7/4/2009 to 7/9/2009 | India , Ladakh

Stok Kangri

I looked at the massive yellow duffle bag at my feet. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought, “The thing is bigger than my backpack; maybe it’s not as heavy as it looks.” I lifted it into the waiting taxi. Nope, it was as heavy as it looked. When I had asked to barrow a tent for Karin and Jeff from my friend Mohan so that we could climb Stok Kangri this was not exactly what I had in mind. It was too late now to find anything else; I had no choice but to lug the monstrosity up to the 5000 m base camp. I strapped the massive tent to my pack and we set off to climb 6,153 m (20,180 ft) Stok Kangri.

I had mentioned at the beginning of our Markha Valley trek when we all were sick and miserable it was a good thing we weren’t trying to climb Stok Kangri. But a week of acclimatization on the Markha Valley trek and a return to health had changed my assessment of our chances at conquering the highest mountain visible from Leh. The summiting of Stok Kangri was actually “a plan B” after our “plan A,” a three day rafting trip fell through do to a lack of people willing to join us. With an extra three days I decided the most rewarding and memorable thing we could do was climb Stok Kangri. I had climbed it last year on my own so I was confident that I could guide us to the summit. Jeff was on board immediately, but Karin took some convincing. But my powers of persuasion won her over too eventually. Typically guided trekking groups take 4 days to climb Stok Kangri, but I find this pace excessively slow for the already acclimatized, designed to squeeze more money out of the tourists and to keep the idiots who try to climb it a few days after flying into Leh from dying of AMS. We would do it in two days as I had done the last time. The fist day is a relatively short 5 hour hike from Stok to the base camp. The next day is a long one, starting early in the morning sometime after midnight climbing to the summit and return back to base camp, pack up, and then continue the 3-4 hours back down to Stok in order to catch the bus back to Leh. It’s a long day but when faced with spending another cold night in a tent at 5000 m or hiking 3 or 4 more hours to a hot shower and warm soft bed in Leh it’s not too hard to motivate yourself.

When I emptied the contents of massive yellow bag I had just dragged for 5 hours climbing the 1500 m (5000 ft) from Stok village to the 5000 m Stok Kangri base camp, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. Yes there was a tent, that was good, but there were also random parts to a second tent as well. Maybe he could have packed a couple of stones as well, in addition to the extra poles, extra stakes, extra tarp, and extra heavy plastic lining, that I had just lugged up here for no reason and now also had to lug back down. We settled into our camp to get some rest after a couple bowels of hot soup at the tea tent (set up during the climbing season) and some bread and cheese that we had brought with us.

The alarm went off at quarter to midnight. I pushed my upper body from my sleeping bag like a snake shedding its skin and wiggled my way to the door of my tent. I poked my head outside. I was hit by a few fast blowing snowflakes. The ground had a dusting of snow, wind was ripping through the camp, and clouds blanketed the sky in darkness. It did not look like favorable weather to begin a mountain climb. Knowing that weather can change fast in the mountains, I told Karin and Jeff we should wait an hour and see how it looks then. The strong wind actually gave me hope that the clouds would move through quickly. They did, by a quarter to one in the morning the snow had stopped and the sky looked clearer especially to the southwest the direction in which the weather was coming from. We made the decision to go for it. There was a lot more snow on this occasion in late June than there had been in late July which is when I climbed the mountain last year. To make matters more difficult I was having problems with the pair of crampons I had picked up in Nepal so I had to go without crampons. Both Karin and Jeff were grateful that theirs were working well. Last year it took me around 4 hours to reach the summit from base camp, but this year with the extra snow, not being in quite as good a shape, and carrying the extra weight of three water bottles, food for three, as well as my malfunctioning crampons, it took a much more difficult 6 hours to reach the summit. We reached the summit around 7:00 am along with a German guy we met on the climb and his guide. It was an exhilarating accomplishment and as I told Karin and Jeff it would be, it was the highlight of their trip to Ladakh. Karin was elated, despite having been convinced earlier that she was going to loose her hand to frostbite and deciding, when we were only about 50 m from the summit, “this is good enough, it’s a nice view from here.” She was grateful we convinced her, it wasn’t good enough.

Of course as anyone who climbs a mountain will tell you the summit is only half way. We retrace, well some of our steps back down. The snow was getting wet and slick with the day’s warmth, so we slid a good portion down on our rears. About three and a half hours later we were back at base camp. After a bit of rest and some food we continued back down to Leh. Staring back up at that white massif across the valley from Leh, it seemed surreal that we were just standing on its summit a few hours earlier that day. It was my second time on the summit and I’m still amazed.

The next day we took a rest day in Leh to recover from the climb and celebrate Karin’s 28th birthday. We also met up with my friend Santa, the Latvian I traveled to Mt. Kailash in Tibet with and on to Nepal nearly two years earlier. She was back in India for a short summer trip.

To finish off the trip we did a day of white water rafting on the Zanskar River but the real climax and culmination of Karin and Jeff’s visit was the summit of Stok Kangri.

July 9th Karin and Jeff bordered a flight to Delhi the first leg of their journey back to California, and I was left on my own again, to continue my journey, across Asia.

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