good pace as compared to the previous night. We reached the glacier two hours ahead of the previous day and started the steep ascent. Till that time there was literally no one on the mountain other than me and the guide. At the distant we could see torch lights making their way towards us, but they were more than an hour behind.
However, in the steep climb, my pace slowed down dramatically and found those distant lights had actually caught up with us. By 7 am i was down to a snail’s pace but managed to reach the ridge where i rested for about 30 minutes. By that time the torch lights had caught up with us, overtook us and were on their way to the summit.
From there it took another 2 hours to reach the summit. It was around 9am. By that time, i was completely done spent and absolutely had no mood to rejoice or take photos. I handed over my camera to the guide and asked him to snap away. This was another mistake as he didn’t take decent enough photos of the prayer flags or me sitting in front of them. A close up shot of me lying on the summit is all i got. Anyway, the summit was bagged and i wanted to get down as quickly as possible.
We started within 15 minutes as the weather was turning against us. The eastern side was a complete whiteout and the western side was cloudy. The climb down was pretty straightforward but required extreme concentration.
We hit the base camp by 11 am and i just dropped to the ground. The guide was quite impressed and after the high fives and the hugs i sat around aimlessly unable to fathom the previous 24 hours.
The same day we descended back to Stok Village and back to Leh after some rest in Mankarmo. I was so damn tired with about 16 hours of walk that i had a quick shower and hit the bed. I slept like a log.
Day 7 (9-august)
Woke up the next day but felt good. The whole episode went through my mind and i felt really satisfied with the turn of events. Had a nice breakfast of egg and sandwich and hot coffee. In the whole trip i managed to do without Diamox with only aspirin for the head ache.
Decided to go to Khardung La before i left for Delhi and back to Singapore the next day. This i will write on the next article.
Stok Kangri is a very beautiful mountain and doesn’t require any technical skill. It gives you the ability to reach 20,000ft in a short span of time due to its proximity to Leh. But don’t be fooled by the level of fitness that is required. Also, the season of climbing is very important. My august climb did not see much snow or rain other than occasional drizzle. We didn’t have to use crampons or ice axe. But, i’ve heard from our guide that June period was waist deep in snow even at the base camp. Groups waited for 3 days and had to return back to Leh without a summit.
Initial ascent up to glacier is on very slight elevation. The going gets tough soon after the glacier pass where the rate of climb is tremendous. From base camp to summit is a 1,900 m height gain in about 6 to 8 hours.
I did it in a very short time of 7 days, but i think the most ideal number of days would be about 10 days.