Stok Kangri Trek, July 2017

by - Friday, September 22, 2017

What is Stok Kangri?

At 20,187ft (6,153 m), Stok Kangri is one of the highest non-technical peaks (i.e. doesn't require you to have ice axe, roping, rappelling skills) in the world. It is located in the Ladakh region in India in the Himalayan range. Quoting Wikipedia: "The peak can be trekked non-technically from July-August , but is quite technical during the peak winter days.  That doesn't mean any novice should just turn up for the trek with absolutely no training whatsoever. The climb is fairly exhaustive and requires a good amount of stamina. Mental strength is much more demanding than the physical one."

Last year I did the trek to Everest Base Camp which is at 17,600 ft. Stok Kangri seemed to be the right challenge to take up next.

Stok Kangri geo-map

Trek Overview 

This is a six day day trek. We added two days for acclimatization and one reserve day. Our final itinerary, as planned, was:

  1. Days 1, 2 and 3: Rest, acclimatization treks and sightseeing in Leh (11,500 ft) and Stok Village (11,800 ft)
  2. Day 4: Stok Village to Mankarmo (14,200 ft). Elevation gain: 2,400 ft. Distance: 10km
  3. Day 5: Mankarmo to Base Camp (16,300 ft). Elevation gain: 2,100 ft. Distance: 4km
  4. Day 6, 7: Base Camp to Stok Kangri peak (20,187 ft). Elevation gain: 3,900 ft. Distance: 14km
  5. Day 8: Base Camp to Stok Village. Elevation loss: 4,500 ft. Distance 14km
  6. Day 9: Reserve day

Stok Kangri Trek Itinerary


There were eight of us. Anu had created custom t-shirts for the trek. Our group stood apart in these bright yellow t-shirts. They became quite popular and everyone kept asking us about them.

From Left to right:
Vibhakar Tripathi (Bangalore), Aditya Natani (Delhi), Vikas Gupta (California), Kanika Khandelwal (Delhi), Anu Palnitkar (Pune), Samir Palnitkar (Pune), Vikas Khandelwal (Delhi) and Jai Rawat (Me, California).

Some of us met each other for the first time but we quickly became friends. Four of us (Samir, Anu, Vikas Gupta and myself) had done the Everest Base Camp together last year. For others it was their first such trek.

Everyone was stoked about the trek! (pun intended)


We all prepared for 3-4 months for the trek. It is hard to prepare for high altitude. Oxygen level drops to 50% at around 18,000 ft. Simple tasks such as putting on your shoes can take 10 minutes and leave your somewhat breathless.

Some of us could train by climbing small, nearby mountains. Others simply climbed stairs and went up and down 200+ floors with a heavy backpack! Most of us were surprised by how much we could push ourselves with a good training regimen and a clear goal in sight.

However, no matter how much you train, you cannot predict how your body will behave at a high altitude. The best you can do is to prepare hard and hope that attitude wins over altitude ! 


Climbing beyond 20,000 ft or 6,000 m is no joke and safety is a serious consideration. This is known as the Extreme altitude zone.

AMS (Acute Moutain Sickness) is the most common altitude related sickness. You have to really be aware of all the symptoms and take corrective actions immediately. I found this excellent (and rather scary) guide about Travel at High Altitude. It talks about everything that can go wrong and how to detect and treat any issues. I read it thoroughly and even carried a printout with me for reference. We also started on a Diamox regimen before the trek to deal with high altitude. Diamox essentially forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate which re-acidifies the blood and balances the effect of hyperventilation at high altitude.

I also printed out a health check page for every member in our group. The page had two sections (a) Information about their medical history, emergency contacts etc. and (b) A score card to check for any AMS related symptoms. I took the responsibility of doing a score check every morning and evening for every member of our group. This health check page can be found in the same guide I referenced above.

Finally, it was important to keep our loved ones notified. We had already created a WhatsApp group for our team. Before we started the trek, everyone added one other family member to that group. We knew that coverage will be spotty and we may not have any data connection. The idea was that whoever can get a word out to their family member will ask them to update the entire group. It worked out really well.


Proper gear is really important. You must buy everything in advance and make sure that you train with the gear you will be using during the trek. Right clothing, shoes, daypack, hydration packs etc. can make a big difference. We knew that we will be encountering sub-zero temperatures so proper winter gear including socks, gloves, beanies etc. were also needed.

I had created a comprehensive checklist based on my experience with the Everest Base Camp trek last year and shared it with the group. It made it easy to make sure that we were fully prepared.


We used Ladakh Mitra. There are many other organizations but I would not recommend going with anyone too commercial. Ladakh Mitra is run by Jayo Tashi Nurbo, He was an incredible host and really took good care of our group. I have nothing but great things to say about him and will highly recommend him to anyone planning on doing a trek in Ladakh.

Here are the details of our trek:

Day 1: July 12, 2017. Arrival

We flew into Leh from Delhi. I captured some incredible views of the region from our plane ride.

View of the Himalayan Range. Are we going to climb one of these? Scary !!

Indus (sindhu) River flows through Leh. Most likely this is the Indus River. I am not 100% sure though :)

Very interesting geography. Patches of green strips in the valley surrounded by desert and barren mountains.

Landed in Leh. Last time we are going to look well groomed :)

We stayed in the Yarol guest house today. There were three rooms for the eight of us. Rooms were ok but the hospitality was simply superb. Our hosts were really nice and took good care of us.

Food was simple but tasty. It was mostly cooked using the vegetable garden right outside. We could taste the freshness

Kanika and Anu decided to go harvesting and plucked some radishes etc. from the garden. They were really tasty but with three people sharing a room, we didn't dare to each too many radishes ! :)

We also did some last minute shopping in the market today. Most importantly, we rented down jackets. They will only be needed for the final summit but we had to rent them from Leh.

Day 2: July 13, 2017. Stok Village

I woke up groggy from the lack of sleep. It felt that I hadn't slept a wink last night. I had the same issue last year during Everest Base Camp. It took me 3 days last time before I could sleep well. I guess this is how my body reacts to altitude.

 We drove from Leh to Stok Village today. Stok  Village is the starting point of the trek. It is at a  slightly higher altitude than Leh (11,800 ft  compared to 11,500 ft). We passed the Indus  (Sindhu) river, namesake of India along the  way. 

The guide suggested that we walk around a bit today to get acclimatized. So we went to a nearby Buddha temple and also visited the Stok Palace. The Buddha statue is huge and can be seen from miles away.

We took this opportunity to fine tune our mind-body balance before the trek :)
Stok Palace - You can stay here for about 40,000 Rs/night and also dine with the royal family for about 20,000 Rs/meal
Stok Palace was nice but not spectacular. The royal family still lives there. There was also a small museum here but most of the valuables had been moved to the Hemis Monastery centuries ago to save them from raiders.

We saw some beautiful views along the way
Incredible contrast in scenery. Small green patches in the middle of desert and beautiful mountains

Notice the tree trunks - they are all twisted. Very unique

Setting sun is causing mountains to glow, clouds are casting shadows. It was a surreal light and shadow play

We had traditional butter tea in the evening. It was delicious. The host made it for us wearing traditional attire and pots.

Day 3: July 14, 2017. Stok Village

Hmm... no sleep again last night. Today is our last day in Stok Village. Tomorrow morning we start our trek. We are supposed to do an acclimatization trek today. I am hoping that it will tire me out and I'll be able to sleep well :)
Morning View from Guest House
We started early morning for our acclimatization trek.

We decided to climb a nearby hill which was quite steep...
...and somewhat treacherous at times
We huffed and puffed our way to the top of the hill. It was tiring but we had our moments of fun

Apparently the top of this hill is a party place - people come here on Diwali night and celebrate. We found some empty liquor bottles here as evidence. It was sad to see such a beautiful place littered with trash.

Once we reached the top our guide told us that we were quick! While it was good for our egos, it is not good for acclimatization. For that it is better to go slow. Anyways, we were not yet tired so we decided to go off trail and picked another hill to climb. The two were connected by a ridge. 

We made it to the top of the other hill as well. The weather started changing and it seemed it was going to start raining. This was our cue to head back down.

We reached the guesthouse just after noon. Some retired immediately but some of us waited for a few minutes until it was midnight in California then called my wife Jyoti to wish her a happy birthday! She was fast asleep and it took her completely by surprise :) 

After lunch we decided to use the rest of the day for sightseeing and visited the Hemis Monastery. It was a long drive. Soon after we started I felt unwell - as if I am was going to come down with fever. It was too late to turn back.

Hemis is hidden in the mountain and not easily visible. Therefore many valuable artifacts were moved here to keep them safe. The museum here was really nice and well preserved.

By the time we got done, I could feel that I had some fever. We picked up some medicine on the way back.

Day 4: July 15, 2017. On to Mankarmo

No sleep for third day in a row and I also have fever now. So far the excitement of the trek was enough to overcome the lack of sleep. But now tiredness is setting in. The trek starts today so I have no choice but to get going. 

The plan is to trek about 10km to reach Mankarmo. Mankarmo is at 14,200 ft so we will gain another 2,400 ft today.

The mountain is beckoning us...
...and I am ready for it :)
Not going to let fever and lack of sleep dampen my spirits
We saw some spectacular views along the way

The flowers below are of the rose family. They only have one layer of petals. These are called Sia. The name Siachen literally means abundance of roses.

Sia Roses
Some of the landscape was just unreal
Still a long way to go..

We finally reached Mankarmo camp after about 7 hours of walking. The luxury of guest houses is gone now. It's time for tents, sleeping bags and dump toilets. There was a common kitchen tent for food. Freshly cooked hot food is the one luxury we can still enjoy.

After a short rest we did our acclimatization trek to prepare ourselves for tomorrow. The timing was perfect. We saw the mountains change colors in the evening light. It was surreal.

Our guide checked oxygen levels for everyone in the group. We were all ok. However, he gave me some oxygen in the hope that it will help me sleep better. It didn't help :(

Day 5: July 16, 2017. On to Base Camp

After four sleepless nights and two days of fever it is getting harder for me. Today's plan is to go up to the base camp. Base camp is at 16,300 ft. So it is an elevation gain of 2,100 ft - similar to yesterday but in half the distance (about 5km) so it is going be much steeper !

Leaving Mankarmo
Arrived at the Base Camp

After some rest it is time for another acclimatization trek

Need to do another acclimatization trek - looks really steep
But we are ready for the challenge

We got a small taste of what is in store for us. We did a small part of the summit trek. At 16,000+ feet even walking is a challenge. This short, 3 hour trek proved to be quite draining.

This is the same route we will be taking for the summit

By the end of the day I was feeling really tired. The combination of multiple days of lack of sleep, fever, high altitude and no rest is proving to be almost too much to handle. At night our guide took our oxygen levels and pulse. My oxygen level was I think in the 65-70 range which was barely in the acceptable range. However, my pulse was around 80 which the guide said was much lower than what it should be. He said it should be over 100.

Meanwhile one member of our group, Anu who had been bravely struggling with altitude sickness all along, started feeling some pain in the back of her head. This is supposedly a sure sign of AMS so it was decided that she will have to head back immediately. She had to pack up her bags and leave the base camp around 9:30pm. We were all hoping to summit as a group and it was really disheartening for everyone.

As much as I wanted to summit, I also did not want to take any unnecessary risks. So I asked the guide if I needed to head back as well. He suggested that I give it one more night and make a decision tomorrow.

Day 6: July 17, 2017. Base Camp

YAY! I was finally able to sleep through the night. I felt somewhat rested and even the fever seemed to have subsided. Tonight we are supposed to summit - perhaps I will be ready for it after all.

Unfortunately the fever came back soon. Now I had to make a decision whether to attempt the summit tonight. I decided to delay the decision until lunch. I wanted to see how I felt after lunch.

We had kept a reserve day in our schedule for precisely such unforeseen situations. So I could potentially rest for an extra day at the Base Camp and attempt the summit tomorrow night instead. In fact it was even possible to summit the night after tomorrow and still catch the return flight. 

After much deliberation I decided to rest today and go for the summit tomorrow night instead. I had only slept properly for one night and thought it would be better to get one more night of sleep before going for an overnight trek :)

My niece Kanika insisted on staying back with me so I wouldn't have to summit alone. However the rest of the group was going to climb tonight and I didn't want her to miss out on the fun of being in a group. It took some convincing for her to change her mind. Samir considered staying back as well but was conflicted because his wife Anu had had to descend the previous night and he wanted to finish the trek as soon as possible so he could get back to her.

So I will be all alone tomorrow :(

I practiced getting roped up and using ice axe etc. with the group anyways.

I also decided to do another acclimatization trek on my own. If I am going to wait an extra day, might as well put it to good use and get used to the altitude.

The group (Kanika, Samir, Vikas K, Vikas G, Vibhakar and Aditya) departed at around 9pm. I wished them good luck and went to bed.

Day 7: July 18, 2017. Summit Tonight?

Good news is that I slept well again. So that's two nights of good sleep now. Bad news is that the fever is still there.

At breakfast I got the news that everyone in the group had successfully summited Stok Kangri and were on their way back! This was a really uplifting news. 

Group with their guides on top of Stok Kangri
Glimpse of the trek route

Soon thereafter I saw Aditya coming down with one of the guides. He was able to come down really fast, ahead of the rest. Around 10:30-11am the rest of the group also made their way back. However, it was not all good news.  One of them got seriously disoriented and had to be brought down on shoulders for the last 2-3 kilometers. He was immediately given oxygen and then sent back to Stok Village on a horse. Others made it down on their own but were really exhausted. Their verdict was clear - it was a really hard climb and with me being at half-strength due to fever, I should not attempt it.

I was now in two minds but wanted to keep my options open. I decided to do another training session with my guide for roping up, using crampons and using ice axe.

After that I retried back to my tent. There my niece Kanika encouraged me and said I should at least give it a shot.  I decided to delay my decision until evening. I slept for most of the day. When I woke up at around 6pm, I found that it had been raining hard for a few hours which is very unusual for this region. To make matters worse, my shoes were outside the tent and were completely soaked now.

 I asked the guide if it was still possible to summit tonight because it was raining heavily. He said let's wait until 8:30pm to see how the weather unfolds. In the meanwhile I was desperately trying to dry my shoes. It will be impossible to use wet shoes as most of the trek was going to be in sub-zero temperature. I remembered an advise from one of the guides earlier - he said sometimes the mountain simply doesn't want you to climb and you should bow down to its wish. Could it be that I was not meant to summit? Lack of sleep, non-stop fever, bad weather, wet shoes, friends with my best interest in their heart telling me not to do it - was this all a sign? And to top it all, I was now all alone. After months of planning, training and coming this far with friends, the thought of summiting alone felt more like a task now. I am seriously considering giving up.

At 8:30pm I look up at the sky and there is no rain. Somehow I have also managed to dry my shoes sufficiently by now. My guide says we can go if I am up for it. I had to make an instant decision and decided to go for it. It took my another hour to collect all my gear and put it all together. Kanika helped me a lot.

Finally I spiked myself with some medication to fight my fever. At 9:20pm I took my first step. And I knew immediately that I was going to go all the way.

Day 7/8 : July 18/19 Overnight Summit Trek

The first thought that came to my mind as soon as I took that first step was that IT WAS NOW MY TURN. The mountain had thrown all possible obstacles in my way but now it was my turn to conquer it. I was carrying a picture of my family - I looked at it and felt the kids urging me on - "dad, you can do it!". 

The trek has to be done overnight because most of the trek is on ice and during the day time the melted ice makes it really treacherous. Therefore ideally you have to start the trek at a time when the ice is frozen again and have to finish it before it starts to melt!

The whole ascent can be thought of as four segments:
1. Base Camp to Advance Base Camp (ABC). I reached ABC in about 1:50 hrs (11:10pm). It got super cold by this time and I had to put some hand warmers in my gloves.
2. Going across a long glacier. We lost our way a bit here but got back on track. It has to be navigated carefully to avoid any crevices and thin ice. We also had wear crampons to get a good grip.
3. Climb from end of glacier to the Stok Kangri shoulder. This is an incredibly steep climb (see picture below). Every step takes an effort. I tried to find the right pace at which I could continue to walk without stopping frequently. At sub-zero temperatures you need to conserve body heat. Every stop causes a rapid heat loss. I reached the shoulder at 4am. We took a 20 minute break here before going for the final assault.
4. Stok Kangri shoulder to the top. My guide told me that the sunrise will be at 5:30 and we were going to reach the top too soon. So we decided to slow down but still reached the top at 5am. It took exactly 7:37hrs for me to reach the top. We were the first ones to reach there. Soon other climbers joined us.

Trek path overlayed on a satellite image. You can see the glacier, the ridge from shoulder to the peak and other geological features. The actual trek had a lot more snow than shown in this image. 

We waited for about 30 minutes at the top for the sunrise. Then took some pictures. LOTS of pictures :) We stayed at the top for an hour then headed back at 6:10am.

It took me a few tries, but I managed to do my headstand on the top again :)

Views are supposed to be spectacular here. Unfortunately the fog never cleared up enough to get a clear view.

My guide was carrying some food in a hot case and gave me a warm, boiled potato. The combination of warmth and carbs was just what I needed! I have never tasted anything better in my life :) :)


Here are some pictures from the descent. You can see the steep snow covered slopes, thin ice sheets, crevices and get an idea of the overall treacherous nature of the trek. Thankfully it was completely dark while going up - otherwise one may be tempted to turn back quickly!

It is common for people to sit and slide down the slopes while descending. It is easier to do that than to walk downhill on steep slopes. However, my guide advised against that because he thought that the ice was still too hard. So we walked down the entire distance. Despite stopping for pictures, we made good time and were back at the camp in 2:42hrs, reaching the camp at 8:52am. 

I found the entire group waiting for me as soon as I arrived. They had received the news of my successful summit earlier and then someone spotted me coming down the final hill and gathered everyone else to greet me. It was a nice gesture and it felt great to be with the group again.

Day 8 : July 19. From Stok to Stok in one day!

While I was exhausted after my summit trek, the rest of the group had had their rest and was ready to head back! I didn't want to spend the day alone at basecamp and then trek back alone the next day. Returning on the horse back was an option but I wanted to complete the trek on my own two feet. After some deliberation I asked everyone to wait until lunch so I can get a couple of hours of rest and then join them for the trek back. As Vibhakar said later, it was like deciding to do another marathon just after completing one.

I couldn't really sleep but managed to rest for a bit before it was time to start walking again. I was in a half-zombie state. Kanika helped me pack my bags. Other friends offered to take some load off my backpack (water, snacks etc) so I was carrying the minimum possible weight.

We got the signatures of everyone in the group including the guides on our flag:

Picture with the guides and kitchen staff:

Time to say good bye to the base camp:

I somehow managed to walk back the 14km distance (~5,000 ft descent) to Stok Village. Having just completed the summit few hours ago, I had to summon up every ounce of energy and mental resolve to make the trip back.
Jubilated to have made it back. This little jump was the hardest jump in my life! I had no energy left :)
Back at the starting point

From Stok (summit) to Stok (village). It felt surreal. Just 12 hours ago I was on top of Stok Kangri and now I am in Stok Village. I descended about 9,000 ft in that time.

Day 10 : July 21. Back to Delhi

Rest of Day 8 and all of Day 9 we rested, played cards, sang songs and pigged out! I was tired but thankfully the fever went away on Day 9. 

I caught an early morning flight to Delhi on Day 10 and flew back to SFO the same night.

What an experience! This will be one of my fondest memories.


  1. Thanks for capturing this all, Jai. It's important to follow the plan and put your past experience to use which the experienced members did (you, Samir,Anu and Vikas G). Certainly made it easier for rest of us.

  2. Congratulations! Your indomitable spirit carried you through to the end! Thanks for the blog and allowing me to experience this vicariously. - Madhura

  3. Awesome pictures and amazing writing!! I learned so much more about the trip from this.

  4. Great pictures! I really enjoyed reading this.

  5. Great writing and very inspiring!

  6. Great Spirit Jay - anybody else would have surrendered - but you made it. Congrats. The whole write-up with spectacular pictures makes this description one of the best article on climbing ......


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