This is the Fourth 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 continue narrating the experience of my Stok Kangri Trek – about the wonderful trekking experience to the Stok Kangri base camp and the magical effects manifesting the reality I wanted to be in, while actually suffering from AMS.
A quick recap: if you have been reading my Leh-Ladakh stories, by now you know how I had planned to reach Leh (episode 1) and how I ended up reaching Leh (episode 2). On one hand, I was suffering from AMS and on the other, I was super excited about the Stok Kangri Trek. After 2 days of acclimatization in Leh (we effectively got only one), we started the trek (episode 3) on the 3rd day and trekked from Stok Village (3497 m) to Mankarmo via Chang Ma (3988 m)
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After scoring the lowest on the oximeter (again!) I was totally disappointed with myself and just kept hoping that my body would pull through and normalize the situation. However, it kept getting worse. And that was affecting the positive vibes I brought along with me to those lands. Which in turn was aggravating my condition. If not physically, then at least mentally I had to get better. And ever since that realization, being mentally strong became my first priority (more like a permanent guideline). That started to change things.
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Day 4: 8th July – The Inclination Rises
Mankarmo (4328 m) to Stok Kangri Base Camp (4968 m)
After having a pretty terrible (headache filled) night of my first camping experience ever, the next morning started off on a good note. We got Bed Bag-Tea (not Tea-bags, but Tea that got delivered to our sleeping bags). It felt revitalizing and immediately got us out of our lazy moods and vibrating tents (due to super-fast winds). Moments later we had a light breakfast and before we set foot on the trail to the base camp, Preet took out his best friend (oximeter; more like a sorting hat which decided who’s going to be on the bench for summit day). Apparently I had improved but only just by 1% and it was not good enough. I still had one day and focused on getting better mentally first. Imagine playing through a full tournament and then getting benched in the final for not having enough oxygen. Yeah! I did not want to feel that.
Inclination Rises, so does difficulty
The trail from Mankorma to the Stok Kangri Base Camp can be classified as moderately difficult and strenuous. From walking on ice/snow to crossing rivers that can push you down, it was really an adventure-filled journey. Amit was having some troubles but of course, Ishan was there to assist. Although he made a smart move by getting two trekking poles/walking sticks which increased his stability and support, the constant steep rises and falls in the topography got him fatigued. Honestly, he did a pretty good job as he was even carrying a hefty rucksack. It was the second day of walking in the mountains (where you feel the gravity all the time) and we all had gotten used to the strain and somehow adapted to pushing harder and still being comfortable. Compared to the previous day, we were supposed to be trekking for a lesser distance but ended up taking almost the same duration. The view along with the altitude fluctuated dramatically throughout. It showed how draining that trail was but also validated that we all had gotten better at trekking. It received appreciation from Preet when we reached the base camp along with the mules.
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Finally, I got my chance to set up a tent. While the helpers were unpacking the equipment I offered to help with setting up the camp. I was much obliged. I had a memorable experience helping them as they are very friendly folks and are always ready to share their stories and experiences. One only needs to ask. Maybe that little exchange made them happy as well because later that day they served us Pizza for dinner. And it was amazing. Just the fact that it was being prepared and served at such an altitude (with literally no appropriate equipment for pizzas) was mind-blowing in itself. The taste naturally got even better after this feeling. Post dinner we went on to rest. I had a slightly better night because though I had to leave my tent to walk around in the biting cold and sweeping winds, I was just happy the sky was not cloudy.
Day 5: 9th July – The Miracle
Stok Kangri Base Camp (4968 m)
Once we got done with our early morning bag-tea, Preet called us to the dining tent for breakfast. He briefed us on a few updates. He told us about this large group of avid trekkers (about 35 people – operated by IndiaHikes) who had joined us at the base camp a couple of hours after we reached the previous day. He had a few familiar faces among them (apparently more experienced trekkers than him) and since it was the season’s first trek, they would not only be accompanying us on the journey to the summit but also be leading it. Which did not fit right with his guidelines but it was my first trek ever so who was I to complain. At that point, I didn’t even know if Preet’s sorting hat would even find me eligible for the summit. I tried to focus on the briefing.
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Preet told us that since we were a larger group now, we would be starting our summit attempt around 10:30 P.M. that night as the snow near the summit would start melting (getting very soft) after 8 A.M. and an hour after that trekking on it would become immensely tedious and a little dangerous. Moreover, the trail to the summit and back (to the base camp) is a looooooong one and with more number of heads, the uncertainty in the amount of delays usually tend to rise.
Honestly, I had no issues with the time or the number of heads as long as I was eligible to trek with them.
Acclimatization trek at ~5000 m
We had a heavy breakfast (rich with carbs) and were asked to regroup in an hour for an acclimatization trek. I found myself a sitting spot near the flowing river. While listening to the sound of water hitting the rocks and pebbles I spiraled into thoughts of satisfactory self-condolence. Thoughts like it being okay if I got disqualified because at least I got till the base camp under such conditions and stuff. Deep down I knew I was not at all okay with it. I didn’t even know how to be fit mentally anymore. I was not sure about anything. The only thing that was for sure – the acclimatization trek would be my Judgement
Then Swiner came and joked about the weird things we joke about and that distracted me from my stupid thoughts. Probably that was his motive after all. Soon after that we hit the hour mark and went to our tents to put on our shoes. Preet gathered us around and we embarked on a small trek behind the base camp and I personally found the trail very exciting and fun.
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It was little gravelly hence more challenging yet not too steep hence decently comfortable. Once we reached the highest point of that hike l took some slow and deep breaths. The air was cold, thin but so fresh. (Maybe that is how air without pollution feels like.) Then Preet gathered us around a pile of rocks balancing over each other (signifying balance and harmony in nature; one can find them throughout the Himalayas). I knew it was time to face the truth. And to everyone’s surprise and muse, I scored 84%!! (just 1% less than Swiner.) And I was not even the lowest anymore. Somehow, I was getting better with altitude. Preet did a few more tests on me to be sure and every time I scored around the 85% mark. He could only reconcile with what happened by addressing it as a miracle and I was eligible again!
Somehow, magically I had manifested the reality I wanted to be in!
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”Roald Dahl
We hiked down our way to the base camp and Swiner showered all the AMS (acute mountain sickness) jokes on me (now that they won’t hurt me somehow). As I was going through that, it suddenly started raining. But that is how it is in the mountains. So we hoped the weather will “suddenly” change again at some point. However, we probably lacked the belief as it kept raining till evening. We rested/slept through most of it and at around 7 P.M. (about 3 hours before summit attempt) Preet called us for another briefing. He told us since it was raining at the base camp so most likely the weather on the trail would be pretty stormy and after a point, there would be a lot of snowfall which could hide/cover up all the existing trails (made by the solo trekkers that season). Hence we might have to carve our own way and that would take some extra time. So the bottom line was that if the weather/rain did not clear out, we would have to skip summit attempt on that day and utilize the buffer day for it. After all, that is what buffer days are for. However, if it rained on the buffer day as well then the summit was off for everyone. I was like – “Come on! I just got qualified man..”1]; ;