The excitement had set in almost a month before in August. The yearning and anxiety of what will happen and the excitement of attempting my first high altitude peak in Ladakh, was a bag of mixed emotions. In first week of August 2017, i was part of the Ultimate Frontier Outland's cleanliness drive in Leh under the Team Up for Change platform. The aim was to clean specific areas in Leh on 5th and 6th August and was a call to action on the impending issues plaguing Leh. We cleaned up the Old town under the Leh Palace and then opened up choke points in the stream near Fort road. And when i got to know that they were also organizing a season ending cleanliness drive in September to Stok Kangri basecamp and attempt the Golep Kangri (5900m) and Stok Kangri (6150m) double summit, i immediately signed up for the Twin Peaks Initiative.
The next month was spent in upping my fitness game and getting ready for the trek. A coarse course; that righteously reflected its demanding presence, but more significantly it disported a distinct character it posed both physically and spiritually within the Stok Range. Golep Kangri being one of the peaks, that fell under the UFO Twin Peak Initiative, carried a more daunting reputation with its ice field crossing than its more famous counterpart; Stok Kangri, which is India's highest walking peak.
We set out on 12th September from Stok village to our first destination, Smankarmo camp at 4000m. We were a strong group of 18 with people from different countries and backgrounds. 5 of the people were only coming till the basecamp for the cleanup drive and were returning to Leh from there. The first day was a nice and easy walk. A stream, dotted with mountain willows, kept us company most of the way as we made our way to our first camp. As we camped, it was time to get to know other people of the group over some hot soup and delicious food. Needless to say i met some amazing new people on the trek. Our Vaude 5 person and 3 person Mountain Hardwear tents kept us warm and cosy through the cold night.
We got up early next morning and after breakfast, set about cleaning up the camp. Littered with plastics, bottles and tissues, it took us 2 hours to fill in almost 7 big gunny bags. We packed those gunny bags and stacked them near the camp canteen as they would be picked up by the horses on our way back. We then set out for the basecamp at 4800m approximately. Reaching the base camp, we got our first glimpse of Golep and saw at least 12 different expedition teams on the campsite. There were almost 100 people camping at the base that day. Needles to say, the camp was dirty. Even the little stream which had previously flowed through the camp had dried up. As we were staying at the basecamp for an extra day to acclimatize, we did a quick review of the campsite to figure out the areas which needed urgent attention tomorrow. As evening grew on us, we whiled our day away with cards, hacky sack, hot tea and snacks. The chef made us some delicious 'thentuk', a Tibetan soup, in the night followed by dessert. We tucked into our sleeping bags as the temperature dipped. Waking up energized the next day, we went about what we had come to do - clean up the campsite. Removing plastics, glass, paper, etc we went about picking up all the trash we could find. Later in the day, some people went for acclimatizing walks on the Golep and Stok trails. And in the evening we went about checking our climbing gear -crampons, harness, ice axe,etc.
My eye in this expedition was primarily riveted towards Stok Kangri, after- all this being my first summit attempt anywhere, i wanted to put my energy in climbing as high as i could. But then talking to the other people attempting Golep, i was somehow convinced to join them for the Golep summit night. I was one of the eight people eating porridge at 1:30 in the morning on 15th September, while butterflies flickered uncomfortably in my stomach framing a surreal sense of the immediate situation. The moment of truth ultimately arrived. There were a few nervous faces radiating under the dim lights of our head torches, but, somehow a soaring spirit swelled about the camp when the time came for us to take our first steps towards the mountain. I was surprisingly pacing my way up fairly comfortably and the even the weather gods seemed pleased about it. The higher we kept getting, the harsher was the terrain becoming. We were now walking on a rocky ridge with Leh city gleaming behind in the early hours.
The rocky ridge seemed everlasting and fresh snow made things so much difficult. After the moraine came the ice field and we stopped for a breather and to put our crampons on. The time had come for the real climbing to begin. I remember having that thought cross my mind, while we were sting on the edge of the steep snowy face of the mountain with almost 200 feet a free fall below and around 300 meters of vertical steps above. I was gutted to find out that my crampons were missing a nut and not mention the fatigue that had set in. Hence, out of eight of us only 2 went on to summit the peak as others too faced similar physical and technical problems on the daunting vertical wall. We made our way back dejected and relived at the same time. The warm sun provided some relief as we tracked our way back to the camp. It was about 7:00 in the morning when we finally made it back to the base camp. My feet were rigidly unstable, my body exhausted and my mind completely drained.
Early morning on 16th September, a group 10 left for the summit of Stok Kangri with 5 people reaching the summit. The Team Up for Change flag was unfurled on the both the summits to bring attention to climate change and responsible tourism.