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2015, Ski-Mountaineering, Ladakh

For a couple of years now, I have been toying with the idea of a solo ski-mo adventure. The idea was, to start with sub 6000m mountains and slowly graduate to higher more tricky peaks. I have been training hard for solo alpine climbs and have been procuring lightweight alpine gear. The latest addition to my kit was some ski-mountaineering equipment. I got the kit delivered in September. I played with it in Gulmarg for a couple of weeks. After the trip to Gulmarg, I didn’t think I was totally ready even for any sort of solo adventure, let alone a ski-mountaineering endeavor. But I decided to go none the less. I had close to a month to prepare after Gulmarg, for the ski-mo outing. Of course a few days of rest followed by some training for a couple of weeks and a weeklong tapering period seemed in order. Solo outings to the Himalayas are a challenging affair to say the least. By solo, I am not just referring to the ascent on a mountain; but the approach to the base, mobilising rations, equipment etc, are all self supported. Hence, one might imagine, that a solo alpine ski mountaineering adventure would be even more arduous than a regular alpine ascent, because of the additional weight of the skiing equipment. Fortunately, thanks to a friend JBo, I had invested in a pair of super light La Sportiva RST’s, Dynafit Speed Radicals and Sportiva Sideral Boots – All pretty lightweight stuff; A ski mountaineers dream come true. I figured that in order to pull off the solo thing, I had to keep the overall weight within manageable limits; so I set a 25 kg cap; Quite unreasonable one might say given that the skiing equipment alone would add up to about 7 kilos. The backpack, clothing, sleeping bag, Tent, mattress and climbing gear (harness, crampons, ice axe, biners etc) would take me close to the 18-20 kg mark, even slightly over. Then I had to cater for food, fuel and snacks as well, which for a week would easily add up to 3-3.5 kilos. So I had to skimp at every moment possible.

I had allowed 12 days for the trip to Nimaling and back. Time permitting, I had also catered for a detour to Kang Yatse. I had aimed to be back by the 29th of April, for my sisters birthday. So, With a couple of tentative objectives in mind, I left for Leh on the 15th. I reached Leh by 8, the next morning. I drove to a guest house in Chanspa, with my friend Tsering, who is a cab driver. It took me an hour to settle into my room. I walked to the market and had some Chhole Bhature for breakfast. SInce I hadnt slept all night, I came back to my room and slept till 2. After the little nap, I headed back to the market to pick my ration and fuel for the trip. I picked up packaged, processed foods etc, such as noodles, soups, instant mixes, tuna and sardines. I also had some mutton fried momos for lunch. After the little trip to the market, I decided to pay a visit to my dear friend Sam; unfortunately he was not in his office. So I called him and we agreed to meet the following day at his office. The weather was quite nippy in the evening, so after roaming around the market place for a while, I headed back to the guest house. I had dinner in my room and after snooping around with my kit for a while, I slept. The following day, I was in a bit of a dilemma to stay or to head out to the road head. I decided to stay and gather some info about the weather, routes and wildlife activity.

Honestly, I was concerned about activity in the wilderness, more than other objective challenges. It was very cold in the morning, just as cold the night before. So I wondered, if it was that cold at 3500m, how cold would it be at higher altitudes where I would be camping. Anyhow, That afternoon, I met with Sam and discussed the current trip. He was a little perturbed that I was going alone. I confessed to him that I didn’t particularly enjoy going alone into the wilderness, but that I had no options. One of Sams ‘guide’ friends was there too, who claimed to have taken a bunch of swiss skiers to the Stok area a couple of years ago. He advised me against Nimaling and suggested that I try the Stok area. I was a little sceptical, but Sams friend was able to convince me with his description of the number of options available in the Stok area; I was still split 50/50, but decided to go to the Stok/Manikarmo area based on the convictions of Sams friend. We had lunch together. After lunch, I went to my room to packup. I called Tsering that evening, and asked him to pick me up from my guest house at 9 the next morning. I slept quite well. By 8, I was all packed and ready to leave. The feeling was a bit of a mixed bag. Usually, I am pretty excited and upbeat about solo trips. But those were mostly alpine style ascents which didn’t involve skiing. This was different. It was quite early in the season to be on the mountains. I was expecting it to be really cold and inhospitable. Then there was the element of unknown. I have never skied in the area. Last but not the least, I was a bit concerned about wild animals. I know that Ladakh is home to the Snow Leopard. I have seen wolves on more occasions than one, both in Ladakh and Kashmir. So there were a lot of questions lingering in my head. My mind was not totally at ease, but I tried to stay focussed and composed. Tsering was taking forever to arrive. So I called him and checked if he wasn’t too far. He arrived in 15 minutes and we were on our way by 9:30. I didn’t speak much with Tsering while we drive towards Stok, except may be ask him to expect a call from me in a few days. I couldn’t tell him when, because I didn’t know what to anticipate on the mountains, but I told him any day around 24th of April or later would be most probable.

We reached Stok by quarter past 10. The village wore a deserted haunted look. I saw just one lady in the whole village. Obviously there were others, but none on the streets; none visible to my anxious eyes. So I got off the cab and quickly strapped up, lest the anxiety got the better of me. I asked Tsering to take some pictures of me with my pack. I shook his hands and reminded him to expect a call from me in a few days before hiking towards Manikarmo. I maintained a steady, easy pace throughout the trek. It was nice and sunny, but also windy. Once in a while, the sun would be covered by a sheet of clouds and the windchill would kick in. I did keep my softshell right on top of the pack, but never wore it because five minutes with the softshell on, would make me all sweaty. About 20 minutes into the trail, I could see patches of thick ice along the stream/river. An hour into the trail, the patches of ice slowly began morphing into a thick blanket of white snow/ice. With every passing minute, the thickness of the ice seemed to constantly increase. The thickness was over three feet in some places and I often stumbled in the gaps that were covered by fresh snow or a crusty layer. The falls were quite ugly because of the heavy load on my back.

After falling a couple of times, I was careful to probe with my poles before moving forward. Because of the