Ladakh 2014 – Kang Yatse
Ladakh 2014 – Phase 1
I have a tendency to stick around familiar things; familiar places, familiar people, familiar everything (well, mostly). Sameness is a good thing I suppose; ask any married couple. Whoever said, ”familiarity breeds contempt” is technically an idiot in my book. So having climbed in Ladakh quite often, makes no difference to my mind. I have been going there for years, and would keep going for years to come.
I was supposed to climb Leo in Himachal or Kun in Kargil with Kevin this year. Somehow, we stopped corresponding and even worse, assumed weird stuff about each other. To make matters worse, both Kevin and I injured ourselves in the interim period. I tore a muscle during training while Kevin hurt his rib and lung after a nasty fall. Of course I learnt about his accident only recently. But amid all this confusion, I was sure of one thing; that I was going to climb no matter what. Furthermore, Kun (or even Leo) was too big a project to venture into on my own. So I had decided that if I didn’t hear from Kevin soon enough (this was about April/May), I would go back to Ladakh in July-Aug and climb ….. alone. I would just change my objectives; instead of Kun, I would climb a number of peaks in excess of 6000 meters over a period of three plus weeks. Since I would in all probability do it alone, I would require to be pretty quick and self sufficient. To make this happen I would need a lot of lightweight gear, especially an ultralight tent, an alpine sack and light weight alpine apparel. I bought a Trimm one man tent, a Boll Pack and some light weight clothing. I spent so much on these that I couldn’t afford to pick a lightweight sleeping bag; so I decided to carry my heavy CAMP Arctic Plus. That was probably the only heavy article in my sack, but by the end of the trip, it proved to be a boon rather than a liability.
Over the last couple of years I have been prone to all sorts of injuries; cold injuries, fatigue, tears, sprains etc. A few months before the trip actually materialised, I even had a mild muscle tear for which the doc prescribed some muscle suppressants and a lot of rest. So, post recovery, I was extremely careful preparing for the trip. Training still involved a lot of running, but I was mixing it up with swimming and doing lots of cross training. I absolutely removed really long distances from the schedule. Previously I used to run a marathon or two a month as part of training, but I replaced those days with a 15k run after an hour of swimming. A couple of weeks before departing, I was feeling ok about the trip; generally fit enough, and only a couple of minor niggles, which I presumed would be ironed out during a weeklong tapering period just before departing Chennai. It took me close to a couple of months to get in any sort of shape post recovery and prior to the trip. I had carefully chosen a couple of objectives; Kang Yatse and Lungser; the former for its difficulty and the latter for its altitude. Since my endeavour was going to be self supported, which meant no guides, no ponies or porters etc, I opted to go to areas where I had been before and Kang Yatse and Lungser fit the bill. Both were familiar areas and not terribly technical. That was another concern; the level of technicality of the mountain. Lungser was no problem because it had very few mildly steep sections. For most parts it’s a hiking peak. Kang Yatse, even though technical in many sections, could be negotiated (I presumed) without ropes/anchors. Of course, I was basing this on the fact that in 2010 my partner Jitendra and I climbed simultaneously till 5900m and from there till within 200m short of the summit, I went with Kamal, the guide, before the ice conditions got extremely messy and hard to tackle. We were pretty quick to reach where we reached; BUT doing it alone in the current situation was a different matter altogether, and, what I was forgetting is that Jitu and I were belaying each other; Kamal and I were carefully picking routes that were not so steep; BUT alone I would have no belay and consequently less safety. To counter any doubts I may have had at the moment, I said to myself that I will only pick “relatively” easy routes and I WONT climb a route unless I am sure I can descend. I considered taking a couple of lengths of ropes but my pack was already bursting with a total weight of 18 kilos, plus I estimated that for every week I would need about 4 kilos of food and fuel. At 22 kilos I couldn’t afford to add too much weight to my already injury prone frame and that at high altitudes. Of course ponies were an option, but then I “WANTED” to do this ON MY OWN this time. So I went with the “relatively” easy route mindset. Only problem with that theory was that Kang Yatse has only a few easy sections. I did however bring a 25m Nylon rope (only for very difficult steep descent in case of emergency) which I could leave behind on the mountain, especially on Kang Yatse. But it still weighed 2 kilos, bringing my pack weight to 24 kilos (including food and fuel). These were my two objectives for the time being and nobody could have ever imagined how different the trip would turn out, as it did. But that is a story for later.
In the weeks leading to the trip, I was in touch with a few of my kitters to procure some apparel. One of them, Avinash, actually was sweet enough to offer to bring an ultralight tent for me from an outdoor fair in Germany. It is by far the most expensive tent I have ever used but worth the investment. A few minor flaws in the design, but there is no such thing as “perfect” gear I suppose. Other kitters did contribute immensely too in having me sorted out for the adventure. I picked a Millet Alpine Xcelerator shell, A Neutrino Endurance Down piece and a Rab silk liner to replace the polartec fleece liner I have to bring down the weight of the sleep system (somewhat). Of all these, my favourite acquisition was the Trimm Himlite Tent that Avinash got me. It weighs only 1.65 Kilos and packs down smaller than my inflatable mattress. Pretty impressive huh?
By the third week of July I was pretty much sorted out gear wise and fitness wise for the trip. I only needed to pick a good burner, some alpine fuel and a mess tin/cook set. Since I was going alone, I didn’t wanna risk the trip with the cheap Chinese burner we used on Nun last year (even though the burner didn’t threaten us in any way). A kitter (and friend) of mine had a Primus Express stove. A very light stove, weiging just 84 gms and perfect for alpine ventures. I decided to pick it from Delhi on my way to Leh. I was going to spend a night in Delhi, so I had sufficient time to pick the stuff. Mess tins were available at Gopinath Bazaar and my friend promised to keep the Primus Express reserved for me. I opted to pick the fuel canisters from Leh, to avoid a tiff with airport security at Delhi. Flights were expensive, so I opted for travel by train to Delhi and flew the Delhi-Leh leg.
02 Aug 14 – 04 Aug 2014
I was travelling by the GT Express, which departs from Chennai at 1900 or so and for a change I had some good company in my compartment; a young lady and her mom on their way to Faridabad and a couple of Jawans from the army who joined us at Balharshah. I reached Delhi on the morning of 4th August and took the Metro to Mahipalpur where I had booked a hotel. In a couple of hours I was on my way to Gopinath Bazaar to buy a mess tin. Unfortunately, the market opens only around 11 AM and I was there by 10. Since the shop selling mess tins (with whom I had spoken while in Chennai) was closed, I lazed around the market and even stopped at a kiosk run by a guy selling Sambhar-Vada. This, I had to try, a South Indian delicacy on a street in Delhi. To be honest, it was pretty good; I actually had two crunchy Vadas soaked in piping hot Sambhar. After breakfast, I got sort of restless and decided to check other shops where I could find a mess tin; I did find a shop. It was still just 20 minutes past 10 and so I decided to pick the mess tin from the shop I had just found instead of waiting till 11 for the guy with whom I spoke. With the mess tin (the cheapest, but arguably one of the most important items I purchased for this trip) taken care of, I rode a bus to the nearest Metro Station in order to travel to Mayur Vihar (or was it Anand Vihar – well! It was some Vihar) in order to meet my friend, Munesh, from whom I was buying the Primus Express Stove. He was glad to meet me and invited me over for lunch. Since I was short on time, I had to politely refuse and requested for a soft drink instead. After an hour chatting with Munesh, I took his leave and headed towards the IMF. I discussed my tentative plan with an acquaintance there and was a little dejected when I was made aware that Lungser was made out of bounds lately because of some army activity in the area. This was especially upsetting because somebody I know had climbed in the area a couple of months back. I was even told that Kang Yatse had a similar thing going on until recently but all climbing had since resumed in the Merkha Valley. With a heavy heart I left IMF and went to a nice restaurant opposite Venkateshwara College. The specialty of the restaurant was a variety of Kebabs on offer. During lunch I was able to conjure an alternate plan in my head. Since Lungser was “legally” out of bounds, I decided to go to the west of Tsomoriri and climb the Mentok Range, which I did in 2011 or go to the North West of Tso Moriri on an exploratory climb, since I had never been there. Since I didn’t have the maps for the area west of Tso Moriri, I decided not to think too much about the climb in the Tso Moriri area, as that would ruin the lunch. Besides, I would be climbing Kang Yatse first in any case and I could think about the second climb once I had the map for the area in Leh. With a sketchy backup plan in place, I was able to enjoy the meat feast much better. After lunch I took a rickshaw to my hotel and got some rest. My flight to Leh was at 0515 the next morning, but I had dinner at 9 and slept quite late, after packing my sack. Following morning, I was up by three and ready to go in a jiffy after a shower. I was at the airport by 4 and checked in by quarter past 4. The flight was on schedule. I made i