Any 6000m+ peak needs to be taken seriously and Stok Kangri is no exception. It might be called a trekking peak but the final 1000m to the summit is seriously steep and tough going. Don’t belive it – Check out this video showing one of the members in our group reaching the summit. Here’s a recap of my experience on Stok Kangri.
My first trekking experience in Ladakh was an attempt on the popular trekking peak of Stok Kangri (6,153m, 20050 Ft). We wife and I arrived in Leh after spending a few days in Kashmir and trekking to Kolahoi Glacier. Just getting to Leh from Srinagar or Manali is an experience if you take the overland route rather than opting for a direct flight. Ladakh is essentially on the backside of the Himalayan Range and lies outside of the influence of the Indian Monsoon so is extremely dry and arid.
We spent a casual 3 days in Leh (3524 m / 11,562 ft) the starting point for the trek hoping to acclimatize before we began the assault on Stok Kangri. The trek is possible in 3 days for those who are physically fit and already well acclimatized, but given our lack of acclimatization we opted for a longer six day schedule.
Our first mistake was not preparing properly. The average rainfall in Leh is about 4 inches (102 mm) so we assumed great weather and left our rain gear behind after 3 absolutely sunny days in Leh. Two days into the trek it began to rain and snow lightly and continued for the duration although we were spared briefly on the night of our summit attempt which was clear and with a full moon.
The trek to Stok Kangri is not like most treks where all the days are pretty much similar in terms of difficulty. In fact, the first few days on the way to base camp are almost too easy with only a few hours of actual trekking. In contrast, the final push to the peak is a real challenge both physically and mentally. The reason for the slow start is the rapid ascent and need for proper acclimatization. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable part of the trek with dramatic scenery and optional day hikes keep it interesting.
Leaving Leh it’s a short drive to the small village of Stok on the other side of the Indus Valley where the trek starts to Chang Ma (3988m). It’s about a four trek up a small drainage with a clear flowing stream to Chang Ma a popular camping site.
The drainage slowly narrows into a canyon the overturned rocks are primarily of the Indus Group which was deposited 40 to 50 million years ago just before the collision of the Asian and Indian continents and subsequent uplift of the Himalayas. The rocks were overturned and folded during the subsequent uplift of the Himalayas. They are primarily conglomerates with some having an influx of volcanic materials and consists of 3 subgroups known as the Hemis Conglomerate, Sumdo Molasse, and Stok Kangri Conglomerate.
Continuing on from Chang Ma (3988m) on the second day of the trek its about a 3 hour hike to the second camp at Mankorma (4320m). These two camps as well as base camp receive a steady stream of trekkers making their way to the peak and permanent camps have been set up by local trekking agencies. Independent trekkers can buy water, snacks and even beer. While this might be convenient I wouldn’t rely on it and would count on going with a group that supplies everything or carrying it on your own if going independently. I regretted not brining some iodine tablets or water purification system and as a result was stuck either drinking boiled water which tasted bad or buying bottles of water.
Its about a five hour hike from Mankorma to Base Camp (4930m). After lunch we took a nice trek to the ridge extending down from Gulap Kangri with great views of the surrounding canyons and peaks. The following day is typically spent as a rest day with a departure to the peak late the same day.
The final climb up to the peak is a tough one. Most groups leave around 11pm or midnight and return the following morning between 10am and 1pm depending on the speed of the individual. Temperatures often fall below freezing on the way up and wind chill can make it feel much colder so it’s best to come prepared with adequate layers. Crampons are definitely a must along with an ankle supporting hiking boot.
The first half of the hike follows a trail for the most part up the lateral moraine of a long glacier coming off the mountain. One crosses the glacier at an elevation at approximately 5500m (most parties reach this point between 4 and 5am) and then begins the final steep climb up the mountain. It’s called a trekking peak but heading up the last 500m you will be questioning why as it’s a real scramble up the steep and often snow covered slope. Reaching the top you are rewarded with fantastic views of the Zansakar Range and can even see K2 of the Karakorum in the far distance.
Even if you were not feeling the elevation at base camp the change in elevation is enough to bring on problems with elevation. One of our group had symptoms of HAPE and had to be assisted down the mountain. Keep an eye both on your own condition and that of your team members. All in all it’s a great experience and an extremely tough trek!