In May 2016, I joined a trek in Nepal that consisted of 27 days trekking and mountaineering with a group of like minded adventurers. I enjoyed the idea of the journey, starting each day walking and seeing different aspects of valleys and mountains we travelled through. After the Nepal trek, I wanted to have a similar trekking and mountaineering experience in a different country.

The World Expeditions Twin Peaks of Ladakh Trek seemed to fulfil the criteria of a trekking and mountaineering journey.

We met the other team members of the trek on the first evening of our trip, in New Delhi. Sara, Melissa, Roger, Theo, Kevin, Tim, David & I were introduced to each other. We chatted for a couple of hours, learning about each others experiences in the outdoors. An early night was needed, as we were up at 2:30am to get a very early flight from Delhi to Leh. The small capital city of the Ladakh area is Leh.

Walking up the Stok Valley towards Stock Basecamp

David and I were really feeling the sudden increase in altitude, as we had flown from virtually sea level in Delhi to 3500m in Leh. Most of our group came down with headaches, lethargy and lack of appetite.

The first few days in Leh were quite easy, allowing us to get used to the altitude.
We would do a half-day walk in the hills or visit a local temple, then have the rest of the day off to look around the town or just laze around.

Once we were feeling a bit better about the altitude, we gathered our trekking kit and headed to the small town of Stok, about 30 minutes south of Leh by road. Here we met our trekking crew of local guides, horseman, kitchen staff and horses that carried all of our equipment and personal gear.

Our gear wash loaded onto the 16 horses and we set off on the first days trekking.

Stok Kangri 6153m

Our trek would follow a large river valley towards our first mountaineering objective of Stok Kangri 6153m. The first few days of the trek were only a few hours of walking followed by lazy afternoon’s resting, reading and exploring the surrounds of our campsite.

After three easy days trekking, we arrived at Stok Kangri Base Camp.
The camp was quite popular with approximately 100 people either in the process of preparing for an ascent of Stok Kangri, on the ascent or returning from an attempt on the summit.

A friendly visitor at Syok Kangri Basecamp

Our group had different levels of mountaineering experience so our guide’s took us up to a snow patch above camp and we all practiced our crampon technique, using the ice axe’s correctly and self-arrest with an ice axe. It was good to have a practice before actually climbing to brush up on the skills we rarely have use for in Australia.

We had a long lazy afternoon, an early dinner and a wake up call at 10:30pm. After quick supper and were ready to leave by 11:30pm. As we left base camp in the dark, we followed a steep trail then a long two hour walk to the start of the climbing. We had to cross an old glacier and follow across a steep scree slope, then we could see the actual route to the summit in the pre dawn light. We stopped to put our crampons on, then it was a slow slog on the initial slope.

My travelling partner, David set the pace in the front of our small party of climbers,, he would count out 20 steps and then we would stop and we get our breathe back for a minute or so and then he would set off again.
This pace meant it was a slow but steady ascent. As the first light of dawn appeared on a distant horizon we reached a group of rocks that signalled the start of the steeper upper section of the route. This steeper section of icy snow steps led to the shoulder of the ridge, which would eventually lead to the summit.

At the rocks David, Sara and I tied into our Sherpa guide, we continued up the steeper and icier higher section together. The other team members had gathered with the other guides slightly behind our group.

As we started up, we noticed that other groups ahead of us had turned around and were coming down. We thought maybe these groups had rushed their acclimatisation and were feeling the affects of the altitude at 5700m. We arrived at the shoulder section of the climb around 6:30am, we were all feeling the altitude gain but were keen to continue on to the summit.

Unfortunately, we witnessed a shocking fall from an inexperienced climber who had untied from his rope close to the summit above us, to take a “selfie” at the edge. The climber unroped and without his ice axe had fallen backwards off the edge. It was a terrifying sight to see some one start sliding and then gain speed and tumbling for over 350m before coming to rest in the rocks we had passed 2 hours before. One of our guides who had a bottle of oxygen raced down and attended to the stricken climber.

Kevin arrived at shoulder shortly after we arrived. Sara had decided not to go any higher so Kevin tied in to our rope and we continued on towards the summit.

Two hours later we arrived on the small flat summit

Prayer flags were draped over the summit blocks. There were crystal clear 360° views of the surrounding mountains and the distant mountains of the Zanskar Ranges.

We spent 30 minutes on the summit soaking up the views and taking lots of photo’s.

We took our time safely descending the snow and loose rock along the loose ridge back to the shoulder. We stopped for a quick early lunch then we stayed roped up as we descended the steep snow slopes. The snow slopes eased eventually and we were able to untie from the rope and descend at our own pace. As we descended the lower snow slopes, we watched the accident victim be evacuated by Indian Army helicopter almost 5 hours after his accident.

We were really feeling worn out as we got off the snow and were able to get our crampons off. It was a slow walk back to camp, we would stop and rest every 15 minutes. We arrived back at base camp at approx 5pm.

Stok La Pass 4865m

An early wake up call at 6am the next morning saw eight tired faces emerge from their tents. We descended the Stok valley before detouring up and over three ever higher passes to the top of the Stok La pass then a long winding descent to the small village of Rumbak.

The dramatic trail to Stok La Pass

We left Stok Kangri Basecamp at 745am. As we slowly climbed up the initial pass, we walked past the dramatic backdrop of tall red cliffs we had seen from below. The surrounding rock formations were dramatic, vertical fins of red rock rising from the valleys to the tops of the passes.

The sure footed pack horses would slowly wind their way up the narrow single mountain paths, we would stop and get off the trail and let them pass. Everyone was feeling the toll of hard walking but we all got to the top of Stok La Pass.

On the top we could see the new view down into the next long valley to the distant village, which would be our nights camp. The long descent started steeply, then levelled out on a long valley following a fast flowing stream. Rumbak camp was a welcome sight.

Rest break on the trail

The next few days were filled with a slow ascent to the top of another pass, the Grande La 4950m. The Grande La provided fantastic views towards the distant 7000m+ peaks of Nun & Kun Massif’s. While it was quite cool and windy on the pass, the descent was lovely. We were passing a lot of trekking parties ascending the pass from the other side. A few hours of descent saw us at the lovely village of Skogdo. We had a wonderful grassy campsite beside rocky stream. We had arrived in the early afternoon and had time to relax in the shade and wash ourselves and our clothes in the nearby stream.

The Markha Valley

The next morning the gorge was quite narrow as we descended steeply, we crossed the stream many times. This part of the trail had been washed away in a flood in 2006 and we had to pick our way down the trail slowly. The village of Skui 3435m marked the junction of the our smaller gorge with the larger Markha Valley. We stopped for snacks and a soft drink at the unique trail side stalls consisting of round stone walls with a second hand parachute strung from a centre pole.

We had lovely morning walking up the initial Markha valley, we marvelled at the huge rock mountains that encircled the valley. Magnificent rock formations appeared around every corner. We followed a fast flowing river and climbed up the sides of the valley as obstacles had blocked our intended route.

Bridge Crossing Markha Valley

We trekked and camped next to the fast flowing Markha River for the next few days. The Markha Village was the largest settlement in the area. The ancient Markha Temple that was poised on the hill above the village was beautiful. The remote temple was maintained by a solitary monk. He would spend 12 months at the temple before being relieved by another monk.

Leaving Markha we had to take the walking boots off and brave a very cold river crossing. The fast moving river was up to our knees and we each had to take our time to remain upright.

The Beautiful Markha Village

We left the main trekking trail a couple of days later and trekked towards the next mountain objective of Kangyaze 6200m.

Kangyaze 6200m

We slowly ascended the summer mountain pastures, past large herds of cows and horses that had been released for summer grazing. Kangyaze base camp was a spectacular spot on the bend of a glacial fed stream directly beneath the south face of the mountain.

Rest day was taken to get our gear and bodies ready for the 11pm start.

On the night of the ascent, a party of ten climbers and guides left for the summit just after 11pm. Soon after leaving camp, my stomach was feeling bad and I didn’t feel I should continue on, so I descended back to camp. During the course of the night most of the party turned around due to a variety of ailments.

Team members David and Melissa persisted up steep snow slopes traversing and climbing to a small, cold and spectacular summit. They reported clear views almost to the Karakoram and Tibet. A long tiring descent saw them safely down at basecamp at around 3pm.

The view from the Kongmaru La 5150m

After a celebratory dinner, the exhausted summiteers had an early night.

The last days trekking started early as we left basecamp and descended to the village of Nimaling. From Nimaling village we had one last pass to cross the Kongmaru La 5150m. Climbing steeply to the pass was a struggle but the views into the last valley and gorge made it worthwhile.

It was a long descent down a very narrow gorge, we would sometimes trek high on the sides of the gorge led us to the road head and a welcome finishing campsite at the village Shang Sumdo (3690m).

Before we could get a much need shower back in Leh, we stopped at the magnificent Hemis Monastery. The Hemis Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery initially built in the 11th century and added to and extended in the 16th century. Tindook, our local Ladakh guide explained the significance of each statue and pictograms on the walls. The monastery was a nice way to conclude our trip.

David descending the final gorge to the roadhead

When we arrived back in Leh and our hotel, it was time for showers, coffee and souvenir shopping.

Trekking and climbing in Ladakh really did provide a very different experience to the more traditional trekking of Nepal. Beautiful valleys, impressive ancient monasteries, the dryness of the surrounding mountains and the untouched remoteness made this adventure very special.

Pradeep our Indian guide

About The Author

Luke Adams

Luke is a passionate rock climber, mountaineer and bushwalker. He has climbed mountains in New Zealand, Africa, Europe and the Himalaya. Rock climbed in The UK, France, Switzerland, Kenya, USA and Canada. Luke has been with Paddy Pallin for more than 20 years and still enjoys helping customers prepare for their own adventures and journeys. He is heading to India on his next trekking adventure in Ladakh with World Expeditions.

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