The 20000 Air _Stok Kangri Expedition_My Experience
The ‘Twenty -1000’ air – Stok Kangri Expedition: My Experience
Itwas a thought that made me took decision for a summit re attempt, yes a re-attempt. Last year’s failed attempt still fresh which had given me a lot of sleepless night. Though broken by last year early retreat from Base camp due to deteriorating climate and incessant snowfall , was not completelyshattered. I resolved on for a summit reattempt of Stok Kangri this year of2015. Stok Kangri if you might be knowing is the heightest peak in the Stokranges of Leh Ladakh region .Vastly unknown by common world but quite famousamong trekking and mountaineering fraternity . Finally I braced myself for thisyear’s summit attempt .
Wentthrough a long thought process on when to actually jump jet myself to Leh .Timingwas all crucial as mountains has its own climatic ecosystem ,totallyunpredictable . And the fear of a third chance to scale it (partially due tohuge monetary expenditure involved) was also looming high . Finally decided on makingattempt in the month of September ,15.Though very well aware that the month ofSeptember are to be the coldest and the driest .
The run up till D-day was quite interesting .Went through a loads of journals on high altitude survival techniques, AMS,HACE ,HAPE , medications required, exercise regime to follow, the recommendedfood and clothing and so on .
Theday neared pretty fast . I left Pune on 12th Sep to Leh via Delhi .Quite excited and tensed too in the same scale .Lot was at stake this time .
Day- I . reached Leh at around 8.30am .Spent the whole day doingnothing, literally nothing . The day as well as night were equally cold for meto brave outside and so got a chance to play lazy in my warm homestays.
Day- II, I left Leh city for the Stok village –mystarting point for the trek . As I felt I am not yet well acclimatised for the heightsof 12000fts I decided on taking another (luxurious) break a day of relax beforestarting the hardship . These were the only 2 days I had a leisure of stayingindoors having a roof above and warmfood and blankets .
Day- III, I rendezvous at the starting point . Meet my guide and so Iwent . My halt for the day was at asmall rocky base called Changma ,pearched at a height of 4030m , which Ireached after 2 ½ hours and 6 kms of hiking. The sun was high with its warmthbut the wind was still chilling . My balaclava was the only thing that provedto be essential in today’s windy day .Feltto be a happy trekker under the warmingSun. Spent rest of my day reading a novel and writing travel notes , inside mytent .Strolling aimlessly, savouring nature’s beauty around the camp was theother thing I did .
Day– IV. Today I was to reach the Camp –II called asMankarmo camp at 4480m .As per schedule we started off at around 9am . To reachMankarmo camp it took us 3 ½ hours . The.base was quite impressive with river Indus flowing just metres away from my tent. Lots of activity could be seen there . There are mules ,horses and peoplefrom various nationalities were seen . The camp –II was equipped with a central kitchen run bylocals . A pretty hang out place , warm and people from around the worldconstantly frisking for snacks and food .There I interacted with a team fromJapan and another from Scandinavian country. Quite interestingly all were doingwhat I too was doing ,acclimatising and relaxing .Now you might think how we were relaxing inthose heights . The answer to this was – Godfather .(local beer 😉 ) . Theweather was superb and the Sun was high on till late evening.
Day V. A punishing day , that’s the word I willdescribe for today .The weather suddenly turned sour , lots of snowfall late atnight .It got too windy and the sky was all covered up by clouds . The hike toCamp –II called the base camp was just 4.5 km from Mankarmo camp-II . But theweather god was quite unhappy to find us devoting to another God ,The‘God-father’ the other day . So he decided to show his fury .Punishing us throughout the way. The wind particularly bothered a lot . My knees were alsocomplaining so was my running nose . The path seemed endless and I was pantingfor oxygen. The trek till Base camp usually takes 3 hours in normal conditions. But it took me 4 ½ hours .
Literally , Weather god might have felt reallyhappy today to fury on us and churningus with his weatherly whirlpool . Unfortunately my trek mates took the bolt themost and they decided on to quit . I got baffled by their sudden turn of decision. No they could not do this . I will beall alone . I literally begged them to stay and at least stay at base campto recondition . All of them showed some sign of AMS or acute mountainsickness-dizziness and vomiting to name a few . They were sent back by captain of Basecamp-III that very night with another guide. The tricky weather was not enoughthat now I have to tread all alone . I could not hold myself with today’spassage of events. I forgot the smell of food I ate as my running nose deniedme the right to smell the tasty food . Only exception were my taste buds .Andthose too complained as the lunch comprising of ladakhi food called Thuppa and someweird looking bread, was all bland for my taste bud to tinkle with joy. I was all shattered and broken withtoday’s tide of events. The night camepretty fast that day .
Day V,Time- 10pm , Temperature outside -5degrees.
I am Hulk ,I am invincible . My muscles have grown to huge extent .Am allgreen .I saw myself jumping around from one mountain peak toanother and finally I was on the Stok Kangri’s summit . Ya hooooooo !!!!
Igot a shove . with half closed eyes I saw my guide was flashing his torch lighton my face and was yelling on me to wake up , its about time for us for oursummit attempt . Shit ! again the samedream of me turning into a HULK . Itwisted my leg a bit. I felt no sense . Abad thought relayed through my synapses .A chill emerged in me and I hurriedlyran my hands on my legs till the toe . Ah,all safe !! It was all cold andstill senseless to my touch . But I am HULK .And I am invincible .
What the hell ,was I hallucinating ?
Iwas dragging myself out of my sleeping bag like a snail , as lazy I could be .But the stern looks and some bold words of my guide sent a warm chill andsomehow I hastily rolled myself out of my sleeping bag and from my tent .I sangto my guide – Tad-da !! , I am ready .Bom chiki chiki bom chik ! . My guide’s face contoured changed and he burstinto laughter .
Day V,Time- 12.30 am ,Temperature outside still -5 degrees.
Westarted some hours ago .When whole of India was rejoicing on the eve of GaneshChaturthi, me in the remote of the remotest part of the world was silently trudgingon forward .The weather turnedsurprisingly clear that night . Sky litby trillions of trillions of stars and the Milkyway was awesome .During the 5minutes break at the abandoned Camp V Advance base camp ,I was counting starsand was trying hard to recognise some constellations .The night temperature wassomewhere below -20 degree and I had to keep my mind occupied . Started feelingnausea and I left my count at some number .
Thewind was still at its high and that seemed to come lashing my face from every possibledirection .I could sense ghostly death of air that stink of emptinesseverywhere . Only thing that kept my mood aloof was the sight of magnificentsnow draped mountains all around with its calm peaks lit up by moon in theclear dark midnight sky.
AfterABC it was the start of glacier point .The glacier seemed a flat base of icemass under night sky .There being a danger from crevasses we roped inourselves. Cautiously crossed the glacier area .The ascent started to take agradual steep angle .My stomach has a bad habit . It craves for food every timewhile in awkward-est of the places during whole of my trek till now. And it wasno exception now . It rumbled continuously, complaining on being empty . I remembered an ad : Hungry ? grab a pair of snickers .And so I pulled out a snickerbar from my reserve . The bar was rock solid , it felt like a piece of ironrod. I had to twist it hard. I then rolled it under my armpits so as to soften it andmake it biteable .Somehow I was able to take a bite but it got stuck mid way inmy throat . I had to then gulp down from my water reserve .Quite an effort toeat a piece of snicker . I didn’t eat thereafter and packed it again inside .
Aftersome gruesome scaling of ice wall after the glacier point ,at a 70 degreeinclination and enduring -20 degree temperature we reached the mid point ofglacier . Took rest on a rocky outcrop .This time no more snickers . From thereI saw a pair of headlight trudging few meters below us . The headlight nearedus .Those were the Scandinavian brother sister duo whom I meet at the Camp IIIcanteen area .Surprised with their speed. They bridged our distance quiet fastto even starting hours late then us .They thumbs up and moved on. I followed suitewith a grin.
Thenext hours or so was dead tiring with last hundred meters of ice wall was simplycruel. The degree of elevation was same70 degrees ,but there the dip in oxygen level mattered . I was literallypanting after taking few steps and stopping over for catching up breath .It seemedto me like a never ending climb .With one hand I was fixing up my iceaxe ,withthe other I was dragging myself up using the rope . Whole of my bodyweight was centredon my upper body trying to do a medley on those windy heights . Strain on bodywas too much to bear .The crampons on my shoes were making a good grip on theicy glacial wall . But still it was toomuch of effort. The wind was also strong , slapping my face from every possibledirection .My jacket seemed to be on the verge of getting ripped off under thisstrong winds.
Draggingand pulling myself I reached the shoulder part of the Stok. A relatively flatrocky part of the mountain where ice wall of glacier ends and so begins the phaseII of climbing till the summit .The time then was 5.30am.
TheSun was about to rise and we decided to rest till we see the Sunrise . TheScandinavian duo were past the shoulder region and were pushing themselvestowards summit . We meet another group , the Japanese .Their guide strike achord with my guide ,exchanging notes onthe technicality of the climb till the summit . Whereas I was sittingquietly looking far away towards themountains below and beyond . The soft Sun’s rays , the little bit of the feelof its warmth , the cold breeze and the sight of an eagle flying high above ata distant mountain is simply beyond my writing ability to describe what and howI was feeling at that time . Found myself lost in the heavenly sight placedbefore me .
TheSun has by now fully shown itself in the horizon .The elegant sunrise , what aindescribable beauty !! Its warmth filled in me a new vigour and excitement . Wenow pressed for the summit .The next hours were the longest and the mosttreacherous too . My full concentration was on the razor edged path. Everyminutes were full of tense moments. With every few steps I felt like my lungswill blow itself out in no time .My feet were slipping under the melting ice . WhenI took a occasional rest I felt utterly lifeless except that my throat burnedwhen I drew breath .I could scarcely go on. No despair, no happiness, noanxiety. I have not lost the mastery of my feelings, there are actually no morefeelings. I consisted only of will. After each few meters this too fizzles outin unending tiredness. Then I think nothing. I let myself fall, just lie there.For an indefinite time I remain completely irresolute. Then I make a few stepsagain. Maybe this was a test and I have to pass it .
Atthose heights my guide, all roped in was making the first move .We walked intandem .First my guide took few steps forward then gripped his ice axe on theicy floor ,when I take my steps forward .I crossed him over till I reach a safeplace to grip in my ice axe in the ice so that this time my guide can take hisnext few steps forward. We repeated this till we reached the ridge part ,shortof few 100fts below the summit . Myguide assured me the most difficult part is now behind .The part from ridge tosummit will be a bit difficult but will have to be endured . I do not have any freakingrecollection of the few hours as I was mechanically climbing in that unending80 deg slope of ice and snow. The weather was worsening and it was gettingdifficult to breath as I climbed higher.Now officially crossed 6000m mark but still 30-40 mins short from summit .Mymind was filled up with lots of thought like – hot shower bath, warmth of theSun, feasting with non veg food with a pint of beer and my homeward trip toPune. Those were the only consoling thoughts that came to my mind .
Thedifficult task was traversing the loose rocky part near the summit .Now I couldsee the prayer flag just few metres away . I took stops at many places , thistime not to catch my breath but to capture the beauty in my eyes. The monotonyof the mountains was broken by splashes of colour made by an anonymous artist.
Isummited at around 10.00 am . I was speechless. Not in awe of the moment. Notbecause I had summited this 6153 m plus peak. Not because I had done it afternine hours of relentless climbing in the hostile weather conditions. I wasspeechless because I was freakily shivering. Cold was too much and I was totallyexhausted. I was gasping for breath in this thin oxygen depleted air. I had asplitting headache. I could feel my nose bleeding. The Sun was in its fullglory then and a feeling of warmth filled my face . But the cold blizzardsupplemented the warmth of the Sun .
Wespent some fifteen minutes or so and clicked a lots of pics . While at summit Ifelt a vibration in my right pocket where I kept my mobile phone .At first Iscoffed off the thought of my phone vibrating .Then came another vibration . Itbaffled me . I pulled out my phone and looked at my phone. Totally catching meup as a surprise to see a SMS from my mother. Puzzled, how this piece oftechnology got to hook on a telephone network .Anyways, felt really happy onthis coincidence !! How come Mom comes to know everything and every time whenever I am inpain and feeling low . It brought me a tickle of tear in my eyes and a smile. I immediately tried ringing my Mom’s phone and I made the highest phone callever at 6153m/20480 fts in my life . All bodily pain evaporated in that thin momentof joy talking with my Mom and then to my Dad. Congratulatory voices swelled mylungs with a sense of achievement andfulfilment.
Themoments I spent there seemed to me the longest . I got intrigued with my ownthoughts .Honestly I do not know how my dreams became reality. But I alwaysbelieve I must have done something really cool in my last life to deserve this.For which I eternally feel rewarded .I have now achieved what I have longdreamt. With all the months of toiling hard under the sky ,conditioning mybody ,sweating in gym leading adisciplined life and following disciplined diet presented me this ultimatereward of my lifetime that will be cherished forever.
Day VI: The Return Ordeal:
Thereturn was full of monologue and exhaustive manoeuvres. I tried various ways tokeep my mind wandering off . I listened to songs , which irritated me after fewminutes . I sang out loud , my throat got coarse and I stopped . And so afterfew minutes I mind got blanked out after few minutes, with no thoughts, totallyempty .
Itwas already getting dark and I had some 1-2 hours of trekking back to Base campleft with me . I was simply longing to see the path before me to end . I wantedto descend and quickly rush back to the base camp. I was actually lookingforward to get inside my cramped tent and into the uncomfortable, but warmsleeping bag. And to my irritation it was not ending at all .I was literallycrawling and dragging myself and enduring my pain .
Thebase camp can be seen below . The blue tent is the central canteen.
Ireached base camp crossing the crevasses zone of glacier at around 7pm .Thus my 19hrs ofcontinuous trekking ordeal ended at Base camp . I was dead tied by then when Ientered the Base camp’s central canteen.The Camp manager came to me along with the others whom I didn’t recognise , congratulatedme . I was served a warm ginger tea which I was longing for . I do not rememberanything after that except I went to my tent and fainted. Next day I woke up ataround 9am .Rest is history .
Assome one said:-
“By climbing mountains we were not learning howbig we were. We were finding out how breakable, how weak and how full of fearwe are. You can only get this if you expose yourself to high danger. I havealways said that a mountain without danger is not a mountain.” This statement resonated my beliefs and passion about thesemajestic Himalayan ranges .