Climbing Against the Odds
Kangyatze I (6400m)
After more than five weeks of geographical fieldwork, the desire to climb a mountain had grown strong in me. Unfortunately our proposed exploration trip to the notorious Shyok valley of the Great Eastern Karakoram, where I also intended to ascend a 6000m peak, had not been approved by the Indian Military Authorities. The military officials, stationed at the entrance of the Shyok valley informed us that in order to have access to the valley, we needed a special permit from the Indian Defence Minister. This permit could only be obtained by applying four to six months in advance. Additionally, the application must include a strong mountaineering component, such as climbing a 7000m peak.
Quite disappointed by this bureaucratic nonsense, we had to accept the outcome of our daring mission and think of an alternative to spent the remaining time and food resources. After consulting the map and discussing with the local community of Shyok village, we decided to go to Pangong Tso (Lake). This narrow mass of enclosed glacial water (134km long) is situated at 4350m altitude, between the borders of India and China, only 50km distance from Shyok village. After a couple of hours driving through a massive gorge, cut in the hard Cenozoic plutonic granites, of a type only seen in the Karakoram, we arrived at this elongated endorheic lake. Our spirits were quite low due to our failed Shyok mission. Additionally Oliver was suffering from a form of gut infection, which made him very weak. To make matters worse, strong gusts of wind blowing from the East, were bringing large quantities of fine sand, severely blinding us while pitching the tent.
In one of the tents, pitched on the lake’s western shore, we met a group of Israeli travellers who came from Leh via Chang La (5360m) on their Royal Enfield motorbikes. The group seemed friendly and curious about our presence here at Pangong. After a series of both hilarious and serious conversation topics we became more comfortable with each other. Under these circumstances, I soon found a potential climbing partner amongst these Israelis. His name was Yotam and he was a tank driver for the Israeli Army. Freshly graduated from military conscription, his current mission was to travel through Central and South East Asia on his 350cc Royal Enfield to find interesting rock climbing opportunities amongst exciting people – the type you find when travelling in remote places. It did not take us very long to bond together and agree on a common mountaineering target. This objective was Kangyatze I, measuring over 6400m and situated in the Markha valley of the Great Himalaya. Kanyatze I is the highest peak in central Ladakh and one of the most technical. Excited about this fruitful encounter, we decided to return to Leh the next day and arrange logistics. Unfortunately, during the return journey to Leh, one of the Israelis travellers suffered a severe bike accident which almost permanently compromised his left leg. Without the possibility of being rescued by a helicopter, the injured man was transported back to Leh via a military vehicle. The bumpy road, cutting into the steep sides of the mountains, was real torture for the bleeding man. We all felt very sorry for him. This unfortunate accident made us more aware about the real dangers to which one is exposed when riding a motorbike on Indian roads.
Arrived in Leh, we allowed ourselves two days to prepare for the big mountain quest. Transport and camping logistics, food supplies, all were resolved in record time despite the limited financial resources available at this late point of the trip. Early on the morning of August 1, we packed our equipment on Yotam’s Royal Enfield and left Leh in great spirits, heading towards Hemis National Park. The intended route was Leh – Somdu village via bike and then trek by foot all the way to the foothills of Kangyatze I without porters or animals to aid our quest – a pure alpine style ascent. The bike ride along the Indus River Valley was brilliant. There was a sense of freedom characterizing the state of our minds. There we were, two travellers, from different parts of the world, heading on a motorcycle to climb a Himalayan Mountain. What else could two adventurous guys in their early 20s wish for from life?
We arrived at Martse La (3600m) in the afternoon – the entry point into Hemis National Park and the last place with vehicular access. We were very fortunate to find a Ladakhi family selling noodles and chapatti here. Since our food supplies were low, this meal provided a good boost in energy for the long journey ahead. We trekked for several hours with our 25kg bags, until sunset when we reached Chiksumo Camp. We left this camp at 6am and started trekking through the spectacular gorge of Shang, which is rife with magnificently hued rock formations that provide dramatic evidence of the collision between the Indian and Tibetan plates. The trail crossed rivers several times before we reached the Lartse campsite around noon. Tired, we tried to rent a donkey to help us carry the equipment. Unfortunately, the donkey drivers were more stubborn than the donkeys themselves, and so we had to push forward with whatever energy we had left. Difficult terrain lay ahead as we had a steep 3-hour climb to Kongmaru La (5265m), where there are jaw-dropping views of Kangyatse, the Zanskar and the Karakoram Ranges. From here we descended towards the pasture of Nimaling (5030m), where the villagers of the Markha Valley tend their sheep, goats and yaks during the summer. From Nimaling we climbed a steady slope to Base Camp (5100 m).
Next day we crossed the western moraine and shoulder of the mountain and climbed the steep scree slope of the north-eastern rim of the mountain until 5500m where we set an advanced camp on a narrow rocky ridge. Summit day started very early and we were making great progress on the narrow north-east ridge. We reached the steep snow face shortly after sunrise. The last 200m of the climb were excruciatingly tiring due to a combination of soft snow, steep slope and hot temperatures. At every step we got buried up to our waists. Finally, after a challenging four hours in the soft snow, we reached the summit around 1pm, completely exhausted. The surrounding awe-inspiring scenery of Tibet, and the Zanskar and mighty Karakoram ranges, all of our numbing pains melted away in a warm glow of success! The descent was long and tiring but we managed to reach Leh in just two days.