Stok Kangri 2015 - Update 1

17th Aug 2015

I'm sitting on the patio of a small, family run guest house in Leh.  The sun is shining and around me the family members busy themselves watering the garden, tending to vegetable patches, welcoming guests and contentedly completing other daily tasks around the property. The guest house is fringed by tall gangly poplar trees that sway gently in the breeze.  Beyond the city boundaries I catch glimpses of one of the religious Gompa's that stand on the hillside and from the garden there is a clear view of the Stok mountain range my team will soon be exploring.  The highest mountain in the range, Stok Kangri, is our objective for this expedition and it rises sharply above the other peaks in the range.......
Leh is the capital of Ladakh but it bears very little relation to any other capital I've visited.  I've been here many times over the years and coming back akways feels very much like coming to a second home.  I have adventured here with my partner Caroline, with youth groups and many adult teams and everyone I bring, young or older, seems to fall under its spell.  The Ladakhi people are a gentle, welcoming and peace loving folk and the Buddhist traditions that guide the population are a clear influence on the way they live their lives.  
Travel to places like this has been a vital guide to the way I live my own life for decades and, as they go, Ladakh is top of my list as a way of giving some direction to my own way of being (along with Nepal - but that will have to wait for another blog post!).  I am a mountaineer and so my adventures inevitably draw me to these areas but I don't consider it any surprise that these mountain regions also seem to house some of the most peaceful, caring and welcoming people I've ever met.  Mountains and peace are very much s package in many parts of the world.
But, if relishing the destination is always the goal of a trip like this then I think we are missing a big opportunity because there can surely be pleasure drawn from the journey to get here too.  A few days ago I left Manchester and since then 3 flights, 3 airports, several taxi rides, 2 hotel rooms and some city exploring will all be added to the developing memories of this trip as well.  Mingling in Dubai airports opulence, staring at torrential rain from my open hotel window in Delhi, tasting some quality Indian food again, my first flight on an Airbus A380 mega plane or simple pleasures like sparking up conversations with fellow travellers, some good Chardonnay and a movie on a plane, the landing into Leh's small mountain runway and finally being here to show my group around the streets that I have walked many times.  Every element of the trip adds to a rich and varied tapestry and will all become part of the valued memories of the adventure.
The team I am sharing this with is one of two groups I'll be attempting Stok Kangri with this year.  Most of the group travelled here independently and so we only came together in Delhi in time for our very early morning flight to Leh.  We've started the bonding process but it is early days - arriving at high altitude, jet lag and the calming warmth of the Ladakhi sun mean rest has been the dominant feature of our time together to this point.  It will take a little, as it always does, but I have every confidence this will be a well bonded and motivated team and, as we sat and chatted for a time in a rooftop cafe overlooking the Royal Palace yesterday, I felt the usual rush of pride to be sharing this adventure with them.  
The group has been brought together by our shared love of adventure and this was in no small part due to the involvement of our friends at Trek and Mountain Magazine.  The idea to run reader expeditions is a great way to broaden the opportunities through a trusted source and Peak Mountaineering has been delighted to organise the adventure on their behalf.  Trek and Mountain also brought on board some very prestigious sponsors who we've been delighted to work with.  Rab, Lowe Alpine and Polartec are brands I've been privileged to work with for a considerable time and there are no companies I'd trust more to provide some brilliant equipment for the team.
And so, as I sign off from this update some time after starting it (I did say rest was a priority!), another morning has dawned and the team will shortly be waking up to day two in the Ladakhi Capital.  We will take an acclimatisation walk to one of the Gompa's surrounding Leh, we'll drink some more hydrating lassi's and masala tea, relationships will continue to be forged and equipment and the adventure ahead discussed.  It's an unbeatable way to start another of my working days and my privileged lifestyle is something that I don't ignore. I reflect frequently on how lucky I am to share these adventures with such great people and facilitated by great partnerships with great associations and brands......
Posted by Paul