The euphoria of reaching the summit lasted all too briefly. The weather Gods seemed displeased by our incursion into their upper realms and the 360 degree vistas we had just been awarded with were snatched away from us in a suffocating white-out that enveloped the summit cone.
Rigzin and Nannang looking unnerved for the first time seemed eager to get moving and start the descent. Under their command we left as quickly as we had arrived making for the exposed ridge to lead us back down.
We were not the only ones on the mountain though, as we were headed down others were still heading up! A meeting was inevitable.
Unfortunately many parties on the mountain under local Indian leadership had no right to be there at all. I’m all for the wilderness being open to everyone but you have to know your limits and skills, many people on that mountain clearly did not know either.
Dangerously we passed rim-rocked or crag-fest individuals and groups roped together by a safety rope no better than my mum’s washing line! Hold-ups became inevitable. After waiting it out several times perched on the ridge at high altitude tempers began to fray. Heated exchanges occurred as we tried to descend to safety.
Eventually after many hold-ups and several arguments we made it to the col where we had roped up previously on our ascent. Happy to have made it at last past the trickiest section of the descent the group now split into different factions depending on fitness, energy levels and willingness to push on.
The snow was melting as the sun’s heat penetrated the glacial cirque and all that had seemed other worldly on the ascent were now just rocks and mud. The glacier that had felt so formidable in the eery hours of darkness now looked somewhat tame and uninspiring. Still acutely aware however that many more accidents and injuries happen on the descent than the ascent I had to keep ever focused although terribly tired and fatigued.
After many hours of slogging over moraine and scree our ragtag group all made it back down to base camp.
We were not greeted by any banging of pots or rousing applause as I had two years earlier after summiting Kilimanjaro instead just a muted inquisitiveness from those waiting to summit the next day, eager to garner what information they could from any returnees.
I hit the sleeping mat in my tent and passed out into a deep slumber not rousing until around 4pm that afternoon. The journey was nearly over. A celebratory cake tonight and possibly a beer tomorrow would be the equivalent of a podium finish for us. We would then break camp and head down to Stok Village to be picked up in the Jeeps and driven back to civilisation.
It had been an epic trip and Stok Kangri had been a formidable foe but as I sped off down the dusty track in the Jeep the following morning my mind was already dreaming of the next mountain in another far off exotic land and what exciting adventures might still lie ahead.