Greetings Steemians! In my previous blog in this series, I mentioned about my daily schedule of high altitude training regime that I had been doing in Ladakh in order to prepare for a solo attempt on Stok Kangri Peak (20,080 feet). The time had come for me to leave, finally! There were a lot of things I had to take care of before I could actually leave though.
In India, to climb any peak above 6000m, you need a permit from Indian Mountaineering Foundation. I went to their office in Leh City and initially they refused to give me a solo permit. Because of some irresponsible idiots who had ended up dead on the mountains in near past because of lack experience and preparation, the permit issuing procedure had become very strict for solo climbers. I was able to convince them somehow by showing my credentials and training regime. They issued me with a solo permit finally!
As there won’t be any porters to carry my load, I had to pack as light as possible. I picked out some dehydrated rations which just need hot water to make it eatable, some dry fruits, energy bars and tea powder. Apart from food and clothing, I had technical equipment’s like ice axe, crampons, carabiners, a sling, gaiters, helmet etc. the bag was coming to a whopping 35 kg! It was going to be a crazy task to haul the load up the mountain especially in extreme altitudes.
It was 15th of July; I left early in the morning for Stok Village, the road head from where the trek begins. It is 30 minutes from Leh city and you can see the Stok Kangri peak throughout the journey. I could be standing on top of it in a few days. Such an inspiring sight to witness before the trek begins!
I began the trek with my companion, my heavy backpack. The destination for today was Mankarmo campsite (14,500 feet) which was 4 hours from Stok Village. The trek up to the base camp is quite easy and generally takes two days to reach. The entire trek up to base camp is alongside Stok River.
The trail is very well defined. 30 minutes into the trek, you come across the first steep climb which is a small pass. Upon reaching the pass, you can see the trail far ahead until it turns into the valley.
I had soft music on in my speakers. It is so much better to trek alone but again, one must know what they’re doing! The trail is a gentle uphill with quite a few places where you have to cross the river back and forth. Two hours into the trek, we come across Chang Ma campsite. Chang Ma means Land of trees and this is the only place in the route where you can find some trees, rest everything is dry and deserted. There was a big team at Chang ma camp heading up, a day behind me.
Just ahead of Chang Ma, the trail climbs leftwards towards a pass which takes you into a valley with very different landscape features. Through many left and right into the valleys, you can see Mankarmo camp in the far distance. The mountains around here have crazy sharp features and different shades of colors. It is such a beautiful landscape to be surrounded with.
The heavy weight on my back was getting me tired towards the end. I reached Mankarmo camp and settled down. It was such a relief to get through day 1 in good time. Little things like these keeps you motivated. You get first glimpse of the impressive east face of Stok Kangri from here. It’s still quite a distance from here and you think how will I ever reach up there?
I pitched my tent and settled in. I assembled the butane stove to prepare my meals. With beautiful valley around and tea in making, life was perfect. I took out the novel that I was reading and spent the evening reading it. I prepared some readymade vegetable rice for an early dinner. It wasn’t the best meal, but it did the job. I retired at 8pm. The night was quite windy and sudden flapping of tent kept waking me up.
I woke up at 6am and got outside the tent. It was a beautiful clear day with crisp refreshing cold. I packed up my bag and got done with morning chores and ate a couple of biscuits. I have trained my body over the years to get by a day’s trek without having any meal as such. Our body has a lot of hidden resources and one must learn how to use them in the time of need.
The trek up to base camp is not more than 3 hours. You trek parallel to Stok River and cross it after 30 minutes to enter into a valley going leftwards. The trail goes uphill into the valley from here. This particular section has some grass and wild flowers on it. You get good views of Golep Kangri Peak from here which is right above Stok Kangri Base Camp.
My speed was unusually slow today. I wasn’t at my best today. Maybe it was the altitude. After all I was trekking at about 15,000 feet right now with a huge ass bag. I had more 1000 feet to go before reaching base camp.
The trail climbs up steeply on a mountain towards the right of the valley and from here you can see prayer flags far above you, which is the base camp. Slowly and steadily I walked up the slopes. I met a couple of porters coming down and they were surprised at the weight I was carrying! I reached base camp at 10am. From the valley below, I could see dark heavy clouds coming in. I rushed up. The trail climbs up steeply on a mountain towards the right of the valley and from here you can see prayer flags far above you, which is the base camp. Slowly and steadily I walked up the slopes. I met a couple of porters coming down and they were surprised at the weight I was carrying! I reached base camp at 10am.
The clouds were getting closer and they were engulfing the entire valley. It wasn’t a good sign. Some serious weather was coming in. I quickly pitched my tent and got in. As soon as I was in, it started snowing heavily!
It snowed for 3 days straight! I hardly went outside the tent. I used to pee into a bottle to avoid going out. Maximum teams at the base camp packed up and started to leave. I had all the time in the world. I decided to wait it out. Now all I could do was wait and watch and hope for the weather to clear up.
The events that unfolded on the summit push changed me completely as a person and a mountaineer. It gave me some very valuable learning to last a lifetime. Stay tuned for the upcoming blog for the summit push. Cheers!