Continuing from my previous post ..
Day V : A Punishing day
Punishing, that’s the word I will describe for today .The weather suddenly turned sour somewhere late at night with lots of snowfall .It got too windy and the sky was all covered up by clouds .We atarted around 9.30am from Mankarmo. The hike to Camp –III called the base camp was just 4.5 km from Mankarmo camp-II . But do not why the weather god was quite unhappy to find us devoting to another God ,The ‘God-father’ the other day . So he decided to show his fury .Punishing us through out the way. The wind particularly bothered a lot . My knees were also complaining so was my running nose . The path seemed endless and I was panting for oxygen. The trek till Base camp usually takes 3 hours in normal conditions . But it took me 4 ½ hours . Literally , Weather god might have felt really happy today to fury on us and churning us with his weather-ly whirlpool .
The path is full of loose rocks
Unfortunately my trek mates took the bolt the most and they decided on to quit . I got baffled by their sudden turn of decision . No they could not do this . I will be all alone . I literally begged them to stay and at least stay at base camp to recondition . All of them showed some sign of AMS or acute mountain sickness-dizziness and vomiting to name a few . They were sent back by captain of Base camp-III that very night with another guide. The tricky weather was not enough that now I have to tread all alone . I could not hold myself with today’s passage of events. I forgot the smell of food ,I ate as my running nose denied me the privilege to smell the food . Only exception were my taste buds .And those too complained afterwards as the lunch comprising of Ladakhi food called Thuppa and some weird looking bread, was all bland for my taste bud to tinkle with joy. I was all shattered and broken with today’s tide of events. The night came pretty fast that day .
Day V :The Hulk
Time- 10pm. Temperature outside below -4 degrees.
I am Hulk ,I am invincible . My muscles have grown to huge extent .Am all green and everything else I see is white in colour . I saw myself jumping around from one mountain peak to another and finally I am on the Stok Kangri’s summit . Hurray !!!! .
I got a shove with half closed eyes I saw my guide was flashing his torch light on my face and was yelling on me to wake up .Its was about time for us for our summit attempt .Shit ! again the same dream of me turning into a HULK . I twisted my leg a bit. I felt no sense . A bad thought relayed through my synapses .A chill emerged in me and I hurriedly ran my hands on my legs till the toe . Ah, all safe !! My legs were all cold and senseless to my touch .
“But I am HULK .And I am invincible .What the hell ,was I hallucinating, again ?”
I was dragging myself out of my sleeping bag like a snail , as lazy I could be . But my guide’s stern looks and some bold words sent out a warm chill and somehow I hastily rolled myself out of my sleeping bag and from my tent .I sang to my guide – “Tad-da !! , I am ready . Bom chiki chiki bom chik !”
His face’s contour changed and he burst into laughter .
Day VI : The Summit Day
Time- 12.30 am , Temperature outside still -10 degrees.
We started some hours ago .When whole of India was rejoicing on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi, me in the remote of the remotest part of the world was silently trudging on forward .The weather turned out to be surprisingly clear that night but it was very cold . Sky lit by trillions of trillions of stars and the Milkyway was awesome .During the 5 minutes break at the abandoned Camp IV Advance base camp ,I was counting stars and was trying hard to recognize some constellations .The night temperature fell to somewhere below -10 degree and I had to keep my mind occupied . Started feeling nausea and I left my count at some number .
The wind was still at its high and that seemed to come lashing my face from every possible direction .I could sense ghostly death of air that stunk of emptiness everywhere . Only thing that kept my mood aloof was the sight of magnificent snow draped mountains all around with its calm peaks lit up by moon in the clear dark midnight sky.
After ABC it was the start of glacier point .The glacier seemed a flat base of ice mass under night sky .There being a danger from crevasses we roped in ourselves. Cautiously crossed the glacier area .The ascent started to take a gradual steep angle .My stomach has a bad habit . It craves for food every time ,while in awkward-est of the places during whole of my trek till now. And it was no exception now . It rumbled continuously , complaining on being empty . I remembered an ad : Hungry ? grab a pair of snickers .And so I pulled out a snicker bar from my reserve . The bar was rock solid , it felt like a piece of iron rod. I had to twist it hard. I then rolled it under my armpits so as to soften it and make it somewhat bite able .Somehow I was able to take a bite but it got stuck mid way in my throat . I had to then gulp down from my water reserve .Quite an effort to eat a piece of snicker .I didn’t eat thereafter and packed it again inside .
The temperature kept on falling and it become too cold to endure . Sitting and standing idle to catch up breath seemed to be wasteful way to loose body temperature . And I have to keep on moving . After some gruesome scaling of ice wall and crossing the glacier point which now was at a dizzying 60-70 degree inclination . Enduring the incessant weather where mercury dipped below -20 degree temperature we reached the mid point of glacier . Took some rest on a rocky outcrop .My Stomach rumbled again . Ah !!.This time no more snickers . From there I saw a pair of headlight trudging few meters below us . The headlight neared us .Those were the Scandinavian brother sister duo whom I meet at the Camp III canteen area .Surprised with their speed. They bridged our distance quiet fast to even starting hours late then us .They thumbs up and moved on. I followed suite with a Smile.
The Other trekker
The next hours or so was dead tiring with last hundred meters of ice wall was simply cruel. The degree of elevation was same 70 degrees ,but there the dip in oxygen level mattered . I was literally panting after taking few steps and stopping over for catching up breath .It seemed to me like a never ending climb .With one hand I was gripping my iceaxe ,with the other I was dragging myself up using the rope . Whole of my body weight was centered on my upper body trying to do a medley on those windy heights . Strain on body was too much to bear .The crampons on my shoes were making a good grip on the icy glacial floor . But still it was too much of effort. The wind was too strong , slapping my face from every possible direction .My jacket seemed to be on the verge of getting ripped off under this strong winds.
Dragging and pulling myself I reached the shoulder part of the Stok. A relatively flat rocky part of the mountain where ice wall of glacier ends and so begins the phase II of climbing till the summit .The time then was 5.30am.
The First light
The Sun was about to rise and we decided to rest till we see the Sunrise . The Scandinavian duo were past the shoulder region and were pushing themselves towards summit . We meet another group , the Japanese .Their guide strike a chord with my guide ,exchanging notes on the technicality of the climb till the summit . Whereas I was sitting quietly looking far away towards the mountains below and beyond . The soft Sun’s rays , the little bit of the feel of its warmth , the cold breeze and the sight of an eagle flying high above at a distant mountain is simply beyond my writing ability to describe what and how I was feeling at that time . Found myself lost in the heavenly sight placed before me .
View from Shoulder of Mt Stok Kangiri
The Sun has by now fully shown itself in the horizon .The elegant sunrise , what an indescribable beauty !! Its warmth filled in me a new vigor and excitement. We now pressed for the summit .The next hours were the longest and the most treacherous. My full concentration was on the razor edged path. Every minutes were full of tense moments. With every few steps I felt like my lungs will blow itself out in no time .My feet were slipping under the melting ice . When I took an occasional rest I felt utterly lifeless except that my throat burned when I drew breath .I could scarcely go on. No despair, no happiness, no anxiety. I have not lost the mastery of my feelings, there are actually no more feelings. I consisted only of will. After each few meters this too fizzles out in unending tiredness. Then I think nothing. I let myself fall, just lie there. For an indefinite time I remain completely irresolute. Then I make a few steps again. Maybe this was a test and I have to pass it .
At those heights my guide, all roped in was making the first move .We walked in tandem .First my guide took few steps forward then gripped his ice axe on the icy floor ,when I took my steps forward .I crossed him over till I reach a safe place to grip in my ice axe in the ice so that this time my guide can take his next few steps forward. We repeated this till we reached the ridge part ,short of few 100fts below the summit . My guide came assuring me the most difficult part was behind .The part from ridge to summit will be a bit difficult but will have to be endure its steep gradient . I do not have any freaking recollection of the last few hours to the summit as I was mechanically climbing in that unending sharp slopes of ice and snow. Now officially crossed 6000m mark but still 30-40 mins short from summit .My mind was filled up with lots of thought like – hot shower bath, warmth of the Sun, feasting non veg food with a pint of beer and my homeward trip to Pune.
Then came another difficult task , traversing the loose rocky part near the summit . The prayer flag just few meters away could be seen . I took stops at many places , this time not to catch my breath but to capture the beauty in my eyes. The monotony of the mountains was broken by splashes of color made by an anonymous artist.
I summited at around 10.00 am . I was speechless. Not in awe of the moment. Not because I had summited this 6153 m plus peak. Not because I had done it after nine hours of relentless climbing in the hostile weather conditions. I was speechless because I was freakingly shivering. Cold was too much and I was totally exhausted. I was gasping for breath in this thin oxygen depleted air. I had a splitting headache. I could feel my nose bleeding. The Sun was in its full glory then and a feeling of warmth filled my face . But the cold blizzard supplemented the warmth of the Sun .Other worry was ,water which got frozen and i have to tuck my water bottle under my jacket to keep it warm.
And at the Summit point
Another angle from summit.
We spent some fifteen minutes or so and clicked some victory pics . While at summit I felt a vibration in my right pocket where I kept my mobile phone .At first I scoffed off the thought of my phone vibrating .Then came another vibration . It baffled me . I pulled out my phone and looked at my phone. Totally catching me up as a surprise to see SMS from my mother. Puzzled, how this little piece of technology got to hook on to a telephone network .Anyways, felt really happy on this coincidence !! How come Mom comes to know everything and every time whenever I am in pain and feeling low . It brought me a tickle of tear in my eyes and a smile . I immediately tried ringing my Mom’s phone and I made the highest phone call ever at 6153m/20480 fts in my life . All bodily pain evaporated in that thin moment of joy talking with my Mom and Dad. Congratulatory voices swelled my lungs with a sense of achievement and fulfillment.
The moments I spent there seemed to me the longest . I got intrigued with my own thoughts .Honestly I do not know how my dreams became reality. But I always believe I must have done something really cool in my last life to deserve this. For which I eternally feel rewarded .I have now achieved what I have long dreamt off. With all the months of toiling hard under the sky ,conditioning my body ,sweating in gym leading a disciplined life and following disciplined diet presented me this ultimate reward of my lifetime that will be cherished forever.
Day VI :The Return
The return journey was full of monologue and exhaustive manoeuvres . Decent of anything is always exhaustive. Ascending is always easy than descending . I tried various ways to keep my mind wandering off . I listened to songs , which irritated me after few minutes . I sang out loud , my throat got coarse and I stopped . And so after few minutes I mind got blanked out after few minutes, with no thoughts, totally empty .There were lots of scree and every step I was taking made me feel I was sliding . The Sun had already melted a lot of snow and the difficult rocky descent was what I was left with . My guide was literally running downward whereas I felt ,my legs have turned to as cold stone. I was taking up my time ,slowly step by step. The base of the glacier below looked so near yet it was far very far . A thought of sliding down hit me once ,but the scree made me realize how foolish would be the idea unless seriously wanting to make my arse bleed .
It was already getting dark with the sun coming down and I had some more 1-2 hours of trekking back to Base camp left with me . I was simply longing to see the path before me to end . I wanted to descend and quickly rush back to the base camp. I was actually looking forward to get inside my cramped tent and into the uncomfortable, but warm sleeping bag. And to my irritation it was not ending at all .I was literally crawling and dragging myself and enduring my pain .
Last mile to reach the Blue tent (base Camp) …So near yet so far
I reached base camp crossing the crevasses zone of glacier at around 7pm .Thus my 19hrs of continuous trekking ordeal ended at Base camp . I was dead tied by then when I entered the Base camp’s central canteen. The Camp manager came to me along with the others whom I didn’t recognize , congratulated me . I was served a warm ginger tea (temporary respite) ,but it was a peg of chilled beer which I was longing for .Some other day buddy ! I do not remember anything after that except I went to my damp and cold tent and fainted inside equally damp and cold sleeping bag .The wind outside was groaning and it started to snow. Next day I woke up at around 9am .
Rest is history .
Bye Bye Leh !!
As some one said:-
“By climbing mountains we were not learning how big we were. We were finding out how breakable, how weak and how full of fear we are. You can only get this if you expose yourself to high danger. I have always said that a mountain without danger is not a mountain.” This statement resonated my beliefs and passion about these majestic Himalayan ranges .
A Special Thanks to Ladakh Mitra group who helped me in my quest for the summit . These are a group of locals who pioneered trekking in Ladakh and so thereby providing employment to the locals via Homestay and canteens run by them at all the stop point of the trek . The were most courteous being and ever helpful . The guides were highly professionals in their conduct and I had a good time with them .
If you wanna trek independently or in groups do contact Mr Jayo – 09596929195 . He heads the Ladakh Mitra group and runs the heritage homestays at Stok village . Quite reliable and a down to earth humble guy , ever ready and equally patient in helping you plan everything related to Stok Kangri trek .He also provide his expertise on organising other treks and bike ride trips too, for which you will need to contact him directly .Be rest assured he will rope in the best expertise and logistics to make a ever lasting memories while at Leh Ladakh.
Please note – I am not part of any agency nor am I endorsing any group or person here .My good experience trekking with Ladakh Mitra , is saying so . Hope you will also get to have a similar warm experience while trekking to Stok Summit .