Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ladakh 2014 - Final Phase (Stok in 24 Hrs)

Phase 3 – Boredom & Stok

Since I was able to attempt both of my objectives near Korzok in good time and complete both, the Merkha Valley and the Tso Moriri legs of my trip well within the time I had allotted them, I was back to Leh on the 20th. I had originally planned to be back by the 23rd, and fly out after a rest day at Leh. But I probably acclimatised very well and was able to achieve all the objectives in quick time; to my disadvantage really, because now I had 5 days to kill in Leh; well 4 days at least, since I would fly out on the 25th. Since I have been to Leh so many times and since it is such a small place that I have probably visited every street and alley on so many occasions; I was beginning to freak out at the prospect of not having anything to do over the next 4 or 5 days. 20th was no problem, because I reached Leh at about 5 in the evening. I had called John from somewhere near Choglamser, so he was able to arrange a room for me. I had a nice shower and was out to have dinner. John had to visit his friend for a little Nepalese get together. It was a community thing. I went to the market place and got a shave since I was among civilized folks for the next few days. I had my favourite apricot+seabuckberry juice before and after dinner. A lot of people would be a little put off by its tangy sour taste; not me. I absolutely love the concoction. Anyways, after dinner I walked around the market place, bought some fruits and returned to my room by 9. I had some difficulty falling asleep but fell asleep eventually and I think I slept well. The torment was to begin the next morning.

I woke up quite early. I heard Johns voice in the lobby, so I went down to the lobby. He was talking to a guest while I was checking out a Scooter parked in the guest house. John told me that it belonged to a friend who gave it to him, the night gone by, at the party, since it was too late. It was the same model which my father once had. My father had owned a number of scooters since the 80's; Vijay Super, Bajaj Chetak, LML Vespa and so on. I remember, when I was 6, my father once let me handle the accelerator while he changed the gears for me. So I just couldn't NOT look at it. I asked John if I could check it out. He said that I could actually ride the scooter. I was ecstatic. I jumped on it like a monkey and took off. I can say for sure, that those were the best 5 minutes of my whole time in Leh during the trip. I thanked John for the ride. He asked me about breakfast and told me that he would have to go downtown to return the scooter to his friend. I couldn’t resist a second ride. So we were off to his friends restaurant in 5 minutes. I had some lemon & honey tea while John had some black tea. While we were talking, one of Johns pretty acquaintances came in for breakfast. Her name was Anna and I think she must have been in her 50s. She was Italian and on hearing about my mountaineering trip, she began talking about the place she grew up in; apparently the place is surrounded by mountains and is a haven for mountaineers. Anna was witty and she had a sense of humor and it was hard for me to not pay attention to her alluring Italian accent. We hung around for a while and then walked back to the guest house. On the way back, I stopped at a bakery to pick a doughnut for me and a couple of cookies for John and his missus, since he told me he couldn’t finish the fairly large doughnut. I was hungry, so I just gobbled up my doughnut which was covered with chocolate all over.

At the guest house, I had nothing to do and thus began the torturous run of boredom for me. I spent some time browsing, courtesy the wi-fi from the office near our guest house, had some lunch and even walked around town for some time. It was no good. Then I was reminded something that could keep me occupied. The pinhole in my shell pant was bothering me. So I went to the market place to look for a patch of gore-tex or similar fabric that I could glue to my pant. Surprisingly nobody in Leh had it or had even heard of such a thing. My transportation sack which I use to cover my rucksack during flights also had a few tiny holes. So I took the sack to a cobbler and while he was working on my sack, we started talking and that is when he mentioned a shop in the old market which stocked waterproof fabric that could be appropriate for my shell pant. I was elated. The hole was very tiny, but as long as I knew that it was there, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well becauseI have a tendency to obsess with things dear to me. After patching up my transportation sack, I had some dinner and walked around the market place. It was beginning to get chilly which is normally the case in ladakh towards the end of august. By 9 I was at the guest house and I sat at the balcony for an hour browsing.

Aloo Paratha, soaked in Ghee & served with Curd
On the 21st, I woke up late and had some tasty Aloo Paratha with pickle and curd for breakfast at a restaurant called Gohil. It was by far the best breakfast I had in Leh; and it beat the Spanish Breakfast at Ooh La La (which I liked) hands down. After breakfast I went to the old market place, which is a part of Leh that I have seldom visited. The old market is a place which probably runs on a parallel system that is quite unlike the main market. Everything in the old market is laid-back.The shops are different, the people visiting these shops are different and the whole set up has an easy going pace. I was able to track down the shop I was looking for and bought a piece of waterproof fabric. I walked around the old market for a few minutes just to let it sink in my system and then went back to the room to fetch my shell pant. I rushed to the cobbler to fix the pin hole and the guy turned out to be a clown. I had to do everything; I had to cut the patch, apply the glue and paste the patch to the pant because the guy was useless and he did nothing. I don’t even know why I had to pay him.

Old Market - Leh
Anyways, since my pant was nicely patched up, I was feeling much better. So I went to the guest house and John was at the entrance. Since my trip was over, or so I thought, I invited John to bring his missus along for dinner as a token of thanks. Instead, he invited me over to his place for dinner that night, saying that only if I came, would he dine with me the following night. I gladly accepted the invitation. I desperately needed some home cooked food. A little later, I also met with a couple of friends, Nima and Pemba, with whom I climbed Nun last year. I was so delighted to meet them. We spoke for a long time and agreed to do something together next season. Since they had to go to the market, I walked with them. In the market, I invited them for a drink at Dzomsa. We sat there for a few minutes sipping the famous Dzomsa apricot juice before parting ways. After lunch I just went back to the room and embraced the gloomy boredom that the guesthouse had to offer. Since the lack of activity was tormenting me no end, I even considered going out on short hikes to the hills surrounding Leh but wouldn't be able to go too far because I am not too good at pointless stuff. While I walked around Leh, I would often look at Stok Kangri. For those unaware, Leh offers some fantastic views of Stok Kangri. Now, I have been to Ladakh so many times but this is a mountain I have never climbed. Stok is branded as an easy mountain and people usually do Stok in 3 to 7 days depending on factors such as level of fitness, acclimatisation, time of the year etc. Allotting 3+ days for something like Stok was something that I would never do. Besides, I didn't have three days to spare in any case. While I did consider Stok briefly, I would say to myself, "if its easy, why waste time". On the flipside I would recall the number of accidents and incidents that I have been told of, some even fatal, on Stok. So I concluded, easy or not, Stok is still quite high and not to be taken lightly. Anyways, in the end, I just dropped the idea and went out to pick a little something for the lady of the house. I went to Chospa and picked a box of cookies for Johns wife.

While I was shopping, John called me to remind me of the get together. I promised him that I would be there in a few minutes. So I paid  up and rushed to his place with the cookies. Pemba and his uncle were there too. Pemba was helping Johns wife with the chicken curry, while John was serving drinks. Since he knew that I didn't drink, I was served Coke. I handed the box of cookies to Johns wife and picked my drink. In a little while dinner was served; fantastic Dal-Bhat, Chicken, Salad and Dulle (a very small and very hot chilli). We had a few laughs and a few drinks and at some point during dinner Pembas uncle, who took a liking to me, asked me of my plans, since I still had a few days to go in Leh. I told him that I was thinking of exploring the hills around Leh and he brought up Stok. Since he was impressed with my solo effort over the last couple of weeks, He said that I could consider doing Stok. He thought I could do it in quick time. Quick time is a relative thing. Whats quick for me could be about average speed for a guide or a Sherpa. I asked him if Stok could be done in less than two days, and he thought that it very well could be done quicker. So with that though etched in my mind, I took their leave and went to sleep.

22 Aug 14

The following morning I met with John after breakfast. Yes! Aloo Paratha with curd again. I asked John if people got checked for permits at Stok. He told me that there was a good chance that somebody might check foreigners, but once in a while Indians did get asked too. John also advised me that the procedure for obtaining a permit was pretty straightforward. So I went to the IMF office at about 5 to 2. The officer in charge of IMF, Leh is a gentleman called Sonam Wangial, an Everest Hero. Unfortunately we got into a petty argument but we were both able to calm ourselves. He gave me a form to fill and asked me to bring him some copies of it at 5. That meant that I couldn’t leave for Stok that day. since it would be 6 by the time the permit was done and I would need an hour to go to the room and pack up. So in any case I couldn’t leave before 7. That left me with just two days to spare in Leh.

I thanked Mr. Wangial and came out of his office. While I was copying the form I conjured a brilliant plan. The reason for skipping Stok year after year was because it was thought to be easy. So I thought I could perhaps soup things up and "up" the challenge a bit. I could try to attempt climbing Stok in a 24 hour window, Leh to Leh. Although it sounded too adventurous, I thought about it during lunch. I thought, if I went light, REALLY light and moved quickly, it was a possibility. I was well acclimatised; exhausted and fatigued, but well acclimatised. So I rushed to the guest house and called on John. I told him about my thought and he said it was not impossible. Since we have climbed together, he knew my level of fitness (according to him I am very fit. I think I am about average), he thought I had a good chance of pulling it off. Since I would have to trek to the base camp from Stok village and then in 3 or 4 hours, attempt the summit, my plan was to strap down my pack to bare minimum; Just a pack, crampons, boots, ice axe, water, glucose and 2 bananas. I was not gonna carry a tent or sleeping bag or food/fuel etc, since I had heard that the Stok Base camp is a proper commercial base camp. So I thought that I would have dinner at the base camp and since I would leave for the summit at midnight, I could just sit in one of the restaurants; so I probably didn’t need a tent or a sleeping bag. John advised me that If weight was a concern, I could climb in hiking boots too, but that I should definitely take my down layer with me, perhaps the sleeping bag too. I argued that I didn’t use the down jacket on Kang Yatse, which a 80 meters higher than Stok. John said that Stok is much colder that Kang Yatse. I was reluctant, but I took his advise. I still insisted that I was not taking my sleeping bag with me, since I would only have to sit at base camp for 3 to 4 hours. I also felt much better about being able to climb Stok in my hiking boots. I thanked John for his inputs and then went to the IMF office to get the permit sealed by Mr. Wangial. This time he was much more enterprising and polite. I got the permit in a few minutes and informed Mr. Wangial that I would meet him again once I returned from Stok. I didn’t reveal my intent to attempt to summit Stok in under 24 hours. In any case, it was just a thought, so I thought it was best to leave it as it is. I said to myself that if I am able to make it in 24 hours, it would be terrific, but if I couldn’t it was still fine because the idea was to keep myself occupied for a day or two. If I left on the 23rd, I had resolved to return to Leh by 24th, just in time to packup and fly out on the 25th. So I would have to start my descent from wherever, summit or no summit, to be able to reach Leh before evening on the 24th.

With this thought I returned to the guest house. I ran into John and reminded him of my treat. We had a brief chat at the entrance to the guest house about my sudden plan and he had many things to share about it. He suggested that I could leave by 3 or 4 and it would take me less than an hour to reach Stok. The trek from Stok Village to base camp would take me about 5 hours. A break of 2 may be three hours at the restaurant in the base camp should take me past midnight; that is when I would start from base camp for the summit. He also gave me a rough outline of the route, since I have never been to Stok and since I would be arriving in the night, with no idea of the terrain or the route. I was now beginning to get restless and the fact that John was very upbeat about me being able to do it was bothering me. So once in a while I would just say somethings like, “you know John, I am just going to try this to pass time. Its no big deal. Its ok if I don’t summit. Besides I cant control the weather.” But John would counter that by saying, “no no. I know you can do it”. I was just anxious about embarrassing myself. He obviously had a high opinion of me and thought I could pull it off. But for me it was just a casual try. It was best if I went with an open mind. Obviously it was not going to be a sightseeing trek since I would be covering most of the trail in the dark. So obviously I would try hard. But I had resolved that I wouldn’t risk anything. I asked John about his best time on Stok. He told me that he once climbed with a Marathon runner and the contract was for 4 days. They got back in 28 hours, on the condition that John would still get paid for 4. Personally I think, if it was not for the client, John could have come back quicker.

So, after that intriguing chat, John, his missus and I headed out to Mentok Ling for dinner. It’s a nice restaurant and the folks running the place were good friends of John. I ordered a Thai rice and chicken dish, while John and his wife opted for an assortment of breads, rice and chicken curry. It was good. During dinner we spoke at length about varied stuff but the stories of John courting his wife were most intriguing. After dinner we walked back to the guest house, exchanged pleasantries and called it a day.

23 Sep 14

Big day for me, or was I making it a big deal. Whichever way I looked at it, it was going to be a tough day. No matter how much I said to myself that this was just a one day occupation, nevermind the summit, it didn’t help. So I thought, what the heck, lets give it the best shot. Afterall, this would be the last outing to the mountains this trip. I wouldn’t have to worry about fatigue or exhaustion, since I wouldn’t have to recover for another climb or hike the next day. It was just a one day thing. So I could actually afford to exert a bit. I had a very heavy breakfast at Gohils and opted to have something light at Stok village. I called Gyatso and asked him to pick me up at 3 in the afternoon. John was in the guest house, so we spoke for a while. I packed up and just lay in bed for a whle, trying to psyche myself for the quick ascent. At 2 I walked out of the room to calm my nerves. John was there too. He asked me if I needed something, and I told that I was ok. Actually I was beginning to get scared which was weird, since Stok was not even on my itinerary.
4 PM @ Stok Village
I was supposed to just take it easy and not care about the outcome, but that line of thought was not working. Anyways, at 3 I got a call from Gyatso and so I picked my bag, shook hands with John and got in the vehicle. John asked me to go easy. I agreed and we departed. I was at Stok village by 3:45. I had a couple of boiled eggs at Stok and had to pay a couple hundred rupees to the local authorities for attempting Stok. I began my trek to the base camp without wasting much time.

The initial part of the route was pretty straightforward. I had to hike along the stream and the gradient was pretty shallow. About 45 minutes into the trail, I reached spot where I had an option to follow the trail along the stream or climb over a pass. I chose the pass, to avoid any obstacles caused by the stream. With a minimalist set up, I didn’t want to get wet. From the top of the pass I was able to see the whole route along the stream, and it looked like I could have avoided the pass; it would have saved me much effort. The trail was along the stream bound between hills on both sides. I was feeling relieved that the trail was well marked out, since it was gonna get dark soon, and it would have been difficult to spot the route otherwise. At about 5:30 I met a guy who was probably a guide. Even though the trail was marked out well, I just inquired of the route. Thank God I did. He gave me an important clue which John probably missed. He advised me to go along the stream at a bifork some distance away, instead of the trail. When I reached the spot, I was confused since the trail which turned to the right of a feature was heavily marked where as the stream which was to the left of the feature had no traces of boot prints, dung or signs of traffic. Until that point the trail was along the stream and was pretty well marked. I had to make a choice. It was 6 and I had to choose. I chose the stream. I was scared for most part since I just couldn’t see anything or anyone along the stream. There was no trail, no cairns, nothing. I said to myself, that if I didn’t get to anywhere by 9, I would just trace back my hiking route to Stok. Fortunately, half an hour into the stream from the bifork, I reached another bifork with an arrow pointing towards Manikarmo. John had told me that Manikarmo was 2 hours short of the base camp. So that guide was correct afterall. I was glad that I took his advise. It seemed like I was still on schedule. I reached Manikarmo before 7 and got directions to the base camp from somebody working at the campsite there. Without wasting much time, I took off. By 7 it was dark. I put on my softshell and headlamp and started hiking. All the sweat since the last 3 hours was now making me uncomfortable and cold. The softshell was not helping much. I wore my glove liners to keep my fingers warm. I wanted to avoid hypothermia or chilblains, but on the flipside, I couldn’t wear anything too warm or that would cause excessive perspiration. The gradient had increased after Manikarmo and the altitude and cold too were taking their toll.
A view of Stok from the Trail

The trail was steep at a couple of places after Manikarmo, but nothing grossly untoward. I was not quite sure if I was moving quickly enough, because of the darkness. Since I was feeling very cold and was tiring too, I started looking around for a possible bivy spot. I didn’t have a sleeping bag, but I had a very good down jacket and I could use my rucksack too. I did spot a couple of enclosed ledges to my right and marked them in case I couldn’t see any signs of the base in the vicinity. To my left, some distance away, I noticed a few lights (I wasn’t sure if they were stars or headlamps), but I was pretty sure that couldn’t be the base camp since Stok was supposed to be to my right. Anyways, I continued climbing that steep trail and after about 10 minutes I could hear bells and singing. I was elated. A couple more minutes and there I was; the Stok Kangri base camp. I checked my watch and it was 8:30; very good time considering I was hoping to be there by 9 and only 10 minutes back I was considering either returning to Stok or bivouacking somewhere along the trail. There were a lot of tents and ponies and a very big tent which was probably the restaurant. I could hear singing and revelry from inside the restaurant, which I assumed was a group celebrating their summit of Stok or last day of their trek. I just walked in and picked an obscure corner in the restaurant while a bunch of sherpas were entertaining their European guests. I had some tang to compose myself and was shivering no end because of the sweat and the cold. The base camp was close to 5000m and it was the last week of august. There was a light breeze and it was cold. There was a guy seated 5 meters to my right. I walked to him and inquired about the cook. He pointed to the opposite side of the restaurant where the European guests were seated, at a guy who was seated near the entrance, next to a girl. I walked to the other side and sat next to the cook asking him if he had anything for dinner. The girl who was seated to his left responded by saying that the cook somehow managed to ruin the dinner that night.  I was amazed that she was able to understand my question about dinner to the cook since I spoke in Hindi. From her accent, it seemed like she was European, possibly Czech. I spoke with the cook, probing to find what my options were. I told him I was on a tight schedule but if he was busy at the moment I could wait for anything that he could make; noodles, soup, whatever. The girl seemed concerned and chimed in with me. With two requests, the cook couldn’t just sit there. So he went to make me some noodles. The girl was very inquisitive and asked me about my plan. I told her I was going to attempt the summit that night and she was surprised, may be even a little shocked. I got out my down jacket to warm myself since I was shivering terribly. The girl was curious about my effort. I just downplayed it and asked her about her summit effort, her route etc. She was part of a big group and told me in detail about the route from the base camp to the glacier and further to the ridge and along the ridge to the summit. Of course all this was not helpful unless I had some sort of orientation, since I had arrived in the night. But I listened carefully to all that she had to share. We also spoke of mountain schools, meditation and apparel too, since she seemed intrigued by mine. In 10 minutes I was served noodles. We continued chatting while I was having dinner; more like she would inquire and I would respond. After dinner when the noisy celebration began to calm down, the girl said that she needed to get some rest. I thanked her for all her inputs. In half an hour the restaurant was empty and only I was in there along with the cook and a guide. The guide was taking a client to the summit at midnight. His name was Sunny and the cooks name was Lotus. Yes you read it right, Lotus. I asked Sunny if I could follow him to the glacier. I told him I would be no hassle, I would maintain my distance and just needed to be shown the route till the glacier since I was told that the route above the glacier is tracked out right upto the summit because of the heavy traffic on Stok each day. Sunny was a very good chap. He gladly agreed to show me the way to the glacier and in fact invited me to follow him to the summit. I thanked him and told him upto the glacier was fine and after that I could climb along for company. On that note he went to sleep and I returned to my corner. I put on my base layers and just sat there trying to stay warm but it wasn’t working. John was right, I should have brought my sleeping bag. I was cold and my down jacket was not enough to keep me warm. While I was struggling in the cold, Sunny asked me to come to his side of the tent. I was glad he did. He was also not sleepy obviously because he had to leave in a couple of hours. He offered me a beer, but I politely refused. When he insisted, I agreed to take a sip from a bottle of mountain dew kept behind us. Although it was still cold, I feel good company helps. Sunny and Lotus even offered their blanket to cover my feet. Sunny told me about his childhood in Jammu, about the company he works for, his friends etc and once in a while would inquire about me too. Before long it was midnight and Sunny was out of bed to gear up. His client, Sandeep was in the tent by quarter past 12. A couple of ladies were there too who were being led by a guide from Leh. The ladies were taking their own sweet time where as Sandeep and Sunny were geared up in a jiffy. I just had to lace up since I was ready since 10.

24 Aug 14

We were out of the tent and on our way by half past midnight. It was very cold, and I was wearing my super warm Neutrino Endurance, which was probably an overkill for Stok Kangri, because I was sweating in half an hour. I just let the perspiration vent out instead of getting rid of the down piece altogether, since during breaks I would have had to probably wear it again. Sandeep, Sunny and I were maintaining a steady pace. In less than an hour we reached a feature from where one had to traverse a scree section for another hour to reach the glacier.  We took a short break and then continued hiking towards the glacier. I was feeling very tired and sleepy, but kept on moving. Once in a while Sandeep would ask me about how he was doing; honestly I thought he was doing pretty well. He seemed to be sure footed. By half past 2 we reached the glacier and took another break. Sandeep was bent on wearing his cleats to cross the glacier; Sunny and I trusted our boot soles to get the job done, besides, I didn’t bring my crampons along. It took us about half an hour to cross the glacier and after a quick drink we were off on our way towards the ridge that leads to the summit. The Tang I brought along was beginning to make me sick since that is what I had been drinking for more than two weeks. So I picked a Mountain Dew from the restaurant for the summit attempt. The drink was frozen by the time we crossed the glacier, but I was still able to suck through the frozen pieces, and it still tasted better than the Tang  I was carrying. Once we had crossed the glacier, the route was pretty well tracked out and Sunny and I could have parted ways, but I just stayed behind them to be polite.The route was not technical at all, but the thing about Stok is that the route is very very long. Attempting the summit from the base camp is slightly exhausting and I am surprised that people opt to do it that way. On the flipside, most people go through a rigorous 3 to 5 day acclimatisation process before attempting the summit. So its all good I suppose. By half past 4 we were able to hit the ridge. From this point it was just a matter of grit, and the weather holding up, since the summit ridge, although long and exposed in many parts, was easily negotiable; as long as the folks attempting the summit were not afraid of heights, since once could fall 100’s of meters either side of the ridge leading to the summit. We took a break at some point along the ridge. The girls who probably started 20 minutes after we departed from the base camp, did very well. Their guide probably brought them through a shorter route, because they intersected us at a ridge after we had been on it for half an hour. From there the six of us were pretty much around each other. At quarter to six, we were able to see the summit from the ridge. One of the girls was probably going crazy. She started pushing around and overtaking without any word of caution to the one in front of her. The slopes on either side of the ridge were quite steep; a little mistake could cause a fatal accident and her shoving around was not helping at all. I took the chivalrous approach and let her pass, even though I was feeling pretty upbeat by now. I could have very well stayed in front of her if I wanted since, suddenly, with the summit in sight, I was not feeling sleepy and I had a spring in my stride but I remained slow, to be polite to Sandeep and Sunny. I thought it to be rude to overtake the guys who had been nice to me. Sandeep on the other hand had slowed down considerably. He was only taking a few steps at a time and was stopping more often for short breaks. But it was not even 6, and I had enough time to meet my deadline. So I wasn’t worried for the moment. The other girl, was alright. She was taking it easy, but was still able to maintain a good pace and she was much more civil compared to the crazy girl.

@ The Summit
Just short of the summit, Sandeep asked me to go past him and I politely refused. I thanked him and told him that he should summit before me. We reached the summit at 0625. Good views from the top. K2 and Nun were hidden by dense clouds but Kang Yatse was clearly visible. Sunny was the one who showed me Kang Yatse. We all got busy taking pictures. The crazy girl was on her way down very soon. The other girl stayed a while with us. Since Sandeep was shooting a video, she did an “oh Yeah” dance on the summit. She said her name was Amit or Aemit (I am not sure how to spell it). She also said she was hungry, so I offered some chocolate to Sandeep, Sunny and the girl. After spending a while on the summit we headed down. I estimated that I would be at the base camp by 0930 and after a short break if I hiked to Stok I would reach before noon. I had instructed Gyatso to be at the village by noon to pick me up. An hours drive  to Leh meant that I would be done in 22 hours. But that was on paper. Who knew what was in store along the route on the descent. We were all very careful for the initial part of the descent since it was very exposed. Not very long after, we got off the ridge towards the glacier. With the sun beating down hard the route was clearly visible right upto the glacier. When we crossed the glacier, Sandeep noticed a figure on the other end who was standing still for a very long time. He waved and tried to gain his attention, but the other person kept standing still. It took sunny about 15 minutes to reach the person and that was when he first moved in a long time. We thought that he was suffering some form of AMS. Sandeep suggested that Aemit and I go to the base camp to get some help. I was reluctant to go with her, so I hung around for 5 minutes till she was a 100m in front. I asked Sandeep if I should stay back in case we needed to make a stretcher. Sandeep thought that it was better that a Sherpa or someone guide would be able to help better. In the mean time Sunny waved and yelled to say that everything was ok and the other guy was able to walk. Since things were ok, and since this incident had somewhat delayed my descent, I told Sandeep that I would go to the base camp and ask Lotus to keep some refreshments, especially tea, ready for the chap. I was able to reach the base camp by 10. Since I still had a good chance of making it back to Leh within 24 hours, I didn’t think it wise to waste much time at base. I had woken up at 7 the previous day, so I had been awake for well over 24 hours now, but I didn’t feel like I needed any rest or break. Aemit was able to spot me at the base camp and we spoke for a bit about the gift she should buy for an Indian colleague of hers. While we were talking I had a banana and some tang and just did a final check on my gear. I offered a Mars mini to Aemit and she was thrilled. I told lotus to keep some tea ready for the guy from the glacier. On my way out of the tent, I got a warm hug from Aemit; obviously for the chocolates and for Sandeep and I helping her out during the descent.

I strapped up and started rushing towards the trail, which is when I met the other girl from the previous night. She seemed thrilled that I was able to get to the summit. I didn’t think she had ever seen it done that way; arrive at base in the night and then leave for the summit shortly after. But she seemed delighted that I was able to pull it off. We exchanged pleasantries and I thanked her a lot for her help the night before. Soon enough, I hit the trail and this was no big deal. I was able to descend to the stream in about 10 minutes and reached Manikarmo in an hour. Manikarmo to Stok was a straightforward route too. The sun was out and I just had to go down stream. I maintained a brisk pace and my estimate was that at that pace I would make it to Stok before 1. About 20 minutes from Manikarmo, I met a group, who inquired about the route. I told them about the route I took the previous night and they were grateful. A little later I came across a bunch of mountain goats. I couldn’t resist snapping them. I also took a quick break there. About half an hour later I reached the point where I had to choose between the pass and the river. I chose the pass so that I would be able to call Gyatso and check if he was on his way or at Stok. Unfortunately, I had reception but Gyatsos phone was not reachable. I tried for about 10 minutes before giving up. I climbed down the pass and joined the trail. Soon I was able to see the village and I upped the tempo a bit. I reached the spot where I was dropped by 1. No sign of Gyatso, but there were other drivers there, who were from Stok.
@ Stok Village, waiting for the driver.
So I decided to get a drink and wait for Gyatso for half an hour. If he didn’t show up in half an hour, then I would drive out with a different driver. Gyatso was not there till half past one and his phone was still not reachable. I had been awake for 30 hours and couldn’t wait any longer, So I took another taxi. I still didn’t feel good about going with someone else, so I kept trying Gyatsos number. About 20 minutes after we set off from Stok, I got Gyatso on the line and gave my phone to my driver to explain to Gyatso in Ladakhi about why I chose to drive with him. We all agreed that I would swap taxis somewhere in the middle, just short of Choglamser. The guy from the glacier, the half an hour halt at Stok (for nothing) and a 15 minute argument between the two drivers while I swapped taxis, cost me close to two hours on the clock. (not to mention that I spend 4 hours sitting at base camp doing nothing – so in a perfect world, I might have been able to do this much quicker. But I would still take 24 hours anyday. Besides, I wouldn’t advise anybody to try Stok or any 6000+ m mountain this way) I still had enough time to make it to Leh before 3. There wasn’t much traffic enroute and we were able to get to the guest house by 2:30. Well within 24 hours. I was elated. John was not in the guest house, so I just went to the room, washed up and rushed to Korean House for lunch. I told Pops that it was my last lunch this trip. I ate well, thanked Pops for the brilliant food and then went to Dzomsa for a drink. Later I met with Mr. Wangial and told him about the quick ascent. He was reluctant to believe initially, but was convinced  as we spoke. He gave me his number and asked me to stay in touch.

After visiting Mr. Wangial at the IMF, I thought I should go to the room and sleep, but then who sleeps on the last day of a trip. So I just strolled around town. I got a shave and continued sauntering around. I even went to my favourite Kebab place and gobbled a few like a glutton. At about 7 I got a call from John, but we couldn’t talk because of terrible reception. So I got some cash from the ATM for incidentals and then rushed to his room. I first paid up for my room and then we spoke about my little speed ascent. On hearing my account, the first thing he said was that he knew I could do it. John invited me to a friends restaurant for dinner. I refused to have dinner but told him that I could join them once I am done packing and may be have a drink, Coke perhaps. I asked him and his wife to go rightaway, while I went to the room and did some packing. I hadn’t slept for close to 40 hours, but I said, what the heck? I could sleep I got back from the restaurant. At 9, I met with John at the restaurant and had a coke. He also offered me some snacks, but I just couldn’t eat after a heavy dose of Kebabs earlier in the evening. Incidentally my friend, Tomek was arriving the following day and I was to meet him at the airport at 8. I told John to take good care of my friend and help him out in the best way possible. Johns words were assuring. He asked me not to worry. At 11 we walked back to guest house and I thanked John for a wonderful time. I just went to the room and crashed on the bed. I didn’t even know when I fell asleep, but the next 6 hours were by far the best 6 hours of sleep for me. Lesson learnt? Boredom could get you to the top of a 6150m peak; in quick time. ;)

25 Aug 14

My flight out of Leh was only at 11, but I had to meet with Tomek at 8. I skipped breakfast, and opted to have a doughnut instead. John insisted that he pay for it, so I let him. Since Gyatso was busy with a function involving his mother, he sent a friend to drop me at the airport. I thanked Johns wife for the fantastic food and hospitality. I thanked John for all the help, advise and goodwill. At 8 I started for the airport and was there in 10 minutes. Tomek and his friend Wojtek were there, waiting for us. We could speak only for a few minutes since the security wouldn’t allow the vehicles to be parked at the airport for too long and Tomek and his friend were to use the same taxi as mine to get to the guest house. However in the brief time we spoke, I tried my best to share as much useful information as possible, to help make their trip better. Tomek was so thoughtful to bring an illustrative book about Poland. I felt thankful and ashamed at the same time, since I had nothing to give to him. Before I helped them into the taxi, I invited them to visit my house in Chennai at the end of the trip and requested them to keep me posted about their current adventure and also to let me or John know if they needed anything or were in a spot of bother. We shook hands and parted ways. I checked in at the airport, went through security and identified my baggage. While it was time to take the bus to the flight, I ran into that Czech group again whom I met at Kang Yatse and later at Korzok. The young lady, the couple and the two gentlemen, were all there. We were delighted to meet. I mostly spoke with the young man who spoke English, but the others were just as delighted to meet me, and I was delighted to meet with them as well. Soon enough we were boarding but we met again and spoke for a brief while in Delhi. They were going sightseeing in Delhi while I had to return to my drab routine in Chennai.

This was an awesome trip. It didn’t have the magnitude and glamour of a big mountain like Nun, but in many ways it was so satisfying. What was most amazing was that I was able to pull it off on my own. Stok was definitely a bonus and I am so glad I chose to do it instead of hanging around in Leh doing nothing. Stok also taught me that even after being spent physically and mentally for 16 days in two different areas, I still had at least 24 hours of effort hidden somewhere in me. I think I will do this solo thing more often. For now I will just keep training and wait for my Ski-mo equipment to arrive soon.

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