By Clayton Dunham
After our 10 day trek to Tso Moriri and climb of Mentok Kangri, Carley and I felt confident enough to take a crack at another high peak, 6150m Stok Kangri. This peak is the highest in the Stok Range and highest mountain near Leh. It’s a popular ascent, with people coming from all over the world to climb it. It’s sometimes called a “trekking peak” because people with minimal mountaineering experience can hire local guides and stand a good chance of success. While not a technically difficult peak by the standard route, it does require glacier travel, steep snow slopes, and some moderately exposed scrambling, all above 5000 meters.
Stok Kangri is one of the most commercialized adventures near Leh. It’s usually done in 3-5 days. You can hire a guide and ponies; you can overnight in “tent stays” where you are provided food and shelter, or you can go fully independent. Having only two days rest from our previous trek, and not wanting to haul full camping and climbing gear to 5000-meter base camp, we opted to tent stay, but climb independently.
After a while, we reach the first tent stay at Namlung. There are only a couple of tents here and a small shelter. We have tea and continue over a small pass to Mankarmo, a bigger camp only 2-3 hours from base camp.
There is a “parachute tent,” or yurt-like structure, at Mankarmo used by the camp caretakers for storage, seating, and feeding hungry trekkers. Our night at camp isn’t that busy. We are the first ones there that day and take a tent furthest from the main area. I regret not bringing my own mattress though, as the mats provided to trekkers are rather chintzy.
The next day we head up to base camp, passing people on their way down. Lots of hellos, jullays, and namastes are exchanged as we try to gauge the pain and suffering in their faces. A couple sickly looking people are being brought down on ponies. The steepest part of the hike to base camp is at the end, as you approach 5000 meters.
Once at camp we check in with the caretakers and are provided a tent. We have a huge meal with other trekkers from all over the world. We go for an acclimatization walk to higher elevation and check out the route and look down on base camp.
We plan to leave sometime around midnight. We eat a bit and have warm milk tea then set off around 12:30 am, the second last climbers to leave for the summit. The moon is bright, and headlamps are unnecessary on parts of the route. We take a break as we get to the edge of the glacier. Carley has developed a cold, and I’m just feeling lousy. But after a hearty snack and warm water, we decide to continue, and each gets a second wind. Roped together and wearing crampons, we cross the glacier easily. We can see headlamps leading up the giant south slopes of the mountain.
Up the ridge, we go on loose talus and ice covered rocks. There are some sketchy spots, so we take things slow. The guided groups pass us on their way down, and we eventually reach the 6150 meter summit, about 7hrs after leaving camp.
Eventually, we retrace our steps, passing the final pair heading up to the summit. Some bum sliding down the lower south face makes for lots of fun, and we are finally back on the glacier. We cross without issue and take a rest.
We make it back to camp with a bit of time before they feed us lunch. Everyone’s exhausted but mostly in high spirits. Carley still has a cold and we debate heading back to the comforts or our guesthouse in Leh or staying another night. With little energy left to explore and not wanting to lay around all day on a rocky bed, we elect to head back to Stok where we’d catch a taxi back to Leh. This would mean a descent of around 8500ft, from the summit to Stok. Although we are bagged by the time we limp into the village, all goes well, and within an hour we are showering in our guesthouse, happy that we did Stok Kangri without a guide in 3 days.
Next morning I get to talking to a German fella who just arrived in Leh. He wants to go for an acclimatization hike, so I suggest a small peak that overlooks the town and the Indus Valley. We share a cab to the trailhead and after a couple hours top out at 4100 meters.