The region of Ladakh, is separated from the rest of its state, Jammu and Kashmir, by mountains from the Himalayan range. Stok Kangri, at an elevation of 6153 metres, is one of the highest mountains in the Stok range of Ladakh, India. This peak is located in the village of Stok, which is about 15 kilometres away from the city of Leh. The village itself is located within the Hemis National Park in Ladakh.
It is a very popular peak for trekking amongst many mountaineers, which makes it quite a busy route. Stok Kangri is not a technical peak after the later half of July, but it is very technical before that. The level of difficulty is medium.
After mid-July, the quantity of snow is very less as compared to before July, which is usually one of the main hazards for mountaineers. If you plan to climb Stok Kangri, the months from August to September are very suitable.
These are some health related problems faced by people when attempting to climb Stok Kangri:
- High altitude illnesses such as:
- Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – AMS is the mildest form of an illness that is caused by a high altitude. Some symptoms include: Nausea, fatigue, heachaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and insomnia. You may also experience hallucinations, or a tightness in your chest, coupled with difficulty in breathing.
- High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO) – HACO is a life threatening form of altitude illness that occurs when you gain altitude too fast. Many symptoms are the same as that of AMS but some will include a loss of consciousness, fever, and loss of coordination in movement.
- High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO) – HAPO is a life threatening form of altitude illness as well. Symptoms include shortness of breath, decreased performance, chest tightness, and cough.
- Peripheral Oedema – Peripheral oedema is the accumulation of fluid in your limbs, and your face due to a gain in altitude.
- Dehydration – It is imperative to keep yourself well hydrated throughout this trek. Dehydration is life threatening. Symptoms include dizziness, headaches, fever, blurred vision, and irrational anger.
- Snow blindness – Snow blindness is a temporary loss of vision that can occur due to prolonged exposure to UV rays. Please wear proper sunglasses to avoid this condition.
- Sunburn – Like snow blindness, this condition occurs with prolonged exposure to UV rays. Please make sure that you are using a sunscreen with at least 35 SPF or more.
Things to keep in mind while making plans:
- Members of the team.
How many members are there going to be in the team? Who is going to be the leader of the team? Do you need a guide? If yes, please keep in mind that you need to include the guide’s fees in your budget as well. Are you going to hire porters? As in the case of guides, hiring porters will only add to your budget. You need to decide whether your team can handle their equipment and luggage by themselves if you’re considering a porter.
Have you decided on a budget yet? If not, it’s best to start here. Having a budget can not only give you an idea of how much you can afford to spend on an expedition, but it can also help to curtail certain expenses. It is very easy to overspend, or overlook small expenses which can add up immensely to the cost of the expedition if you haven’t set a budget in advance.
- Fitness level of your team.
The physical fitness of the members on your team matters. While it is not necessary that everyone should be an athlete, being a couch potato is not going to help your chances of a successful expedition.
Team members should follow a plan to increase, or maintain their level of fitness before starting an expedition.
- Your Game Plan.
Your expedition or “game plan” is going to depend upon the weather conditions, and the fitness level of your team. The approximate time taken to complete your expedition should be taken into account only after considering how long it will take the slowest member of your team to complete the expedition.
- Proper acclimatisation
Most high altitude sicknesses can be avoided if you have taken the steps to acclimatise yourself properly. Acclimatisation techniques should start once you have reached an altitude of at least 8000 feet.
Please follow the acclimatisation plan according to the level of altitude you have reached before attempting your expedition. If you suffer from heart problems, or asthma, it is better to have consulted a doctor before going on any hikes, especially high altitude ones.
It is very important to keep your body properly hydrated. Please drink a minimum of 2 litres of water, or more per day to avoid dehydration. For emergencies, one should keep ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) packets with them.
- Complete First Aid Kit
Please carry all the required medicines, and first aid supplements with you. If any team member needs any kind of specific medicines, then it should be present in the first aid kit.
One of the best ways to avoid any kind of high altitude sicknesses is to eat your meals on time, and to eat them well. A diet high in carbohydrates will help you gain more energy at high altitudes. It is also imperative that you don’t skip any meals. Skipping meals, and not drinking water properly will only decrease your chances of a successful expedition.
The Expedition: Reaching Leh.
There are two ways of reaching Leh from Delhi. You can either take a flight, or you can take a road trip.
If you plan to take a flight, then you should start taking Diamox at least two days before your flight. Do consult your doctor before taking Diamox, if you have any previous health complications. Drink plenty of water, and avoid coffee, or alcohol. Take rest for one day after your flight lands in Leh. If your team wants to travel to Leh via road, then you can travel either via Manali, or via Jammu. Both of these journeys are filled with beautiful landscapes, and flora/fauna.
Your trek starts from Leh. The trek of Stok Kangri takes about 5 to 7 days. When you reach Leh, you should take rest for one day, and go for a walk the next day.
You can purchase food, or any other equipment needed in the evening. It is also advisable to hire a trek leader and/or guide from a reputed/registered tour and travel company. Bear in mind that your leader and/or guide should be adequately qualified to lead the team.
Reaching the first camp at Stok Village:
Stok Village is about 15 km away from the city of Leh. The altitude of Leh and Stok Village is almost the same at about 3500 meters. You can reach there either by foot or by hiring a private taxi. The level of ascent is normal. When you reach Stok Village you may either stay in a homestay, or you may pitch your tent in the wild after obtaining permission from the local villagers. It is advisable to gain some height on that same day, and come back to your camp to rest. You can also hire mules in Stok Village to help you carry your load.
Reaching the second camp at Mankarmo:
It is advisable to start early in the morning so that you can reach Chang Ma on time. The trek to Chang Ma takes about 3 to 4 hours. The level of ascent is moderate, and the altitude will be 3950 metres. Once you have reached this point, you can have some snacks and rest for a while.
The next point is Mankarmo, which is about 3.5 km from Chang Ma, and it will take you about 3 hours to reach there. The altitude is about 4350 metres. Again, the degree of difficulty of this particular stretch is moderate in nature.
The gradient here is a little bit steep, which makes you lose your strength, leaving your muscles feeling weak, and fatigued. The level of oxygen is also low. You should drink about 3 to 5 litres of water per day. You can take water from the stream.
Pour this water through a cloth, and add some chlorine tablets. Pitch your tent in the right place, where water is easily available, and at a respectable distance from any area which may be susceptible to falling rocks.
The nights at Mankarmo are very cold. Make sure to cover your body properly, especially your head, hands, and feet.
This camp is in the lap of the mountain, which is very beautiful. You will also see a wide variety of wild flora, and fauna. You can gain height the same day, or the next day, depending on your physical standard.
Reaching the third camp : Base camp.
To reach the Stok Kangri Base Camp, it will take you about 4 to 5 hours of trekking from Mankarmo. The altitude of the base camp is about 4975 metres. You can feel the high altitude at the base camp. Your breathing becomes faster, especially when you do some work, or take a walk because you are not used to that climate. Some people pitch their tent on the old base camp, before the trail meets the glacier.
The nights at Stok Base Camp are also very cold. The temperature in the base camp at night time is about minus 5 to minus 15 degrees. The water bodies freeze in the night.
The mountain cannot be seen from the base camp, but the views of the rising sun, and the moon are very beautiful from this point.
It is advisable to start your expedition to the summit in the early hours of the morning, before the sun has risen. The distance between the base camp, and the summit is about 7 to 8 km. It will take you about 10 to 12 hours to reach the summit.
On the day of the summit, you will climb approximately 1200 metres vertically. Please make sure that you are not walking on an empty stomach, due to the high level of energy required at that point. Keep drinking water sip by sip to keep your mouth wet. Don’t run, as it will make you lose your energy very fast. Try to conserve as much as energy as possible.
Trekking to the spur
The spur can be easily seen from the base camp. A human trail is guiding your route. To reach the top of the spur, it will take you approximately 40 minutes. The gradient is very steep (23 degrees) and the gain in elevation is about 150 metres.
The distance from the base camp to the spur is about 700 metres. This spur will challenge your strength, and your endurance. You must be physically, and mentally prepared before you start the trek.
Advanced Base Camp
After reaching the spur, the next course of action is to reach the advanced base camp, which takes about 45 minutes. The distance covered is about 850 metres, and the gain in elevation is about 650 metres.
The level of difficulty is moderate. The trek is normal with many up and down slopes. The main hurdle, though, is the presence of small, loose boulders.
Entering the Glacier
The next point is where the trail meets the glacier. The level of difficulty is normal. It will take you about 40 minutes to cross the glacier. The gradient is about 13.5 degrees. The distance covered is about 500 metres, and the gain in elevation is about 95 metres.
The width of the glacier is about 700 metres. In the glacier you will see crevasses, glacial streams, morraine, and verglas. Crevasses, morraine, and verglas are considered as hazards for mountaineers.
The crevasses seen in the glacier are only one or two in number. The crevasses are small, but will change into hidden crevasses because they are concealed by snow during snowfall. Hence, it is imperative to be careful to avoid these crevasses when crossing the glacier.
Reaching the foot of the mountain
After crossing the glacier, you will have to reach towards the foot of the southeastern face of the mountain. The distance is about 180 metres. The gradient is about 26 degrees, and the gain in elevation is about 180 metres as well. It will take about one hour to cross this distance. There will be a point where you will meet with huge, loose boulders. Try and avoid that part if possible.
From the foot of the mountain to the southern ridge
The southern ridge is also known as the shoulder of the summit. It will take you about 2 to 3 hours to reach the southern ridge from the foot of the southeastern face of the mountain. The gradient is very steep at about 37 degrees, and the gain in elevation is about 350 metres. The distance covered is about 800 metres.
The level of difficulty is high. This can be considered the most difficult part of the trek. The main difficulty you will encounter, is the presence of small pebbles, and scree, along with the slippery soil, and steep gradient. The low level of oxygen is also another factor which will weaken your muscles further, and make it more difficult for you to walk.
To the summit:
After the south east face, the summit point is only 500 metres away, and the gradient is about 40 degrees. The gain in elevation is about 200 metres. You must anchor yourself, and rope up with your teammates at this point, as the path is very narrow, very steep, and very slippery.
On reaching the summit, you are able to view all of the Karakoram range, especially K2. You will also find a view of Khardung La to the north.
Descending back to the base camp:
Reaching the summit of the mountain is an incredible feeling that fills you up with energy. Your sense of strength is renewed while looking at the beauty that surrounds you at that point in time.
When you have had your fill of the view that can be found at the top of the summit, it is time to descend back to the base camp. Always keep in mind, that descending a mountain is always tougher, and more trickier than the ascent. It is very important that you do not injure yourself in your haste to get back to the base camp.
It normally takes about 3 to 4 hours to reach the base camp while coming back from the summit. While many trekkers choose to stay in the base camp for another day, there are always a select few who will choose to go back to Stok village if they are not too tired. The trek back to Stok Village takes another 6 to 8 hours, and although very tiring, marks the end of your expedition.