Most of the time we are roaming in Sahyadri Mountains but back in the mind, Himalayas always had it’s own place. The plans somehow used to make their ways to get postponed. However, this time we to go there anyhow by makings things possible and so started our plans. Accordingly, we arranged a ‘Stok Kangri’ expedition of 20,000 feet in Leh region. And of course had to make arrangements of office leaves as well. The time decided to go there was in winter season and so there were people who had advised us not to do it. But our determination was as firm as Santosh Deolkar, Laxman Holkar, Kedar Bansode, Kiran Shadage and myself. We went to Leh as a team of BAAN Hikers. After reaching Leh, we started experiencing the natural forms of nature. At that time I was reminded by one thing that our seniors said while training at the Nehru Mountaineering Institute, ‘NIM’ is that “Mumbai’s fashion and the atmosphere of Himalayas can’t be predicted.” In the first few days itself, we found that it was real…
By the time we reached Leh it was the end of September, when there was a ‘Leh Festival’ atmosphere everywhere. Since we had heard lot about this festival through our hearings and readings, it was a huge curiosity to watch it too. So I went to the hotel and then to the Polo Ground where it was held with the help of festival flyer which I received on Leh airport. The experiences of the loving hospitality of Leh was so clearly seen there. The glimpse of Tibet and China cultures were displayed during their music, dance programs & in their costumes. While watching the various cultural events of the Buddhist religion, the existence of Leh being from an ancient era was seen in the festival. We returned to the hotel after collecting the memories of festival captured in our minds. Meanwhile, the storm from Orissa revolved towards Leh and the nature suddenly subsided. Due to heavy snowfall on mountains, we were clearly able to see the white covered mountain tops from our windows. Due to the snowfall, there stood a question mark on our entire expedition. Only couple of days far from the expedition to start, the atmosphere around was making us hopeless. We had to double check our bags for enough warm clothes for expedition. In the rare weather, the burden of carrying back the burden of bag was a challenge to our mental abilities … It was raining continuously for two days prior to our expedition which is why many roads were already been closed. Still, our enquiries were continuous. (Also in Leh, you are expected to take per person’s permission every time to visit different places, which is itself a question that is it necessary to do the same as an Indian?)
We then visited the Pangong Lake and Sonam Wangchuk’s famous Studies Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, which was published by Aamir Khan in his movie ‘Three Idiots’ which actually showed schools present there. Shay Palace, Alchi and Hemis monastery were also among some other important places.
As the rainy season started to subside and occasionally the sun started appearing, bringing the hope of making the expedition smooth and successful. Our expedition leader, Santosh talked to local Sherpas and announced that the next morning the expedition will be started. I made some changes in the earlier schedule and decided to go to Mankorama skipping the first step in Changma. Because it was taking a day which either way we could use in case weather conditions gets bad on the base camp. And then we had to reach 16,000 feet base camp from 11,000 feet height in one go. So there was a possibility of hard air troubles so we took necessary precautions & decided upon this in Leh itself.
We started our journey as per the modified schedule and spent the first night at Mankorma. There we met a team that returned from Stok Kangri. They predicted the next environment but it was not very positive for us. According to them, no team had been able to summit Stok Kangri from last week.
The next day, we started the journey towards the base camp with the dream of the summit. Our journey was going on floating down. The situation was much worse after reaching the base camp. The base camp itself was having one to one-and-a-half feet snow. After heavy breathing, we reached to the base camp.
Our helper helped us with the dinner arrangement and tent pitching. We cleaned the ice for our tent area and started to make space. We were very tired post tent pitching.
At night, another team which was present at base camp earlier to us, was planning to leave for Stok Kangri summit. No one had been able to summit after heavy snowfall so it was challenge to make the new route to the summit. In the other team, there was a girl from Leh and two people who had experience to climb Mt. Everest. There was a chance if they cleared the path using their experience then we would follow their route to fulfill summit dream. We came out of our tents to wish them good luck at night when it was pretty cold specifically -16 degree. We greeted them and then we too fell asleep. But there was a lot of questions in the mind about whether they had made things possible to reach the summit or not.
The next morning we were enjoying our breakfast by seven o’clock in the morning. However, all our attention was on the squad that went to the Stok Kangri summit last night. We spotted some of them at about 9 am getting down towards base camp.. We believed that it was too late to return so they must have summited. We had a talk with them once they reached to the base camp but response was negative. They were not able to make it. They reached till 17,800 feet post that there was 4+ feet of snow which blocked there way.
We listened to there experience but that didn’t stop us to at least give a try. We prepared ourselves to give ourselves as much we can and achieve the height so that we get the learning and can know about the hurdles the previous teams have faced on their trails. Rather this learning will be useful for our future expeditions as well. We left the camp and gained the height of 17,800 feet where previous team had reached.
It was a spectacular view of the surrounding area and we were able to see the summit but could’t proceed due to heavy snow on the way. We said bye to Stok Kangri from that position itself and agreed upon to come again next time.