We had about 48 hours to acclimatise in Leh. A drive to Shanti Stupa, Shankar Monastery and Leh Palace followed by brisk walks from the Hotel to the town did help somewhat. On the 11th, Ram and Shiva picked up liners for their sleeping bags and weatherproof clothing for the climb. We had to leave for Korzok the next day and so we stayed up late packing our gear.
Day 1 – Jul, 12
We had an early breakfast on 12th and waited for Rigzin and the MUV. They were there by 9. John the mountain guide was also traveling with us. In about half an hour we were on our way. I had a red eye so we stopped at Choglamser (or some similar sounding place) to pick eye drops for me. The drive along Indus was beautiful. We crossed the river at least at three places. Hats off to Himank for maintaining the roads in these conditions and in such inhospitable terrain. We had lunch at a restaurant along the way and made it to Korzok by about 4 in the evening and set camp away from the crowd (yes oddly Korzok is really crowded – Tsomoriri is quite an attraction in the summers).
Day 2 – Jul, 13
We hardly got any sleep. The ground beneath was at a slight incline and it was all wrong. Siva and I woke up with a headache, Siva’s headache was also accompanied by slight temperature. We had to go to the base camp in order to get acclimatised and check the conditions up there. I didn’t think it wise for Siva to join us. I left some Paracetamol and Diamox with him and advised him ample rest outside the tent since it would get really hot inside the tent and that could dehydrate him. It is amazing that when the instructions are specific, the execution tends to be the exact opposite. When I got back I was told that Siva got a good rest “inside the tent”. Anyways, John and I had a good chat about some doctrines from the Bible. I was able to convince him (from the scriptures) that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. So after our chat, John, Ram and I headed out to explore the Base Camp. The initial ascent was gradual. But remember we were starting at an altitude of 4600m, which itself is quite high. The base camp is at 5100 or 5200m. The terrain was OK initially but slowly it began to get steep and kind of difficult. After covering about three fifth of the distance, there were at least 3 stretches where we had to walk on rocks and boulders which required balance and agility. Ram was doing well till here. Since we had covered enough distance and gained some height, I advised him to put on his down and wait at a cleft, while John and I went to the base camp. I requested him not to get adventurous, and he assured that he will be OK. We made it to the base camp well within an hour from where we left Ram. The conditions were perfect. There was water and the campsite was not as bad as some made it to be. And then there was the view of Tsomoriri in front of us and the Mentok Range behind us – Beautiful. The base camp was the place to be. We had a drink and some chocolate. It began to drizzle, so we rushed to pick Ram. We made it to where he was in about 15 min and in an hour we were at Korzok. Siva had recovered from his headache and gone for a walk. His headache seemed to have relayed to me. (Pun intended). After an early supper we headed to our tents. I could hardly get any sleep; the noise from the stream nearby just kept me awake all night. May be they should make soundproof tents.
Day 3 – Jul, 14
We woke up early. Siva woke up with a severe headache again. It was disturbing, but I was hoping that the ache would be gone in an hour or so. After breakfast we packed up. Decided to move base. Siva suggested that his head hurt, every time he stepped up. The hike was supposed to be gruelling, and even if he made it to the base camp, his condition would only get worse because of the gain in height and lack of acclimatisation. So I suggested that he stayed at the village and recover. John found him a nice hotel in the village. Ram and I continued towards the base camp. I was constantly checking on him till I saw that John had caught up with him. I was then able to rush to the base camp and with help from the cook and the pony guy, we were able to set up the base camp. At about 1300 Hrs, it began to pour down rain and sleet. I was concerned about Ram and John and just when I decided to go check on them, the pony guy told me that they had weatherproof clothing. They arrived in about an hour and we warmed ourselves in the mess tent. We stayed in the mess chatting about everything under the sun, Goa, Everest, Nepal, Mountaineering, Skiing .. anything at all.
Day 4 – Jul, 15
Acclimatisation hike to the advance camp. John, Ram and I took some gear along with us so I could demonstrate some basic climbing and rescue techniques to Ram. The plan was also to dump the gear at the advance camp site, something like a load ferry. John and I made it to the advance camp site in about 2 hours. Ram was slow but steady. We waited for about an hour at the advance camp site, but it didn’t look like he was going to reach there soon. Since the weather seemed to be packing up again, we had a drink and some chocolate and started to head back down but not before discussing the route of ascent. We left the gear that we brought along under a boulder and caught up with Ram in about 10 minutes. He was just 15 or 20 minutes short of the advance camp, but it was not safe to go back to the ABC since we could feel the precipitation slowly coming down. So sanity prevailed and we returned to the base in about an hour. In the evening we had supper and John and I discussed the gear we might need in order to ascend.
There was a vertical ice wall right from the advance camp to a point about 20 or so meters short of the summit of Mentok 2. But instead of climbing with our front points we agreed that we would do a zig – zag traverse. The wall was really steep and tall at about 400+m and “traversing” is usually done on 60 – 70 degree slopes. So this was something new that we intended to try.
Day 5 – Jul, 16
I slept with a slight fever and woke up with a headache. Headaches seemed to be in fashion during this expedition. John did his best to keep my mind focused on the climb and in hindsight, how grateful I am.
We had a light breakfast and spoke for a long time every once in a while turning around to get a glimpse of the two peaks. The weather was terrific and we were hoping it stayed that way for the next 24 hours. Ram was busy snapping the lake, the mountains, the flowers, the streams and just about everything under the sun. We had an early lunch and got down to check our gear one last time. We packed some boiled eggs, potatoes, chocolates and juice. At about 1500 we began the ascent to the advance camp site. We intended to camp there till about 0100 the next morning, so technically this wasn’t a campsite, just a bivy site really. The climb was lot quicker since there was just John and me. John reached in about 90 minutes and I made it in about 110 minutes to the advance cam. We set up the tent and gazed around us for a while. The lake was something else .. so beautiful. I just couldn’t get enough of the wall though. It was tall, really tall and steep. Most of the 350+ meters of the wall was steeper than 75 degrees and some sections were even 85+ degrees. There was a route over the rocks too, but I am not a big fan of moraines and scree. I don’t mind rock climbing, but scrambling makes me feel like an amateur. So I offered a couple of choices to John – Ice wall or Ice wall and He said may be we will do the ice wall, and I agreed that he had made the right choice. (Pun Intended). By now we both admitted that Mentok was as technical as it got especially Mentok 2, thanks to the ice wall.
John is from Nepal, and in the tent he told me interesting anecdotes about climbing in Nepal. Sometime during the chat he fell asleep leaving me awake with his rhythmic snores. Since “sleep” and I are sworn enemies I kept myself busy admiring my newly acquired gear and after a while I slipped into my sleeping bag. I could hardly get any sleep. I think I barely fell asleep at 2230 or something like that and the alarm went off at about 0030. We lazily woke up and began to gear up. Harness, Down, Boots, Crampons and headgear. I wasn’t feeling too well. Headache and may be temperature too. But I didn’t tell John, which was not right. Never hide any condition from the team no matter how good you are or you think you are. Anyways; we headed out to the wall at about 0100.
Day 6 – Jul, 17
In about 10 minutes we reached the wall and began the ascent. John asked me if I was ok minus the rope, I nodded to affirm. So we tried to ascend using a strange traversing technique. It felt awkward traversing such a steep wall (about 75 Degrees), but the positive is that it was not as exhausting as front point climbing tends to be. On really steep sections, I would do the conventional front point climb and even 40 – 50 m would really take a toll. In about 65 minutes we reached a ledge located at about 60 % of the wall. John suggested that we were gaining height at an exceptional rate (did I mention that John has climbed Mentok before). We had a drink and that is when He mentioned that the last time he climbed Mentok II, it was with a Polish team which had attempted K2 and they had a tough time climbing Mentok. Which is why Kaushal’s description of Mentok as “Interesting” and not as “tough or somewhat challenging“ surprised me. Anyways, we got off the ledge and resumed the ascent on the vertical wall. The section above the ledge was extremely steep. John was comfortable traversing, but although tiresome, I found the front point style to be much more convenient, in that it felt right to employ the technique, after all, what is the point in knowing something and not trying it at all. Plus with under 150m to go, I felt I could pull it off, although I wished I had two Ice Axes. So in about half an hour we reached the top of the ice wall. I was ecstatic when John showed me the summit over the rock face that was above us. Since there was lot of verglas formation, it made sense to climb the rocks with the crampons on. After some rock climbing and bouldering, we reached the summit. We shook hands and I think may be even embraced one another. We took some snaps. I thought about a drink, but the chill was really “cutting” (I think it must have been -20 something) and the best thing to do was to march to the next objective. At about 0300 it was extremely dark, so we couldn’t snap the surrounding peaks. Therefore, we just took some snaps on the summit and headed out to Mentok 1.
The route to Mentok is not very technical, it is the cold and the gradient which could get to you. At places the scree slope was over 70 degrees and with the verglas it was trying ones resolve. I don’t remember taking any breaks or halting for a drink or to gasp since the ridge was exposed and it was extremely windy and chilly. In about 140 minutes we got to a place about 50m short of the summit (vertically) from where the slope was gradual, but still extremely cold. From here it takes about 5 minutes to identify the true summit of Mentok 1 which we did. At 0527 we were on the summit of Mentok 1. John took some snaps of the surrounding peaks including Mentok 2 and of the lake. I prayed to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the True Living God. I thanked him for his Christ, the success of the expedition, and I thanked him for a new found friend in John and I thanked him for everything that I don’t see right now, which he has planned for worthless people like me.
So we slowly started climbing down to the col between Mentok 1 and 2. We reached there in an hour. We had a drink and just short of the summit of Mentok 2 we began the descent. John suggested we climb down the same ice wall we climbed earlier in the morning. I thought he was out of his mind. He casually said, “You can do it.” and I was like, “Yeah Right”. We didn’t even rope up. I still can’t believe that we actually accomplished the task. We descended facing downhill which can be extremely scary and at times implausible. Word of caution – those short on climbing experience must refrain from this technique. It is better to be safe than to be sorry. Rope up and use a front point technique “facing the slope” or a traversing technique with your weight towards the slope.
John was smashing quick. He made it to the ABC in 20 odd minutes. Since this was the first time I descended using this “strange” technique, it took me about 35 may be 40 minutes to get there. We just sat there for an hour or so, sipping some much deserved juice, and letting the whole thing sink in. Both the summits in well under 5 hours and back to ABC by about 0800. Thats just 7 hours since we started early in the morning. Splendid work. We took some snaps of the surroundings. the tent, the campsite, the lake and the wall (somehow couldn’t get enough of the wall). By 0900 we were packed up and all set to head back to the base camp. The descent from ABC to BC was fairly uneventful. Got there in an hour my be 70 minutes and since the climb was out of the way, it was time to tend to useless things like headache and sprains and sundry. We packed up and cleaned the camp site. Headed out to Korzok at about 1400. Since the climb was behind us and the only important thing to do at Korzok was “eat and sleep”, we were very slow in our descent. A snap here, a chat there, and a drinks break every now and then. We even got shots of some really cute marmots. In a couple of hours we made it to the lake, We lazed around a bit. I even managed a dip in the lake. Ram exhausted all the settings and angles on his camera. And when we had had enough of the lake, we headed towards the village. At one of the viewpoints along the lake, we were intercepted by a couple of Ladies, tourists perhaps, who were kind enough to offer us a ride till the village. Being in the “Mountaineering” mode, I politely refused and we continued our hike on the final stretch to the village, not before we showed those inquisitive ladies the peaks that we conquered just a few hours ago. We reached Korzok at about 1700. We set up the camp and I was eager to meet Siva, to let him know that the expedition was a success. At about 1830 Ram and I reached the hotel which was Lord Siva’s abode. Knock Knock .. and there he was, his usual gleeful self. I have seldom come across people as polite and as warm as Siva, not to mention gentle and generous. A real Gentleman. Enough superlatives I guess.
So we went back to the campsite. Coke, snacks, supper and sleep, just as planned. Ram and Siva went to the Hotel. I had to be in the tent, may be to reflect on things and consider how things had transpired over the last few days .. NONSENSE. I fell asleep in 5 minutes which is unlike me. I guess it was the sleep deprivation over the last few days and the sedatives too. But who was complaining, as long as I got some sleep.
Day 7 – Jul, 18
Wow! I didn’t wake up with a headache. It was about 0600. At about 0630 I went back to the place where I met those two ladies yesterday; not to meet them, of course. The view of Mentok 1 and 2 from that view point is really nice and before leaving Korzok, I had to be there. Besides, Chumser Kangri, on the Eastern side of the lake looked good too, and from that place I could plan a route; who knows, may be some day I will climb Chumser too. It was a 20 minute hike. Stayed there for about 5 minutes. I thanked my God once more and headed back to the village. I thought of going to the Monastery which was en route, but gave up the thought, wondering about the point in visiting the place. Once back, I fried some eggs for the whole team. They seemed to like it.
By 1000 or so we began the long arduous drive to leh. We halted at Thadsang Tharu a much smaller lake than Tsomoriri, but just as beautiful. We halted at some place midway, I keep forgetting the name of that place, for lunch – Dal Rice and Pickle. We reached Leh at about 1800, Hotel Khasdan again. Freshened up and headed out to town to EAT. Chicken and Coke had to top the list. It was some restaurant in a complex called Mentok Lin, nicely laid out in a lawn. The restaurant plays movies on a big screen. They were playing “Catch me if you can” that night. Good movie, good food. Nice way to end an expedition.