Snow

Yesterday, the weather was really bad it was snowing lightly when Mingma and I went for an acclimatisation hike, but it worsened rapidly. Yesterday evening it was snowing heavily. I was already in my tent when Tsewang came to shake the snow from my tent and he warned me to keep an eye on it as he was afraid the tent might collapse under the load of snow. Apparently, it was a front with clear skies afterwards as it got extremely cold. Today, the weather looks ok. It is sunny with clouds. It stopped snowing which is good as the horses cannot come up if there is too much snow. KY1 is still in the clouds and it looks too dangerous to climb as the risk of avalanches is too high. We might climb KY2 (6240 m) instead as it is less avalanche prone. Tsewang will try to change the permit today. We have 3 days left and that might just be enough for KY2 if the weather holds.

KY Base Camp

Yesterday, we moved up from Thochuntse to KY base camp, almost 1000 m higher. As usual, Tsewang and I set off first and the others followed after loading the horses. Until approximately halfway it was fine, but then the weather started deteriorating with more wind and it got very chilly. In some spots there was a lot of snow and I couldn’t prevent getting it in my shoes. At -20°C and a considerable chill factor it got very nasty and cold. Finally, we reached the spot for base camp, a rather large plain so the wind was everywhere. I don’t think I haver ever been so cold. Soon after Tsewang and I had arrived, the others arrived as well and we quickly set up the tents and started cooking. As soon as possible I got in my sleeping back with three layers of merino on. This morning we woke around 8 when the sun comes over the mountains. You could hardly see it through the clouds. KY is totally in the clouds and it has been snowing which is bad news. Despite the light snow Mingma and I make a short acclimatisation hike to ~ 5350 m. The rest of the day we sit in the tent. It keeps snowing…

Tsochuntse

Got up at sunrise after a very bright, cloudless night with beautiful stars but terribly cold (< -25°C). The first sun rays felt really warm and I put my sleeping bag and mattresses out to freeze-dry. After breakfast, around 9 h, Tsewang and I set out for Thochuntse. The others would pack the horses and donkeys and follow with Tundup, the horseman. Tsewang and I made good progress, too much progress according to Tsewang, so we made a small detour to a nearby monastery at a 3900 m peak. Unfortunately, the monk was not there as from the inside you could see KY. However, after another hour, at a turn of the Markha valley, we saw KY. An enormous pyramid of ice and snow, dominating the valley and surrounding peaks. Extremely impressive steep icy flanks that explain its alpine rating as D-. Sublime but also a bit scary. When we reached Hankar after about 4.5 h, we sat down in the sun at a small farm and got tea. After an hour Mingma arrived and we decided to wait there for Tundup, Nankat and Jigmat with the cattle as we would now enter a small valley without sun (and it is still freezing crazy). The trail runs for long stretches over the frozen Markha, extremely slippery and more suitable for skates than shows. The hoofed animals struggle with the ice and Tsewang and I have to wait a lot. Around 5 we arrive, with the cattle, in Tsochuntse where we will camp overnight.

21/01/2022

On campsite

Just arrived on our campsite for tonight after a 3.5 h drive from Leh. Up till Chilling the road was perfect (probably for military purposes, the army is everywhere). First we followed the Zanksar valley and then turned to the Markha valley where the road is no more than an icy, rocky trail. Altogether a spectacular ride through half-frozen rivers with sublime views on snowy mountains. The horseman was already on site. We have set up the tents and started cooking. It’s freaking cold, about minus 20 and the sun has only set half an hour ago. Tomorrow we are heading for Thochuntse.

The horses arrived

Yesterday (18 Jan) was officially the last day of my quarantine and the folks from the medical department had promised to come test me early morning so the result would be available in the evening. However, it turned out that all members of the ‘testing squads’ were found positive themselves the day before. As a consequence, there was no personnel to go around taking samples. Finally, yesterday evening, two ladies showed up to take a sample. However, the test result was not reported today despite the promise that it would be delivered within 24 hours. It seems they are totally disorganized and it is extremely frustrating that after being 8 full days in quarantine in Leh there is still no result.   

Nevertheless, we plan to leave tomorrow but with an adapted itinerary. In the original plan, we would drive only to Chilling and trek from there, along Markha river, to Skiu. Since this trek is mostly at the same altitude as Leh (and I think I’ve acclimatised already to this altitude with my illegal hikes), we will now drive up all the way, via Kaya and Skiu village, to Thinlaspa, close to Markha (~ 3750 m) and camp there overnight. From there we will hike the next day via Hankar to Thochuntse (~ 4300 m), camp there overnight and subsequently follow the original itinerary to Kang Yatse base camp. This way we will gain one or two days of time compared to the original plan which should give us sufficient time despite all the time lost due to the quarantine. In addition, we plan to make only one camp at ~ 5550 m instead of the two originally planned camps at 5400 and 5750 m.

This afternoon, we met for the first time with the complete team at the Padma Ladakh hotel: Nantak, our cook, Jigmat, the kitchen help, and Tsewang and Mingma (who is released from quarantine today). Tsewang and Mingma will climb with me. In fact, Tsewang replaces Rigzin who had a dislocated shoulder a while ago and cannot join, but takes care of all the organization. We discussed the best route and approach, the shopping  needs etc. In addition, Rigzin informed us that the horsemen are ready with 5 horses to take our equipment from Markha to base camp.

The team: – from left to right: Nantak, Jigmat, Mingma, me, Tsewang and Rigzin.

This evening we had the big celebration for the team that climbed UT Kangri. It was a very nice evening with lots of speeches, drinks and food, and  – of course – many, many pictures taken. The UT Kangri team will leave tomorrow before we (hopefully) will finally take off.

Still quarantined

Last Saturday, Rigzin and I went to see the Chief Medical Officer downtown to plea to release me from quarantine as the medical officier at the airport had suggested to Rigzin, based on the fact that I have been vaccinated three time, tested negative three times in the last week and, ultimately, that the mountains are the best quarantine you can wish for: nobody but our party intends to climb Kang Yatse 1. Unlike the medic at the airport, the chief medic downtown was of the military type and didn’t even want to talk to us. So basically, I’m stuck until the 19th. Rigzin was totally depressed, if only because he had already made efforts to get other climbers to join now that Romil and Mingma are in quarantine (as they both tested positive upon arrival in Leh). We talked for a long time and at the end we concluded that it was perhaps not so bad after all since if we only start on the 19th both Mingma and Romil will be released on the 19th from their quarantine and will be able to join us.

In the mean time, I try to make a little illegal acclimatisation hike every day. According to Rigzin that is OK as long as I take my negative test certificate and my proofs of vaccination along and stay away from other people. The latter is very easy since in winter (it’s ~minus 17 during daytime and ~minus 25 at nigh) Leh is pretty much deserted and I haven’t seen any other foreigner.

Leh Palace

I’ve hiked up to the Leh Palace and the castke at Tsemo twice. Last Saturday I have just climbed up finding my own path, but later I saw on google maps that there is not only an offical trail but also sacred stairs at the other site. So Sunday I climbed up the 200 m sacred stair-case and descended via the trail (which was way easier than the track I had used the first time).

The castle at Tsemo seen from Leh Palace
Stairs to Tsemo Goenkhang

From the top of the mountain, just next to Tsemo Goenkhang you have a very nice view over Leh.

View over Leh from Tsemo Goenkahng (~3700 m)

Today I’ve hiked up to Gangles Gonpa, about 8 km north of Leh, and the nearby Stupa at 3920 m.

Gangles Gonpa
Stupa at 3920 m near Gangles Gonpa
View on the mountain when hiking back to Leh.

Good and bad news

This morning, we finally got our certificates that we tested negative for corona upon arrival in Leh. This means that Bharath with the majority of the group (there are still 3 Indians waiting for their report as they arrived a day later) took off this morning to Chilling to start their Kangri trekking.

Although it was planned that I would join them until Skiu, I cannot leave since I am officially in quarantine and closely watched by the Ministry of Health. If they really insist on my quarantine until the 18th, it won’t be possible to climb Kang Yatse 1 unless I delay my flight back. The alternative option, according to Rigzin, is to climb Kang Yatse 2, but that is way less challenging and exciting…

Rigzin told me, however, that since I got a printed negative test result, I could go out as long as I wore a mask. So this afternoon I climb up to the Shanti Stupa north of Leh and subsequently walked through downtown Leh and the Old City. This was really good as I felt like a caged animal the last few days…

Shanti stupa )3609 m) in the snow
View over Leh
Downtown Leh alley
Leh Palace, seen from Old Town Leh

When I came back, Rigzin called me as he wanted to talk. I went to see him and he told me that he had spoken with the chief medical officer. Basically, the medical officer understands that I am vaccinated three times, tested negative three times over the past 6 days and that I go straight up into the mountains and that therefore the risk of me contaminating anybody would be negligible. He proposed that I would write a letter explaining all this (so that he can cover his ass if questioned) and give it to him with copies of my vaccination certificates and test certificates in a private converstaion tomorrow and that he then would release me from quarantine. So that is very good news, because then we can leave tomorrow or day after. Unfortunately, Rigzin had also bad news: Mingma tested positive and cannot join since he is now quarantined. Rigzin knows some other climbers that could replace him and is chasing them down. However, it is uncertain whether they would be available straight away…

Quarantine

Last Sunday I flew to New Delhi, where we landed on time. I was one of the first to get to the testing booth to get a rapid PCR test done. After swabbing my nose, I received a form with a barcode and was expected to wait for the result. However, the free internet on the airport didn’t work and after trying for about half an hour I went to see someone from the testing outfit to ask for help. “Oh, you need a coupon for the internet” the lady in the kiosk said, and handed me a coupon… The internet then worked, but I still couldn’t access my data… So, I went back to the lady at the kiosk after about another half hour. “Your results must be there already”, she said: “should I print a copy for you ?”

With this copy, I proceeded to the baggage/exit side of the airport, and was stopped 4 times on the way there to show my certificate, my boarding pass etc. Finally, after immigration, where they copied my e-visa in my passport, I got a taxi that took met to the hotel were I arrived around 2:30 h.

I stayed there for two days and the staff was extremely nice but kept a very close watch on me. At breakfast, I was almost the only guest and they put me in the middle of the restaurant with 8 guys watching me closely whether I would need something. As soon as I had finsihed my coffee there would appear a new cup etc.

I was called the next day by the Ministry of Health whether I was OK and kept my quarantine… I strolled a bit around the hotel though and luckily the gym was open. Bharath came back from Kathmandu and would stay with me on the 11th, so we could travel together to Leh the next morning. He finally arrived around 21 h and we had dinner in the restaurant. We got tiramisu on the house as desert and a picture with the guys who had been looking after me during the past days.

The staff of the DoubleTree by Hilton Gurugram

Bharath and I got up at 3:15 h the next morning, got a taxi to the airport and had a seemless flight to Leh, where we landed at 6:50.

Flight to Leh

At the arrivals, I immediately lost Bharath in the crowd. I got all our luggage, and in the meantime, was constantly harrassed by officials (since I was obviously the only non-Indian on the flight) to fill out forms. I have filled out various forms with almost identical information, most of which was probably not extremely helpful in evaluating my health status (e.g. I had to provide my father’s given names…). Anyway, Bharath showed up with tickets for the testing. He had sprinted from the plane to avoid the line to get one. In the mean time Satya showed up (who was on the same flight and is joining Bharath and me on Kangchenjunga in April). We got tested and could leave the airport. Outside Rigzin was waiting for us and we were in the Padma Ladakh hotel in 15 minutes.

The hotel is good, Bharath and I share a room and slowly Indian from all over the country flock in. They will climb Kangri with Bharath while I will climb Kang Yatse 1 with Rigzin.

Bharath gets a call in the evening of the 12th that my test was negative. It’s not official, but Rigzin knows someone who knows the chief medical officier in the hospital and apparently I have been tested with priority. They are definitely after me since two officials from the ministry invade the hotel looking for me and officially quarantine me for 7 days.

Apparently I am a disaster that need to be controlled and proud to be quarantined !

The next day, we hang around in the hotel since we cannot go without the official certificates that we have been tested negative. Luckily there is internet and we can still go outside on the balcony where one of the girls made a snowman that, as she told me, represents a stupa. The view is magnificent…

Snowman representing a stupa
The mountain is calling…
Nice illustration of the Indian way to control the covid pandemic

Kang Yatse 1 (KY1)

In January 2022, I hope to climb Kang Yatse 1 (KY1) a mountain of 6401 m in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalaya Range. The idea to climb KY1 comes from Bharath Thammineni. Bharath and I first met in Everest Base Camp and we both hope to finally climb Kangchenjunga in April/May this year after it was postponed a couple of times due to the covid pandemic.

Bharath and I at the puja in Everest Base Camp in Tibet in 2015

Bharath owns a trekking and mountaineering company “Boots and Crampons” that specialises in this type of climbs.

Kang Yatse 1 is considered a rather difficult to climb mountain with a ranking AD+/D- in summer. As far as I know, it has never been climbed in winter. So we hope to set a new record for KY1. Bharath will lead a small group of climbers from Leh to climb UT Kangri, I will join him and his group with Rigzin, a local guide who has climbed KY1 before, and Mingma. Mingma has a lot of experience in fixing ropes during the winter as he was part of the team that climbed Anapurna in winter last year. Rizgin, Mingma and myself will separate from Bharath’s group in Skyu and continue to KY base camp (see itinerary). A picture of the approach via the north-east rib to the summit of KY1 can be found here.

Rigzin in action
Rigzin
Mingma Sherpa
Mingma Sherpa
Mingma Sherpa