I woke at 2am to my tent shaking. We were at base camp at 5,000m for two nights and the weather showed no sign of improvement. It wasn’t due to bad wind that the tent shook, but it was our guides shaking heavy snow off each tent. Our first summit night was ruled out due to heavy rain. We were told that the forecast looked in our favour for our second night held aside for the summit. The group was positive, all 14 of us looked strong and in good shape to break the 6,000m height and reach the peak.
Stok Kangri sits high into the clouds at 6153m. It rests comfortably in The Himalayas amongst many of its fellow peaks in the Ladakh region of India. It’s not a well known mountain but the magic of the Himalayas was calling me again and this looked like a great peak. The physical challenge was one hook, particularly breaking 6,000m but so was the mental/mindset aspect a challenge too.
It’s easy to throw out numbers of 5,000m or 6,000m around mountains. As my Dad asked me “how was the hill”, I quickly reminded him that it was far from as hill. More fool me for rising to his bait! Jokes aside, heading into this level of altitude takes its toll on the body. The air is thinner which makes it more difficult to breath. Less oxygen means the body needs to work harder to get oxygen around it. Headaches are common. Nose bleeds are not uncommon and at times you do witness altitude mountain sickness. On one of our acclimatisation hikes we were met with a trekker hooked to an oxygen mask, each arm draped across a guide who were carrying him off the mountain. A third guide followed carrying this guy’s oxygen tank. But, with the right preparation and time to acclimatise, the body can adjust.
After leaving Leh, we spent the next 3 days on our own. Just our wonderful group and the valleys of The Himalayas. Aside from the odd local, it felt like we had the entire mountain range for ourselves. We camped surrounded by incredible scenery. We laughed uncontrollably at times. And we kicked our lungs and bodies into action with our first acclimatisation breaking the 4,000m mark.
Over the coming days we made our way slowly up into higher altitude, passing two 5,000m passes and then setting up camps gradually higher and higher to adjust our bodies even further. By day 4 we arrived at base camp. A sea of colourful tents greeted us, shadowed by many peaks, including Stok Kangri herself. Mules wandered around, their bells around their necks adding a musical air to the place. For every piece of music they played, you also watched your footing to not step in other ‘presents’ they were leaving dotted around base camp. Reality!
Another acclimatisation trek to 5,300m and I knew I was ready. I was ready for the crampons. I was ready for the glacier. I was ready for the ropes. I was chomping at the bit to get the merino wool base layers on, to get all my down gear on. I was as ready physically as I was mentally. I was nervous. But nerves are good. They show me that I care!
Summit night number 1 was ruled out by heavy rain. We were due to trek as far as the glacier however our guides made the call that the heavy rain would have an impact on the morale. So instead we had a rest day. Following breakfast, I slept. As did most. After lunch some chatted, some slept, read or did whatever to pass the time. We were given our plan for summit night 2 and prepped ourselves for a long slog on the mountain the following night and early morning.
Waking up at 2am to heavy snow I still had high hopes. I knew we had a number of hours before heading out of base camp and up to the peak. The mountain and mother nature had other plans. The snow continued to fall. The forecast over breakfast was now reading that we’d have snow fall for another 10 hours. The news was broken that no push for the summit would happen. It was too dangerous. There was no visibility and with the level of snow that was falling, there was potential risk of avalanches. Albeit a low risk, as risk nevertheless. We packed up our day bags and bid a farewell to basecamp. Our mules and some of our local guides remained there for another 2 days due to being unable to bring animals down in bad snow. Again, more reality of the mountains and the weather that we were faced with.
It could be easy to see the lack of a summit as a failure. The Great Outdoors is ‘Great’ for a reason. There is no one person above it or better than it or no ego more powerful than it. It can teach you lessons if you choose to see them. This trip into The Himalayas reminded me to “Control the Controllables”, what’s within my control and what’s outside of it. Something that I always aim to hold with me however this was a kind reminder to take this with me back into my day to day life.
There will be more mountains, there will be more adventures, there will be more bad weather. But this is what The Great Outdoors is about for me.
“For every mountain you climb, and for every plateau you rest at, there will always be another view to come” – Mark Devine.
The Inside Out Coach