#5- The Summit Push- Winter Expedition to Golep Kangri (5950m) and Stok Kangri (6153m) - A Himalayan expedition.
It was our first morning at the base camp and we were spending the day relaxing and acclimatizing. We had planned to go a little bit up towards Golep Kangri, the first summit that we were attempting. I woke up at 9am in the morning because the sun was coming up and the tent was heating up quickly. Entire tent had frozen from inside throughout the night and now suddenly everything was melting and it was almost as if it was raining inside. Everything was getting wet. I got up quickly and I took everything out. Even my spectacles had frozen solid.
We had our breakfast while everything was drying up. It was a nice and sunny day but very cold. We left at 11 am for our acclimatization hike and recee of the route towards Golep Kangri peak. I was carrying a heavy backpack for training purpose. There was half a feet of snow the first 30 minutes into the trek and then we crossed a frozen river and started ascending towards Golep Kangri.
There was less snow accumulated on the slopes with a lot of loose rocks coming out of snow. Arjun and Ali were running ahead. Kam’s cough was taking a toll on her now. She was getting slower by the step. I stayed back with her just in case. An hour into the climb we decided that it’s best if Kam headed down as she was feeling very weak. I turned around to be with her. Me and Kam, we reached base camp at around 1pm and spent rest of the day just resting.
We were to leave tomorrow early morning for the summit push. After a lot of brainstorming we came to a conclusion in the evening that Kam will not attempt the summit and should head down to Leh instead with a porter. Kunal would be filming us by using drones from a ridge across Golep Kangri. For the summit bid, it was myself, Arjun and our guide, Ali. We retired early for the night with our bags already packed before sleeping. It was going to be a difficult task to sleep tonight. There was too much on my mind; from excitement, to fear, everything. We were attempting something no human had done so far. A winter ascent of Golep Kangri! It was time to create history.
The next day I woke up at 6am as soon as my alarm rang. Today was the day! The tent was all frozen once again and with every movement I did inside the tent, water fell all across the tent on my sleeping bag, rucksack, mats etc. it was all wet. I got into my big down suit and geared up for the summit push. Getting ready in tent, at that altitude before the summit push is more difficult and energy consuming than one can imagine. By 7am, we all were ready. It was one incredibly cold morning. We started picked up some packed lunch and started walking on the trail we had broken the previous day.
I had a bad tummy ache since we started walking but I ignored it. I was not my vest version today. I was walking unusually slowly and somewhere in my mind, I got a feeling that today would not be my day.
Suddenly I needed to shit. With all the clothing I was wearing, it was a tedious task. I told Arjun and Ali to go ahead and I got along with my business. They had gone quite ahead by the time I was done.
I started walking onwards again but I was feeling very weak suddenly. 30 minutes into the climb, the pressure in my stomach was building up again. This was the worst place and times to get a stomach infection, trust me! We were on our way to make some mountaineering history and here I was battling my own body. Also, taking a dump in -25 C is no easy task with all the winter clothing on. I had taken all the precautions with my food intake throughout the expedition; I didn’t understand why this was happening. I have an iron stomach and I don’t fall ill easy. But here I was, having diarrhea in the worst possible place.
I continued onwards, one weak step after the other. After a while it got clear to me that I wasn’t going to make it. Arjun and Ali were now at least an hour ahead of me. And yes, I got pressure once again. By the time I was done with this round, they had gone out of sight. I tried to walk faster but I was feeling very dizzy now. I had no energy left whatsoever and I started to feel very cold as well. High up in the horizon, I saw Ali waving at me. They were waiting for me higher up. I tried to rush to them. What distance they were at should have taken 15 to 20 minutes for me to cover but it took 45 excruciating minutes to get to them. I knew they must be getting cold waiting up there and I hated myself for that. When I was 10 minutes away from them, they shouted from a distance and told me to turn around. Me being me, I don’t like to give up easy. I resisted for a while and tried to get faster but I soon realized that they were right. It was best for me to head down. As soon as I accepted the fact that I was heading down, I broke down and started crying. It was over for me. I was so close yet it was out of reach for me. My dream was crushed due to a stupid stomach infection. I sat down and cried like a baby. I looked at the summit and promised the mountain God’s that I would come back.
Maybe my best was not good enough for the mountains to accept me, maybe I needed to work harder or maybe it just wasn’t my time. I don’t like to fail, especially when I was chasing down a dream with a very clean heart and intention. I sat there for a while as I saw Arjun and Ali through my teary eyes, walk away into the horizon. I prayed to the Mountain God’s to give them a clear passage ahead. At least they should complete what started off as my dream. I got up and start heading down in a really bad mood. I was so immersed in my thoughts that I don’t remember most of my way back to base camp. I reached base camp and sat in a corner on my mat.
After an hour or so, I could see Arjun and Ali come down in a far distance. As they reached base camp, Ali nodded in disappointment and I realized that Golep Kangri remains unclimbed in the winters. I saw their faces and they were beaten down. Their faces were snow burned, lips were torn and they were very disappointed.
The winds had picked up ferociously higher up the mountains and it was impossible to head up so they decided to turn around just 200 meters short of the summit. We were unusually silent that day. Everyone had enough on their minds. We decided to wind up the base camp and head directly to Leh that day itself. We got a feeling that this was not our time. We packed up and started descending at 1:30pm. We all were in our zones throughout. We hardly spoke.
Walking for me is meditation. Whenever I am walking alone in a constant rhythm, my thoughts flow in a very clear manner and I am able to sort them out really well. These few hours of meditation were very necessary for me. Without them my brain would have gone haywire. After I got through this stage, I was able to accept the defeat very graciously and was able to look at it from a much broader perspective. I realized how lucky I was to have experienced these mountains in winters and I counted my blessings that I had gotten an opportunity to do something of this grandeur at the age of 22. As for Golep Kangri, it wasn’t getting any taller but I can always come back much stronger and more prepared.
We reached Stok Village at around 6pm and drove off to our guest house. We were extremely exhausted and just wanted some sleep in warm beds. Suddenly we were craving some pizzas. We went to Leh market and ate like there was no tomorrow. For now, our winter expedition had wrapped up and it was time to head home.
Below I am sharing a couple of pictures of my burnt face after the expedition. This is how mounatains make love to you!