Stok Kangri Expedition Day 4 – The Wari La Pass

Our trio of acclimatisation days would come to a close with a much vaunted trip to the ‘Kardung La Pass’ nestled at a staggering 5,359m above sea-level and reputedly the highest road pass in the world, although this seems to be open to dispute. However, the day did not go well!

The pass is only about one hours journey out of Leh but it transpired that the week we had chosen to climb one of India most famous peaks was also the same week that Indian Independence was being celebrated and was therefore a national holiday which equaled traffic jams!

Yes, even a third world country it appears suffers from Bank Holiday hold-ups. The pass had been a road block for several days, and we would not be getting there easily. So ‘LT’ our guide had other plans.

He suggested another high pass known as ‘The Wari-La’ from where he claimed we could do an equally good acclimatisation climb from the roadside. So off we set through the arid countryside headed for the new pass.

The main roads in Ladakh are pretty bad but the minor roads are even worse! Remembering though that we were here for an adventure we steeled ourselves for the derrière bashing pseudo off-road journey up to the pass.

Thoughts of death or injury on a 6,000m mountain quickly paled into insignificance compared with the constant near death experiences found on a minor road in India. These experiences come in the shape of other cars, hairpin bends with vertical drop offs, burning rubber tyres (courtesy of our driver), and the Indian obsession with wearing flip-flops – even when driving up a mountain.

After several close shaves we finally ground to a halt along a dusty mountain road halfway up the valley where some very official looking men were gesticulating that we needed to turn around.

Apparently the road had been hit by a landslide the night before during the heavy rains and was now impassable. Much arguing later and a Plan B swung into action as our driver attempted to get up to the pass by using an even smaller road running along the western side of the valley.

Good idea in theory but after only ten minutes of driving we found that this road had also been hit by a mudslide during the previous nights rains and was also now totally impassable.

We appeared doomed and properly stuck. Plan C was a little more basic. Drive back to the scene of the first landslide and wait it out while the army moved in to clear the way. So it was that we dug in for a good couple of hours wait.

I sat at first sweltering in the mini bus and then after much fidgeting removed myself and sat on a boulder beside the roadside until I felt myself beginning to burn under what was now the midday sun. Being of a mainly British contingent on the expedition most of the other chaps on the bus had now decided to strip off to the waist and roast in the sun beside the road as is our nations custom, I declined.

I’m convinced I have a mild case of attention deficit disorder and after ten minutes of doing nothing my fears were reaffirmed as I began to metaphorically speaking climb up the walls. I needed to make use of this down time. So I began to hatch a plan.

I knew that we were roughly at 3,850m, so I wondered if I were to attempt to scramble up the rocky slopes beside the road whether I could make the magic 4,000m mark and achieve some great acclimatisation from an an otherwise useless situation.

Having convinced myself this was a good idea I started off up the slope hopping from boulder to boulder up and over a dilapidated drystone wall and then up some steep scree. I gained height rapidly enough and soon stopped to take a reading from my GPS, it read 4,005m.

As I paused to take in the view along the valley and suck in the by now rarefied air the lads below having realised my plan and not wanting to miss out on some acclimation had decided to trudge up after me figuring out that I must have stopped at around the magical 4,000m mark.

the Wari-LaJust then the mini-bus below sounded its horn. The road had been cleared. So we quickly scree ran back down to the roadside. Finally off we drove towards the Wari-La. A few dozen scary hairpins later, and we arrived just shy of the col.

The air outside the bus was cold, and we layered up. ‘LT’ had dropped us off beneath a boulder strewn slope. An undistinguished rocky knoll somewhere at the top was our target to aim for and so up we all trudged with no obvious path. As we had yet to form any climbing partnerships it became every man and woman for himself or herself.

I forged a relatively steep line up the boulders attempting to push myself as far as I was comfortable with, but also mindful not to over exert myself as we were still acclimatising. I topped out on what was universally agreed to be the highest point of this unnamed pile of rubble above the pass.

The climb while very uninspiring at the top delivered a sublime view over the mountains towards Pakistan and The Karakoram Range. Snowy peaks dotted the vista in all directions. Mission accomplished! As we headed back down my head began to throb and I knew the effects of the high altitude were beginning to kick in.

After an ankle turning descent over the boulders and scree to the pass we all piled back into the van for what was an even scarier drive back down the hairpins than it had been coming up! Smouldering brake discs, screeching turns and the general lack of concern coming from the driver’s seat were all a bit unsettling. But we all agreed we had finally completed an acclimatisation day of note and our combined banging headaches were testament to the punishment we had put ourselves through.

Later that day and back at the hotel in Leh although completely knackered from the days exertions we all needed to embark on packing our travel holdalls because tomorrow we were due to set off up the Indus Valley to finally start the real part of the expedition, the real climb! Stok was getting closer!

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

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Stok Kangri Expedition Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh

To climb a 6000m peak you need to acclimatise and to do this you need to spend a substantial amount of time at high altitude so another acclimatisation day was required to firstly get used to already being at 3,524m above sea-level and secondly to prepare us for the much harder task ahead. Today it had been scheduled that we were going to take a walking tour around the ancient city of Leh in which we were staying to help with this ongoing process.

Leh is the main town in the North West Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and sits at a high altitude along the Indus Valley. In years gone by it had been the old capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and we were here for the next three days. Continue reading “Stok Kangri Expedition Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh”

Stok Kangri Expedition Day 2 – Alchi Monastery

We drove for hours across a dusty and barren landscape which makes up the Indus Valley. Our mini bus was headed for Alchi Monastery a few hours up river and deeper into the Ladakh countryside. The Monastery consists of a small collection of monastic temples dating from between A.D.958 and 1055.

According to local tradition the complex was founded by the revered guru Rinchen Zangpo famous for translating Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan. It is therefore both a very old and a very important monastery and we were headed there as part of our acclimatisation and cultural discovery programme in Ladakh.

Guru Rinchen Zangpo Pictorial StoryAccording to ancient texts the tree outside the monastery is of a species not native to the land thereabouts and folklore dictates that it grew as a result of Rinchen Zangpo having an epiphany that he’d found the right spot to build a monastery and so he proceeded to plant his walking stick firmly and permanently in the ground to mark the spot from which the tree we see today grew.

Great story, highly improbable but I’d buy into it in all probability had I been aroundO in the 11th century.

Rinchen Zangpo's Walking StickThe monastery today has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtsek and the Temple of Manjushri, all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. Several small Chortens litter the complex but all appear to have seen much better days. 

For us the visit was an opportunity to get away from the confines of our hotel in Leh which was becoming way too claustrophobic and a chance to get out and see some of the surrounding countryside.

The monastery although interesting was unfortunately easily seen within an hour, so the subsequent thought of a two and a half hour return road trip along the potholed and dusty roads of Ladakh was not too appealing.

Alchi Monastery - LadakhLuckily though lunch had been arranged for us by the monastery and so we ate in the tranquil monastery gardens relaxing for a couple of hours before embarking on our weary journey back to Leh.

At the end of the day although tired from the long journey we were a day further into our acclimatisation process and a day nearer to the big climb itself so all was going to plan.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Stok Kangri Expedition Day 1 – Arrival in Ladakh

We flew into Leh on the first day of our adventure aboard a very early morning flight out of Delhi. The approach to Leh airport is what could be termed interesting. 360 degrees of surrounding mountain ranges, a narrow valley and a dusty ex military airstrip to try to land on. It was a sick bags out and hold onto the seat of your pants kind of a landing!

Prayer Flags - LehAfter eventually clearing the never ending bureaucracy of the airport (which is in more or less lock-down mode due to volatile political tensions in the region) we finally emerged to grab lifts in a convoy of small taxi vans waiting outside which whisked us at speed through the labyrinth of dusty and bumpy roads to our local hotel.

View from my room - LehAfter a nail biting cab ride that only third world countries can deliver we arrived at our hotel/hostel where we were cordially greeted with traditional prayer scarves by the genial hotel staff.

Meet and GreetFollowing on from being fed and watered the rest of the day was spent just sleeping and gaining some much needed R&R. Later after awaking from barely enough sleep I had a quick walk into town.

Very dusty and muddy with potholes everywhere is the best way to describe the streets of Leh. The town is a strange fusion of Indian and Tibetan influenced cultures. Many Tibetan refugees have made the town their new home and Buddhist influence abounds through prayer flags, stupas and the Tibetan markets.

Ladakh House - LehI ended up wandering around one of the many Tibetan Bazaars that litter the town and made a timely investment in some prayer flags, (always good to have as much spiritual support as can be mustered when attempting to climb a 6000m peak).

Street Stalls - LehNothing else of much note happened for the rest of the day as this was just one of what would come to be all too familiar acclimatisation days.

Day two of the trip though would hold the hope of some much needed physical exertion by means of a trip to the very old and famous Alchi Monastery some distance away up the Indus Valley. Catch the next post to read all about our trip to the monastery.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums