Kang Yatse, 6400m (21,000 ft)
LADAKH, JUNE 2008
4:00 a.m. saw 6 happy but sleepy trekkers meet at Glasgow airport for a 6:30 flight heading, via Amsterdam & Delhi, to Leh the regional capital of Ladakh in the northern Indian province of Jammu & Kashmir.
Our objective was a two week trek with the summit of Kang Yatse at 6400m the ultimate prize. (Like the earlier Markah Valley story, the trek was organised by a company called Hidden North Adventures, run by Tashi Chotak Lonchey.)
The first 2/3 days were spent acclimatising (Leh is 3500m high), and sightseeing the many Buddhist temples that are in the area, and a World Heritage site at Bazgo which is currently being restored (see the Gallery of acclimatisation photos). We then spent a night in our guide's village of Pyang before the trek started in earnest.
A leisurely first day's walk of 5 hours gave us a welcome introduction to the region's desert-like landscape. The following 5 days were spent traversing many valleys and passes with heights in excess of 4800m crossed each day. This was hard going but superb acclimatisation (there's another Gallery of photos from the trek).
Despite the arid dry landscape we did see plenty of local wild life, Marmots, Snow cocks, Blue Sheep which are actually a type of deer and Lammergeyer, the local vulture flying above looking for carrion. Also we spotted a fresh Snow Leopard footprint one morning only some 800 metres from camp but unfortunately no actual sighting of this very rare animal.
We did have a number of river crossings to make each day which became progressively harder as the snow melt from the mountains built up during the day. A simple step across a river at 8:30 in the morning became a full scale adventure by 4:30 in the afternoon but other than a few very wet boots and legs we all survived.
Camp sites were basic but comfortable with the usual trek food being prepared by our team of 2 cooks supported by the rest of the team of porters, guides and horsemen to look after the 10 pack animals that carried most of the equipment.
Unfortunately after 5 days' trekking one of our group was suffering from the after-effects of a recent bout of pneumonia and despite ingesting enough antibiotics to cure an army had to leave us.
Day 6 took us to Lartsa, the base of Kongmaru La which is also the base camp for attempts on Stok Kangri the other trekking peak in the region. Here we met a 64 year old Canadian woman with a replacement hip who was going to attempt Stok Kangri. Just shows what can be achieved with determination and motivation.
Up and over the pass at Kongmaru La at 5287m marked the start of the serious part of the trip as we came nearer to our target and ever higher. Down from the pass we arrived in Nimaling meadow which is a fabulous place for a camp. Wide open spaces, a river with a herd of yaks and goats for company, bright cloudless skies and a stunning view of Kang Yatse made for an almost perfect setting for a half day's rest and recuperation as we all contemplated the challenge of the next 3 days.
After Nimaling meadow we nipped up and over another ridge and down to a valley at the foot of the mountain which would be our base camp for the next 3 or 4 days depending on conditions and weather.
After lunch we decided to have a look at our high camp from which we would attempt the summit, so with our mountain guide Kusan off we went up to 5500m. A couple of hours' later and we had our first disappointment of the trip as we found that the area for our high camp was covered in soft powdery snow which would not take our tents. We spent around 1 hour searching around to see if we could clear an area but to no avail so somewhat despondently we made our way back to base camp to discuss the various options now available. The upshot of these discussions was that we would go for the summit from base camp at 5130m and we would also go around the East ridge in the hope of finding an easier, less snow-covered route.
Summit day, as usual, starts very early and in this case at 1:30 am with hot tea, porridge and chicken noodle soup before kitting up with cold weather gear, boots and crampons then leaving at 2:30. The first couple of hours were across more ridges to reach the snow line which we did by 4:30. Putting on plastic boots and crampons we then started climbing the remaining 900m to the summit.
For the first couple of hours on the shallower slopes we managed to climb 400m but once the sun came out and the angle of ascent grew considerably our pace dropped to less than 100m an hour. The snow conditions were extremely difficult with only a very shallow crust before soft powder into which we regularly stepped up to our waists.
By the time we reached 5800m it was apparent that the summit at 6400m would be extremely challenging given the weather, snow conditions and length of time we had been on the hill. We carried on until we reached the 6000m mark at which point our guide, who had broken the trail all the way advised that it would take at least 2 more hours to reach the 6200m lower top. Given we had been on the hill for 8 hours at this point and conscious that the climb became even steeper we all came to the conclusion that the most sensible course of action was to call it a day and go back to base camp.
An uneventful descent saw us arrive back in camp at 3:30 pm, 13 hours after we set out. 1 hour later the hill was under a violent storm so all in all a correct decision, disappointing as it was at the time.
After a night's sleep we retraced our steps for a couple of days before arriving back in Leh for the usual celebrations. Despite not reaching our objective this was a great trek with fantastic scenery
Story and photos contributed by Alan Marshall
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