Continuing from Part 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.