Stok Kangri was a peak, which I tried last year without any support from guides, ponies or donkeyman except for one day. I had tried, failed and was ready to attempt it once more. This year, my team and I called Team Stok-ed, went to climb this peak in the Indian Himalayas.
Ladakh is a very beautiful place for travel in Northern India and during the July to September period, it is a peak period for tourists. Last year, I attempted the peak during the June period and this year, since Nadya could not have any other dates than June and I also wanted the same conditions as before, decided to attempt Stok Kangri with full expedition support from my friend and agent Juma.
Climbing this 6153m peak wasn’t as easy as I thought as it gave the team a lot of hick-ups. Before the trip started, the guide (whom we had a argument with after the climb), Juma and myself were discussing on whether mountaineering double boots would be required. I had my own so I was more concerned about whether they needed it. The guide, being boastful and overconfident said that the weather was good and just trekking boots would suffice. With my experience from last year, I kind of knew where this was going. Juma and I decided to go with his decision since he was the guide.
As the approach trek started, a great international team supported us. It mainly consisting of a Nepalese cook, an assistant guide from Tibet, a Ladakhi pony man, a Nepalese 17-year old teenager who was the assistant pony man and 4-5 ponies.
The weather was absolutely scotching unlike what I experienced last year as there was no sight of any clouds. Many a times, Veronica would lead the front with Zafrie and then Joy and Nadya would be just in front of me. I always tell them that in the mountains, everything should be slow and steady. Take deep breaths and learn to slow down everything by half. Apparently, going slow in this unrelenting sun would prove to be a real challenge.
After loads of sunblock, moisturisers and also sweat, we arrived after 3 days at base camp at 4915 metres above sea level. By now, some form of Altitude Sickness would be visible in everyone. Joy had a close call with dehydration/ Acute Mountain Sickness on day 2 after the high pass. Zafrie had a headache just after arriving at base camp on that day itself but it subsided after a while. Nadia and Veronica did not seem to have much problems coping with the altitude. Altitude is an interesting phenomenon, which I have been trying to understand for a while. It comes and goes can hit even the strongest climber. I was feeling okay and I have learnt to cope with altitude quite well since 2011.
One must also be careful about oxygen levels of a person together with his heart rate. Before this trip, I bought an Oxymeter that could measure both. It proved to be absolutely beneficial to the team and me. At these elevations, the heart rate would be around 100 plus for most people and oxygen levels would be around 75-90%. It was a good indication of any pre-symptoms of HACE or HAPE, which I have yet to encounter in any of my climbing expeditions.
We stayed one day at Base camp to properly acclimatize and also to prepare our equipment for the summit push on the 19th June 2014. Later did I realize that that decision to listen to the guide’s advice of not requiring mountaineering boots backfired. Looking back, it was common sense on hindsight that this peak could suddenly have an increase in snowfall and notably, it did.
The guide then went to coordinate a pick up of the boots halfway from Stok Village and the Base Camp, all of which could have been avoided.
We had gathered intel (Intelligence) from the other teams at Base camp about the route to summit as well as snow conditions. We had also noted that there was no summit yet of that season due to the high amount of snowfall. That kind of deterred us a little.
At 11pm that night after an early dinner at 6pm and preparation, we woke up and set off for the summit. In my tent, I could hear that Zafrie had problems sleeping as I heard a lot of sounds because we had kind of spent the whole day sleeping. I could not sleep much in the afternoon, as I was always skeptical of sleeping at altitude in the afternoons. So I just closed my eyes and rested.
I hoped that the girls who were sleeping in one tent, that they had the sufficient rest required for the 12 hour plus days ahead of us. I also knew that they were kind of ignorant of how tough the day would be since after dinner, I tried to keep my briefing short and sweet and did not want to make them too anxious. All except Veronica had never wore mountaineering double boots before and I figured, that was more than enough of an overload they had to take in.
As I awoke and left the tent to go to the kitchen tent, there was sort of a nostalgia that I was just here 12 months ago on the same place in the same darkness and coldness. However, it felt different. I felt stronger due to the fact that there would be a guide and assistant guide to show the way unlike last year and also, I had got proper rest before this summit push.
We had breakfast of Nepalese porridge (honey oats), bread, seabuckthorn spread and lots of tea. It was good to be fed so well on the mountain. Last year, I went up to the summit with my buddy, Cloud straight after awaking, with no breakfast at all.
We started off the summit push with a first 45 minutes climb to the first ridge. This first ridge I knew would be make-or-break. It was a steep ascend and also everyone was wearing their mountaineering boots which made the ascent even more difficult.
At the middle of the climb, Joy started to slow down significantly and her asthma attack started to kick in abit. At the moment of time, I knew that her summit bid was over. When she reached the ridge for rest, I had decided that for safety reasons and the fact that Asthma was treated quite seriously for altitude, she would go no further than this. She respected that decision and also understood the seriousness of any complications this high.
Nadya decided to stay with her and also the assistant guide stayed there together where they watched the sun rise together.
Veronica, Zafrie and myself went up. The guide wasted no time waiting and just went up all the way pass the glacier, leaving me feeling a little bit of Déjà vu from last year.
“What kind of a ****ed-up guide is this?”, I was asking myself and Zafrie was probably too tired to bother about my complaints as I led him up the slopes.
We managed to overtake the malaysian group and also a big indian expedition who later turned back from the summit push.
Not long later, around 3am, we meet up with Veronica and the guide and we continued up the summit pyramid. The weather looked kind of scary at this point with clouds coming in. But we just continued up.
Then finally the weather cleared up and we proceeded up to the summit ridge. At this point, Zafrie started to feel unwell and then he had to stay put and take some medication. After some medication and rest, I told him to stay put and rest and descend with the Malaysian team because they were still coming up despite very slow progress. (Later did I know that Zafrie had also continued on to the summit via the Malaysian route, which was a direct push to summit and not by the ridge)
Finally, at around 1130am, Veronica, the guide and myself stumbled on the summit. Utterly exhausted from the 12-hr summit push.
Looking back, it was one hell of a summit push with a lot of hick-ups along the way and having to take care of people who were super exhausted. Also, Vernonica and I made a very strong team where without each other, we would not have made the summit.
Videos will be uploaded soon after editing and the next climb will be a winter Climb of Mera Peak in Nepal Himalayas. Join me!!