Last summer photographer George Fielding and writer Chris Horton set off on a climb up the Indain Himalayas: both of them captured the experience and have shared it with Quench Travel.
‘New Delhi is a vibrant, bustling metropolis’ is something you will undoubtedly read in any article concerning the city. Although this description is true it does not quite paint the whole picture. I went to India on a mountaineering trip. I was not ready for pre-monsoon humidity in one of the busiest cities in the world. The day and a half I spent in Delhi consisted mainly of organization and planning for our journey north to the Himalayas. Although I obviously missed much of what the capital had to offer I did not miss sleeping naked on an almost-clean bed soaked in sweat that almost entirely belonged to me and the two people I was sharing it with. Please note: To avoid chronic and violent vomiting along with other stomach complaints pack large amounts of anti-bacterial hand gel. The flight to Ladakh was definitely a breath of fresh air.
Leh is built 3526m above sea level and despite its Tibetan and Pakistani influences; it is the city’s Indian religious and monarchic roots that dominate the skyline. The ruin of Leh Palace is iconic and definitely worth visiting. However if you are not interested in the town’s history the Buddhist shrine Shanti Stupa offers unbeatable views of Leh and its surroundings. Leh is a beautiful town and should not be missed by anyone travelling to the Indian Himalayas.
After 5 days of acclimatization to the altitude, aided by a large amount of food and pills (diamox for those interested), we were ready to begin our 12 day trek through the mountains ending with the summit of Stok Kangri. Both the altitude and the environment proved difficult however the local population had devised several means to make our trek to base camp possible. The most notable was supposedly a bridge crossing the Zanskar River. What we found was a manually operated cable with a small cage attached spanning a wide torrent. The cage itself was big enough for two average sized people with no luggage and had a habit of rocking alarmingly with the slightest shifting of weight. Although this method of crossing is not for the faint hearted, swimming is only for the suicidal. I would greatly recommend hiring a guide for any trek through the mountains as their knowledge of the area is superb and they also know the best places to set up camp.
The walk was stunning and, although difficult, is still the most beautiful natural environment that I have seen.
Upon arrival at base camp (5000 meters) we began to prepare for the 1000 meter push to the top of the mountain. This was not something to be trivialized. Although the climb is not technical it involves the crossing of a glacier, a long climb to the ridge and a final push along a thin ledge above a vertical drop. The first few stages of the climb (Including the glacier) would have to be done at night to ensure there was enough light for the descent. Our guide was an ex-ghurka with a supernatural knowledge of the mountain. When one of our group discovered they had lost their harness on the mountain- around 5 minutes before we were supposed to depart- he told us not to worry and to continue with the climb anyway. After we had started to ascend the glacier a halt was called. He walked around 20 meters away from us in complete darkness, thrust his arm into a patch of snow identical to its surroundings and pulled out the harness. It was truly amazing. My memories of the rest of the climb are diminished by the fact that I repeatedly stopped to vomit.
Although we were worried that I may have had symptoms of altitude sickness the nausea stopped early on and I was able to continue. We reached the summit expecting to see the sun rising over the entire valley. Instead we had a spectacular view of the inside of a cloud. Despite this slight disappointment each of us was so pleased with the achievement that it did not matter. We had climbed Stok Kangri, 6135 meters above sea level.
India is a country full of beauty and excitement and to experience the best of this you have to travel to the north. The wild and picturesque landscape that Ladakh offers is seconded only by the opportunity to truly achieve something amazing.
Words by Chris Horton.
Photos by George Fielding.