Stok Kangri Expedition– Highest Trekkable Summit (6,153 meters) in the Stok Range of the Himalayas - Ladakh region
The question that’s circulating a lot on social media - Solo Traveling/Trekking. Some prefer walking the roads alone and some prefer a company. Fortunately or unfortunately I encountered solo trekking just because my trekking partner backed out at last moment due to work issues, making me a Solo Trekker by the situation.
Moreover, it’s in my nature to book everything in advance to save money for other sightseeing and of course shopping. Thus my flights, accommodation, and trek batch etc. were booked in advance. No matter how hassle-free the process of changing our flight journey is, it’s not without spending an additional penny out of our pocket and let me tell you when you are traveling to Ladakh in peak season it’s a costly affair and I hate it, especially if it's for a silly reason. So I decided to go ahead with my original plan. The crucial thing that matters is, having previous trekking experience of more than 4,500 meters (14,700 ft.). The bar is set by many organizations due to the altitude level of this expedition.
It is still a big affair in India when a girl wanders alone or wish to join an adventure with a bunch of unknown packs and if that unknown pack consists of only male members...Boom! Your big affair suddenly turns into a national matter of concern. :D Sometimes I get jealous of people living abroad where it hardly matters if your child travels alone and here we are stuck convincing own parents who are fixed in their ways. Though I admit I asked among my trek mates for coming along (just to have edge over to convince my parents). But considering the difficulty level of the expedition, they turned away. Nevertheless, my stubborn spirit somehow managed to win over the case and yippee I was all ready to go for StokKangari Expedition.
Our Expedition team included two trek leader, one local guide, kitchen staff and ten enthusiastic hikers including me and so our journey to the summit started. While introducing each other, our trek leader also explained us the difficulties that lie ahead and gave a major warning to follow their order no matter what because one member from the last batch was badly injured during summit ascent and got rescued by helicopter, and was in the coma since then. We were not filled in with any more details. Yet hearing this, we had Goosebumps and felt terribly sorry for that fellow.
While reaching our 1st campsite, one of our team members became a victim of AMS and had to return back as soon as we reached first camping point.
We female have to take care of one more important thing while trekking, Periods. Sometimes due to strenuous activity even though your date is way ahead, it could strike you any moment. So was the case with me when I reached 2nd campsite of our expedition. It nearly left me in tears and I was so worried sick about my further journey considering the difficulty that lies ahead. (At times like this, I feel proud that I always go well prepared) No matter what I was adamant to go ahead step by step. Meanwhile, I had a chance to interact with one female trek leader of another organization who camped on the same site. She gave me a little boost to my determination and so I was set to march again. Pitch dark night and twinkling stars at every campsite were subconsciously giving me a ray of hope and used to relax my mind. A truly magnificent view which made me forgot all my worries. No wonder people say a night full of stars can heal any wound and put your worries at ease.
Trek leader was always in charge of checking our oxygen level at each campsite and whosoever was not up to the mark(Oxygen level should be 90 or above)was sent back. Another pressure that you have to undergo … phew! Let me remind you, it becomes difficult to maintain such oxygen level when there is no sign of treeline. Ladakh is famous for its barren mountain and harsh conditions. Thankfully due to my workout of many months, I was able to sustain myself. We bid adieu to a few more members at the base camp of StokKangari.
At base camp, our trek leader brushed up our knowledge of using various trekking gears like ice axe, harness etc. immediately after this long theoretical session, we did a mock drill of our summit. Nearly everyone prefers to start summit at midnight, therefore, no matter how difficult it is to take a nap when scorching sun is just above your head, you must have a good sleep in the afternoon so that you remain energized for midnight summit.
Finally, the night arrived when we were ready with all our gears to reach our final destination. On the contrary at night the weather was extremely cold, I had all my layers of clothing still I could feel the cold breeze passing through my body. I was ridiculously excited to set my foot on the top and to take a glance at the alpine glow from the summit.
During our ascent on Summit, I could feel that wind was picking up faster than ever. Few more teammates were sent back due to the difficulty they faced because of a sudden change in weather. At last only four members from our group (including me)left the advance base camp to make the summit. One member of our team was extremely fast in climbing compared to others so he went ahead with one of the trek leaders and other two were in the middle and I was the last one slowly watching my step and trying to keep up with others. Just when I was about to reach glacier our trek leader told me to return as I was walking a bit slower than the first member ( about 45 minutes – 1hr. gap) and would not be able to reach the summit on time (decided by trek leader). I was extremely devastated !. I could not understand the reason behind this, as neither had I showed any symptoms of AMS nor was I exhausted. I was just maintaining my pace. At that moment I wanted to say No more than ever, but the trek leader would have abandoned me and I would be on my own. (Their policy was if anyone is resisting, they won’t take any further responsibility or support you.)
I was scared as this was my first-midnight climb at such altitude and the other organization’s teams were nowhere within eyesight (Probably not yet started their ascent to summit) also I was alone and so I decided to turn back and go to base camp. I regretted that decision as soon as I started descending but I felt I was not strong enough to defend myself or thought maybe the Trek leader was right.
Anyways, after reaching base camp when I interacted with other trekkers they all reached the summit at different times with a gap of many hours. When I went back home and interacted with more, even they had summited at a different time leaving me in my puzzled thought. Only if I had shown more courage to climb, I too would have summited. Maybe Stok Kangari was not ready yet to have my footsteps on the summit. My mentor encouraged me that reaching up to the glacier is also an achievement and I should be proud of it. “Good start. That’s still a good height to get to. You can only go up from here” he said. Even other trek members of our team told me they never thought that I would reach up to the glacier. Some of them even thought that I would return from the first campsite. Never understood why they thought so because I was the only female member?? Nor I bothered asking why they assumed this...
Nevertheless, as they say, the view of the summit is not as important as the journey that leads to it. Considering all the hardships that crossed my path, I don’t consider this as a failure but an amazing experience that inculcated Solo Traveling in my blood now. Whether I would go again to climb Stok is still undecided but one thing is for sure, I would definitely reach similar and higher level of altitude elsewhere.
Hike More, Worry Less!
Story by one Adventuress
Story by Gayatri Umarye