|A Stuffed Yak @ The Guest House|
|Ration & Fuel|
Honestly, I was concerned about activity in the wilderness, more than other objective challenges. It was very cold in the morning, just as cold the night before. So I wondered, if it was that cold at 3500m, how cold would it be at higher altitudes where I would be camping. Anyhow, That afternoon, I met with Sam and discussed the current trip. He was a little perturbed that I was going alone. I confessed to him that I didn’t particularly enjoy going alone into the wilderness, but that I had no options. One of Sams ‘guide’ friends was there too, who claimed to have taken a bunch of swiss skiers to the Stok area a couple of years ago. He advised me against Nimaling and suggested that I try the Stok area. I was a little sceptical, but Sams friend was able to convince me with his description of the number of options available in the Stok area; I was still split 50/50, but decided to go to the Stok/Manikarmo area based on the convictions of Sams friend. We had lunch together. After lunch, I went to my room to packup. I called Tsering that evening, and asked him to pick me up from my guest house at 9 the next morning. I slept quite well. By 8, I was all packed and ready to leave. The feeling was a bit of a mixed bag. Usually, I am pretty excited and upbeat about solo trips. But those were mostly alpine style ascents which didn’t involve skiing. This was different. It was quite early in the season to be on the mountains. I was expecting it to be really cold and inhospitable. Then there was the element of unknown. I have never skied in the area. Last but not the least, I was a bit concerned about wild animals. I know that Ladakh is home to the Snow Leopard. I have seen wolves on more occasions than one, both in Ladakh and Kashmir. So there were a lot of questions lingering in my head. My mind was not totally at ease, but I tried to stay focussed and composed. Tsering was taking forever to arrive. So I called him and checked if he wasn’t too far. He arrived in 15 minutes and we were on our way by 9:30. I didn’t speak much with Tsering while we drive towards Stok, except may be ask him to expect a call from me in a few days. I couldn’t tell him when, because I didn’t know what to anticipate on the mountains, but I told him any day around 24th of April or later would be most probable.
After falling a couple of times, I was careful to probe with my poles before moving forward. Because of the
After about 30 minutes, I got out of the tent again. The snowfall was not so heavy and the sky had cleared a bit. I took a hike around the area to orient myself again. Even though I was almost certain that Manikarmo was in front of me, I had eliminate even the faintest doubts. Since I was already camped, I wanted to ascertain my position before moving out to Manikarmo the next day. So I tried the elimination process. I went back to the bifork and took the trail to the right (if coming from Stok, left if going back from where I was pitched), walked for about 20 minutes and was certain that that wasn’t the route to Manikarmo. I returned to the tent and made some instant noodles at 6. After an early supper I decided to go in front to further ascertain the route to Manikarmo. There was another bifork about 5 minutes from where I was camped. I was pretty sure that Manikarmo was straight ahead, so I took the trail to the right to eliminate that route as well. I noticed some huts which I had not seen enroute Manikarmo on my last trip. So I knew for sure that that wasn’t the route to Manikarmo. So after walking around for some time, I headed back to the tent. It was quarter to seven by the time I got back. It was still twilight, but quite chilly. I quickly got inside the tent and into the sleeping bag. It was an interesting day; I had hiked close to 4 hours and was hoping to make it to Manikarmo, but had to camp just short of it because of the precipitation. Made my meals, replenished my water supply, hiked in two different directions. All in a days work. All good. I was hoping to move to Manikarmo the next day. Although there was a lot of ice on the river, I didn’t notice much snow on the mountains and that was making me nervous. I didn’t want the whole trip to be a washout. Anyways, I went to sleep that night hoping that the fresh bout of snowfall would change things for good. I slept well as far as I can remember. But it did take some getting used to. It was very windy and after 8 it was pitch dark. The howling winds were a little disturbing. The tent flutter was not helping. Was I scared? I don’t think so. But I felt prettttty lonely. Definitely not a great place to be for the faint at heart. I did go out at 9 to relieve myself; I can say for sure, not many guys would be thrilled about that; and I am not even talking about the cold and the snowfall and the wild animals yet. Its just that the place felt so eerie and unsettling.
Anyways, after that short “excursion” just out of the tent, I got in and played some music to take my mind off the recent train of thoughts. It seemed to work. I didn’t realise when I fell asleep. By the time I woke up it was 4. For some reason I felt relieved that I was close to daylight. Not that I had any plans at that hour or any intentions to get out of the tent at that hour; but somehow I felt this “easiness” that the major part of a stormy, slightly scary (for some) night was over, and now I had the next day to look forward to. I went back to sleep and woke up at 6 again. After a drink, I slept yet again and woke up by 8. I looked out of the tent and there was a couple of inches of snow. It was still coming down lightly. I was not sure if it was a great idea to move. So I stayed till 10. It was still overcast. So I decided to continue camping there for the day. But I was not gonna sit in my tent the whole day. So I decided to take a hike to Manikarmo, may be slightly further. After breakfast, I filled my water bottle, packed some snacks and took off. It took me less than half an hour to reach Manikarmo. I was disappointed with the views all around. There was very little snow on the mountains. I looked in the direction of Stok Kangri base camp and all the mountains in the vicinity had very little snow on the slopes. I could see rocky outcrops from so far away, which meant that the snow was not deep at all. There was a bit of ice on the river though, but who skis on the river. I did continue hiking towards Stok Kangri base camp. But it was “more of the same”. In fact the ice on the river was much harder and blue, but there was hardly a few inches of snow on the slopes.
I was bitterly disappointed. I had thought of moving to Stok Kangri base camp and possibly attempt Stok, but that seemed out of the question. The hard ice on the river made the stok base camp inaccessible, but if I somehow took a chance and tried to make it to the base camp, it would still be a waste since there was hardly any ice on the slopes. So it was a vicious circle. I decided on the spot, that I had to drop the idea of attempting Stok. My only other option was to explore the area near Manikarmo. On my way to Manikarmo from the tent, I had noticed a frozen stream to the east of Manikarmo. I did notice a few mountains in that area, so I resolved to go on an excursion in that direction the following day, if the weather allowed me. With that thought I returned to the tent. Made some lunch and got in my sleeping bag for a siesta with some music on, since I had nothing else to do. In the evening I strolled in the vicinity of the campsite to present myself with an illusion of being active. I was terribly bored, which is a feature on solo trips if things don’t fall in place. I mean, if one gets to do the activities as planned, its all good, otherwise it seems like ones plans are being disrupted. I was hoping that I could shift base to Manikarmo on the following day and do some recce in the afternoon and hopefully get to ski on the days to follow.
The plan worked. I had to take off my skis only once for about 10 minutes where the layer of snow was not very thick. I was moving pretty quickly in order to avoid a bout with the weather. About 10 minutes after I moved out of the campsite, I noticed a track of foot prints. The prints were too small to be a snow leopard print and too big to belong to a rodent or a mountain goat. Besides, on my way up from Stok, I noticed that Mountain Goats were quite happy to stay below the snow line. So that meant it was most probably a pack of wolves. I took some pictures and moved on towards Manikarmo as quickly as I could. In about 15 minutes, I was able to see Manikarmo in the distance. The heavy pack was not exactly fun to lug around but I tried to get there as fast as I could before the weather got any worse. By the time I reached there, the snowfall had intensified a bit and it was quite chilly too. Couple that with the wolf track I saw enroute, and I was in two minds about camping at Manikarmo. Suddenly a brilliant idea struck me. Manikarmo has these huts made of stones; 6 huts I think. At this time of the year, there was no one in a 100 square km area let alone the huts. I didn’t foresee anyone coming to Manikarmo in the next few days.
|Manikarmo - My Base|
|The Huts - On a sunny day!|
While I was still about 5 minutes away from the hut, I noticed something moving on the mountain that was on the other side of the hut. It blended well in the muddy background and had the looks of a canine. Was it a wolf? Was it a jackal? I wasn’t very sure. I didn’t move. I just tried to reach for my camera to take some pictures of the beast. While I was reaching out for the cam, another beast appeared from the background. I looked down into my jacket for may be a couple of seconds and within the blink of an eye, the beasts were gone. Their camouflage was so fantastic and they were so quick to disappear, that I was amazed and a little perturbed. I am not one to shy away from a little adventure, but I do not fancy ending up in the belly of a pack of wolves. This little encounter got me thinking. What if they came back with the whole pack. I had no chance against a pack. Heck, I had no chance even against one of those wild mutts. I just made some loud noises to claim my ground. Loud enough to make sure that where ever those two wolves were(I am assuming they were wolves), they heard me. I rushed to the tent to see if those chaps had been inside. I didn’t see any damage to the apparel or the food supplies pilfered. I looked around the campsite and noticed that the local authorities use some sort of metal sheets to make compost toilets. Some sheets were lying around. I carried a couple of those sheets to my hut to see if they were good enough to cover the entrance. Not the perfect fit, but I figured it was good enough to get the job done. With the most advanced security system (under the circumstances; pun intended) in place, I felt a little secure.
So with that fake sense of security, I got ready for dinner. After that little encounter, everytime I went out, I carried my ice axe with me; Whether it was to the stream to fetch some ice or a trip to the toilet. I had some tuna and noodles for dinner that night. I took a walk around the hut for a few minutes after dinner just to make sure that I didn’t have any “guests” lurking in the vicinity. At half past 6, I shut the entrance with the metal sheets. There were still a couple of gaps, but under the circumstances, that was the best I could do. By 7, it was pitch dark inside the hut. I could hear the wind whistling through the little gaps in the hut. It was a little unsettling. So I thought of turning on the music. On the flipside, I thought, what if I turned on the music and while my canine friends decided to visit me, I wouldn’t know? So after all these conflicting thoughts, I arrived at a decision. I said to myself that it was I who wanted to do this solo. I was not compelled or obliged to do it this way. Wild animals were always going to be a threat. I was aware of that. So I decided to turn on the music but set the volume on the head set to the lowest possible setting. With that taken care of, I felt at ease. The wind and the darkness were not so disturbing anymore and I was still able to stay alert in case I heard something untoward. I was amazed by how well my mobile device was holding up. It was my third day in the wilderness. I was using the device as a camera, a positioning device and an entertainment device and I still had close to 35% left on it. Impressive. I also had close to 5000 mAH of backup power. So I was covered on that front.
With all these random thoughts, I didn’t even realise when I fell asleep. It felt like I had been asleep for a while. The music was not very helpful anymore. So I turned the music off and got rid of the earphones and that is when I heard some rustling sounds. I was pretty sure that the sounds were from inside the hut and not outside. I am a very proud man, so I wont admit that I was scared. But I was definitely, inquisitive about the little intrusion. I groped for the headlamp in the dark and once I found it, I mounted it on my head and then turned it on, all the time hoping that it was just a dream. I noticed that my Bounty (chocolate) was suspended in the air. I looked a little more keenly and noticed a tiny shiny beedy eye. It was a stupid mouse. I was both relieved and infuriated at the same time. Relieved that it was “just a mouse” and infuriated that I was being robbed of my ration. I tried to ‘shoo’ the little rodent away, but he stood his ground shamelessly. So I made a little gesture with my hand and he dropped the chocolate and ran for his life. It was just past midnight when all this happened, so I was a little upset that it would take me some time to fall asleep again. I got out of the sleeping bag, retrieved my beloved Bounty and got back in the sack. It took me a while to settle into the sleep mode again. When I was just about to fall asleep, I heard the rustle again and there he was, yet again, perched between the stones with the Bounty in his clenched between his teeth. I didn’t have it in me to go after the mouse once more. I was tired and needed the sleep. So I said to the critter, “fine, you can have one, but no more”. It was close to 2 by then. In my sleep, I heard the rustling quite often that night. I couldn’t get out of the sleeping bag, but I figured that by the time I woke up in the morning, all my Bounty would be gone. I would however just turn the headlamp on for a few seconds once in a while and say “shoo” randomly, just to keep them guessing. Interestingly, I stopped hearing the rustling sounds around 4:30.
|How To Protect Your Gear From Mice|
|View From The Top!|
I kept looking for the wolves from the day before, but gladly they weren’t anywhere near to be seen. I got rid of the equipment in a jiffy and made some more kheer for lunch. For variety, I broke down a couple of Bountys and added it to the vessel. The Bounty-Kheer tasted very good. The greatest fears now were not the wild animals or the rodents. But since it was not even 3, I feared the boredom would get to me. As long as I was hiking or skiing, there were no hassles, but once I was back to base, I had the most terrible feelings of boredom and more boredom. So after lunch, I decided to hike south in the direction of Stok base camp. It was a pointless exercise, except the fact that I was trying to pass time so I don’t die of boredom. I hiked on top of the frozen stream for a while, but then climbed to solid ground, because the snow/ice was melting at a rapid pace and I didn’t want to end up in a sticky situation. I was also getting a little concerned about the route to my objectives towards the east of Manikarmo, because, without good snow, I wouldn’t be able to hike/skin to the objective I had planned for the following day. With these thoughts in my head, I reached the fork on the stream from where one would have to turn south east in order to go to the Stok base camp. The conditions were a lot worse than a couple of days back. The route was inaccessible, because of the melting ice on the route; and even the mountains were already showing a lot more muddy, rocky patches, compared to the conditions just two days ago. This second trip towards the Stok base confirmed my conviction that I couldn’t do Stok Kangri, or anything in the area; not on this trip.
|Noodles & Sardines!|
|Second Ski Descent!|
Apparently, the frozen stream was turning into a small river. The melt was so fast, that I was involved in a terrible tussle with the fast changing stream for the last couple of hours on my way to the hut. I had no idea that within a matter of 4 hours, a thick blanket of snow and ice would turn into a slushy sloshy river. So I had to get rid of my skis and strap them to my rucksack. It was a really long hike back to the hut for me. At so many places the ice would be so deep that I would be knee deep under ice. In order to avoid that if I walked on the rover then the water would be deep in a few places and seep into my boots. Along the way, I could hear the ice cracking, gushing waters under the thick layer of ice and sloshy waters on the surface. I even noticed some shed hair. It looked to me like something a snow leopard would shed. I didn’t see the hair on my way up, so I knew it was quite recent. May be the snow leopard decided to take a roll on the stream before it started melting. I took a few pictures and continued hiking towards the hut. I reached the hut by half past three. I got out of the wet ski boots and left them to dry in the sun. Made some Rajma rice for lunch and then stayed out in the sun, drying some of the gear and trying to stay warm. I was certain that the trip was over. Even though there was some snow on the mountains, the approach was pathetic. So I decided to go back to Leh the following day. I stayed hydrated for the long hike the next day. It was going to be exhausting with over 20 kilos on my back, at the end of a trip. I kept an eye around me for signs of activity. I just wanted to avoid any unnecessary confrontation with my wild friends. By six I got in the tent and had the left over Rajma Rice and packed up some apparel and equipment. I went to sleep by 7. The mice had no more luck since the night before and even though I was able to spot them a couple times in the hut, I never found them close to my food or equipment. So I slept with a peacefully. I did wake up intermittently during the night, but generally slept well. I woke up by 7, excited to go back to civilisation, hoping to stay away from the wolves for a few more hours.
|Chicken Sizzler @ Gizmo|
|Chicken Steak & Oyster Sauce Burger|