………Just back from a successful foray in the Himalayas—-a trek/climb to Mt.Stok Kangri (20180’) in the Hemis National Park, Ladakh, J&K Himalayas. Had the privilege of leading a team of 25 fantastic members –all experienced trekkers and outdoors loving individuals. A big team, yes, but a committed, enthusiastic lot. A very cosmopolitan bunch from seventeen plus to sixty plus. 16 summiteers and the others’ selfless backing to the hilt – a complete team effort. Excellent logistics and support staff provided by Ms.Mountain Expeditions, Manali (Prop: Khemraj Thakur) played a pivotal role in the success. The support staff of 9 led by Ganga Ram included Naresh, Pinku, (All mountaineers and mountain guides) Gyanshyam, Nandhan, Prakash, Dharmachand, Dhunichand, and Rajkumar. Leaving Base Camp at 11.00 PM on 28th July, summit was gained at 9.01 AM on the 29th. Ten hours of climb. Nothing technical, but a sheer test of will and endurance. With 5 choosing to stay back in BC as they were not feeling 100 % fit, 21 members started off, 5 retracted after reaching the ABC site. 16 moved on and 16 summited. The 5 who chose to stay back and the 5 who retracted were all voluntary decisions for their own personal good and the good of the team. Team work at its best as it should be in all group adventure activities. Thanks guys. The weather was not very clear. It was cloudy with intermittent slight drizzle. As the night advanced to dawn, the weather was OK, though not very clear. The fantastic golden dawn just as we cramponed our way up the steep ascent on hard snow before we approached the shoulder was a stimulus. From the shoulder of the ridge we roped up and slowly but steadily approached the summit. The first sight of prayer flags on the summit was welcome. Alas, we were just minutes away from the top. And yes in minutes we were there. 15 minutes on the summit spent clicking photographs and exchanging pleasantries, and then our descent started. The melted and melting snow made the descent cumbersome. In knee deep snow, glissading was a better option. Large sections of the descent were overcome by glissading. Not everyone had a clear memory sketch of the initial route as a major portion of the initial climb was done in darkness with headlights on. A few minor hiccups and we all reached BC in ones, twos and threes by 5 PM. A bit longer than the normal 12 to 14 hours. The size of the team and the leisurely manner of the return trek contributed to the delay. All in all, a wonderful team, a wonderful effort and a wonderful result. Yet another feather in KMA’s cap. Very apt to start off the Golden Jubilee year with.
That said, I would like to narrate an incident that unfolded at the Changma campsite on our return journey on the 30th of July. Just as the kitchen was abuzz preparing the last camp dinner, a celebratory one at that and the team members huddled in the mess tent smarting over each other over a game of UNO, one young bespectacled teenage boy barged into the camp, at around 7 PM calling for help and assistance. Immediately, the kitchen was abandoned, UNO was abandoned and all rushed out in unison to see what the matter was. It turned out that a couple of members of the Korean Youth Expedition – a young girl and her brother were in trouble, just near our campsite – the girl had fallen unconscious and the boy dazed and bleeding through his nose. A clear case of AMS. It was a panic situation for a couple of other members of the Korean team as well as their group in charge…..but not for Ganga Ram and company. Out came the oxy bottles, oxygen cylinder and the PAC (Portable Altitude Chamber commonly referred to as a Gamou bag).Team members too did their bit by shining torches, nice talking with the bewildered Korean leader and the team, translating and acting as an intermediary between the Korean team guides (from Ladakh) and the leader etc. After initial on the spot first aid and APR to assess the condition, the sick were shifted to the mess tent. The boy’s condition improved after a PAC session, whereas the girl showed no signs of improvement at all in spite of best efforts and continuous administration of oxygen. Pulse rate was falling to alarming levels. She needed immediate evacuation and medical management in a Hospital. It was around 7.30PM and pitch dark. But not flinching for a second, Ganga Ram and team took the decision to evacuate the girl to Stok village and thereon to Leh Hospital. A makeshift stretcher was improvised using the poles of the mess tent and in minutes they set off carrying the girl on the stretcher – 5 stretcher bearers, 1 shining the torch and 1 walking along with the oxygen cylinder (still connected). It was clear that turning off oxygen would spell doom for the girl. Seeing them off, the team members had a reluctant dinner and retired to bed praying that all would work out fine for the Korean team in general and the girl in particular. Next morning, around 7.30 AM, seeing Ganga at a distance heading back to the camp, I walked up to the path head and waved to him – in return he showed a thumbs up sign…….well that was the biggest sigh of relief I ever had. Soon, Ganga and team were back at Changma. The girl was admitted to the hospital in Leh and was on the road to recovery. The doctor had opined that she was brought at the nick of time – a little more delay and she could have gone into a coma. The entire incident was a classic example of selflessness, humaneness, concern for a fellow adventurer and a cool but effective response to a serious situation. Dinner was forgotten, time was forgotten, darkness was forgotten, nationality was forgotten, and the demands of the terrain at that hour were forgotten…..all that mattered was the life of a human being. I am sure that the satisfaction derived from the show of such humaneness is much more than standing atop the summit of Stok. I, my association and my team are extremely proud to have had such wonderful guides and staff in our midst. It gives so much confidence. Kudos to Ganga Ram and team. After all this, they walked off as if they had done nothing of significance….just what is expected from one adventurer to another at times of distress. Unsung heroes really. Sayings like ‘mountains are places of great purity where man becomes more than a man’, ‘a good adventurer is automatically a good human being’ & ‘man becomes more civilized when away from civilization’ are so very true.
Hats off to Ganga Ram and team, Hats off to the team members as well, for the success of the expedition and also for coping up with the situation at Changma so very well. Thanks to Ms. Mountain Expeditions, Manali (Prop:Khemraj Thakur) for once again providing excellent logistics and support staff.
– S. Sudhakar