Trekking and Climbing in Ladakh’s Ruphsu Valley 2013– Part 3

Saturday, 2 November 2013 01:58 by ranjanbanerji

Continuing from Part 2

So a year has gone by and the trekking bug was still very much in me.  I still wanted to do a 6000m peak and I realized that I am in love with Ladakh.  So going back to the Ladakh region to trek and attempt a 6000m plus peak was not a surprise to me or anyone I knew.  After several emails and Skype conversations with Jamie McGuinness I decided to once again go with Project Himalaya.

The expedition this year was to climb the 6666m Lungser Kangri.  Given the fact that I failed climbing a much lower mountain last year, this appeared to be an ambitious goal.  But I really wanted to do this.  I did some research and learned that Lungser Kangri is a tough but non technical climb.  So I decided that this is something I need to train for.  Six odd months of going for bike rides, exercising, jogging etc. I was on my way to Delhi.

But not so fast.  A day before my flight I get an email from Air France notifying me that my flight is cancelled and that I have been re-booked for another flight but a day later.  This, in some ways, was a disaster.  I did not want to reach late because that would mean one day less at Leh.  A day less at Leh means one less day of acclimatization. So I called Air France/Delta and told them there was no way I could miss my flight and that they had to make some arrangement for me.  I was amazed as to how helpful the lady on the phone was.  After about an hour of looking at different flight options I was put on a delta flight to Detroit, then a Delta flight to Amsterdam, and then a KLM flight to Delhi.  Now my delay was only by a few hours and this was OK.  Thanks Air France/Delta/KLM.

So I get to Leh on time and I step out of the airport and once again notice that there is no one there to pick me up.  OK so this was it.  First a cancelled flight and now a repeat of last years no show.  I was carrying a brand new Canon 70-200mm L Series Lens for Jamie and I figured I should drop it before handing it over to him.  But wait!!!!!!!!!  He had not yet paid me for it.  Clearly not a brilliant idea on my part. These hour long thoughts of evil ideas and anger lasted about 2 minutes and just as I was about to take my own taxi to the hotel and start screaming and yelling at everyone, I saw a guy walking around with my name.  So perhaps I overreacted…… The ride to downtown Leh was uneventful but nostalgic.  Its not a scenic drive.  Perhaps the Leh government needs to work on that.  Leh is different from most parts of India in that its not over crowded and not filthy.  However as more tourists come, a downward spiral is inevitable.  They need to take preventive action now.  Wake up Leh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Wake up Ladakh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We spent 2 days in Leh that were relatively laid back.  Unlike last year there were no trips to Khardungla and no crazy bike rides.  I must say I missed that.  We did go visiting a lot of monasteries.  So the acclimatization days were quite different from the previous year.  I am not sure which one is better but I definitely enjoyed the previous years experience in Leh a tad bit more.  A visit to the Shanti Stupa in Leh offered some good photo opportunities.  We did try a variety of restaurants.  The Penguin Garden Restaurant was our normal breakfast joint.  Chopsticks Noodle Bar and Bon Appetite are good too.  But don’t follow popular ratings.  Find the little dives and try them out for yourself.  If you are too European or too American (as in you can’t eat anything but boiled potatoes) and you are desperately seeking a McDonalds, well you are in the wrong part of the world.  Stay home and and eat your local crap. :-).  I am sorry but I am sick and tired of people (doesn't matter where they come from) who travel 5000 miles and then look for food form their home country.  Really????  WTF are you travelling for then?  Stay, home, sit on the sofa, and watch TV :-)

Leh from Shanti Stupa

View of Leh from the Shanti Stupa (HDR)

Shanti Stupa, Leh

Shanti Stupa (HDR)

Day 1

After 2 days of acclimatization and monastery viewing we finally set of for our trek.  This was a relatively short drive that was made longer by visits to more palaces and monasteries.  Now don't get me wrong.  Visiting the monasteries is a great experience.  I have travelled the world and visited various places of worship.  I think that from an architecture point of view some of the cathedrals in Europe are amazing.  Notre Dame is one of my favorite places to visit.  But from a point of view of calm, peace, and spirituality (all this coming from an atheist) I find the monasteries in Ladakh to be the perfect place.  Finally after visits to several touristy spots we headed to the village of Tirido which required driving along the Indus river and eventually crossing it on a scary bridge to enter the village.  now there is something to be said about Ladakhi villages.  You see, Ladakh for the most part is this massive high altitude desert.  There are mountains and valleys and its all dust.  But then every now and then you find a human settlement.  That is where you will find everything to be green.  The sudden appearance of green is a gift to the eyes.  But often you find these green patches in odd and remote places.  I mean you will find the massive plains along the Indus to be dry and then a narrow gorge which will have a small village across from the river in what appears to be an inaccessible spot and it will will be lush green.  Tirido is one of those villages.

Tirido Tirido.  The green is farm land.  Its literally just one or two fields wide.

We got to Tirido to find our camp completely setup.  I met Lob Sang, the local guide for the first time and he is also the crew chief.  Phun Sok the chef from my previous trip was there and so was Ram Lal and his crew who owned the horses that would carry our gear for the next 20 odd days.  The setup included a mess tent and a table that was setup outdoors with chairs.  Now you may laugh but chairs can be quite a luxury.  Its not uncommon to find most dining arrangements that require you to sit on the ground or on a rug.  So a table with chairs was a welcome surprise.  And to top it all off there was hot tea and pakodas, a treat that only I enjoyed. The highlight of the evening was seeing a shooting star that was incredibly bright and close by.  I have never seen such a thick trail from a shooting star.  And the streak across the sky was long.  Not that quick thin line for a fraction of a second.  This was like a spacecraft crashing into Earth, very sci-fi’ish.  No, it was not a UFO.   LOL.

Day 2

This was our first hiking day.  I used a Garmin Foretrex 401 as my GPS tracking device.  Its small and can be worn as on your wrist and configured to record track points by time or distance travelled.  But it has a limited capacity so I had to be careful as to how much data I can record.  It also has a barometric altimeter.  Honestly I hate it.  It measures altitude  based on atmospheric pressure and it appears that in the Himalayas the pressure changes quite a bit.  So each day you get a different read on altitude and you need to calibrate the device using the known altitude.  Hmmmm! How do I know the altitude if the device that I am carrying to tell me the altitude is giving me an inaccurate read.  For example by hovering over Tirido on Google Earth I get an altitude of about 3720m, the Garmin Foretrex puts it 3628m.  Jamie had a GPS based altimeter and so I would try and calibrate based on the altitude shown there.  I am not sure how accurate the GPS based altimeters are either.

The day started with a minor stream crossing.  But there was one slight problem.  This year there was more rain than normal.  The stream had not turned into a raging river but was not trivial to cross either.  The crossing required some delicate stepping on wet slippery rocks and some leaping from rock to rock.  I made it across without getting wet but the final leap to the shore was a hard one and I felt a pang of pain shoot up my back.  I could not believe this was happening to me.  This was day one of actual trekking and I hurt my back about 20m from our camp site.  I should have taken off my backpack and camera and passed it on to someone else and used my trekking poles to cross the stream instead of just hopping across.  When you know you have a bad back, preserving it is extremely important.  For the rest of the trip I had to do morning and evening back and core exercises to contain the pain from this initial injury.  Really not a smart move on my part to jump without thinking.

This was an interesting day.  We trekked past the beautiful village of Tiri where we saw a lady weaving some form of a garment.  Tiri is out there in the middle of nowhere.  Things are not like how most westerners or even most Indians would expect a village to function.  But then its not all that primitive either.  As you walk you see electric cables pass by.  They stopped at Tiri.  Soon they will goo deeper into the mountains.  Just past Tiri we stopped at a monastery that we were told is quite old (no dates were available).  Now most monasteries in Ladakh are located in areas that are reasonably accessible.  This one was not up a high mountain or any such place but it was definitely out there in the middle of nowhere.  The lady in charge of the keys etc wore large ivory bracelets which Jamie said might imply that she was some kind of local royalty.  The picture below is from Jamie’s flickr account as I never took one of her.

royalty perhaps? Village or Tiri

Village of Tiri

Monastery at Tiri

Monastery at Tiri

We also stopped at the monastery grounds for lunch where we made friends with three dogs that ended up following us for the next two days.  One of them was quite the ferocious looking character.

Ladakh_2013_Day_01

Day 2 Track Points

Day 2 stats:

Distance Travelled 12.3km
Moving Time 3:35
Stopped Time 2:52
Min Altitude 3629m
Max Altitude 4496m
Grade 7%

 

Day 3

This was a rest day.  Apparently we gained a lot of altitude and Jamie wanted to make sure that we were all well acclimatized.  No one complained about the extra day of rest.  Some of the people to the trip built a little pool in the stream by damming it.  I decided to let some of that freezing cold water run onto my back.  This did wonders to reduce the pain.  Too bad I have no pictures of the engineering marvel created by these guys.  Also did laundry, i.e., rinsed clothes in the stream.  No soap etc.

In the afternoon while the whole camp was resting and asleep I climbed up a small hill, found a huge rock and lay down on it and listened to Led Zeppelin.  What can I say…..  This was heaven.  I did have a slight headache due to altitude but who cared.  This was just way too good.  But soon it started raining, which turned into hail, and there was lightning and of course thunder.  Who said it never rains in Ladakh?

Camp Days 2 and 3

Camp – Days 2 and 3

Day 4

This was a short day but a challenging one.  Not very strenuous but a minor “kick butt” day.  We went over a pass at about 4800m.  Technically speaking it was not a tough day, but one of the guys on the expedition and I were way ahead of rest of the team and contrary to common belief that was not an advantage.  What is also interesting when in these regions is reality vs. looking at maps. The path we took can be seen in the picture below.  We were walking from the far side down to the bottom of the picture and you can see how we went around one small mountain up a pass at 4800m.  It looks like if we went the other way we would not have to deal with the pass.  On closer inspection the other route is how the river flows and it gets pretty narrow.  So going up the pass is indeed the better way to go. At the end we camped at the mouth of a narrow valley/gorge.  I went for a short walk up the main valley but soon the rain and hail started.  So quite a bit of time was spent under cover in my tent.

2013_Day_04

Day 4 stats:

Distance Travelled 3.3km
Moving Time 1:17
Stopped Time 0:36
Min Altitude 4285m
Max Altitude 4791m
Grade 14.1%

 

Day 5

This was a great day.  We started out soon after breakfast which was always well made.  Most days we had eggs and bread and on some days we had parathas and eggs.  The food during the expedition was amazing.  Mostly vegetarian but a good variety of stuff including pasta and pizza.  But majority of the food was Indian and I was not complaining :-).  How they manage to carry so much fresh produce is quite amazing.  Anyway, back to the day.  We started off heading into the narrow valley at the mouth of which we were camping.  It was a gradual climb but we kept going higher and higher.  The valley soon opened up to this massive plain that was gradually rising.  A very unusual sight, we kept walking higher and higher till we reached the top of the pass at about 5145m.  The view in front of us was stunning.  Far away we could see Tso Kar which is was our destination for the day.  We had a long way to go.

5170mPass-1 View from the pass looking down at Tso Kar far away just before the peaks in the horizon.

The good part was that from this point on the walk was either downhill or flat.  The bad part was it was beginning to get hot.  As you can see there are no trees to offer shade.  Once the sun is out its hot and you burn fast due to the thin air.  On the way down we saw huge herds of Kiang.  I was not carrying my 300mm lens on this trip so I have no wildlife pictures.  On previous trips I have seen kiangs in small numbers like 2 maybe 3 or 4.  Here we saw herds with 20 odd or more animals.  On one occasion I saw a massive (30 odd maybe?) herd running and kicking up a massive cloud of dust.  It was quite a sight.  We did keep getting some relief from the sun as clouds kept moving in and out.  Some of them were quite amazing.

Wild Clouds Cool Clouds

Wild Clouds Clouds

In the pictures above you can see the cool looking clouds but you can also tell that the terrain is dry and with the sun out the 4500m altitude did not matter.  It was hot and dusty.  As I started to approach Tso Kar I could observe eth change in the terrain.  Tso Kar is a salt water lake, i.e., water drains into it, not out of it.  It is also a lake that has been getting smaller over time.  The high water marks are visible and show how high the water used to be once upon a time.  For almost 5 kilometers or more you enter a zone of salt flats and salt mounds.  I was told that once upon a time local nomads and tribes fought wars for control of this region as salt was a valuable commodity.

Tso KarKiang and Tso Kar way behind

As we approached our destination, which was the village of Thugje we saw a wolf/leopard trap.  A circular brick wall into which a live bait is put.  Usually a lamb or goat (though I saw what looked like a dead horse).  Then the locals wait till a wolf or leopard leaps in, they can rarely leap out.  Then they stone the predator to death.  Considering that snow leopards and wolves in this region are facing extinction, seeing such a trap was quite a shock.  What was even more shocking is that the village of Thugje is about 500m from this trap and the most distinct building in Thugje (the only one with a sign on it) is that of the World Wildlife Fund.  I was told the trap was no longer in use.  But I saw dead animals in it including what looked like a dead dog or small wolf.  They were partly decomposed so clearly not some 10 year old remains.  They should simply destroy the trap.

Wolf Leopard Trap Wolf/Leopard Trap

Eventually we got to Thugje.  Tso Kar is actually a few kilometers away.  So camping at Thugje doesn’t really give eth feel of camping by the lake.  You can’t camp by the lake on this side because there is no fresh water, hence you are forced to camp at Thugje.  We were too tired to walk another 5 to 8km for a better camp.  Thugje was nice but dirty.  One could find plastic bottles and other trash all over.  Since this site was by a motorable road it was not ideal.  There was one other group camping and they were right next to us.  They had come in a couple of SUVs and trucks and appeared to be well equipped with high end trekking gear (well clothing).  We assumed this was probably the trail head for them.  But then at about 8pm just as we were retiring to sleep we heard loud, I mean really loud disco Nepalese music followed by gangnum style.  I think it went on till about 10pm.  What I never get is city folks who go to the wilderness and bring the city with them.  when I lived in Southern California I would often go to Sequoia National Park.  The number of car campers who would bring TVs, Stereos etc was incredible.  You have to pause and think, really?  Couldn't you just stay home and watch TV?  LOL.  Anyway, I was way too tired and soon I was asleep.  When we woke up in the morning all the trucks were gone.  Our disco loving tourists with fancy trekking attire did nothing but listen to disco music and drink a lot of alcohol (they left the bottles on the camp ground).

2013_Day_05 Tso Kar is at around 4580m.  The day started out at around 4520m.  So even though we crossed a pass at 5145 we ended up descending to the same level as we started out at.

Day 5 stats:

Distance Travelled 19.3km
Moving Time 5:07
Stopped Time 1:52
Min Altitude 4522m
Max Altitude 5145m
Grade 0.3%

 Day 6

This was a tough day.  Not because of the terrain or weather but due to some miss-communication.  We were told that we would have a really short day and that all we were doing was trekking to the other side of Tso Kar and camping there by some fresh water.  The walk was relatively boring.  very flat and through some really muddy patches.  This was a receded salt water lake bed that we were walking on.  With all the rain this region had been receiving there some pretty bad muddy patches.  The good news was that we spotted a few rare black necked cranes.  The bad news was that I was not carrying my good 300mm lens, so once again I lost a once in a lifetime opportunity to photograph these beauties. 

We finally stopped at what looked like a watchtower and had lunch.  Our horses had passed by us and were supposed to make camp not too far from where we stopped.  I was carrying just one bottle of water in anticipation of this really short day.  Suddenly we noticed that the horses were not stopping to make camp.  In fact the crew and horses were ascending this pass.  They were too far to hear any hails from us.  So now we had to quickly pack up and follow them.  I was the first one up that pass at 4950m and I could see no sign of the horses.  I was hoping the camp was just beyond the pass but that was not the case.  Beyond the pass was yet another huge wide valley with three possible exists.  Lob Sang was right behind me and he then went looking to see.  Then Jamie went looking.  After while it became apparent that the horses exited from the far side of the valley.  This was quite a walk considering I had no water left with me.  But it was mostly downhill with a few uphill sections.  So we marched on.

About halfway down the valley we were given an amazing treat.  I saw what looked like two huge sheep.  Way bigger than big horn sheep running down the mountains into the valley, crossing right in front of us and ascending the mountains on the other side.  Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Why didn't I bring my 300mm.  Turns out they were argali Sheep.  Extremely rare in these parts.  Lob Sang who grew up in these remote areas said he had never seen these animals before in his life.  He had only heard if them.  So the sighting was amazing.

Argali SheepArgali Sheep

After a long walk to the far side of the valley and yet another gentle ascent that did not feel gentle because of the heat and lack of water.  But once we reached the top it was a rapid descent to the camp.

2013_Day_06

Day 6 stats:

Distance Travelled 22.2km
Moving Time 5:50
Stopped Time 2:45
Min Altitude 4357m
Max Altitude 4962m
Grade 2.4%

 

 Day 7

A reasonably short walk to the next camp.  The highlight of the days trek was stopping at a Chongpa camp.  At the camp we bought a sheep that was then butchered right in front of us.  The process was quite different from how I have seen it done before.  The main difference being that the guy doing the work was reciting a prayer.  I asked what was it about and I was told its a combination of thanking the animal and of course seeking forgiveness for taking a life.  Not a single part of the animal is wasted.  It was a delight to see little children running around and playing in the camp.  The women were all working, most of the men were out with their herd of goats.  The children were absolutely fascinated with looking at their own pictures.  Got to love the digital age.

 Tsering
Tsering (courtesy
Jamie McGuinness)

At the same camp/village I met Tsering.  An old man who told me how he fought for the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.  How he was under the leadership of General Sujan Singh Uban and how the secret Tibetan regiment went into war.  What was interesting about his story was not how they won.  He said they went right in and took over city after city.  No battle was too significant.  The Pakistanis surrendered  and soon the war was over.  It was the retreat back to India that was a problem.  He said they had no ammunition and food left.  Lack of food was not a problem.  There were many Bangladeshi villagers who were happy to feed the liberators.  The problem was hidden pockets of Pakistani soldiers who had not yet surrendered.  Since the Tibetan regiment (per Tsering) was retreating to India without any ammunition this exposed them to a lot of danger.  He said they took heavy casualties on the way back.  They had to resort to attacking the enemy with knives and taking their weapons and whatever little ammunition the enemy soldiers had left with them.  Here are links to some more articles on the subject.: "The Phantoms of Chittagong" and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Frontier_Force

Once we passed the village we had a gentle but steady climb up a valley.  I called this the 6000m alley.  Both sides of the valley had mountains that were just below or above 6000m.  One could spend a week here and climb 4, 5, maybe 6 of them.  The valley itself was quite beautiful.  Because of the daily rain we were getting this year the mountains would have a nice dusting of snow each night and the stream would almost turn into a river.  So crossings were not that easy.  Specially if you had a camera that you wanted to protect.

The really good news was that we were going to stay at this camp for 3 nights.  The camp was at  was high and great for acclimatizing for higher climbs.

2013_Day_07

Day 7 stats:

Distance Travelled 8.54km
Moving Time 2:31
Stopped Time 1:28
Min Altitude 4643m
Max Altitude 5245m
Grade 7.1%

Day 8

A much needed rest day.  I spent part of the day washing (rinsing) clothes, part of it reading.  Then decided to go for a short walk, well actually the goal was slightly ambitious as I wanted to go up this 5700 – 5800m mountain behind our camp.  I headed out alone but as I was getting higher there were clouds, lightning and thunder.  I was alone and as the wind gusts picked up I decided this was kind of scary so I made a rapid descent towards camp and into the valley.  I guess I need to work on that solo adventurist courage  LOL.  Other than my mini adventure the day was quite uneventful.

2013_Day_08

Day 8 stats:

Distance Travelled 1.9km
Moving Time 0:54
Stopped Time 0:28
Min Altitude 5021m
Max Altitude 5414m
Grade 12.6%

Day 9

This was the day we went to climb our first 6000m peak of the rip.  Jamie had made a reconnaissance trip the day before and had determined which one to climb.  As I had mentioned earlier this valley has a lot of 6000m mountains around it.  See picture below.

6KAlleyhttp://www.ranjanbanerji.com/ndi/blog_rupshu/6KAlley.jpg

The day started with a hearty breakfast and then we headed out for the climb.  The mountain was at the end of the valley so it was a long way to get to the base.  Our camp was at 5200m and we went up the valley and up a pass which took us to about 5600m.  One thing you always notice in Ladakh is that passes have a chortum and prayer flags on top of them.  The local nomads and now even tourists seem to contribute to building these.  On this pass we saw none.  Which was really odd.  In the previous days I saw nomads herding their goats in the valley.  Why don’t they come up this pass?  Jamie and Lob Sang mentioned that there were stories of really large horned Yak in this area and that some skulls can be found beyond this pass.  They both went looking for the horns before we started our ascent.

JMCG0335[1] Jamie found his prize

After a rather long rest break on top of the pass we started walking up the mountain.  Our estimate was that this mountain was at 6100m.  So we had about 500m to climb.  It looked a lot less.  It looked like the summit was just right there, right above us.  An easy walk.  Based on my experience from the previous year I knew that what looked simple could easily turn out to be really tough.  We headed up and I was decided to keep a steady pace with just one mantra in my mind “failure is not an option”.  Lob Sang was with us all the time.  It was amazing how he could be with all of us at the same time while we were not all together.  Clearly we moved slow and he was moving really fast.  Jamie was all the way behind making sure everyone was taken care of.

Now I recall climbing Kilimanjaro with immense clarity, and I recall my not so successful attempt at a 6000m peak in 2012.  As for this peak, I simply recall climbing.  There were no emotions, no special events.  I do remember watching Lob Sang set up cairns every 50m or so.  I remember being so out of breath and wondering where did he get the energy to do this.  I remember seeing Jamie way below coming up from the other side of the pass after finding the giant Yak horns.  He was a small dot that was growing bigger by the second.  Man! can he move fast.  I also remember noticing that outside of the cairns that Lob Sang was building there were none to be seen.  Had anyone been here before?  Apparently not. But most of all I remember telling myself that failure was not an option.  I paused as I did last year at 5895m (Kilimanjaro), smiled and started my slow but steady pace upwards.  I stopped again at 6020m (approximately where I was totally winded last year), grinned as I was tired but I knew I could go higher.  Way higher.  I kept walking up.  Gary and Olivier (two of the team members) were with me on the lead and Lob Sang was as usual hovering somewhere around.  The views from this altitude were absolutely stunning. 

Peak 6226m

Peak 6226m

Did not Look so High from the pass

Peak 6226m Not all rainbows come to Earth.  Try finding a pot of gold under this one.  I did.  Its called the Himalayas.

Peak 6226m Hidden lakes only visible once you get to about 5800m

Peak 6226m

Getting Higher

So as I mentioned earlier we thought that this peak was at 6100m.  My altimeter was showing 6100m and we were not at the summit.  Not even close.  This was not fair.  Not fair at all.  I was tired, breathless, and now frustrated.  The damn peak kept moving higher and higher, away from us.  Was there no end to this?  We kept climbing with Lob Sang constantly telling us the summit is near.  Finally Gary, Olivier and I reach what was a steep snow slope, barely 10, maybe 20m high.  We just sat on the rocks below.  Refusing to go any higher.  I got up and tried to climb the steep snow bank and slipped.  Then Olivier tried with not much success.  Then out of the blue Lob Sang shows up and goes up, then comes down and helps the three of us to make that final 20m ascent.  Yea!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We made it to the summit.  This was incredible.  I was not tired anymore.  This was way more exciting than Kilimanjaro.  I am not sure I have the words to describe how good this felt.  Going over 6000m was a dream for me.  It has now come true.  But with a negative consequence.  I will talk more about that later.  So remember how I said the mountain was supposed to be at 6100m and how I reached 6100m and still had a way to go?  So we check our altimeters and mine was showing about 6250m but most others were showing 6226m.  So we settled on 6226m as the altitude for this mountain.  Also noticed that there were no prayer flags, no cairns (Lob Sang built one) on the summit.  Looks like no one had been here.  Could we have been the first?  Perhaps :-)

Peak 6226m Gary, Me, and Olivier at 6226m

After a while of waiting at the summit Jamie and the remaining two climbers made it to the top.  We decided to call the mountain Lob Sang Kangri after our local Tibetan/Ladakhi guide.  Now I don't know the rules about naming peaks.  But we decided that since this mountain like most mountains in the Himalayas are un-named we will call it Lob Sang Kangri.

JMCG0368[1] The Entire Group at the Summit at 6226m (Except Jamie, he was behind the camera)

Soon we observed 3 different thunderclouds approaching us from three different directions.  Quite incredible to watch but also quite dangerous.  On top of the mountain the highest conductors of electricity was us.  So a thundercloud with lightning approaching us was not ideal.  Soon it started to snow and we started our descent. Luckily no lightning.  The clouds looked scary but were well behaved.  The way down was long and tiring.  In the excitement of the climb none of us had a huge lunch.  While on the pass before the final summit assault we had a snack.  I guess we should have stopped and had another on the way down.  Lob Sang kept suggesting it but I think we all wanted to head back to camp. 

As we were descending I realized I lost my hat.  Not sure how but it was no longer on my head.  Lob Sang said he would go look for it.  I kept telling him not to.  I had no idea where I lost it and it was a big mountain.  But he wouldn’t listen.  He was gone looking for my hat.  He did find it and managed to catch up with me about an hour or so later.  Can’t ask for a better guide but really, he didn’t have to go looking for a hat.

2013_Day_09

This was a good day.  But as you can see from the stats below, this was a long day with a lot of distance covered.

Day 9 stats:

Distance Travelled 14.6km
Moving Time 5:42
Stopped Time 4:57
Min Altitude 5021m
Max Altitude 6226m
Grade 1.5%

 

Day 10

”No rest for the wicked” is how Jamie classified this day.  We hit the trail after a hearty breakfast, did I mention that food on these expeditions is just amazing?  Maybe its the daily torture you have to endure when trekking and climbing that anything offered is good.  But no, I do believe that given the conditions the food is amazing.  Phunsok, Lob Sang, and crew take a lot of effort to prepare good (mostly vegetarian) meals.

So I digressed.  The day started with an immediate ascent up a 5600m pass.  I thought this would be tough because of the climb the previous day but it was really not that bad a trek.  Once we reached the top we got a view of a spectacular valley in front of us.  Gary and I stopped and sat there and were later joined by Jamie.  Just sitting there and watching this valley was worth the entire trip.  I imagined everything from Dinosaurs walking down in the valley to large armies charging at each other (yeah I know violent thoughts are bad, but the site was perfect  LOL).

Pass 5600m Pass 5600m My pictures were a tad bit too dark

BigValley-1

Fisheye Lens View thanks to Jamie.  Me on the left and Gary on the right

After the scenic break and then a lunch break we walked for a while into and down the valley till we got to our camp.

2013_Day_10

Day 10 stats:

Distance Travelled 12.2km
Moving Time 3:49
Stopped Time 2:06
Min Altitude 4994m
Max Altitude 5623m
Grade 1.2%

I am beginning to think that the grade provided by Garmin is quite useless.  Perhaps its better to determine the steepest grade for any 1km stretch instead of looking at the entire day’s travel.

Day 11

A relatively boring day.  A long trek to a camp just north of Tso Moriri.  I was tired.  Despite the daily back exercises my back was now starting to hurt more.  And for some reason I was beginning to feel very tired.  Throughout this trip I have felt quite energetic.  But now I felt really tired.  I was not enjoying the long walk to the next camp.  Maybe I was getting sick?  I don't know.  As we were approaching camp we merged with a road and I ended up hitching a ride to our camp.  Why was I so tired?

2013_Day_11

Day 11 stats:

Distance Travelled 14.6km
Moving Time 3:36
Stopped Time 2:05
Min Altitude 4609m
Max Altitude 5163m

 

Day 12

Another tiring and boring day.  I was having a huge problem keeping myself motivated.  The trek took us along Tso Moriri.  Last year I had walked almost the entire length of the lake on its western side.  This year was a short walk on its eastern side.  Not as beautiful.  We got to camp and I was exhausted.  My back hurt and even a short walk from my tent to the mess tent was making me breathless.  The next day we were supposed to start the journey up Lungser Kangri.  This is what I came here for.  Now I felt there was no way I could do this.  I had a long talk with Jamie.  I was exhausted, my back hurt and I just did not feel up to doing Lungser Kangri.  I told him that the next day I would return to Leh.  Jamie was not happy.  He took this as a failure on his part.  It was not.  I cannot explain what happened but I just could not find any strength in me.  Maybe it was psychological, maybe my back pain was getting worse by the day, maybe I was missing my little kids.  I do not know.  Its tough to explain.  All I know is I wanted out.

This is not the end of the story.  I wanted to go over 6000m and I failed once and this year I did it.  Thank you Jamie.  This year I wanted Lungser Kangri and I didn’t try it for reasons unknown.  But then there is 2014.  Yes I will will try it again.

2013_Day_12 So close and yet so far – Lungser Kangri

Day 12 stats:

Distance Travelled 10.4km
Moving Time 2:49
Stopped Time 1:53
Min Altitude 4353m
Max Altitude 4749m

 

Day 13, 14, 15

The next day I left for Leh.  It was a long drive and the same drive as last years.  I wish I had more time to do this drive.  Perhaps one year I will take a jeep by myself.  Stop at different places, do some photography, meet people etc.  But when with others the objective is often “get me to the city”.  The next two days in Leh were relaxing.  What really got me was the fact that now I was full of energy.  Really?  I almost wanted to run back towards Korzok and start climbing Lungser Kangri.  Well that was not about to happen.  Maybe I was just tired.

So I spent two days shopping, walking, observing tourists, and relaxing in Leh.  When you don’t have much to do you can do a lot of people watching.  What follows is a bunch of pictures with captions that should be self explanatory.

Leh-1 Seriously?  Bling Bling? In Leh?  LOL  I never saw this store open.  As you can see their shutter was down.

Leh-2 Mosque, Monastery, Buddhist Prayer Flags, Several Sikh Gurdwaras.  Leh is an amazing place of peace and tolerance.

Leh-3Leh-4 One huge problem in Ladakh is plastic.  No matter how far you go or how high you go you will find find plastic bags and bottles.  It fucking ugly.  So all of you tourists, bikers, hikers, trekker, climbers, etc, stop buying and using plastic in this region.  When in Leh, just get your water bottle refilled at Dzomsa.  Oh! They have the best Leh Berry and Apricot juice.  So say no to plastic.

Leh-5 In the US Fresh vegetables straight from local growers means premium prices.  Here it means bargain deals and amazing quality.

Leh-6 Apricots.  They grow everywhere.  Fresh and ripened on the tree.  Trust me when I say most Americans have no clue what that even means.  Don’t believe me?  Premium quality plums in the US are as crunchy as apples but with no juice.  Anyone who has had real plums knows what I am talking about.

Leh-7

Side Streets of Leh

Leh-8 Want to buy Pashmina products?  Don't go to the big stores on the main streets.  Look for the side streets parallel to the main street.  I got some great bargains at this store and the owner was friendly and helpful.

Leh

Side streets of Leh

This is one long post.  So I am going to stop here.  I may write another blog post on the same subject if I feel there is more to be said   LOL.

Happy trekking and climbing.  Stop sitting on your sofa watching TV and start going out and doing something.  :-)

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Trekking and Climbing in Ladakh’s Ruphsu Valley – Part 2

Saturday, 16 February 2013 01:40 by ranjanbanerji

Continuing from Part 1

Day 8

So this was the day of our first climb.  It was meant to be a warm up climb but I wanted to take it a bit more seriously.  The second and main climb of the expedition was to summit Kharpa Ri.  So now here is a problem.  I am afraid of heights.  Yes I am.  So I avoid exposures at all cost.  Kharpa Ri looked to be a scary mountain though my guide tried his best to convince me that it was not.  So climbing this mountain which was un-named and at 6080m was my way of achieving my goal of crossing 6000m.

The un-named 6080m Peak.

We started after a hearty breakfast and I was confident this would be an easy summit.  The rumblings in my stomach from the diarrhea had started to die off.  I felt good, or at least better.  The mountain was not very different from Kilimanjaro in the sense that it was a long slog up a scree slope.  The one big difference from Kilimanjaro was that there are no trails going up this mountain.  So you pretty much have to figure out what's the best way to go up.  About halfway up my guide showed me what he thought was the best way up and then he went on ahead with two of the team members.  This is about when everything started to go wrong.  The second guide got confused and went up ahead too.  As a result half the team was left behind with no guide.  Now I am no expert climber and while it may seem easy when someone says just go up this way, its a lot harder when you are trying to find your way up a mountain.  However, I continued climbing.  At some point I noticed these strange marks on the rocks and stopped to observe them.  Looked like some red colored moss.

Red Moss?

By the time I took some pictures I realized that now I was all alone.  Two additional climbers had moved on in one direction and were not visible, one was way below me, my guide was gone and I couldn’t spot the other guide.  Great!!!  Now I was by myself trying to figure out how to get to the top.  At some point I checked my altimeter and I was exactly at 5985m.  This is as high as Kilimanjaro.  I felt strong.  I was not tired.  I looked up and thought this is going to be a piece of cake.  So I proceeded to climb along a path that I figured was the best way up.  I soon reached a spot which seemed too difficult to proceed from so I traversed the mountain to my left, not gaining any altitude but hoping to find a better path to ascend.  I think I zig-zagged for a while without really gaining much.

At this moment I also start to feel the weight of my daypack.  I was carrying all my camera equipment and lenses which quite honestly was not a smart move.  High up at these altitudes there is a remote chance of spotting a snow leopard or a soaring golden eagle.  But the likelihood is low.  So one should decide whether you want to climb or take pictures.  On Kilimanjaro I hired an extra porter to carry my camera equipment.  This was not the case here.  I was lugging this extra weight and I was beginning to feel it.  Specially when I had to keep retracing my steps to figure out a good way up the mountain. 

Being alone with the extra weight probably made me make bad decisions.  When I think back about the mountain I don’t see why it was tough to find a way up.  After all other people were ascending.  Anyway, so my going was slow.  And then the worst thing happened.  I ran out of water.  This was really not good.  I checked my altimeter and I was at around 6009m.  The air is incredibly dry and of course the oxygen levels are low.  So as you breath heavily everything gets super dry.  I think this hurt me psychologically too.  I was now not having fun.  Suddenly I was very tired, exhausted, thirsty, and mad that I was here by myself.  I climbed a bit more then slipped (nothing dangerous) and realized I was way way too exhausted.  I was now at about 6020m just about 60m away from the summit (in terms of altitude), though quite honestly I did no such calculations at that time.  I just recall seeing the altimeter and thinking there is no way I can go anymore.  I had a power bar or some similar product, I am not sure it helped.  My mouth was dry as I had no water.  I looked around and saw none of the other climbers or guides.  This totally sucked.

Failed Summit.  Will have to come back.

After resting for a while I decide to make one last attempt.  I stood up and started to scramble my way up when I slipped and slid down.  Slid down right to the spot I started from.  That was it, the final straw.  I sat there for a while and then slowly started to descend.  What happened from feeling strong at 5895m and completely exhausted and broken at 6020m?  I have no clue.  My guess is that its a combination of things including: no guide when I needed one the most, carrying too much weight (camera and lenses), running out of water, and the diarrhea and antibiotics.  It is however, 90% about mental strength and this day I guess I was just not strong enough.

Yes it Rains: The climb however was not without its rewards.  I saw what I believe was a Golden Eagle circling right above me.  Also as I was resting before descending I saw a storm approach.  Ladakh is a desert and very dry.  It never rains there.  Wait! Did I say it never rains there?  So far ever since we started trekking we have had some form of precipitation everyday.  Usually its very brief, however at night it was not uncommon to hear rain or sleet drops on the tent all night.  So anyway, as I watch the rain approach I quickly put on rain gear and some warmer clothing.  I can see the rain fall as the system moves across the valley towards me.  However when it gets to me there is no rain.  I can see it fall but I don't feel the water.  This was a little strange.  Later I learned this is what is called as Virga.  I was too exhausted to take out my camera and take pictures.

When I got back to camp slowly other folks were returning too.  Turns out when the main guide and two other people on the team reached the top, they descended from the far side and climbed yet another mountain.  Yikes!!!!!  Good for them.  I was still tired and mad.  This was extremely different from my experience on Kilimanjaro.  My guide was never more than 10 yards away from me.  He kept talking to me, motivating me, never made me realize that I could be getting tired.  Having that support was huge.  In this case I believe my guide was geared more towards people who have a bit more experience.  One the members of the team was training to climb an 8000m peak.  For him this was a cake walk. But clearly not for others.

Also, to the team this was a warm up climb.  So no one was treating this as a must succeed attempt.  It was just a scramble up this mountain or two in preparation for Kharpa Ri.  But for me this was an important climb since I was most likely not going to climb Kharpa Ri as I was afraid to do so.  So this day totally sucked for me.

Day 9 - Thargang

Matters got worse.  I woke up with really bad back pain.  Coming down that mountain the previous day I must have jerked my back.  I have a history of back problems and I seem to have hurt it again.  What makes matters worse is that these are not the huge car camping tents I see people use in the US.  These are pretty small tents, laid out on the valley floor, no real padding and you better hope the surface is reasonably flat.  The tents are low so you are always in an awkward position when changing.  Now imagine yourself with a painful back.  The dining tent has no chairs.  You sit on the floor and eat.  I have already explained the toilet.  So if your back hurts you are in some serious trouble, or like in this case I was in serious trouble.  I started to use the dining tent as a place to stretch and exercise my back.

On this day we trekked to Thargang.  I walked really slow and careful so as to not jerk or hurt my back.  At Thargang I did more stretching and core stabilization exercises and took a bunch of Advils.

Zozogong to Kharpa Ri.  The missing segment is because my GPS ran out of battery.

Sleep time comes early in the mountains.  One is tired and it gets dark soon and once the sun goes down the temperature plummets.  Since the air is so dry temperature changes are very rapid.  Its always a good idea to get into your sleeping bag and be warm.  While on the subject of sleep, the one thing I hated was waking up in the middle of the night feeling suffocated.  Due to the low oxygen levels, any blockage of your breathing process (stuffed nose, sleeping back blocking your nose, etc) and you wake up thinking you are suffocating.  And when you wake up its pitch dark.  It took a few days to learn to not panic LOL.  Oh! and nose bleeds are common too so carry a small container of Vaseline and apply it in your nose.

Day 10 - Khiangshisha

My back was really in pain but I was ok when just walking.  I was no longer carrying my camera and though this helped my back it totally sucked.  I saw some black necked cranes and a few Kiangs (wild ass) but had no camera to take pictures with.  Great!!!!!!  We took a short cut to get to Khiangshisha.  Instead of walking down the valley we were in and then turning right and then turning left (See image above) we went over a small mountain pass.  Luckily this climb did not bother me.  We went up to 5100m and then descended down into the valley.  It was interesting to see several springs which were joining up to create larger streams of water.

Talk about Amazing Food:  I wish I had kept a note of what all we ate everyday.  This much I should say.  The food was absolutely amazing.  There are no stores, villages, towns in this area.  So absolutely everything must be carried on mules from day 1.  All supplies including food, kerosene, etc is on mule back.  Water is the only resource that is collected locally and filtered.  I have no idea how the crew from Project Himalaya managed to prepare amazing food that included items like pizza.  Each night for dinner we had a different treat.  Breakfast and lunch were good too but dinner was always just amazing.

Great Company: Another aspect of the dining tent and specially dinner time was the great company we had.  We played cards almost every evening.  The guide always had great stories to tell.  As usual some time wasting political conversation would get started but overall it was always in good humor.  Since we were all suffering from diarrhea jokes and conversations often headed in that direction.

Day 11 – Kharpa Ri Base

A short 1 hour walk to position ourselves higher and closer for climbing Kharpa Ri.  My back was still bad.  The plan was to climb start climbing Kharpa Ri early in the morning.  Between the fact that I am afraid of heights and this mountain looked quite scary and that my back was hurting I decided that there was no way I am going up.  It was a rest day for everyone.

Rapid Temperature Change: Because the air is so dry it takes very little time for the temperature to rise or dip.  A single cloud in front of the sun can make the temperature drop to 0C.  In the evening the moment the sun sets you can fill the chill and soon the freeze.  Being aware of this is important.  Always carry warm clothes in your day pack.  Most the day is comfortable and even warm at times.  But if you have clouds move in the temperature drops fast.

Day 12 - Kharpa Ri

As I slept through the night the rest of the team started their climb.  I think they headed up at around 5am.  By the time I got up and had breakfast, they were little dots climbing.  I decided to take a tripod and and start climbing.  I figured I could easily get to somewhere between 5100 and 5500m and get some good pictures.  Wow! was this a treat.  The views were great.  On the one side I could still see the team climbing up Kharpa Ri and on the other side I had a great view of mountains and valleys.

Kharpa Ri

Kharpa Ri

View from about 5300m up Kharpa Ri

Day 13 - Lameke

A short trek to Lameke.  At this stretch the stream through the valley starts getting bigger and bigger.  So far though we have crossed streams many times, they have not been deep.  But now we have a fast flowing, really cold, hip knee to hip deep stream.  Crossing were a pain.  Next year I will carry trekking poles.  I don’t like them, but they are useful under these conditions.  We also entered this areas where the terrain was very different.  So far we had been walking on stony dry terrain.  Now had grass but not on an even surface.  Its tough to even describe the terrain.

Bumpy, cup shaped, grassy terrain

Once at camp I saw some marmots and found a dead yak (mostly eaten) and some pug marks that looked quite large.  I took some pictures and showed it to the Ladakhi/Tibetan crew members who told me not to go back there as this was probably a special large wolf that they referred to as nar-spyang.  Spyang or spyang ki is wolf in Tibetan.  Nar is man in sanskrit/hindi thereby implying a werewolf.  Werewolf?  Seriously?  But then folklore exists everywhere.  I bet the crew was having a good laugh.  I don’t believe in werewolves but that night I did not stray too far from my tent.  Somehow the tent offers a sense of security LOL.

Marmot

Day 13 – Tso Moriri

This was one very long day.  A 21km walk to the southern shores of Tso Moriri.  Now the stream starts to become more of a river and the views are quite amazing.  We stopped by the banks of the river for lunch which was pretty amazing.  As you approach Tso Moriri the trail goes up a mountain and then all of a sudden you see the lake.  The view is incredible.  Because of my back I did not have my camera.  I used my mobile phone but it just does not do any justice to the view.

Lameke to Tso Moriri

First view of Tso Moriri (phone camera)

We set up camp right by the lake.  This is paradise.  The east of the lake has Chamser and Lungser Kangri both over 6600m and the west has the Mentok Kangri peaks.  This is the first time we see other people camping.  Tso Moriri is a popular destination.  People drive to Korzok and then do a day hike to the southern end or some other spot and camp.  Tso Moriri is large enough to create weather patterns of its own.  And sure enough in the evening we saw a thunderstorm shape up. Half the lake was under clouds and the other half not.  The result was some amazing colors.

Tso Moriri after the Thunderstorm

A bunch more pictures from around Tso Moriri can be found here.

Even though I was in paradise my back was hurting me more than ever.  Korzok was another 22km away and two members of the team were already headed that way since they had planned to exit sooner.  I really wanted to cross the Great Himalayan Range at Parang La but my back was now hurting too much and heading to towards Parang La was moving into even more remote areas.  So I decided it would be a smart idea to join the folks leaving for Korzok next morning.

Day 14 – Tso Moriri to Korzok

The 20 plus kilometer walk from the southern tip of Tso Moriri to Korzok is a great hike.  The lake offers amazing views.  On the western side you can see Mentok Kangri and on the eastern side you see Chamser and Lungser Kangri.  The walk is along the lake and if you are lucky you can see some wildlife.

Tso Moriri

The clouds just wouldn’t let me get a good view of Chamser and Lungser Kangri

Chamser Kangri (left) and Lungser Kangri (Right)

Wildlife doesn’t have to be a Snow Leopard.  Though that would have been awesome.

Piles of prayer stones can be found every few kilometers.  Unlike monasteries, churches, temples etc, these blend in with nature.

I may need some prayers if I attempt climbing Chamser or Lungser Kangri

Or if I attempt Mentok Kangri

Its a long walk to Korzok but a rewarding one.  Korzok itself is a small town.  There is a monastery, a few tented camps, a few houses, and perhaps two tented restaurants (if you can call them that).  But they serve hot momos, and cold drinks, and beer.  What more can one ask for.  The night was spent at a “home stay”.  Basically someone offers a room at their place.  At first thought you think its a dump.  And perhaps it is.  But then you have to pause and think about it.  You are in the middle of no where.  There are barely any roads, no electricity, or maybe they do have some solar panels, people here are poor but honest.  After 15 odd days of walking in the mountains you now have a roof and a bed.  It was awesome!!!!

Room in Korzok

View from my Room in Korzok

Day 15 – Drive Back to Leh

The drive from Korzok to Leh is about 6 hours and like anything else in Ladakh it offers amazing views.  A significant part of the drive is along the Indus.  The drive goes through small towns and villages so one finally gets exposed to civilization once again.  By the time you get to Leh you start dealing with traffic jams.  Ugh!!!

Conclusion

This was an amazing trip.  Yes I failed to summit a 6000m plus peak and yes I hurt my back, and so on and so forth.  But this was an incredible journey and an incredible introduction to the Indian Himalaya.  The expedition was with a great bunch of people.  Project Himalaya and its crew did an amazing job of taking care of everyone.  The food was incredible.  The trekking was amazing.  To put it in perspective, I plan to be back in Ladakh in the summer of 2013.  I have still not given up on Project Himalaya as I am talking to them about my next expedition.  Though this time I am doing more research and asking more questions

My advise to anyone planning a trip here is to talk in great detail with your guide before you start.  Let them know what you are looking for and what your physical condition is.  No matter which company you go with you have to communicate your concerns and your needs to them.

Keep it Clean:  Ladakh is beautiful.  But slowly, like the rest of India it is turning into a dump.  Plastic seems to be the biggest culprit.  Well its people who are the actual culprits.  Don’t throw stuff anywhere you feel like it.  Take out whatever you bring in.  The whole notion of tossing a bottle of beer of coke out of your car is lame.  Keep it clean.  Seriously!!!  Its really not that tough.

Trekking and Climbing in Ladakh’s Ruphsu Valley – Part 1

Saturday, 19 January 2013 02:19 by ranjanbanerji

I recall as I was climbing Kilimanjaro thinking to myself as to what kind of a nightmare have I invited.  I was tired, super tired, more tired than I had ever been and why was I doing this?  After summiting Kilimanjaro (you can read about the experience here) on my way down I recall thinking, wow! this was awesome I need to do something like this again.  Well the something like this turned out to be an expedition in Ladakh, India, north of the Great Himalayan Range.

The experience was incredible.  But it could have been better.  A lot went wrong.  Some can be expected and some can be avoided.  I hope that those who read this blog will learn to make the correct choices based on what they are looking for.  Please note that at no point in this post it is my intent be negative about anyone.  Its all about choices and making ones that work best for you.

I signed up with Project Himalaya for a 30 day expedition style trek down the Rupshu valley that was to end with crossing the Great Himalayan Range via Parang-La and ending in Manali.  The trek was to have at least two 6000m climbs and Project Himalaya came very highly recommended.  Another benefit of going with Project Himalaya was that it was run by western guides.  This may sound bad but having lived in India half my life and having visited so many times, India is not exactly known for reliable service.  Nothing happens on time and no one seems to care that nothing happens on time.  In fact very often you get a proud response of “Nothing happens on time.  This is India”.  I really did not want to be climbing mountains with anyone that has that attitude.  So the decision was to go with Project Himalaya.

Day 1

The trip basically commences when you fly into Leh.  The flight from Delhi to Leh is a short 45 minute one with some amazing views if its not too cloudy.  Having just flown in from the US to Delhi a short 45 minute flight was not too bad.  I was in no mood for a longer flight.  The folks at Project Himalaya were supposed to pick me up at Leh airport but when I get there there was no one to receive me.  Not a big deal I said to myself.  I pull out my cell phone (I got a local Indian phone in Delhi) and tried to call Project Himalaya.  Hmmmm! this was weird.  My phone would not work.  So not a big deal I say to myself.  I will just wait because these guys must be running late.  30 minutes later a cab guy comes to me and says I better take the last cab out of the airport because my flight was the last flight into Leh and the airport would soon shutdown.  I didn't believe him and about 30 minutes later I find that security guards were escorting me out the airport and telling me to go stand by a highway.  OK so now the situation didn’t look that good.  My cell phone was not working and here I am all by myself standing by a highway.  Luckily the same cab guy came by and picked me up.  He told me he was worried about me being stranded.  He took me to town to a phone both/Internet cafe where I could check online which hotel I was supposed to be at.  He then took me to the hotel.  He charged me a whopping $2.  Wow! I was in love with Ladakh.  Nice honest people.

So I get to the hotel and I ask my guide what happened and he shrugs and says welcome to India.  Hmmm! Now wasn't this the reason I was avoiding a local Indian guide?  LOL  I guess India can convert anyone.  Anyway, let bygones be bygones.  I got to meet most of the people who would be joining the expedition and soon we were all busy talking about stuff.  We walked around the town of Leh.  I noticed I was breathless really fast.  Leh is at 3500m and the effects of high altitude were definitely there.

WARNING:

No one, absolutely no one warned me about how disconnected Ladakh is from rest of the world.  I travel a lot and in today's world I know I can always use my cell phone get in touch with anyone I want.  In Ladakh your cell phone will not work.  It doesn’t matter if it is a GSM phone or not.  It will just not work.  For security reasons no cellular communications can be made by phones that are not locally issued and you cannot obtain one when you get there.  However, the city of Leh has several cyber cafes from where you can access the Internet and they have phones which you can use to call anywhere in India or the world and the rates are very affordable.  Once out of Leh and specially once you are out trekking there is no communication with the outside world.  So be warned.

Day 2

Day 2 we decided to drive up to Khardung La after having rented some mountain bikes.  The idea was to bike down the pass.  Man was that fun.  Plus the exposure to almost 18,000ft was good for acclimatizing.  I had been up to Khardung La way back in 1987.  It has changed a lot.  There were huge glaciers and walls of ice.  Now its all just barren.

Khardung La 1987

Khardung La 2012

The pictures above are not of the same spot but in both cases taken from the road at the pass.  On the 1987 picture there was a wall of ice at the edge of the road.  At some spots it was probably over 10ft high.  In 2012 one could some snow on the mountains but the road itself was clear and at the highest point there was no snow at all.  Both pictures were taken in the July-August time frame.

Day 3

Day 3 was a short hike from Leh to a close by village (I think its called Saboo).  The hike required crossing 2 passes at 3700m and 3800m.  Though not a huge elevation gain it felt like a lot.  This was not too good a sign.  I felt I was not acclimatizing fast enough.  But I still had time before the real expedition was to start.  By the evening I had even more bad news.  I was down with diarrhea.  This is clearly not something I was looking forward too.  In fact the entire team was down with diarrhea.  Must have been something we ate.  So now we were all taking antibiotics.  This was not too good for me as I always seem to get much weaker when I take antibiotics.  Anyway, next 5 days we were pumping pills into our system.

Trekking around Leh

Trekking around Leh

View of Saboo (green patch way down the valley) from the top of the second pass

GPS Trail on Google Earth

Day 4

We stay an extra day in Leh since everyone is sick and down with diarrhea.  Joy!!!!!!!!  Leh is an amazing city and there are a lot of places to see around it.  Mostly monasteries but they are worth a visit.  I am not going to write much about it simply because there are better sources and because quite honestly they were not fun to watch when you have diarrhea.

Leh

Leh is predominantly Buddhist but also has a large Muslim population

Leh 1987

Leh 2012.  Looks greener and more modern.

Day 5 - Pang

Day 5 we actually pack up and get into an SUV a TATA Sumo and drive almost all day to Pang.  Quite a nice drive.  On some stretches you have nicely surfaced roads and then in some areas there is no road at all.  The Border Roads Organization (the folks who build and maintain these roads) do a good job entertaining you with various road signs to keep you safe.  In some cases its bad English but everyone gets the message.  Here is a sample:

I am curvaceous be slow

After Whisky Driving Risky

Darling I like you but not so Fast

I think you get the idea.  We stopped at some place for tea and Maggi Noodles.  I refrained from eating anything.  I was starving but was too afraid to eat anything.  Once we got to Pang we packed all our stuff onto mules and started the first day of trekking though this was barely a 30 minute walk to the first camp site.  Sleeping out in a tent in the middle of nowhere and yet kind of on top of the world was incredible.  We were now at about 4500m.

I believe there are a few other higher roads.  But this is still pretty darn high for a highway.

We started down there somewhere

This is the down there somewhere.  Stretching after sitting in the TATA Sumo for 6 odd hours.

Day 6 - Trakstago

This was the first day of any serious hiking.  We did 16 plus km which is 10 miles.  I was carrying all my camera equipment and I have to admit that it was way too heavy.  This sucked….  I was carrying a Canon 7D, extra batteries, a 300mm f4L lens which is quite heavy, and then of course lots of water.  As the days would pass I will learn really quick that all this extra weight was not a good idea.  Honestly I can’t recall much about this camp site except that it had these huge Raven or Raven like birds.

Yak and goat are the most common sight.  This area has the Chongpa nomads who live here.  You don’t see many of them.  Two maybe three small camps with one or two tents each is what you will see.   They herd goats which at these altitudes grow very fine hair which then creates the famous Pashmina wool.  Kiang (wild ass) are always around too.  Per my map we were close to some place called Trakstago but visually there is no village or camp or anything.  How did this area get this name?  I have no clue.

WARNING: Learn to squat.  As I mentioned earlier, the entire team was down with diarrhea and this is the wilderness.  At camp there is a small pit that is dug up and a tent put around it.  That is where you go to take a dump.  If you are not used to squatting, this can be a challenge.  So start practicing sitting in that position before you get here.  While trekking you just have to be shameless if you have to go.  There are no bushes to hide behind.  And if you do go out in the open, use a stone, dig a small hole, and then cover your crap (no pun intended) when you are done.

Day 7 - Zozogong

Another long but interesting day.  We trekked from Trakstago to Zozogong (yet another name with no signs of civilzation).  Interesting trek which included going through an area where all the rocks were black.  As though they had been on fire.  Very unusual sight (not sure why I did not take a picture).  We then crossed the Thelakung La (la is pass) at 5020m and then descended to Zozogong at 4910m.  Just as we went over the pass at 5020m we saw a few clouds come by.  Wow! did the weather change fast.  From what was comfortably cool weather we had a drop to sub zero temperatures within about 10 minutes.  All of a sudden we had rain that turned to sleet that turned to snow.  Now I understood why they said carry your rainproof gear in your day pack.  Weather in the mountains can change very rapidly.  As I descended down from the camp I could see a Chongpa tent and some of our team members who were walking faster seemed to have entered it.  Now there is a slight problem.  The Chongpa have these Himalayan Shepherd dogs that can attack anyone coming close to their camp.  So standing far away from the camp I start yelling Julley (hello, greetings) till someone exits the tent and restrains the dogs so I can approach. 

Once I entered the tent, it was quite fascinating.  Its a large tent but houses the entire family and all their belongings.  At the center is a stove burning Yak dung and brewing tea.  The old lady in the tent was scrounging for every cup or container she could find to serve us tea in.  I really did not want to look at her fingers.  This was not a time to worry about hygiene.  It was freezing, I was wet, cold, and tired.  I was being offered shelter and some tea.  I took it.  It was pretty darn tasty. Goat milk tea. 

Soon the storm passed by and the sun was out.  We exited the tent and had our lunch out in the sun with a view of mountains just dusted with snow.  The Chongpa family offered us some goat milk yogurt which once again was incredibly tasty or we were incredibly hungry and tired.  After lunch we had a few more hours to go before reaching Zozogong.  In the afternoon we used a sack of potatoes to act as wickets, and a piece of wood as a bat and a rubber ball and soon there was one the highest games of cricket ever played.

Cricket at 4910m

Most members of the team were still sick with diarrhea and this resulted in some good but crass humor in the dining tent.  The crew though provided the best meals.  The dining tent was equipped with all kinds of nice snacks, we were supplied with unlimited quantities of chai.  Consumption of large amounts of fluids is great for fighting off the effect of high altitude.

Pang to Zozogong

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Removing a GU10 Bulb

Monday, 8 October 2012 15:45 by ranjanbanerji

How many men, engineers, women, etc does it take to replace a light bulb?  I have heard these jokes a billion times but recently learned that perhaps there is some substance to these jokes.  About 6 months ago I purchased a track light from Home Depot.  It takes 4 GU10 halogen bulbs that fit snuggly into the lamp holder.  Yesterday one of the bulbs burned out.  A bit too fast if you ask me but anyway that’s not what this post is about.  So I tried to get the bulb out but realized that I could not get a good grip on it and that no matter what I tried the bulb would just not move.

Now this is a bit of a problem if you have just one fixture that uses this bulb type.  Because you will most likely never remember how to put or more importantly how to remove a bulb of this type.  So now I have a bulb that fits snuggly into its holder flush with its opening so you cannot grip it and I have no idea whether this screws in, has pins, and how is it to be removed. 

Well removing a GU10 requires pushing it in a bit and then turning it counter clockwise.  You can see the pins of a GU10 in the picture below.

GU10-1 

The GU10 socket looks like this:

GU10-2

So to get the bulb out I used one of those transparent rubber suction/vacuum cups you use to attach a hook to glass or some other smooth surface.  It doesn't have to stick to the bulb.  You just need to press it to the front of the bulb till you feel the bulb move back a bit then you gently twist the suction cup counter clockwise.  The rubber cup grips the glass quite well and you should be able to twist counter clockwise and easily remove the bulb.

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