Guest post by Carley Fairbrother who climbed in 2017:
At a Glance
Location: Ladakh, India
Distance: 20 km, one way
Elevation Gain: 2,686 m (8,812 ft)
Maximum Elevation: 6154 m (20,190 ft)
Hiking Time: 3 – 4 days plus at least a week to acclimatize.
Best times to hike: June – September
An incredible sense of accomplishment
Easy to access (compared to other 6000+ m Himalayan Peaks)
Mountaineering skills not required (unless going unguided)
Meeting adventurers from around the world
Close encounter with wild blue sheep
Elevation: Take time to acclimatize and consider packing acetazolamide (Diamox). Learn the signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and be prepared to cut your trip short or postpone it until you are acclimatized. AMS can progress into the deadly High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Also, bear in mind that the scant oxygen will slow you down a lot.
Weather: Less oxygen makes everything seem colder and the temperature felt like it was around -10 ° C (14° F) at the top. Don’t be fooled by reports that Ladakh is a desert. Bring a rain jacket. It can also get very hot, so come prepared to protect yourself from the sun.
Glacier Travel and Steep Terrain: There is a short glacier crossing followed by a lot of steep, exposed terrain. Use rope, crampons, and an ice axe, and either learn how to use them or hire a guide.
Dark: A midnight start is required to take advantage of the glacier while it’s hard and icy. Travelling on the aforementioned terrain in the dark carries some obvious risks.
Water: The camps provide boiled water, but bringing your own filter or water treatment tablets/drops will give you more options.
To get to Leh (Ladakh’s largest town), either fly or drive overland from Delhi. The cheapest way is to catch a bus to Manali, then another bus on the Leh-Manali highway to Leh. The bus ride from Manali to Leh takes 17 hours and is best split into two days. A nonstop bus costs Rs 833 (12 USD) and the 2-day trip costs Rs 2900 (40 USD).
If you don’t want to sit on a crowded bus as you go over some of the world’s highest motorable passes, you can hire a private or shared taxi from Manali for around Rs 20 000 – 30 000 (290-420 USD. Manali is a nice town and worth a few days’ visit.
The road is open in the summer months and is prone to closures from landslides and flooding. It is narrow, rough, and windy – not for the faint of heart. It also contains one of the world’s highest motorable passes, and several more over 5000 m. Pretty much everyone I know (myself included) got altitude sickness going over the passes. Leh can also be accessed via the Srinagar Leh highway, but the road is longer and subject to the same closures.
Flying is the easiest and cheaper than hiring a private taxi. A one-way flight from Delhi to Leh will be around $100 – $200 USD and will take 1 hour 20 minutes. We went overland on the way there and flew out.
Getting from Leh to the trailhead at Stok Village is a quick taxi or bus ride.
Food and Accommodation
Accommodation and restaurants are plentiful in Stok Village and Leh.
There are three camps on the way up Stok Kangri: Chang Ma, Mankorma, and Base Camp. All serve food and have tents available for trekkers. The tents all have sleeping pads, but they aren’t very warm or comfortable. Bring your own sleeping bag. Also, Chang Ma only had a few tents available.
Guide or No Guide?
Most people choose to hire a guide for climbing Stok Kangri. You can hire one at base camp or in Leh, and it is fairly inexpensive. Whether you hire a guide in Leh or base camp, the cost will be roughly the same for a 4-day trek. Ask around in Leh for current costs of both, as things can fluctuate from year to year. You can also join an expedition complete with ponies, cooks, and comfortable tent.
Join an Expedition if:
You don’t want to waste time planning.
You don’t want to carry your stuff.
You want to be comfortable.
Get a guide if:
You have no mountaineering experience.
You prefer being safe.
You haven’t had much time to acclimatize (they can help you down if you get AMS).
The climbing conditions aren’t great.
Consider skipping a guide if:
You have mountaineering experience.
You are confident that you are well acclimatized.
You like the independence of hiking alone.
The conditions are good.
Rope, harnesses, crampons, gaiters, and ice axes can be rented in Leh or at the base camp. It’s slightly cheaper to rent from Leh, and the gear is probably better, but that means lugging it uphill at high altitudes for two days. You can rent sleeping bags too, but I’d advise bringing your own.
Your boots should be ankle high with a fairly stiff sole so they can be worn with crampons. Mountaineering boots are not needed. Also, do not forget your headlamp and extra batteries. You’ll be climbing in the dark for most of the summit day.
Get the permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) office in the Mentokling restaurant for 50 USD. You need to go right into the restaurant to find the office. It is cheaper at the IMF office, but buying it at base camp might save you some money if you don’t end up climbing. You can find current permit prices here.
Our Cost Breakdown
For 2 people in 2017
Taxi from Leh to Stok Village: Rs 1900 (27 USD)
Tent stay, including food: Rs 6000 (87 USD)
Rentals of rope, harness, ice axe, and crampons: Rs 1500 (22 USD)
Total: Rs 8400 (121 USD)
Hiring a guide from base camp would have cost and additional Rs 8000 (115 USD)
We had been in Ladakh for nearly a month at this point, and had been trekking for most of that time, so we opted to do it in three days. Actually, we had planned four, but dragged ourselves all the way back to Stok Village on summit day. Despite the short days, the night at Mankorma is essential to acclimatization.
Day 1 – Stok Village to Mankorma camp
Elevation Gain: 823 m (2,700 ft)
Distance: 9 km (5.6 miles)
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Chang Ma Camp is at 5.5 km (3.4 miles) and makes a good spot to stop for lunch or tea
Photo: Pack ponies were more common than people along the trail.
Day 2 – Mankorma camp to base camp
Elevation Gain: 610 m (2000 ft)
Distance: 4 km (2.5 miles)
Hiking Time: 2 hours
Woke up to blue sheep lingering near our tent.
We took an acclimatization walk to the ridge above camp though most people opted to go all the way to the glacier.
Day 3 – Base camp to summit and back to Stok Village
Elevation Gain: 1,223 m (4012 ft) ascent, 2,629 m (8,625 ft) descent
Distance: 7 km(4.3 miles) to the summit, 20 km (12.4 miles) return to Stok
Hiking Time: 12 hours to summit, 16 hours total
12:00 AM departure from base camp to cross the glacier before it softens up
We planned to stay another night, but I was having trouble breathing and loitering around all day didn’t seem like fun.
You can find the whole story of our Stok Kangri climb on Review Outdoors here.
India and Pakistan both dispute ownership of the Kashmir Valley, and political violence can flare up without warning. Because of ongoing security problems, many foreign governments advise against all travel, or all but essential travel, to areas outside of the cities of Srinagar and Jammu, and your travel insurance may be invalid if you ignore this advice.
Kraig Becker sent me an early prototype of a Helly Hansen LifaLoft jacket for my 2019 trip to Patagonia. I wore it non-stop for a couple of months cycling and hiking in wet, windy and sometimes cold weather.
LIFALOFT™ is not down. It’s arguably lighter and warmer.
The idea is to trap a maximum amount of air in a small space. And due to the hydrophobic properties of LIFA®, LIFALOFT™ has an inherent water repellency that should keep you warm, even when wet.
It worked for me as advertised.
The best test came when I got caught in a surprise downpour while hiking without my shell. I was worried.
But next morning the LifaLoft looked and felt 100% perfect.
Overall, the top health problems reported were blisters (57 percent), sleep problems (57 percent), pack strap pain (46 percent), knee/ankle pain (44 percent), and back/hip pain (43 percent).
Another 37 percent reported altitude sickness. Given that the trail is almost entirely above 8,000 feet, and finishes at 14,505 feet at the summit of Mount Whitney, altitude issues are not surprising …
A survey of backpackers’ tactics on the 220-mile high-country route offers insights on what works and what doesn’t
In 2014, 771 people filled out the survey, all of whom planned a trip of at least five days along the trail—a pretty reasonable sample from the total of roughly 3,500 permits issued that year. A group of researchers led by Susanne Spano of the University of California San Francisco Fresno analyzed the data to look for patterns and insights.