I did the famous Stok Kangri trek in August 2017. Most of the trek was the usual, like any other organised himalayan trek with beautiful views and relatively easy climbs… that was until I reached the Base Camp(4900m). From the Base camp to the summit is a total different ball game altogether. Stok Kangri (6153m) is the highest trekkable peak (i.e. it doesn’t require any mountaineering skills to summit), that doesn’t mean it is an easy walk. Clouded by this misjudgment many first time summitters (like me) flock to the trek… I am not saying it is impossible to do the summit in the first attempt, but I want to emphasize on what a challenge it is and how prepared one needs to be.
For me, the trek until Base camp was a cake walk, while few others found it difficult. The summit itself has to be done in the night (when the snow is firm and glacier is frozen). A total altitude gain of 1.2km (4900m at basecamp to 6153 at the summit), along with the cold, altitude and steep ascend sucked my energy out. When I think about the trek, it’s that night that stands out in my memory…
When our guides decided to split the group into two, we had already covered about two-thirds of the distance to the Stok Kangri summit. We were all cold and exhausted, after a non-stop ascend from the Base Camp (4900m), that started at 10p.m. Carrying the Ice Axe and wearing the crampons, it was a first time experience for most of us… we crossed the glacier and were making our way up the snow-covered mountain. Slowly but steadily gaining altitude.
We had already crossed an altitude of 5600m. Some of my friends were finding it difficult to continue with the ascend, as the oxygen levels in high altitude is extremely low and breathing becomes a problem. They decided to return, back to lower altitude. The rest of us continued with our ascend.
When I looked up, I could see the stream of torch lights, going all the way to the top of the mountain… merging into the starry sky. I had so much to ascend before I could reach the top… it looked intimidating. I decided to muster my strength and keep climbing. I was accompanied by Vijayakumar Selvam and Niranjan. Together, the three of us along with our two guides started pushing forward. Digging our ice axes into the snow, we hurled ourselves further and further up. It was tiring.
We were climbing slowly but steadily, it was getting steeper as we moved up. I had to stop every few steps to catch my breath. The sun was rising just behind us, for the first time that night, I got a view of the spectacular snow covered mountain tops.
We were a few hundred meters away from the shoulder. I was hydrating myself every few steps, trying to survive the climb. As we went up, the gradient was getting steeper. Each step was exhausting and I had to take frequent breaks to catch my breath. This was the most taxing part of the climb, the last few hundred meters.
With a final push, I reached shoulder of the mountain. The summit was just 100m above me, I felt overwhelmed… I was standing at 6000m!!! my head was floating in the clouds… That’s when it hit me, I couldn’t breathe… my head was in a dizzy haze. I tried to steady myself and with the help of the guide sat down on a rock. Waiting for my friends to come up, I was hoping my condition would improve. Niranjan reached the shoulder, he looked in good shape… Next was Vijayakumar. The ultra-running star of CTC, was taking disorganized clumsy steps to the shoulder. He was affected by the thin air too… Meanwhile I was trying to hold on to the rock, with my bones shivering and gasping for air.., It was cold as hell.
We had to decide fast. With 2 out of 3 down, summit was getting out of hand… We decided to descend. Quickly, we took a picture at the shoulder with the poster.
“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Although a part of me feels bad that I couldn’t do the last 100 meters of the climb, I feel happy and thankful that I survived the ascend and did what I could. I believe trekking is all about pushing myself to new levels and a self-realization of my strengths and weaknesses. In that way, I am really surprised and proud of how I was able to cope up to the situation and reach 6000 meters altitude, which is a new personal record for me. After all, what is life but one big adventure!