7/18/2009 to 7/24/2009 | India , Ladakh

Rumste to Tso Moriri

After a week of rest in Leh, following the departure of Karin and Jeff, I returned to the trail. This time would be a new experience for me, as I would be accompanying a trekking group organized by my friend Mohan. I was going in the capacity of an officially unofficial guide, despite having never done the trek from Rumste to Tso Moriri. It was a trek I had heard good things about, and I was anxious to hike the route. The trail passes through the barren region known as the Rapsu, there is only one village along this route, at Tso Kar. It definitely made things easier logistically accompanying a group, which brought with it the luxuries prepared meals and pack horses to carry some of my gear.

The group consisted of a brother and sister from Poland on a Ladakhi summer vacation, a guy from Minneapolis who had also be traveling for a while, and a Czech guy who had been working in Afghanistan for an NGO. The Polish duo had been on another trek with Mohan and had earned the reputation as “difficult” for making numerous complaints, Raj one of the cook/ guides told them I was the guide making my unofficial status more or less official.

Even though he had been on another trek the previous week, the Polish guy was having a very hard time with the altitude. The whole trek from Rumtse to Tso Moriri is above 4200 m (~13,800 ft). On the first night of the trek he was displaying the classic symptoms of AMS, a severe headache and a lack of appetite, despite only having done a very gradual half day hike from Rumtse to the base of the first pass. On the second day, as we were heading up the first pass, he was really slow falling way behind the rest of the group and clearly struggling. This was the easy part and I was worried he was going to have more problems later on. I told his sister while we waited for him that it was going to get much harder and that if he got worse tomorrow night it would be a very big problem, since at that point we would be camped in between two high passes where the only option would be to evacuate him by horse and we didn’t have any horses to spare. It could turn into a very serious problem if he continued. I volunteered to take him back to Rumtse where he could get transport back to Leh and then catch up with the group. I explained the situation to the Polish guy, that trek was going to get much tougher than this, and the seriousness of the situation (even life-threatening) he could be in, if he chose to continue. I left the final decision up to him, realizing how hard it must be to turn back especially when you’ve spent $300 to do this trek, not including traveling all the way to Ladakh. He had the unfortunate luck of being one of those people who despite being in tremendous shape just couldn’t handle the altitude. In fact, I learned he was going to be attending a school in Connecticut next fall on a swimming scholarship so no doubt he was in excellent physical condition, he just couldn’t handle the altitude. He decided to turn back, to my relief, a very good decision. He would not have made it through the trek so to continue would just have been to delay the inevitable. I unloaded my tent, sleeping bag, and some dried food from the horses and took him back to Rumtse. It took him over 4 hours to get down, an extremely slow pace. By contrast it took me a little over 2 to return from Rumtse (uphill), to the campsite we had stayed the previous night after I had dropped him off. I reached the campsite a little after 5:00 pm, but I didn’t have the strength to continue over the pass, so I camped there for the second night this time by myself. I woke before 5:00 am, and after packing up my gear, I got on the trail a little after five. There were two passes, each just under 5000 m, to cross before I would reach campsite where the rest of the group had stayed the previous night. It was a beautiful early morning walk, the weather was perfect and the views were impressive. I walked in complete solitude, surrounded only by expansive views over the rolling barren terrain of the Rupsu. Before I had left to take the polish guy down, I had asked how long it took the local horsemen to do the next stretch of the trail unloaded when returning back to Rumtse, figuring that would give me a lower bound on how long it would take me. I was told 4 hours. I made it in just under 4 including a 20 minute detour down the wrong valley when I momentarily lost the trail. I arrived at the next campsite just in time to put my tent, and extra supplies back on the horse. They had just finished packing up camp, it was about 9:00 am. I was very grateful to lose the extra weight before the next pass, and I caught up to the rest of the group (who had left a half hour earlier) just after the 4875 m Shibuk La, my third of the day. I was thankful it was my last pass of the day. I then walked at a relaxing “group pace” with the others down to the lake of Tso Kar the location of our third night’s camp.

The following day was a short one, giving us time to explore Tso Kar as we walked to the eastern side of the lake. I appreciated the short flat walk which gave my legs a chance to recover from the previous long two days of hiking. The following day was also a short day, I took the opportunity to detour up a nearby peak marked 5999 m (~19,680 ft) on my map. I figured as long as I was standing I could count it as another 6000 m peak under my belt. While the lower section of the mountain was easier than I had expected, the upper stretch was tougher. It was all steep loose scree, a mixture of sand and loose rock which made it like climbing a 6000 m sand dune. With each step up I would slide a half a step back. I seemed to get no closer to the top despite its apparent proximity. I finally decided to traverse across the mountain to its steepest face, which was at least solid rock, mercifully allowing me to escape the scree. I rock climbed my way the last 50 feet or so to the top. The view was great, but unfortunately the weather had grown a bit cloudy during my climb. The distant white peaks merged with the white clouds of the sky, ensuring photographs wouldn’t do justice to the expanse of the view. Three hours up and about an hour down, it was a rewarding 4 hour detour (oh yeah, no one else in the group opted to join this crazed altitude junky on this 6000 m jaunt). I strolled into camp in the late afternoon.

Unfortunately the weather was a bit cloudy for the last two days of the trek to Korzok, on the banks of Tso Moriri. Each day we crossed a high pass, a ~5200 m on the first day, and 5400 m on the last day of the trek. The 5200 m Kyamayuri La, view wise, was rather disappointing. The very gradual pass lacked any breathtaking views; nevertheless, I was not deterred and climbed up onto the plateau to the southwest of the pass which greatly improved my vantage point. I even caught a glimpse of a fox, rummaging around the plateau, but he disappeared before I could lift my camera. From the Kyamayuri La, the trail descends into a particularly beautiful valley inhabited by nomads and backed by snow covered peaks. A further pass the Kartse La, nearly, if not as high as the Kyamayuri La, brought us to the our final camp at the base of the 5400 m (~17,700 ft) Yalung Nyau La. What the Kyamayuri La lacked in views the Yalung Nyau La delivered. Surrounded by the glaciated peaks of the Mentok Range the pass offers a spectacular view down towards the blue waters of Tso Moriri. The view is improved further by hiking up the ridge to the south for a nearly unobstructed view of the entire lake below. I had initially planned on climbing one of the several relatively easy 6000 m peaks in the vicinity of the pass, but since the weather was far from optimal I decided not to make an attempt, and continued with the others down to Korzok.

Note: For those planning to undertake this trek, altitudes, pass names and spellings seem to vary widely from map to map, I used the information on the Sonam Tsetan Trekking Map of Ladakh for this write up, peak altitudes were taken from the Leoman series map.

4 comments to Rumste to Tso Moriri

  • Barry

    Hi Micah

    Firstly great blog/site…My girlfriend and I are hoping to do this trek (Rumste to Korzok

    I don”t know if you will be able to help but it would be awesome if you could.

    We have all our equipment to do this solo but one thing we are unsure about is getting to Rumste without relying on a organised tour. Is there regular public buses going to Rumste from Leh that we can take? At the other end once again I understand there are jeeps leaving Korzok, how often and cost is the question really? Sadly the Bus leaving on those 3 dates don’t fit our time frame.

    Side issue- Did you notice if dried camping food was available in stores around Leh?

    Alternatively could you advise another trek around 4-7days long that you regard as being as beautiful and at an intermediate level?

    Thank you for your time and efforts on these travel tips…you have saved us so many headaches.


  • Hi Barry,

    There are regular buses and jeeps to Rumtse that is on the main road to Manali so plenty of transportation, go down to the bus station and inquire when you get into Leh for exact timings. Getting back from Korzok can be a bit more problematic if it is not a bus day, unless things have changed. There are probably some shared jeeps that go into Leh but they may be booked up in advance by locals. You can also try to hitch a ride back with some other tourists but often the drivers and agencies are not that open to picking up extra riders even if the tourists are fine with it. Basically I’d just start asking locals tourists and anyone with a vehicle and to get a ride back. Not sure what it would cost you these days.

    You can find lots of dried fruits and nuts in Leh, also noodles, pasta, and soups. In a few shops you may be able to find some meals that you put in hot water to heat up.

    Other treks: obviously Markha Valley would fit into your time frame, I know its supposedly the most popular trail in Ladakh but it is nice and no where near as crowded as treks in Nepal. And everyone goes the same direction so people spread out and you may not see many people even if there are a few other groups hiking at the same time.

    With the expanding road you could probably get to Padum in 7 days, which also would be a nice trek. Starting in Hanupatta or as close to Photoskar as you can get.

    have a great trip,

  • Sunil

    My wife and i are thinking of doing this trek in mid may. What would the weather be like at that time?

  • Hi Sunil,

    Sorry for the delay I was off traveling. Mid may is pretty early for the trekking season in Ladakh, and this trek is pretty high, so the main worry would be deep snow on the passes. But its also a pretty arid region so the snow may not bee too bad depending on the how much snow Ladakh ends up getting this winter. I may better to inquire with someone who is in Ladakh in early May to see what the current conditions are.

    good luck,

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>