Sunday, August 27, 2017

Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 1)

Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 1) (You are reading this)
Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 2)
Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 3) 

One, two, three, four, five steps. Stop. Take a deep breath. Look around. Check whether headache is set in. Check whether there is any difficulty in breathing. If everything feels normal, repeat the procedure.

This is how I was tackling the last ascent to reach to shoulder of Stok Kangri. First time, I was venturing into the zone of 19000 Ft. Safety first was my approach and it was important to listen to all instructions sent by the body. Any small ignorance to these instructions could prove lethal and you could be on the point of no return.

Fortunately all my vital parameters were working fine. I was in my senses. I felt quite control of the situation. I realised my dream of breaking the barrier of 20000 ft was within my reach. 

Accompanying me was the dark horse of our team - Dr. Atul Sathaye. Today, Doctor was in his own zone. He was already few yards ahead of me and was ascending with great comfort. Out of eleven members of our group, nine had quit the trek and we two had remained on coarse to reach the summit. 

Plan for Stok Kangri was finalised in Year 2016 by Pune-Nasik Trek Group. As Stok Kangri lies above 20000 ft, we knew we were embarking on the toughest expedition of our lives. Being in the prime fitness was of utmost importance. A lot of treks were planned and executed in our Sahyadri Mountain range. I also took special efforts in working on my leg muscles. Meditation and breathing exercises were included as part of routine. Days passed quickly and we never realised when the day for departure to Leh arrived.

Just before the trek, I was fortunate to spend some quality time with Kishor Dhankude (Two times Everesteer) twice in the span of 15 days - first time during Panhala-Vishalgad Trek and second time when he graciously accepted to help us shopping for this trek. "You don't conquer the mountains, you surrender to it", "Drink plenty of fluids to acclimatise well" were few of the important points that I took from his brain.

There were few additions and few subtractions during the planning period and finally below members were able to make it for this trek.

Pune Team: Prashant Kothawade, Tushar Kothawade, Milind Kulkarni
Nasik Team: Dr Atul Sathaye, Sanjay Kulkarni, Puneet Sanklecha, Kiran Kale, Bapu Pagar, Panditrao Dhondge, Aadil Mistry
Bangalore Team: Vishnu

Sanjay Amrutkar (Nana) had to pull out at the last moment due to some personal emergency and it was a big setback as we were looking up to him to lead our troupe.

Day 1 (26th July, 2017):

Clouds of myriad shapes hovering above the vast expanse of barren desert and lofty mountains called for our attention as our plane was descending to Leh airport. I was super excited to visit Leh for the first time.

Signboards and announcements to help tourists for faster acclimatizations greeted us as we came out of the airport. We were escorted from the airport by our trek Operator and soon, we reached to "Goji Villa" our hotel for the next 2 days in Leh.

After having normal lunch, I felt confident of not having any issues of acclimatisation but alas! I was so wrong. Nausea and intense desire to sleep set in as afternoon wore on. I had a bad vomit in the evening and I went to bed skipping evening visit to Leh Market. I lied in the bed all the time and even skipped the dinner. Dr Sathaye visited me at night, gave me a tablet and I went to bed - empty stomach. A very bad start indeed for my Stok Kangri campaign!

Day 2 (27th July, 2017):

I felt much better in the morning; had couple of breads in the breakfast forcefully as I still felt nauseated. After putting on the trek clothes, I felt confident and got ready for the first acclimatisation walk. Acclimatisation walk lasted for 4 hours and we visited places like Shanti-Stupa and Leh Palace.

Shanti Stupa is a Buddhist white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh district, Ladakh, in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura and part of the Peace Pagoda mission.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Acclimatisation walk:

Leh Palace:

My condition deteriorated in the afternoon with one more vomit. I felt so enervated. Thought of packing the bags and heading to the comforts of home at Pune brushed my mind. All the excitement of conquering Stok Kangri was vanished. Fact of having the acclimatisation trouble at 11500 ft plummeted my confidence of giving any shot to Stok Kangri towering above 20000 ft.

"As you are getting acclimatisation problem now, it is most likely that you won't face same problem later on" assuring words by Nana (Sanjay Amrutkar) lifted my spirit when I called him in the evening when everyone in the team was out for a stroll in Leh Market.

Dr Sathaye gave me one more tablet at night. It was my last hope of getting better as tomorrow we had planned to head for our first camp - Chang Ma. Doctor assured that I would feel better in the morning. With that hope I went to bed.

Day 3 (27th July, 2017):

I felt better in the morning but still there was a lot of weakness. Tashi, our Trek Organizer assured me that I could safely return back from any camp if my condition did not improve. This calmed me.
Soon, we were escorted to Stok Village - our starting point for the trek. All our rucksacks were loaded on the horses and we were soon on our way for our first camp - Chang Ma.

It was a crisp morning with sun glowing hot. Sunscreen lotions were applied to faces before we started for trek.

Team in happy mood at the start of the trek:

Start of the trek:

Trees were conspicuous by their absence. It was only the first day of the hike and already we were on a land without any trees. Though few bushes came our way, there was not a single tree on the trail which was bit unnerving. Adding to our woes, sun was glowing hot.

Yours truly:

Trail ran with small hills flanked on both the sides. There was a distinct trail for some distance before it disappeared into the indistinct trail through the boulders and rocks.

Clouds in the company:

After a flat walk, we started gaining some altitude. We felt dwarfed by the towering rock mountains on both the sides.

Surrendering to the mighty mountains:

Today we didn't have much distance to cover and we were pacing ourselves slowly so as to acclimatise faster. Walking too fast is really not advisable at high altitudes which can prove costly later on.

We were delighted to find a tree with a good shade and perched under it. Many decided to take a nap under the cool shade of the tree. After resting for half an hour, some of us decided to lunch. I was not famished and decided to lunch at the campsite.

After walking for another half an hour, we reached to our campsite. It was boiling hot. Our tents were not yet laid and there was absolutely no trees around. I somehow managed to find a scanty shade under the rock and decided to munch on my lunch. I was glad when I was able to finish few items of the packed lunch.

Soon, our tents were laid. Tushar Dada and Milind Dadu were my tent mates. After settling into our tents, we gathered at the food tent to have our tea.

Campsite at Chang Ma:

"Trek higher and camp lower" is the norm for high altitude trekking and we decided to climb a little higher before we retired for the day. As we started gaining height, our camp site started looking tinier and tinier before disappearing into a little speck.

Now, we were flanked by mighty spires of the rock mountains. I had never seen something so rustic yet so majestic. We soaked in to the wondrous vista of raw nature. Gradually cold desert was casting a spell on me. Pain and discomfort of high altitude were temporarily evaporated giving way to pure bliss, heightened state of ecstasy.

Feeling blissful, we descended to our campsite. After having light dinner, we retired in our tents as night started getting colder. Warmth of sleeping bag along with the weakness of the body did wonders and I slept peacefully whole night.

Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 1) (You are reading this)
Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 2)
Stok Kangri - A Dream Unfulfilled! (Part 3)