“To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.” — Sir. Francis Younghusband
Ladakh offers a huge mix of options for trekking and climbing – time permitting and depending on your physical and mental strength you could choose from many of the options on offer. I along with a friend of mine (Ben an adventure loving dentist by profession) decided that we would try and summit Mt. Stok Kangri – the highest peak in the Stok range of the Himalayas. Though it’s considered a walking peak from a technical point of view, however it must be mentioned here that it’s not a cake-walk in reaching the summit.
After our initial days of acclimatisation in Leh, we were both ready for the trek. Before we set forth for the trek/climb, with help from our friends in Leh, we purchased and rented the essentials required for this trek such as crampons, sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc…we also got hold of a great guide who was going to accompany and guide us all along.
The hike begun from Stok village and was a gradual climb initially. Barren rocky mountains on either side was the terrain and landscape which we got used to very quickly. Along the trail we came across many trekkers either climbing up or coming back down. Also, time and again we could hear the distant ringing of bells which would get louder and louder as and when they got close to us, it were the sounds of bells which came from mules and ponies loaded with supplies of ration, climbing gear of expeditions etc again coming back and forth. Though we are both comfortable with walking/trekking and have also done a few high altitude treks in the past, I must still confess that this is not as easy an expedition as it may be spoken about. We walked slow but steady, occasionally stopping for a few minutes of rest. The progress was slow but continuous. Being exposed to the heat of the sun (and the heat emitted from the rocky mountains) and with very few areas of shade to take respite from the heat makes it only more difficulty to navigate and put forward your tired feet and keep going.
After our lunch break (which we packed from Leh) we snaked our way up the valley towards Mankarmo after crossing a stream/river a few times over and over again. It was finally a relief to reach our destination for the overnight camping. It’s always a pleasure to reach camp and be able to remove your boots and have a warm drink. We were super tired that we had an early dinner and called it an early night. It was a sound sleep after all.
Woke up to an amazing bright morning and to the sounds of the bells ring from the mules and yaks. After a good and a hearty breakfast, we started our climb up towards the base camp. It was somewhat easier as compared to yesterdays hike. We reached base-camp and the weather was still amazing. After lunch we rested for a while in our tent before we put our boots back on for a hike up the hills to acclimatise. A rule you must always follow in the mountains is to ‘climb high and sleep low’.
Very soon we were high enough and could now see the base camp down below. This hike allows us not only to acclimatise but also get ready for our summit attempt. When we came back to camp from this hike, the weather had started to turn around, soon enough we were caught in a rain and short spell of snow storm. After a while it stopped and the sky turned to a beautiful blue, there was an amazing rainbow which intensified the beautiful sunset.
After a quick dinner yet again, we went back in to our tent for a short sleep and rest. We were up by around midnight and after a hot bowl of soup and some light bites, our bags packed we were out in the darkness with our headlights on to shine the way all up…
When we started we could see way up the blinking lights (which indicated many more people like us attempting the summit march), soon enough we caught up with them. It was bloody cold and the walk is always tough. We were consistent though and disciplined, we rather walked slow but steadily and not resting for a long time (as once your body cools down, it’s difficult to get the momentum going). We reached the glacier point and fixed our crampons, though there was an option of taking the longer route which meant avoiding a huge part of the glacier and the steep climb …. but we decided to stick to the glacier route, we just knew we had to put one foot forward each time, we implied it.
Your mind plays games at this altitude, it’s always important to put your body and mind at peace together. We kept encouraging one another and said that it was the mind we needed to control, we continued the accent. In the early hours just before reaching the ridge, we were caught in another snow storm once again and making it difficult to push forward. However, we kept moving on and when it slowly started to clear up we were beginning the last push to the summit.
At 0530 hours, we made it to the top after an amazing climb with mixed emotions that of joy, achievement, humility, pain, frustration and so much more. The sun was rising on the horizon…we enjoyed a beautiful awakening of ourselves and the world around us. Soaked up the views for a while longer. We offered our prayers and thanked the mountains for allowing us to stand atop. Soon after, we made our climb back down the mountain and to our urban lifestyles.