When students Charmane and five of her friends- Ampol, Sattah, Wattanna, Thanawat and Nat- arrived in Leh, a district located in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, on a chilly morning in September to tick off their bucket list by attempting to summit Stok Kangri, the highest mountain in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region situated at 6,153 metres, they straight away knew how hard it was going to achieve the goal.
Even though the group students of 3rd year from the Faculty of Pharmacy at Chiang Mai University in Thailand had made preparations before their expedition in the Himalayan region of Ladakh by climbing Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia at an altitude of 4,095 metres, they were aware of the challenges that acute mountain sickness (AMS) could pose during the trek.
Situated at an altitude of 3,500 metres, this ancient kingdom in the Himalayas tests both the physical and mental stamina of people due to low oxygen level. Keeping this in mind, this group of six students trained for more than a month by jogging and cycling to get themselves in shape to accomplish their long-cherished project of climbing a 6000+ mountain in the Himalayas.
Embarking on the gruelling trek
During their flight from Bangkok to Delhi, they went through all the information shared by Ju-Leh Adventure, a Leh-based travel agency they had booked the trek with. After exploring Delhi, the capital of India, for one full day, they boarded the flight to Leh and landed at the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport.
Even though the determined group of six had come all prepared, they wanted to check their physical limits before embarking on the gruelling trek. Watching the snow-clad majestic Stok Kangri from the windows of their hotel in Leh made them eager to start the trek at the earliest. However, their Leh-based travel agent had strictly advised them to keep two days aside to acclimatise to the harsh climate.
Before the trek, Charmane and her friends visited most of the historical sites in Leh town, especially the nine-storey high Leh Palace built in the 17th century. They also visited other monasteries along the Indus Valley such as Hemis, Thiksey and Shey during a day tour by car with driver.
Nine kilometres in six hour trek
Finally, the most awaited day for Charmane and her friends arrived. Stanzin Chospel, their expedition guide for the four-day trek, came to pick them up from their hotel. The half-hour drive from Leh to Stok, the starting point of their trek, went quickly. Chospel, accompanied by cook Stanzin Gonbo and horseman Tundup Dorjey, quickly loaded all the food and camping equipment on the ponies. Within one hour they were ready to start the trek.
The first day’s trek was easy as Charmane and her friends covered a distance of nine kilometres in six hours to reach Mankarmo where they spent the night in a tent. The view of the sky full of stars was nothing short of spectacular which Charmane and her friends tried to capture everything on their camera.
The next day’s trek was easier as they reached the base camp before noon. Chospel and Gonbo quickly set up the tent and instructed the Thai students not to exert themselves. The night at the base camp, situated at 4,969 metres, was their first real test ahead of their climb to the summit. While Charmane, Sattah, Wattanna and Thanawat survived the test, Ampol and Nat showed symptoms of altitude sickness and had to be given oxygen using a portable oxygen cylinder.
Climb to the summit
On the night of the third day, Charmane and three of her friends started their climb to the summit. Ampol and Nat stayed in the tent where they were looked after by Gonbo. The climb to the summit was physically exhausting and took a toll on their body. However, it made them even more determined.
Charmane and her friends know that they would achieve success and make their project a success if they could overcome the hurdles. Such mountaineering expeditions are not without risk and accidents can happen in the mountain, that is the reason it is essential to be accompanied by a trained and experienced guide.
The distance of 4.5 km from the base camp to the summit felt never-ending for Charmane and her friends. It was almost dawn when they reached the summit of Stok Kangri. Charmane and her friends cried tears of joy as their long-cherished dream to complete the project had come to fruition. They exhausted the storage of their cameras by clicking photos at the summit from all possible angles.