Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” — John Muir
I love going to the mountains. For me, it is akin to going home. I had the most amazing homecoming experience as I set out to climb Stok Kangri, a formidable snow-capped mountain, towering over Ladakh’s capital Leh, a couple of days ago. It is the highest peak (6153m) in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in Ladakh.
Located in Hemis National Park, 12 km southwest of the trailhead at 3,610 m (11,845 feet) in the village of Stok and 24 km from Leh. Stok Kangri peak provides the entire view of the Karakoram Range on the north and Zanskar Range on the south. And to say the least, it was an incredible trek from Leh to Stok village (11,800 feet), from there to Mankarmo (14,200 ft) and Stok Base Camp (16,300 ft) and then back to Leh on July 26, 2016.
Day 1: July 21, 2016
I started from Stok Village in the morning and after a few hours’ trek along the river, reached my destination Mankarmo, a little after sundown. The trek offered a glimpse of the cold desert and its pristine beauty. I was lucky to spot a pack of Himalayan blue sheep, Himalayan marmots, and some pretty chameleons on my way. It was a relatively easy trek along with the river. I was mesmerized by the sight of the river and the sound of water gurgling along. It soothed my soul to the core. After reaching Mankarmo, I stayed there for the night. I found a lot of comfort in the cold and the stars that twinkled above in the sky; they took away my weariness in a jiffy.
Day 2: July 22, 2016
It was a three-hour long hike to the Base Camp at Stok. On my way, I could see the tree line diminishing, and found shrubs in abundance. I met many Ladakhis and trekkers as I climbed, who took a minute or two to greet each other and me in the local language. Their greeting “Jhulley” filled me with warmth and renewed my spirits.
Day 3: July 23, 2016
It was a day to acclimatize to the weather. It was necessary as there would be a change in the climate and spending a day here was to help adjust to thin air with low oxygen levels and dropping temperatures in the higher altitudes. There were some beautiful peaks — Gulap Kangri, Parcha Kangri and many others — around the campsite. For me, the day translated into a hike to get a closer view of the Gulap Kangri. I climbed around 1,000 ft for it. I was all alone, and it was empowering. All that I had for company were wild horses grazing around, fluttering of the prayer flags, and the wind hugging me tight as I greeted the mountain. The positive vibes from the mountain made me stronger. I silently whispered to the peak to invite me someday to climb it.
I befriended two Czech girls — Gabriele and Hana — at the Base Camp, spent some time gazing at the beauty of the landscape and discussing the climb. We dispersed soon after as had to leave for the summit around midnight.
Day 4: July 24, 2016
It was a cold and clear night. Three of us left the Base Camp at 1 am. The girls returned from the Glacier point as they could not bear the cold. I choose to stay back there because I just wanted to see the sun rise over the mountains and take pictures of the beautiful Golden Moment when the sun crept in somewhere behind the peaks, spreading its rays like tentacles all over the Valley.The ardous hike was a small price for the splendid dawn. It was a sight to behold when the sun, stars and moon shone brightly in perfect harmony in the clear sky as the peak loomed large over the Valley and the glacier crackled in the background. It was pure bliss. I am so glad that I choose to spend some time in solitude. I marched to the Base Camp after feasting on nature’s beauty.
On my way back, I got to know that a guy had died there on July 18 after falling from the summit. He was all by himself. People had asked me to refrain from going solo as it was risky. But what’s adventure if everything is planned in advance. Sometimes it is good just to let go and learn things your way. There is a calculated amount of risk in all our endeavors, and mountaineering is no different. I stayed there for a while and prayed for the departed soul. I must say that I returned rejuvenated for the next day’s summit attempt.
During the day, the only thing to be satiated was my desire to climb that towering peak. The hunger pangs started troubling me as soon as I reached the Base Camp. I ate daal-bhaat, mixed veggie and tuna at Sonam’s Kitchen tent and had a lot of fluids — soup, tea, water, watermelon, etc. as intake of fluids hydrates and helps while climbing. It also helps acclimatize well.
Day 5: July 25, 2016
I started my climb post-midnight. It felt great and energetic. At around 5.30 am a beautiful sunrise greeted us. It was a beautiful sight and moments like these lure me to visit the mountains more frequently. The 75-80 degrees wall was tricky, and a fall could be fatal. Even a pebble can hit like a bullet. So I tried to ascend that phase as fast as I possibly could. After reaching the shoulder, I along with a few other climbers rested and had some water, juice, and chocolates for the final push to the top the peak. From there, it was another three-hour climb to the top.
The ridge was difficult, to say the least. It was a beautiful climb along it, though. Thankfully, the weather was pleasant. I reached the summit at 9 am. It was a sight to behold. The peak offered a fantastic view of the Karakoram ranges and some other prominent peaks such as K2, Mt. Kailash, etc. I set my eyes on Golab Kangri, a peak that I wish to climb sometime soon. After spending 20-25 minutes, I along with others started to descend. There was a kind of small hump on the summit, a 35-40 degrees slope. Descending is riskier than climbing. I got on the ridge, and we had to descend carefully and slowly because one slip could either take us on a short cut ride to Leh or the glacier. On my way back, I saw a mountain that had naturally shaped Buddha’s face on it. It was amusing. Not many people can see it. I felt blessed to have been able to spot it.
I reached the Glacier Point and changed my heavy climbing boots to the comfy lighter trekking ones. My one shoe weighed around 3 kg. It felt great and light as if my feet had suddenly got wings.
I started walking towards the Base Camp and found the climb down pretty easy.
bidding adieu to the peak and thanked it for allowing me to climb it, I felt a gush of calmness rushing inside.
Famished by the time I reached the Base Camp, I quickly gorged on some popcorns and papad. Tired and sleepy, I soon dozed off. Next day morning, I started my descent to reach Stok village. From there, I hitchhiked all the way to Leh in a truck.
I must say that in every walk with nature, I receive more than what I seek. The mountains heal, cure, motivate, strengthen and empower me. By being lost in them, I discover myself.
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