My dream trek to Stok Kangri
I am a 39-year-old IT Professional with BMI around 22. I did only one easy trek (Har Ki Dun) before choosing Stok kangri. This looked foolish even to myself but I strongly believed that I can do it. Like majority of the trekkers, it is the height of Stok Kangri I fell in love with.
I always believe in “Aim for the stars. At least you will land in the clouds”
I registered almost 4 months before the trek, so that I will get ample time to prepare.
There are two parts of preparation
It is important to clearly understand what I have signed up for and the conditions of the entire trek. Since I did not do at least a single very high altitude trek, lot of things are only left for my imagination and guessing.
To overcome this, I went through lot of online videos that are posted on youtube to understand the conditions at each of the camp site. One such video that greatly helped me was posted by Vishal Jhanji https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfNzSRBOzi0 . This video is like a bible for me. I saw this video more than 5 times sometimes to understand the weather conditions, sometimes to understand the people and their trekking background, what kind of people are dropping off in the middle, and the conditions at each of the camp site etc. I strongly recommend you to watch this video before the trek. I also watched a lot of other videos posted by others to understand their view points.
This helped me to strongly understand my goal and firmly register in my mind. I literally dreamt multiple times of Stok kangri peak in my dreams.
As soon as I landed in Leh airport I could recognize and showed the Stok kangri peak to my friend as I could clearly distinguish it from other peaks.
I clearly know by trekking experience and that is not enough. I am on far left of the line and what I am aiming is on the far right in terms of experience. Stok kangri is considered as the Everest in the trekking world with about 70% of Everest height. I want to use this 4 months’ time to the fullest for my preparation.
I went through the chart that is published on TTH site and used that as a guide line.
I started with daily 2 KM walk and 3 KM running finishing in around 40 mins. I did not skip even weekends or any holidays. I also started with 20 crunches per day and 20 sit ups per day.
At a steady pace, I increased it to 2 KM walk and 5 KM running (without stopping in the middle all at one stretch) and on weekends 2KM walk and 7 KM running with a break in between. I also did 4KM walk and 9 KM running sometimes with one break. I also increased my sit ups to 50 per day ( 5 sets X 10 each) and crunches to 30 per day.
I stay in an apartment where my flat is in 4th floor. Also, in my office I sit in second floor. I always used steps to climb in all these 4 months. That totals up to around 400 – 500 steps per day.
An easy excuse is not having time to do this, but that is when how strongly you want to do this trek comes in to picture. Remember, Stok Trek is completely different from other treks.
While I strongly wanted to reach the summit, I do not know what else I should do to know that I am well prepared. Unfortunately, there is no scale for this. So, I did whatever I could do to keep me fit.
Based on my previous trekking experience, I am aiming too high to reach Stok Kangri peak, just in my second trek which was difficult even for seasoned trekkers. So not to disappoint myself, I set two mile stones. First is reaching the base camp and second is reaching the summit.
The Big day of summit
The journey till be base camp was smooth and without any issues. The acclimatization treks at each of the camp sites were increasingly challenging and will help you prepare better for the trek. There were few people who returned at each of the camp site due to strong AMS signs. Till then I only read about AMS but did not see people experiencing AMS.
We reached the base camp at around 2 PM which is at a height of 16300 feet and there was strong wind at the base camp at that time. We setup our tents quickly, and due to wind, I sat inside the tent for around two hours. Reaching the basecamp is my first milestone and is an achievement for me and felt happy to reach my first milestone. Remember, Stok Kangri base camp is still higher than Roopkund and Goechala. The difference here is in those treks we reach the height and spend couple of hours and come down to lower height quickly. But in Stok Kangri, we must spend 3 days at the same height. There are high chances of getting AMS.
My happiness did not last long. By evening I started observing signs of AMS. I vomited once and skipped lunch and dinner that day. I also had to skip the acclimatization trek that day. I felt very sad that night as I have seen all the people who faced AMS had to go back, which means my trek to Stok Kangri may be coming to an end. I calmly slept that night.
I woke up at around 6 AM next day. That day is acclimatization day. I still could see the signs of AMS and could not even go near the kitchen tent for tea due to vomiting sensation.
I saw some trekkers coming back from the trek and talked to them about their experience (since this is still morning 6 AM, they are returning half way from the trek without reaching the summit). Most of them told me that it is due to extreme cold they had to return half way. I observed their dressing and they are fairly dressed in layers. Even I was also planning of dressing for the summit almost the same.
I again vomited at around 8 AM and this time I lost the hopes of reaching the summit. Suddenly all my 4 months of preparation started appearing before my eyes. I started praying to God calmly sitting inside the tent. Miraculously things started improving.
I went for a walk with my friends around the base camp and at around 10 AM my friend made me to do some exercises. I talked with the trek guide and some of the other seasoned trekkers in the group. I am still not hoping for the summit, but was thinking if I could reach the glacier or the ridge that would be still an achievement (where most of the trekkers anyways generally drop off). The trek guide suggested me that, you can try for it and if not feeling well, can always drop off and return. But based on my exhaustive research on net, it is suicidal to attempt to go up when you are already hit by AMS. I know it is ME who should take a call and all others can only suggest. I was literally double minded.
My 4 months’ dream on one side and taking risk of my life on other side.
I should rightly strike a balance between both of those and aptly take a call when to stop moving ahead and take a decision to return. I am not that seasoned enough to take that call at the right time.
I could manage to eat little bit (very little) of lunch that day. I could not sleep during the day and mostly roaming around.
In the evening, there was a demo by trek leader about various equipment that they use and how to wear crampons etc.
Finally, at around 6PM I took a decision to attempt for the summit or whatever max that I could go.
When you strongly believe in something, it will happen and all stars will align to make it happen.
Based on my discussion in the morning with the trekkers who were returning, I felt I should be well prepared for the cold. I was wearing 6 layers on the top and 4 layers in the bottom. Two layers of socks. Two layers of Gloves. Carrying 750 ml of normal water and 750 ml with glucose. Since there are chances that water may freeze, I put the water bottle inside another pair of socks which may be useful if required.
Remember, I hardly ate anything since almost a day and half by then.
We started our journey to summit at around 11PM. Within around 45 mins to 1 hr we reached the peak next to the base camp. There are couple of guys who returned to the base camp from there. I do not remember anything after that, apart from walking slowly and steadily. I wore crampons at around 1 AM and crossed the glacier. At around 3 AM, my friend who is also a seasoned trekker, has decided to go back along with couple of other group members. Things like this will highly motivate people to drop off as they will be tired by then and easy to take a decision to go back.
Here are few obstacles that you should be better prepared to reach the summit.
- Extreme Cold
- Walking in the dark, snow and Ice
- Stamina – Physical fitness
I put them in the descending order of difficultly that I feel. Observe that I put physical strength and stamina at the last. At the age of 39, and leading a techie life style and without eating for a day and half I feel stamina has every less role to play.
Your love for the summit only can motivate you and nothing else.
I did not feel tool cold as I probably wearing enough layers, but my toes started to go numb at around 3:30 AM. One of the guide suggested me to hit the toe hard with the trekking pole occasionally till the sun rise and things will be alright after that. At around 4:30 AM, we reached the summit. My co trekkers were huddled together due to cold and waiting for the sun rise. At around 5 AM we saw the beautiful sunrise. While I want to capture those pictures in my phone, I did not dare to take out my gloves to capture the pictures. After the sunrise, my toes started feeling better.
At around 5:30 AM, we are securely tied to a rope and started our journey to the summit. One person was breathing heavily and decided to stop at the ridge and wait for us to return. The trek on the ridge is extremely stressful and lack of oxygen started to hit us. But I never realized it is due to lack of oxygen and I do not remember how I was breathing that time. Without my knowledge, my soul already reached the summit and now I should reach the summit to get it back. At Around 8AM we reached the summit.
I cannot explain my feeling in words and I calmly sat and recalled all the ups and downs I went through in last two days and I reached the summit because of my will power and a miraculous hidden helping hand from the God.
I removed my gloves, cap and took couple of snaps and felt like literally on top of the world. Guide explained couple of peaks that are visible from there including K2, but I stopped listening anything and my body is only enjoying the beautiful view around the summit.
While returning to the base camp, I saw the path that I covered during the dark night, which was scary. I could not believe that is the path that I covered in the night. I reached the base camp at around 1 PM.
I did not eat anything in between till I return to the base camp for about 14 hrs. I just managed with 1.5 liters of water.
Trekking is exploring your inner strength and I realized that it is true.