Often it is said that The Stok Kangri Trek is one of the most difficult treks in our Country and
ONLY EXPERIENCED TREKKERS MUST ATTEMPT IT.. You can find many blogs or online forums where people advise you not to attempt Stok Kangri if you are a beginner. However, to all those who write, say or believe that statement, I have a question ...
Don't you think there are adventure enthusiasts in our country and around the World, who might be brave and fit enough to meet all the challenges put forward by the mighty summit of the Stok Kangri Peak ?
Don't you think there are and will be many trekkers in our country who have keen interest in climbing mountains and who want to boost their confidence by accepting difficult challenges offered by a trek and overcome those?
Do you think that the altitude, cold, distance of the summit climb and efforts required to complete it, are any less for the experienced trekkers?
Let me take a laughter break if you think that Stok Kangri will be biased towards the ‘experienced’ or beginners
Okay !! Before I talk about that, let me talk about the challenges put forward by the Stok Kangri Peak. Let me actually go ahead and talk more about it. According to me, there are just 5 Major Challenges that the Stok Kangri Trek has to offer. I will then describe what you need in yourself to beat those challenges and summit the peak successfully, .
I do so, because I know of and have seen many of the so called 'experienced trekkers' in our country, who despite being classified as an experienced trekker, do not necessarily have the required set of mental and physical abilities to take on the mighty peak. Thanks to the rise of Group Trekking and hand-held trekking industry in India. Some of them do not even know how to pack their rucksack!!!
I do so, because I have seen and made beginners climb Stok Kangri. Many foreigners do it in our country.. Are they machines? No, they are just better prepared and mentally tough and possess positive attitude.
I also know that the terrain of Stok Kangri is not too complicated and does not offer frightful challenges as compared to other treks in Garhwal, which are of lesser altitude and require prior experience in negotiating the complex crevasse laden route, Rock fall zone and avalanche prone terrain.
5 Major Challenges Of The Stok Kangri Summit Trek
1) Extreme High Altitude Above 6000 Meters
2) A Super Exhausting, Mentally Tiring, Long Summit Day Of More Than 10 - 12 hours
3) Tolerate Terrible Cold And Trekking In The Darkness
4) Inconsistent and Harsh Himalayan Weather
5) Safety First, Then Style. That's How You Negotiate The Terrain
No doubt that a peak of more than 6000 meters will NOT be a cake walk anyway. As far as the classification of high altitude goes, altitude above 5500 meters is considered as an Extremely High Altitude. Here, even the fittest of the climbers will have problems to adapt, and can get even fatal. But who said climbing mountains is a cake walk ? However, its not invincible ! Its rather more about strategy and acclimatization regime one puts himself through.
All of the educated climbers and trekkers know the importance of High Altitude and precaution one needs to take to tackle the difficulties put forward by it. If you want to learn more about the High Altitude and the difficulties it may pose to a climber, please follow the link below to learn more. As far as the threats are concerned, I will jot down the pointers here.
- The conditions are apt for getting into serious conditions of AMS, HACE or HAPE which might get fatal and kill you, if you do not pay attention to your body's alarming signals.
- Serious weakness can be caused as the body rapidly increases its metabolism rate in that altitude and starts to eat itself to sustain.
- Losing appetite and Digestion problems can cause serious weakness.
- Sleeplessness will degrade your body and energy, however strong you might be.
- Lose motions can keep you busy. Medicines will make you further weak.
- Losing reasoning abilities and suffering from Glacial Lassitude.
- ... well, there are many
learn more on.. High Altitude Seriousness | Better Know It Better
Acclimatization is the only answer to these problems. Of course, I assume that you are sensible enough to bring a fit and healthy body on the trek which can endure minor weaknesses and set backs. Its more of a strategy and about understanding your own body limits. Every individual has his/her own capacity and speed to acclimatize. However, our human body is a miracle machine designed to adapt to the environment and acclimatize naturally, only if we understand and follow a regime - The Acclimatization Regime.
What you require apart from a fit body is TIME !! Here is where the major problem lies...
Most of the climbers expect success on the summit to come easily and quickly. Most of the climbers also neglect the importance and threats of an extreme high altitude zone. Some of them even do not know about or do the bare minimum research before venturing out on a exhausting trek in a extreme high altitude zone. Isn't that a serious concern ?? The so called Group Trekking works on Glamourization of Treks and pumping immense sense of achievement even for completing a simple trek and makes their trekkers fly in the wind, so that they become a repetitive customer for them. What they don't do is to rationalize the problems and boost knowledge. Anyway, the most important thing here is the fact that 'Sense of difficulty is a very relative term'. That is, if I find a thing difficult, the general tendency is to call it difficult, without rationalizing and comparing it with rest of the World !!
Overall, what I am trying to say here is that, an extreme high altitude zone can be negotiated strategically and be beaten by following a proper acclimatization regime. It has nothing to do with being a BEGINNER or an EXPERIENCED TREKKER. Acclimatization may require you to make your trek bit longer, it may force you to rest more than others, Its about keeping yourself well hydrated and by following all the rules of better acclimatization. To keep the article short, I am providing a link where I have blogged more about how to acclimatize naturally on a trek. We as an organization, or I as an Individual TREAT DIAMOX JUST LIKE A MEDICINE SHOULD BE TREATED, AND DO NOT PROMOTE THE USE OF IT FOR FASTER ACCLIMATIZATION.
... read more on 13 Ways to Acclimatize Naturally
This is the second most important problem to solve if you are challenging the summit of Stok Kangri. Here again, being a BEGINNER OR EXPERIENCED TREKKER makes no difference at all. All you need is a good physical and mental condition. Read on..
Lets Understand The Problem
There is no way you can set up an Advanced Base Camp to climb the Stok Kangri peak, as it is banned for commercial as well as campsite problem. It is Not Allowed to set up ABC on the Stok Kangri trek as a rule. There is lack of water and proper campsite as well beyond the Base Camp, specially if you are in a team of more than 2 - 3 climbers, and if there is no snow up there which you can melt to make water.
This forces the trekkers to attempt the peak from base camp itself, which is at the altitude of 4950 Meters. This makes the summit climb difficult as you will have to gain a vertical height of ( 6153 - 4950 ) = ~ 1200 Meters to reach the summit, in about some 8 kilometers of distance to cover. Try and guess the average gradient of the trek now. To top it up, remember that you will be trekking over the height of 5000 meters and will slowly be gaining altitude as you keep climbing. That means, your oxygen intake capacity will keep decreasing. Further to add on to the difficulty, you will be starting your trek post midnight, as its ideal to reach the summit and start your return by about 9 AM latest. That means you will be trekking in darkness and in the same darkness, you will be required to negotiate the terrain as well, which includes a glacier crossing with a small jump-able crevasse, a never-ending switchbacks on the moraine to get to the shoulder, and then the ridge walk with sharp fall zone on your left to reach the summit. When no snow, this ridge walk has some small boulders to negotiate. Snow makes it easier by covering up the moraine. On the other hand, if the snow is soft, it adds more to the difficulty as it demands more physical power to cover the distance. Compare walking on paved road and beach side on sand. Mind it, you have to return from the summit well in time as well !!
Overall, the summit trek to the Stok Kangri top will demand huge Physical Stamina and Power, but more than that, it requires immensely positive Mental Endurance to meet and beat the challenges of the day.
Check the elevation profile of the summit climb I could get through Google Earth profiling. ( accept the error margin of 10% here. that is increase everything by ~ 6 - 7 % more )
Should I tell you how do you solve this problem ? Well its simple.. GET YOURSELF FITTER AND STRONGER
Ladakh is as usual very dry and even in Leh, you will face problems with normal breathing, not just due to altitude, but also due to cold dry winds. The campsites on this trek are very cold and besides the river, which increases the cold. On the contrary, the days are warmer and can get as hot as 30 - 35 degrees as well. Thanks to the high altitude sun.
Further, the summit push demands that you start the trek just after the midnight to finish it on time, find hard snow and also to give yourself enough time to complete the trek and return by afternoon, as after that, weather usually turns bad. You need to face this harsh cold of extreme temperatures which goes as low as - 5 degrees during the months of July August, and even lower in September, October and May June. Cold decreases the rate of acclimatization too and your body wastes too much energy in keeping your core organs functioning and warm.So in conditions, where the altitude forces your body to eat itself, the extreme cold temperature does not help much. However, to summit the peak, you need to have the capacity to beat this problem as well !!
How do you do it ?
Well, as far as cold is concerned, you can beat it using proper clothing techniques for high altitude, i.e Layering. Read more about it on the below link. On top of it, you should eat well. Add some nuts, carbohydrate and chocolate to your food list. Leave the rest to the enduring capacity of your body..
Tell Me - What Has Cold To Do Between A Beginner And Experienced Trekker ? You just need Better Gear and Use Proper Layering Techniques To Beat It. What the Heck !!
read more on How To Use Layering, Pack Light And Still Beat The Cold
The inconsistent Himalayan weather is a well known problem that exists in all of the treks we do in the Himalayas. The higher we go, the more inconsistent it gets. Stok Kangri is no different. Snow storms and white-out conditions are very common on this trek, specially on the summit day owing to the altitude. The white-out condition reduces the visibility and becomes a major reason to force your return and give up on your summit attempt. Under such conditions, you are helpless irrespective of your capabilities. You either try the next day, or the next time.. Nothing else can be done, as the peak will stay, and you can come back again. We usually say, the Himalayas has to let you climb it. You can never force yourself over it. NEVER !!
That's the learning we take from any Himalayan Trek. Again, It does not differentiate between a BEGINNER AND AN EXPERIENCED TREKKER. Yes, an Experienced trekker can or rather we expect them to better handle the situation with more patience, but that does not mean Beginners cannot learn the game of mountain patience !!
To beat this challenge, all we can do within our capacity is to schedule your trek better. Plan your trek during the months of June to October. The weather might get bad during this time as well, but still it is considered the best time to climb in Ladakh, as the weather is more-or-less clear with few odd days. The best time being July, August and September though.
Here is where the Support Team Matters a lot if you are not SELF SUFFICIENT in handling your own safety. I have seen a very few or almost NO trek operators but Himalayan High to provide all the trekkers with a Helmet, Harness, A Walking Ice Axe, Climbing Boots and Ice Crampons ( not the walking crampons ) for the trek. All the climbers climb roped up with leaders who are practicing mountaineers themselves and not just English Speaking High Altitude Trekker, but Search and Rescue Qualified students of Mountaineering and High Altitude Medicine Expert certified by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation as well !!
Can you believe that in order to make the trek cheaper, not just the agencies, but even the trekkers NEGLECT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BASIC SAFETY GEARS AND SUPPORT STAFF REQUIREMENT ?? Its not the fault of the agency though. They give you what you demand for!
In discussion with one of our leaders Mr. Montu Singh, he was saying that once in Stok Kangri Base Camp, a guy walked towards him and was asking for the route to the summit. When he asked who he was, he said that he was the Guide of one team in the base camp !! When he questioned him that how come he was taking clients to the summit without even knowing the route, his reply was that he will follow other groups to the summit and if it gets too difficult for him, he will make the team return from half way... CAN YOU JUST IMAGINE THE LEVEL OF UNPROFESSIONALISM SHOWN HERE BY THE AGENCY AND THEIR CLIENTS AS WELL ????
In 2016, a Singaporean climber died on the trek suffering from HAPE, while his guide had gone to summit with other members of the team asking him to take rest, even after knowing that he is in a problem. Isn't that ignorance and lack of understanding of the so called dreaded HAPE, which is very common on this trek ?? In the same year, a solo Indian trekker fell from the ridge with no one to help him, as he was all alone. Didn't he ignore the risks of this trek ? There are many incidents of trekkers falling into the small drain like crevasse, falling from the ridge, slipping in the moraine and breaking bones, dying of AMS etc.
Taking safety for granted is not acceptable at all. Of course, you are at your own risk, but that's why each year, this peak is famous to kill at least 1 trekker if not more. Hearing these incidents are just a proof of how fatal this trek can be if you ignore the safety precautions.
What Are The Challenges Offered By The Terrain Of Stok Kangri Summit?
Lets talk more about it...
Well the terrain of the Stok Kangri Summit is not highly demanding like the Kalindi Khal Trek, Auden's Col Trek etc in which you have to negotiate a highly glaciated area full of moraines and loose rocks. There is no typical Avalanche threat or a specific rock fall zone. There are no hidden crevasses or a deep crevasse which has to be negotiated technically. There is a just a small drain-like crevasse which comes on the way and is a jumping crevasse. After crossing the glacier, we need to walk on a moraine of loose rocks which is covered well by snow during the months of June, July. Negotiating the moraine walk which has a very smooth gradient, we reach the shoulder of the peak from where the ridge walk starts. There is a sharp fall on the other side of the ridge and one has to be careful here.
As the saying in the mountaineering community goes - "Climbing up is optional, getting down is mandatory".
Having said that, climbing down the same terrain becomes bit more difficult.
All this requires a good support team and your abilities to listen and heed to their advice and follow their instructions. Even the Experienced trekkers have to follow the same and hence it does not make a difference if you are a BEGINNER OR AN EXPERIENCED TREKKER. However, I do agree, that a well nurtured experienced trekker has more potential to keep his nerves calm and has an edge over a beginner. However, a Beginner who has a cool head, is patient, is strong and is a quick learner, who listens to and follows the instruction of the leaders and guide can take on this challenge very well as well...
In order to write about all the difficulties of the Stok Kangri Trek in detail, I have made this blog too long. So here I conclude...
IT DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF YOU ARE A BEGINNER OR AN EXPERIENCED TREKKER, WHEN YOU ARE CLIMBING THE STOK KANGRI PEAK. ALL WHAT MATTERS IS WHETHER YOU HAVE ALL THE ABOVE MENTIONED TIME, QUALITY OR RESOURCES IN YOU TO ACCEPT THE CHALLENGES POSED BY THE PEAK.
THIS HOLDS TRUE FOR ALL THE OTHER 6000 METER TREKKING PEAKS IN OUR COUNTRY WHICH YOU CAN FIND ON THE FOLLOWING LINK.
WE HAVE TAKEN LOTS OF BEGINNERS TO THE TOP OF STOK KANGRI IN THE PAST AND WITHOUT DIAMOX. WE WILL KEEP PROMOTING PURE HIMALAYAN ADVENTURES AND KEEP DOING SO..
Do you want me to dig more into why some blogs or operators demotivate taking Stok Kangri as your first trek ever ?? In a short conclusion, my opinion is that they do so, because that sells their other Treks. At least 4 - 5 Treks they sell before they motivate you to take on Stok Kangri. Then comes the major reason, if you complete Stok Kangri as your first trek, you will get out of their hand as they do not have the capacity to take you beyond. So they lose on big business opportunity. Also, one of the giant of 'mass-trekking' is banned in Ladakh. You may find them promoting their other Treks as an alternative for Stok Kangri.
WE WISH YOU ALL THE SUCCESS ON YOUR UPCOMING ADVENTURE. PLAN WELL AND ENJOY YOUR Climb. Find out all the details of trekking peaks above 6000 Meters by clicking on the image below.