There are several 6000 m peaks within easy striking range of Korzok. But when it came down to deciding which peak I would attempt first there was really no question, I had my sights set squarely on 6622 m (21,725 ft) Chhamser Kangri (also spelled Chamser Kangri). After all, I couldn’t continue to share the title of highest climbing member of my family with my little sister and brother-in-law. Both of whom had recently accompanied me up 6153 m (20,085 ft) Stok Kangri, to date the highest mountain I had climbed.
Chhamser Kangri rises from the eastern shore of Tso Moriri opposite the village of Korzok. Although a very high mountain, it’s the third highest peak in Ladakh if you exclude Zanskar and the Karakorum Range, Chhamser Kangri requires little in the way technical mountaineering skills to reach the summit. The primary barrier is the thin air surrounding this lofty peak. With now two 6000 m peaks (ok well one 5999 m) under by belt in the last few weeks I felt confident I could mange the altitude. Both physically and acclimatization-wise, I was in as good a shape as I could hope to undertake the peak.
From the northern end of the lake I set off for the eastern shore towards the base of my objective. More of a concern to me than the altitude was finding sources of water en-route. The area surrounding Tso Morriri is a barren desert with the waters of the lake itself saline and undrinkable. My first objective was a campsite called Kurchyu, a patch of green grass visible across the lake from Korzok, and most importantly a source of fresh water. I made way across the terrain reaching Kurchyu in about 3-4 hours.
At Kurchyu, I met a group of Bengalis hiking with an all-in-one cook/guide/horseman. The friendly Bengalis invited me to have a dinner of rice and vegetables with them, an offer I gratefully accepted, preferring a hot meal over the dry food I had brought with me. They were all very experienced mountaineers and trekkers. The oldest was 63 and had been climbing mountains and trekking the Himalayas for 40 years. It was somewhat humorous in retrospect how we were both very vague about our intentions. I knew that you technically needed a permit to climb Chhamser Kangri, which I didn’t bother to get, so I didn’t really want to let on my objective preferring instead to just say I was hiking around the lake, enjoying the scenery. It would later turn out that they had the same intentions that I did.
The next day I hiked up to what would be my base camp. There were no trails but fortunately the barren train was rather easy to navigate and I hiked over successive ridges and plateaus until I finally found myself on a small plateau directly beneath the peak of Chhamser Kangri. It was around 6000 m just below 20,000 ft, a very high location to camp, especially when I was carrying all my food and gear up there. My previous hikes above 6000 m I had only been carry a day pack of supplies; at this altitude the added weight increases the difficulty exponentially. It was a beautiful place to camp with a series of small glacier lakes resting at the foot of Chhamser Kanngri and sweeping views Tso Moriri in the distance below. After exploring the area to scout possible routes to the summit I settled in for the night. That night I got mild altitude headache a very rare occurrence for me. It went away by morning, but that just shows how high it was.
I was planning on making my summit attempt in the morning but the weather was atrocious, it had snowed during the night and continued into the morning. I road out most of the morning in my tent, snuggly tucked into my sleeping bag, listening to the snow, hail, rain, and sometimes all three at once, pelt the outside of my tent. The snow melted quickly, and by the afternoon the weather had improved to the point that I decided to climb the ridge/peak near my camp which would give me a chance to check out my perspective route. Even though it is little more than a hill, it’s over 20,000 ft so I figure I can add it to my list of 20,000 ft peaks conquered. While enjoying the view, I noticed the Bengalis setting up camp not too far from where I was camped and I went over to say hi. Not by coincidence, I timed my visit around dinner time with hopes of bumming another free hot meal. The friendly Bengalis obliged. That night it came out that we were both planning on to do the same thing, climb Chhamser Kangri, but via different routes. They were going to try a route straight up the steep scree (loose rock and sand) to the peak. I had chosen to attempt the summit via a more gradual route along the snow and rock covered ridges, preferring to avoid the steep scree.
The next morning I was optimistic about the weather and I started out around 5am (sunrise). There were low clouds over the lake but the skies looked pretty clear. I climbed up the ridge I had climbed the previous day enjoying the view out over the sea of clouds below. Islands of glaciated peaks poked through the clouds catching the first rays of the coming day. But unfortunately this spectacular view did not last, and the clouds rose from the valley floors smothered the peaks in a veil of white. It was actually not that difficult a climb, hard yes, especially because of the thin air, I used the crampons I had brought, but I probably could have gotten by without them, though it was easier with them. It took me about 4 hours to reach the summit, in that time the weather had deteriorated further and I could see nothing but white. In fact it was difficult to even find the summit. The white clouds blended perfectly with the white snow making the horizon very difficult to distinguish. I finally noticed a cairn (stone stack) through the whiteness and made my way for the marker assuming it must be the summit. My assumption was correct; I had reached the summit of 6622 m (21,725 ft) Chhamser Kangri. Unfortunately I might as well been at sea level on a foggy June morning back in California. I waited for a half hour in the whiteness excited by my accomplishment but disappointed by the weather. Then the clouds around the peak lifted and I at least got views of the terrain in the immediate vicinity if not the expansive views I had hoped for. I only got tantalizing glimpses of what the full view must have been like, but at least I had seen something. I was satisfied. I stayed a the summit for two hours hoping for better weather but eventually gave up and headed down. As I was heading down I could see the Bengalis heading up the steep scree slope to the peak. I would later see them again in Leh and found out they had also made it to the top, but by the time they got there the weather was even less favorable.
I got back to camp, ate, packed up, and headed down. In a hurry to get down I decided to try following the small stream that descended from plateau where I had camped. In retrospect it was a poor decision. While it was unquestionably shorter the reduced time did not just justify the increased stress and concentration required to navigate the seep sided ravine with little more than the occasional goat trail at best to follow. The loose ground made traversing the increasingly steep-sided gorge extremely nerve wrecking, where any failure in concentration which resulted in a miss step could lead to serious injury. I was relieved when I finally made it out of the ravine, to the safety of the flat shores of Tso Moriri, without incident. After one final night, camping on the northern edge of the lake, I returned back to Korzok the next morning and spent the day gorging myself on momos and relaxing in my bed in a local home-stay. I lay in bed, still amazed that I had just soloed a mountain higher than anything on all but two continents, 21,725 feet 6622 m, that’s pretty high.
For more on climbing Chhamser Kangri and other peaks see my Ladakh Trekking Guide
And detailed information on the climb here