Stok Kangri Trip Report (group 2)

8th Oct 2012

It’s been Peak Mountaineering’s busiest expedition year ever.  Our Stok Kangri trips are one of our most popular and we are developing considerable expertise in delivering this amazing adventure.  This account shares some reflections of our second trip……

                                                                                                                                                                   


I’m sat at Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3.  I’m flying home.  This year’s second Stok Kangri Expedition is over.  It’s been another great trip with the 14 strong team and I look back with many fond memories of the unique experiences these intense trips bring.  I say unique very deliberately because, even though the itinerary may be the same as another year, each team brings its own character to a trip.  It’s a big ask to bring together a large group of people and expect they’ll be able to get on well together over 17 days.    With this group there was no need to worry. 

The majority of the team first got together at our expedition training weekend in June.  Not every company includes this but we know it’s a vital part of preparing expedition participants and it helps them come on the trip more confident, more focussed and better prepared.  The weekend allows us to pass on lots of practical information about equipment, the expedition itinerary, visas and innoculations, health and hygiene issues, some technical sessions on roping together and we also have an invaluable presentation about altitude issues from our expedition doctor.  Crucially, the team also get chance to start the bonding process.  We do this by using a few ice breaker activities, by leaving plenty of time for the team to chat and also by going out for a meal together on Saturday evening.  Teams then often start to plan ahead together too.  By the end of this team’s training weekend they had set up a Facebook page, shared contact details and even planned an additional training weekend in Wales.  This all meant that by the time we arrived in Delhi the team had a massive head start.


Our first adventure was heading to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (we usually include this at the end of our Indian expeditions but flight schedules had necessitated a different approach this time).  A visit to the world’s best marble monument to love is always special and this was no exception.  We’d wondered whether this should be included in future Stok Kangri expeditions but the team’s feedback was that it would be tragic to leave it out.  We use a tried and trusted in country agent to organise the logistics for this but there’s usually some excitement along the way.  In this case we arrived in Agra to find problems with the hotel and we had to relocate to another.  This required some amazing juggling by our agents and the local guide (and some exciting rides on the guides motorbike for me) but we resolved it and found a much better option nearby.

 
The team had their fair share of illness on this expedition.  Despite taking great care with hygiene a few people caught a stomach bug.  Getting ill isn’t, as some people think, inevitable when travelling in India – but it is certainly possible.  We carry an extensive medical kit on all our trips and can deal with many problems.  In this case everyone responded to the tried and tested option of antibiotics, rest and plenty of water.  Another illness that caught some team members out was a flu bug that may well have travelled with us from the UK.  I’ve never used so much Flu-Plus on an expedition before!  Finally, there’s the altitude.  Flying in to Leh is tough on the body.  At 3505 metres some altitude related problems are very likely.  We deliberately leave several days in Leh to allow the team to start the acclimatisation process and for this team there were the usual headaches and other mild attitude symptoms to contend with but generally, given time and a suitable ascent profile, symptoms calm down.


Once we left Leh the team soon fell into the pattern of trekking and living in the mountains.  Having our own cook team and mess tent allows a comfortable routine of a communal breakfast, trekking until around early to mid-afternoon, tea and rest, dinner and either some social time in the mess tent (cards was popular!) or time to read, listen to music and an early sleep.  Our cook team, as usual, did us proud and the quality of food was great.  We also try to make life as comfortable as possible and this year we added solar powered lighting for the mess tent which certainly beats headtorches or candles.  Having a solar system also ensures we can keep emergency communications systems working and we take a small computer to allow team members to watch movies or listen to music if they wish (more information on the solar system we use is available here).  Next year we are adding individual tents, a shower and even portable toilets!  Life on trek is a simple, easy and satisfying routine - the route is planned to allow a beautiful journey in a stunning landscape but also sufficient acclimatisation time and a relaxed atmosphere to maximise the team members chances of success on the mountain.


Stok Kangri base camp sits at around 5000 metres and doesn’t offer much in the way of luxury.  The toilets are, to put it politely, basic!  The bathing area is a stream of melt water (although our cook team offered warm water for washing each morning) and the ground is rocky and barren.  What Stok Kangri base camp does have is a sense of purpose.  The people there are either heading up or heading down and there’s plenty of chance to discuss peoples adventures.  It was also great to meet several familiar faces at base camp.  Ken had been on a winter skills course the previous winter, Chris was an expedition leader from Sheffield and Dave was leading a group on the mountain – sometimes you travel a long way and still feel very at home.


We arrived with a day in hand but preparations for the ascent also keep everyone busy.  A training session on the nearby slopes, discussions on equipment, crampon fitting and lots of other jobs – sometimes it’s hard to fit enough rest time in.  In the end it all leads to one more challenge.
Stok Kangri is technically straight forward but physically very challenging.  Climbing over 1100 metres from base camp to summit, traversing a fair distance around the mountain to access the glacier, finishing the route with a long and tiring ridge section.  By the time our group of 14 (9 clients and 5 guides) got to the summit it was a very emotional experience for us all.  Everyone brings different histories to such an adventure and this team had fought hard for their success and thoroughly deserved it.  I was very proud of them all and felt extremely privileged to share their journey.


Not all the team had been able to make the summit and our first job from the top was to make radio contact with the team members below to share news that we were there, we were safe but also that they were with us in our thoughts.  The summit of Stok Kangri is, by any standards, a great summit.  Sheer drops on every side, snow-capped and with stunning views.  I never tire of arriving there.  On this day we’d watched clouds encase the top for most of the ascent so it was particularly special when the clouds opened to give us a spectacular panorama for our time at the top.


Of course the classic adage is that getting to the top is only half way there.  That’s truer than ever on Stok.  Once we’d enjoyed the top we pointed our weary legs back the way we’d come and started our descent.  The upper ridge, a traverse to the broad slopes that lead to the glacier, the glacier crossing and then the lengthy traverse and final steep descent to base camp – it’s a long way.  We arrived in to base at different times but it was fantastic, as I brought in the tail enders, to be greeted by some of the team that had turned back early.

 
After hugs and congratulations everyone went straight to bed.  In some cases we saw people for dinner and in others it was 15 hours before they surfaced, but everyone was good to go by the following morning.  The descent from base camp to Stok is a 4-5 hour stroll and it wasn’t too long before everyone was enjoying showers and fresh clothes in Leh.


A final night in Leh, flight to Delhi and a raucous celebration with the Phillipino band at the @Live bar in Connaught Place and a great expedition was at an end.  The only thing that remained was to get everyone on to their flights and make my own journey back to my little piece of the Peak District.  I can’t say I wasn’t happy to be getting home (I had been away for 6 weeks) but I can say I went home with many happy memories and a feeling that this was a special group that had shared a special adventure in a unique part of the world.  Roll on Stok Kangri 2013.


We’ll be running another Stok Kangri expedition in 2013 and we’d love to have you along.  Full details can be found on our expeditions pages here (we’re also offering expeditions in Nepal and Morocco next year and details of these trips are available there too).  Maybe 2013 is the year to have that great adventure?