Au Revoir Stok Kangri Team One.....

31st Aug 2015

A few days ago the 2015 Trek and Mountain team were in Agra.  An end of expedition visit that has become a tradition on Peak Mountaineering Stok Kangri trips.  A chance to unwind after the stresses and exertion of the mountain phase and also a chance for the team to have some stress free fun together after weeks of forging strong friendship bonds in in the hills.
Our time in Agra was a great few days but one really special moment sticks in my mind.  On our last evening we drove round to the gardens that face the Taj Mahal on the opposite side of the Yamuna River.  Sunset here can be spectacular and the gardens offer a tranquil peace after the craziness of Agra City.  It is also, from here, that I always somehow feel closest to the love story of the Taj.  You can sit and imagine the emperor sharing this view as he mourned the loss of his beloved partner.  It's a special place.
Although the Stok team were usually very chatty, they were quiet while we were there.  We all sat for a while along a low wall on the banks of the river and we simply watched and listened.  There was much to see and hear.  The river teemed with birdlife, a small group of children fished from a rowing boat, locals in colourful sari's wandered through the gardens and, all the time, the eye is soon drawn back to the incredible beauty and intricate symmetry of the Taj Mahal.  I also say the team listened because, along with the bird calls and occasional child's excited yell, we were also treated to the vibrant Indian music of a wedding party that was in full flow in the grounds next to the Taj complex.
It was very very special and I think the others in the team felt the moment too.  Over 2 weeks a group of individuals had become a team.  It had been a very successful expedition and, as we started to close the doors on it, there was much to reflect on and much to be proud of.....
I thought about Yannekes trepidation as she leaned back on the abseil rope at our pre expedition training weekend.  She is a determined person and overcame the nerves of the abseil just as I reflected on her arriving, exhausted but delighted, at the summit of Stok Kangri.  I am sure this experience will lay the foundations for Yanneke to summit many more mountains. 
Martin had proved to be a strong and resourceful member of the team all through the expedition.  He has loads of expedition experience and, although summit day pushed him, he is a strong operator in the mountains. He also has a keen eye for a photo and I thought with a smile to the times I'd spotted him seeking out that unique angle.
I thought about the moment Penny turned back from her summit attempt.  The top may have eluded her this time but she has conquered other mountains on this trip as India has pushed her into seeking new adventures.  I hope, now she has experienced the hustle and bustle of this crazy but lovable country, she will continue seeking more challenges of this type in the future.   
The expedition was a return visit for Steve who had failed (through no fault of his own) to summit Stok Kangri in 2012.  He fell a little behind some others on summit day but he was in safe hands tethered to one of our local guides and I was moved to tears to see him approach the top with the rest of the team already there waiting to cheer his success.  He's already talking about a return to India for further mountain challenges.
My co leader Adam offered calm reassurance when tricky decisions needed to be made.  His wealth of experience in leading teams all over the world was a huge asset to the expedition and his daily work as an expedition company Operations Director made him an asset in organising both the pre departure and in country organisation.  Thanks so much Adam.  It was great to have you on board.
Graham became known to all the team as Big G.  His daily work as a postman meant that, despite being the oldest member of the team, he had no problem putting one foot of the other on the difficult days even though at times he found the going tough.  I will never forget his ready smile or his excited expletives in our late night Delhi Tuk Tuk journey back to the hotel!
Caroline was a bubbly and fun loving team member who demonstrated an infectious passion for the mountains as well as a love of Indian culture.  We climbed the steep steps of Leh's Shanti Stupa as part of the acclimatisation phase of the expedition and at the time joked that a return to climb them again at the end would be a fun test of how effective we were coping with the altitude.  Caroline was the only person to take up the challenge!
Dom was, and I'm sure he'll excuse the comparison, the excited puppy of the team.  A puppy maybe in that he was the youngest team member but his infectious personality and boundless energy also reminded me of something like his St Bernard puppy that he'd shown me photos of and would be waiting at home for him.  He was always ready with a smile and performed strongly throughout the trip.
Our team weren't without casualties, however.  Sophie and Jane were members expected to join us but, for different personal reasons, their personal Stok Kangri aspirations will need to wait for another year.  Jane is expected to join us again next year and I hope Sophie gets her Ladakh adventure soon.
So we turned our back on the Taj Mahal and I felt very mixed feelings.  Delight that we'd been able to perform so well as a team.  Joy that our expedition had been such a success and we'd been able to live up to the expectations of our sponsors Rab Equipment, Lowe Alpine and Polartec. 
And yet sadness that we'd soon be heading back to our normal lives and that this special team would be disbanded.  Maybe there will be a chance for us to reunite on a future adventure but, in the meantime, a huge thanks to the Trek and Mountain Stok Kangri 2015 expedition team for being so special.  I only dropped you off at the airport this morning and I'm missing you already!
Posted by Paul