This is the Third Chapter of a series of posts about ‘how I got Leh’d’. In this series, I have covered everything related to my Stok Kangri Trek Expedition. Just to let you know that Stok Kangri is the highest trek-able peak in India. In a series of articles, I have covered EVERY SINGLE ASPECT from planning to mapping to packing your rucksack and obviously the entire trekking experience.
In this chapter, I start narrating the experience of my Stok Kangri Trek, starting from Leh.
A quick recap: if you have been reading my Leh-Ladakh stories, by now you know how I had planned to reach Leh and how I ended up reaching Leh. On one hand, I was suffering from AMS and on the other, I was super excited about the Stok Kangri Trek.
Day 1: 5th July – The Guest House
Leh (altitude – 3524 m)
After regrouping once Swiner and I finished eating, Preet introduced us to a small device, a Pulse Oximeter, which became an integral part of our expedition. We all got our scores and I made it to the Book of Concerns. He requested me to keep drinking water and to take rest most of the next day as my body needed to acclimatize to the altitude. What I needed more than water or rest was OXYGEN – which had been taken for granted. Scoring only a 54% on the oximeter (while the average was about 80%, including mine), I was losing oxygen to my life processes at a faster rate than I was absorbing it from the thin atmosphere around me. It was very disappointing. I wanted to get better as soon as possible because the higher I would have gone the greater my condition would have aggravated.
Just when I was spiraling in such thoughts, Preet showed us the peak. Stok Kangri. Standing tall and prominent, visible even in the faint moon and starlit night, the mountain’s aura was casting some charm on me. I could feel the determination to get better boiling in me just by the heat of adrenaline gushing through my blood vessels. I looked around and everyone was still looking. Even Preet. We all gazed at that view for quite some time (mostly in awe).
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Moment of truth: Stok Kangri Trek – the ITINERARY
Coming back to the room (as Preet suggested me to get as much rest as possible), the first thing I could think of was the trek itinerary. I could not wait anymore! Before going to sleep just wanted to go through it again solely for expectation settings (though I was very tired and out of oxygen).
- Day 1 – Arrival at Leh and Acclimatisation
- Day 2 – Acclimatisation and Exploration of Leh
- Day 3 – Drive to Stok Village and Trek to Mankorma (14,200 ft.) via Chang Ma (13,087 ft.)
- Day 4 – Mankorma (14,200 ft.) to Stok Kangri Trek base-camp (16,300 ft.)
- Day 5 – Rest day + training day
- Day 6 – Base Camp (16,300 ft.) to Stok Kangri (20,080 ft.) back to Base Camp (Summit Day)
- Day 7 – Buffer Day (in case of difficulties)
- Day 8 – Base camp to Leh
- Day 9 – Departure from Leh
Well, by now, you all might know how difficult the first point on that itinerary was for us (catch up – How I actually got Leh’d). And after being there for just a few hours, it was already evident how much more difficult the last point would be. Even though we had plans of delaying it; it was after all, inevitable, like Thanos. 😀
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Day 2: 6th July – The Barren Beauty
Leh Palace (altitude – 5358 m)
Next morning I woke up with a slightly aggravated headache but missing out on almost all of the first day of the itinerary, I did not want to waste the second day just resting in the guest house. Gladly Preet was not the babysitter kind. So I grabbed my cameras, sunglasses, waist pouch, wallet and a full bottle of water. With Swiner (who was ready to grab me if needed), I went on our “acclimatization trip” around the beautiful town. I already had a list of places I wanted to visit but definitely on my own terms (but suffering from AMS not being one of them). Obviously, Leh Palace was one of the top priorities.
We walked through the main market(which has shops for all kinds of needs), asked a few locals (lesser in number than tourists). After a point, the path to Leh Palace got clearly marked by direction boards. Just after exiting the hustle-bustle of the market the ancient ruin was right in front of our eyes, just at a higher altitude. Magnificent as it is, the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery perched on top of the mountain above it makes everything much more mystical. So, solely for “acclimatization” purposes, we decided to trek to the monastery while visiting the palace on our way. I kept drinking water as we made our climb through the rocky terrain. The adventurous journey upwards aided by raw instincts and pure intention filled me with positive vibes and that coupled with the gorgeously stunning scenes manifested bliss within me. I could feel my headache subsiding.
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An Architectural Wonder
The Leh Palace is indeed an architectural wonder which signifies the true power of human will. Further up, the serene atmosphere inside the small segmented prayer rooms of the monastery and the pristine view of the beautiful barren boundaryless landscapes outside of it took our breath away (whatever was left of it). Yet we were comfortable. Rather, gazing into the Stok Ranges and spotting the mighty Stok Kangri took all my discomfort away. All I could think of was that if everything went as planned then in a few days I would be on top of that summit (basically 6153 meters or 20,100 feet above sea level plus 6 feet, which is my height). After taking some satisfactory digital pictures and infinite mental pictures, at some point in time, we decided to head back. On the backside of the monastery we found a classic rock paved zig-zag staircase leading a long way down to some street behind the market area. Treating it as a gift from the universe we undoubtedly took it and very comfortably reached the bottom while I sipped through the contents of my water bottle.
Leh’s Lovely Locals
Leh is a real treat for the traveling kind and the locals genuinely enjoy hosting them. Bouquet of Bike rentals, all kinds of tour operators, all genres of rest houses, all kinds of dishes and cuisines from around the world and a variety of souvenirs (and colorful souvenir shops) to choose from making it one of a kind especially at such altitudes. If you are sweet and kind to the locals/business owners you are most likely to get a discount (except on food or MRP of course).
Having observed all that while walking around the market, we settled at an Italian Restaurant to finally respond to the numerous missed calls from “hunger”. I naturally refilled my bottle and after having a considerably late lunch, we returned to the guest house once we were done exploring on foot. The entire group was chilling in the garden and since we all reunited, Preet decided to do another oxygen saturation level check. It felt exactly like a surprise test. This one I did not want to fail. Turned out the result was more surprising than the test itself. Somehow Swiner’s score went down but I scored 67% which was a huge improvement and it got well appreciated. I guess that qualified me for then because soon after Preet made us read, fill and sign the waiver form where we accepted that the trek operator was not to be blamed in case of any mishap; even loss of life. Which is, logically acceptable, but also an in your face – “Don’t do anything stupid!”. Which in my case was that shower I took in Kullu. My nose still hadn’t stopped running and that evening when I blew it, some blood came along. Though I realized stuff had gotten serious I decided to stay calm and kept quiet about it. Pretty much spent the rest of the evening and night resting and drinking water
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Day 3: 7th July – The Fellowship
Stok Village (3497 m) to Mankarmo via Chang Ma (3988 m)
A stunningly beautiful early morning drive to the Stok Village (starting point of the expedition) took us to the foothills of the Stok Ranges where we assembled with our entire team/group for the first time. And the sight was all just males and mules(did not check if they were females though).
LEFT to RIGHT: Swiner (24, Loves physical challenges), Ishan (18, Worried about his father, Amit), Cook (who has saved 3 lives while at Everest Duty), Amit (60, Inspiration personified), Helper 1, Ashutosh (31, Avid Trekker), Helper 2 (they help with cooking mostly, sometimes saving lives not just by providing food), Vivek (24, Semi-avid Trekker), Porter (to control the mules), Arnab (Me, 21, low on oxygen but high on spirit) and the Mules.
Preet (Trek/Group Leader) was behind the camera!
While Nawang (a local and our Trek guide) got us acquainted with the local crew from Renok Adventures, Preet submitted the required documents at the check post and then our trek turned expedition commenced (at around 9 A.M.). The mules(along with the porter, cook, and helpers) got a little head start as the tents/fire had to be set up before we reached the campsite. [I still think we could have used that head start.] Then Preet introduced us to a few basic guidelines on “how to walk and breathe while trekking” and “how to maintain order while trekking in a group” post which I set forth on the first trek of my life. Apparently it was also the first group trek to Stok Kangri that year.
You and your problems are nothing. It’s not about YOU.
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Stok Kangri Trek – love at first step
Just after taking a few steps into the trail it felt like stepping into one of those crazy mountain scenes from the movie – Lord of the Rings. I was getting lost in the vast, barren yet astonishing scapes and already found telling myself – “All the struggle, even the ones to come, all of it, is worth it.” And to date, I stand by those words. I might do it all over again the same way and not regret it a bit. Such was the feeling of walking on the rugged terrain, following a narrow stream (the Stok river), getting immersed in the views around and forgetting everything else (sometimes even drinking water). Thankfully someone remembered about the breakfast that was packed for us (in separate containers for each) and then while resting on a few huge rocks along the river bed and completely surrounded by mountains we consumed some energy.
Words or photographs would always fall short to describe what I was feeling. One needs to experience it first hand to understand. Subconsciously following Preet’s guidelines and consciously getting my mind blown out of proportions, we reached Chang Ma. It is a beautiful campsite on an elevated surface just above the Stok river, but we had no plans of camping there. Just like a couple of times on the way, we halted there to catch up with our physical senses. One should not rest a lot while trekking. It breaks the momentum and as the muscles start to relax, the body starts feeling the fatigue (resulting in some agony). To avoid that we kept going. I kept drinking water and my nose was still mucusy but at least there was no sign of any blood.
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Ups and Downs
The trail until Chang Ma was like a cosine curve for quite some time. After the first downward slope, it kept rising and falling between steep hills where we even found some ice/snow. However, the trail from Chang Ma until Mankorma was fairly easy to walk on with just leveled out traverses along the Stok river which flows through a narrow valley. The rock formations on the mountains on the opposite side made me just stare at them and awestruck to the point as if I had been petrified while my mouth was still open. It is probably the most beautiful trail in Ladakh. One can easily validate Ladakh’s nickname here – The Cold Desert.
Taking more time than what was expected (probably because at one point we had to cross the cold and gushing river barefoot and while holding hands) we reached Mankorma to find that our campsite (tents for sleeping, kitchen, dining, staff) had already been set up and we just fell inside our tents like carcasses. Just as we got comfortable and finished deciding who was taking which side, we got called for tea at the dining area/tent. While Preet was reminiscing on everyone’s first-day experience, that warm tea in the cold weather was fixing my mucus condition. I asked for a refill and once I got done with it, Preet took out the oximeter. I was feeling better but somehow the device showed my score as 67% which was alarming for everyone and Preet said that I was a concern again. If I did not pull through by training day at the base camp then he might have to ask me to skip summit day (apparently he did not believe in Diamox as well).
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So we ungrouped on that note and until dinner (which we had quite early compared to city timings) I walked around the campsite just drinking water, breathing and overthinking. I thought I was getting better and that short-lived feeling made it more disappointing. Maybe the oximeter had a problem with me. Although I stopped blaming it when at night I had to leave my tent and walk around the campsite so as to ease my terrible headache which was not letting me sleep. It was chilling and the area was covered by clouds overhead so I was not even able to gaze at the starry sky as well. Obviously I did not want to disturb the others as they all needed their rest. After a fruitless half an hour of walking around I went back to my tent and while thinking about what Preet said I somehow slept off in the process of worrying helplessly. All I could do was to keep drinking water and have faith in my body (which was kind of dwindling).
This story of my Stok Kangri trek continues… Read the next chapter to find out what happens when the inclination further rises to 16,300 feet (4,968 m) at the Stok Kangri base-camp.
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