Stok Kangri Climbing
A fine trekking peak in Ladakh and an excellent introduction to climbing in the Himalaya Stok Kangri (6121m) is the perfect objective for fit trekkers without climbing experience
That want to summit on their first Himalayan Peak. It is one of the main peaks of the Zansker range, situated in the fascinating region of Ladakh. This high and arid landscape has captured the imagination of travellers since it first opened to visitors in 1974. The expedition travels through remote valleys, scattered high villages and past hilltop monasteries to the base of the mountain.
The South Ridge provides an exhilarating climb in these fantastic surroundings. Although straightforward, the route is challenging and interesting, providing stunning views of the Karakoram Range and on a clear day, even K2 in the far distance.
One of the highlights of the trip is visiting Leh, the ancient capital of Ladakh. The regal air of the city, with its ‘potala-like’ palace and the charm of the friendly and traditionally dressed Ladakhi people, all contribute to the experience of this expedition.
Day 01: Arrival at Delhi We are met at Delhi International Airport by our agent’s representative and taken to our hotel, The Imperial. The Imperial is a luxury 4-star hotel, very conveniently placed for sightseeing in the city. In August, the air-conditioning and swimming pool are always most welcome.
Day 02: A day at leisure in Delhi. The central location of The Imperial Hotel enables you to visit the local bazaars and shops around Connaught Place. We particularly recommend the famous ice-cream bar, Nirula’s, and its excellent restaurant upstairs. The ice cream is safe to eat, which is probably more than can be said for most other places. The extensive lawns surrounding India Gate are also nearby, with the Government Buildings at the far end.
Day 03: Fly to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. We make an early start to take the flight to Leh, the capital city of Ladakh. The flight takes us over the Greater Himalaya and makes an exciting landing at one of the highest airports in the world. We can hope to get excellent views of Stok Kangri as we fly-in and, on a clear day, the great peaks of the Karakoram are visible to the north. We are met at the airport and taken to the Kang Lha Chen. The rest of the day is at leisure. Leh is at an altitude of nearly 11,000ft, and you can expect to feel the effects of the rarefied atmosphere. For the first few hours, you may be a little breathless and perhaps have a slight headache. These symptoms of altitude sickness are mild and usually disappear quite quickly, however, everyone is advised to take it easy for the first day or two. Press-ups and hill sprints are definitely taboo!
Day 04: Exploring the city of Leh. Today is your own to relax and stroll around Leh, to allow the effects of the altitude to wear off. This is an important period, which allows the body to acclimatise in preparation for the initial trek. There are plenty of distractions in Leh, varying from scenic and cultural to gastronomic.
Day 05: Drive to Lamayuru. The drive to Lamayuru is an experience in itself and takes 6 hours. The road follows the Indus for some time and then climbs ever upwards through a series of spectacular bends before dropping down into the small village of Lamayuru. There is a stop en route to visit Alchi, a “World Heritage Site”. Once at Lamayuru, after some refreshment, we leave on trek for Wanla. Leaving the village, you pick your way through the fertile fields that surround Lamayuru and leave the valley by some Chortens into a dry gorge, which has a beauty of its own. We follow the gorge to the top of the Prinkiti La (3,725m). It is a fairly short, steep ascent to the summit of the La (pass), but it is soon gained if you maintain a steady pace. The path then gradually descends a narrow gorge until Mani Wall and Chortens herald your arrival in the Wanla Valley. The ochre monastery in Wanla can be glimpsed through the trees. From this point, the valley is followed and the campsite soon reached (3 hours).
Day 06: Trek up the Ripchar Valley. We leave Wanla and follow a broad trail that runs along the side of the valley until we reach the village of Phenji. From here, we turn up the Ripchar Valley and follow the path that contours the irrigation ditches. We pass by many villagers working in the fields and scattered houses, all the time gradually climbing higher. After the walk through the warm morning sun, lunch is taken in the shade of the trees that grow along the valley. After lunch, we continue to climb until we reach the village of Hinju, where it is possible to buy a most welcome bottle of pop. The campsite is some distance beyond Hinju in very pleasant meadows. Total walking approximately 6 hours, altitude 3,800m/12,000ft.
Day 07: Cross Konse La. We leave early and follow an easy path until we are at the foot of the Konse La (height just under 4,950m/16,000ft). The walking at this point gets more strenuous, but all of the effort is soon forgotten once the top is reached; from this vantage point, the views are amazing. The descent is as swift as it is steep but as it eases, we pass a number of shepherds’ huts where we may be offered curd. The campsite is reached after about one hour’s decent from the pass. Total walking about 5 hours, altitude of the campsite approximately 4,100m/13,500ft.
Day 08: Trek to the village of Sumdochenmo. From the campsite, the trail descends gradually, criss-crossing a pleasant stream. After a time, we leave this and follow a path adjacent to a water channel until the village of Sumdochenmo is reached. At the village, it is possible to obtain tea and there is a small monastery, which provides a short distraction. After the village, the path contours high above the valley bottom until it drops to a junction of several valleys. Here we find some welcome shade where we may take our lunch. Until this point, we have been descending gradually. In front of us is a climb separating us from our campsite. At a steady pace, the high point can be reached in about an hour before a gradual descent leads to a dusty but pleasant campsite with spectacular views. Approximately 4 hours of walking, altitude of campsite about 3,900m/13,000ft.
Day 09: First views of Stok Kangri from Dungduchenia.We leave our camp and pass some herdsmans’ huts on our way to the top of a pass. The path is obvious and delightful views of the mountains are afforded (great place for echoes near the top). The top is reached within two hours. The Dungduchenia is at an altitude of about 4,450m/15,000ft and from here, if the weather permits, excellent views of Stok Kangri are had. The way down is most pleasant to begin with, but a steep descent into a gorge heralds the start of a slog if the weather is hot. Fortunately, the campsite at Chilling makes up for the hard work. Sometimes beer is available as well as rum for the more discerning. About 5 hours walking, altitude of campsite, about 3,100m/10,200ft.
Day 10: Return drive along the banks of the Indus to Leh. We make a leisurely start to the day, so as to relax after completing the initial part of the expedition. The trek will have taken us through spectacular country whilst improving our fitness and acclimatisation, to the altitude and to the culture of the people of Ladakh. The benefits might not be immediately apparent, as we shake off the celebrations from the night before, but on summit day to come our acclimatised bodies will be more assured. After packing up the camp, we embark by road for the return drive along the banks of the Indus to Leh. We settle back in to our hotel for the evening.
Day 11-12: Rest and exploration in and around Leh. The time is your own to rest and explore Leh. The great palace commands the city, which was the seat of the old Ladakhi kings. Beneath it, the streets, alleyways and tunnels of the ancient city are intriguing to explore, and many of the local people still wear the traditional Tibetan-like costume. There are many shops, bazaars and restaurants among which you can spend a very pleasant and restful day. On the horizon, to the south, one mountain rises higher than all around – Stok Kangri. You may find its appearance somewhat alarming, as it does look very steep from Leh. Just remember that there is an easy way up the other side! On one of these two days in Leh, you may wish to spend some time visiting the local monasteries at Shey and Thikse.
Day 13: Begin trek up Matho River Valley to Stok Kangri. Leaving early in the morning, we drive up the Indus Valley to Matho (2 hours), which is the start of our approach to Stok Kangri. Returning once again to the barren mountain wilderness, we trek up the Matho River Valley and set up camp after several hours’ walk, at a place called Matho Phul (4,480m/14,700ft). After our rest in Leh and with everybody fully acclimatised, everyone should be fit and in good shape for the trek to base camp and climb.
Day 14: Trek to Stok Kangri base camp.From Matho Phul, we continue up the valley making a steep climb over a pass from which we get more super views of Stok Kangri. Also visible below is base camp and the whole route from base camp to the summit can be pointed out. From here, a steady descent leads to our base camp and home for the next two nights (altitude approx. 5,000m/16,000 ft).
Day 15: A rest day and time for final preparations. The expedition leader checks the route to the glacier and looks for a site for advance base camp. It is possible that he may require help to prepare the site for this camp, which is located on the glacier, cradled on the lower slopes of the mountain itself, several hours above base camp.
Day 16: Move to advance base camp. From base camp, we climb straight up the moraine, which stands immediately above our camp. This is tiring work first thing in the day but it soon eases to give a gentle descent and access to the glacier beyond. Depending on snow conditions we may put on crampons as soon as we walk onto the glacier. The surface of the glacier will probably be uneven and furrowed by melt water streams. There are a few, very small crevasses, which are crossed easily. At the top of the glacier the slope steepens as we climb up onto the south face where the camp is located on a promontory of rough ground at approximately 5,300m/17,400ft. Using this high camp also engenders a real ‘expedition feel’ and heightens the anticipation of the climb itself.
Day 17: Summit day. Our summit day begins before dawn, to give us ample time for the climb. Being several hours above base camp, starting from here considerably shortens the day and increases everyone’s chances of reaching the summit. This tactic has proved particularly effective and in the last two years, for example, every team member has reached the top. The nature of the climb from advance base camp depends on the snow cover. It is most likely that we do not need our crampons for the most part as we scramble over scree and boulders, which lead up to the south ridge. The 1,500 ft ridge that stretches up to the summit is exciting and superbly exposed, although never particularly steep and very straightforward. Most of the ridge is like a steep path, so ropes are not usually necessary, although some scrambling is required. At an altitude approaching 20,000 ft it is extremely tiring and anybody who needs a rope will be able to use one. The summit is a superb reward for your effort, giving magnificent views in every direction. The city of Leh is so small that you can barely see it. After taking photographs and perhaps a bite to eat, we set off back down the hill. The route taken depends on the leader, but it is usually a reversal of the way we went up. Occasionally our groups have descended the South Face, in which case a small abseil is necessary near the top. On reaching the glacier, we return all the way back to base camp, our advance base camp having been dismantled by our camp staff. The evening meal is be accompanied by a wee dram to celebrate the occasion!
Day 18: Spare Summit Day. We have allowed on extra day in case weather, individual acclimatisation, or anything else, requires more time for the ascent to be completed successfully.
Day 19: Trek to Stok from base camp. From base camp we trek directly down the valley towards the village of Stok. This is a delightful walk, passing several homesteads and numerous ruins of old fortresses. We reach Stok after about six hours walking, from where transport meets us and take us back to the Kang Lha Chen Hotel in Leh.
Day 20: Fly from Leh to Delhi. After another spectacular flight, we return to The Imperial Hotel and some welcome luxury.
Day 21: At leisure in Delhi. Time for last minute shopping and sightseeing. For those with plenty of energy left we can organise a day trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal (this is not included in the price).
Day 22: Fly from Delhi