7/28/2008 to 7/29/2008 | India , Ladakh

Stok Kangri: soloing a six-thousand-er

legacy gallery with captions

Stok Kangri rises like a white sail above the Indus valley opposite Leh.  Looking up at the snow covered peak watching the last rays of the setting sun bathe the white massif in a golden glow, I found it hard to believe I had stood that morning watching the sunrise in silent serenity from its lofty Summit.   Now standing far below back in Leh, it seemed surreal, dreamlike, I would have questioned reality of that moment atop that distant point had my body not felt the very real wear of my 2 day round trip to the summit.

I had returned from my nine day track traverse of the Stok range and “accidental” 6000 m climb well acclimatized to the high altitude of Ladakh.  My friend Mon, from Sikkim, who was working as a travel agent in Ladakh for the season had a group who was going to climb Stok Kangri, he loaned me a pair of crampons (I had learned my lesson about glaciers and it was best to be prepared) and a tent and told me I could meet up with his group at the base camp and follow them up to the summit of Stok Kangri.  It took me a just 4 hours to hike from the village of Stoke to the base camp at 5000 m despite the weight of the tent which I was not used to carrying.  I pitched my tent and waited for the early morning exodus for the summit.  There were probably about 30 or so people attempting the summit that day all of them in guided groups, and many dressed in the latest mountaineering gear looking like a North Face sponsored Everest expedition, ice axes, ropes, and shiny new crampons.  I was out fitted in my fleece, rain jacket, rain pants, a stocking cap, gloves, my borrowed crampons and a trekking pole.  With no sleeping pad the rocky ground beneath the tent poked and prodded me out of my slumber with the slightest of movement.  I arose to the sound of movement outside my tent shortly before 1:30 am.  I could see at least one group had all ready started up the mountain as little chain of head lamps snaked its way up the switchbacks leading away from base camp towards the summit.  My friend’s group was still getting ready but large French group was about to start, not wanting to get stuck behind them inching my way to the summit, I decided to start and follow the group I could see in the distance.  It wasn’t long before I caught up and passed that group but then I saw a few more head lamps flickering in the distance, and I figured with the map I had and the distant group I could keep heading up.  The most difficult part in finding the way was deciding when to cross the glacier that ran across the valley floor separating the base camp side from the summit side.  The map I had confused me, because it showed a different route from the one the group in front of me had taken, and there were still carrins marking the path along the side of the glacier even though the map showed an earlier crossing point.  I decided to approximate the route of the group in front of me.  Crossing the glacier turned out to be fairly straight forward with only a few small crevasses to step over.  On the opposite side was a seep snow bank, it would have also been possible to follow a route up the rocks but since I had crampons I chose the snow.  As the slope got steeper I looked for a viable path over to ridge which I knew I was supposed to follow to the summit.  The group ahead of me was now closer between me and the ridge resting on a rock I passed them making my way up to the ridge.  There was some exposure to the left side where the mountain dropped off abruptly thousands of feet to the canyons and rivers below, but with exception of a few rocky sections along the ridge the climb was pretty straight forward, and my lungs felt surprisingly good despite the high altitude and I was able to make steady if slow progress towards the summit.  I was maybe 20 feet below the summit when the sun rose over the distant mountains of Tibet, illuminating the Karakorum Range stretching into Pakistan to the northwest.  It was amazing, alone, in silence, the rays of the rising sun dancing across the peaks and the borders created not by nature but by men.  From here there were now borders no Tibet, no China, no India, no Indian Kashmir, and no Pakistan Kashmir, there was only the long chain of mountains connected to each other by icy passes and barren valleys stretching for as far as the eye could seen, continuing there steady march skywards inch by inch year by year. Oblivious and unconcerned with the petty squabbles of the people who lay claim to their slopes, whose wars and battles are over things they only possessed within the confines of human minds.  These mighty mountains were here long before people and their wars and will be here long after the last human has died.  I stood alone atop the mountain feeling the insignificance of my own self amidst the geologic power of time.  It was a stunning view with the clouds, bending and shaping the light like a sky dwelling sculpture into a spectacular masterpiece of light, shadow, rock, and ice.  I was alone on top of the mountain at 6123 m (20,084 ft)  for an amazing 20 minutes watching the sunrise with only the sounds of my camera’s shutter, before the couple of Swiss guys and there Ladakhi guide whom I had passed on my way to the ridge made it to the summit breaking the solitude but not the view.

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