Its been a year since Kang Yatze and the disaster at Leh. No serious climbs since. I did do some off piste and cross country skiing in and around Gulmarg earlier this year but that doesn’t constitute “mountaineering” by any stretch of the imagination.
And so it was time to decide on a peak to climb. I started with Kun and at least a dozen people showed interest in the project. I sat down to fix the budget – And its funny how in a matter of two weeks, the people “who loved the mountains” and “lived to climb”, found it hard either to manage leave from work or were “unwell”. So I had to scrap the plan. I was now looking to do something smaller and manageable financially, since I had almost made up my mind that “solo” was the way to go. In the nick of time Ram, a trekker from Chennai buzzed saying he would love to climb, no matter what the cost. I also checked with Siva, a colleague from where I used to work. He did exhibit interest in photography at high altitudes earlier when we were in Gulmarg. In a couple of days he confirmed he would like to be a part of the team. We decided on the Mentok massif, particularly Mentok 1 and 2, the highest summits in the Mentok range of peaks. I read somewhere on the internet that Mentok is a trekking peak (if only I ever meet the guy who called this a trekking peak .. Ahem!!), so I was hesitant initially, since I have always been interested in technical climbs (and NO, having to ascend a peak with crampons doesn’t qualify it as a technical peak). But Kaushal (an acquaintance), a mountaineer suggested that some sections of Mentok are “interesting”. That coupled with the fact that both the other members of the team are not trained mountaineers drove me to decide on Mentok. Something reasonably trying and easy enough to ascend would be the ideal peak for this team. The mistake I made was I did not ask Kaushal to elaborate on “interesting”, and this I realized at the Advance Camp when I saw a 400+m vertical ice wall right from the base of Mentok 2 till about 20m short of the summit. More on that later.
So it was July and we boarded the train to Delhi on the 8th, where I had to pick some gear. The journey was uneventful and fast thanks to Duronto Express taking less than 30 hours to reach Delhi. Ram tried his swanky new DSLR when the train halted near the bridge on River Krishna. On the 9th, we visited Protos Adventures and I picked up a CAMP Arctic Plus Sleeping bag, Snugpak gloves, a liner by Trekmates and a balaclava by OR. We had a flight to Leh early next morning, so we quickly met with Sid (an ex-colleague), grabbed a bite at McD and said our goodbyes, but not before a round of Aloo Paratha at an eatery near Rivoli and a walk around India Gate. ‘Twas nice to catch up with Sid after a really long time.
A Striking Face
Although we just had about 5 hours at the hotel, Siva and Ram slept like there was no tomorrow, and I stayed awake till about 2 in the morning gazing at the newly acquired gear. We drove to the airport at about 6, had breakfast at the terminal and boarded the flight at about 8. We reached Leh at about 10 and were received by Lungden who works for Summit Adventures, the agency which provided the logistical support for the expedition. We drove to Hotel Khasdan which is near Zoravar Fort. A nice place to retreat if you don’t mind the absence of wi-fi and having to walk half an hour to reach the town. In the evening we met with Rigzin, who runs Summit, and discussed the itinerary and the possible route of ascent. The whole team was reacting well to the altitude at Leh and there seemed to be no issues with acclimatization. The perfect start I would say to an expedition to an “interesting” peak.