Standing tall at 20,187 feet, Stok Kangri is the majestic mountain peak of the Himalayan range Stok. It is situated in Ladakh, about 15 km away from Leh, and is attracting the attention of trekkers of all range of experience and expertise. Many people perceive the trek to Stok Kangri as being not very difficult because this trek does not require many technicalities, and foray into this trek underprepared. But climbing more than 20,000 feet should not be taken lightly.
In fact, most of the people who start this trek are not able to complete it because they are underprepared or overconfident, or both. In the following sections, let us read the details of the peak’s trek, the preparation one needs to do, and the ideal itinerary that needs to be followed.
Table of Content:
- The “Little Tibet”
- Geographical Details of the Region
- Brief Details of the Stok Kangri Trek
- How to Reach Stok Kangri
- What you Need to Join the Trek
- A Typical Itinerary of the Trek
- More Things to Do in and Around Leh
- Call Your Family from Anywhere During the Trek
- What to Pack: Checklist for This Trek
- Typical Inclusions and Exclusions in a Group Trek to Stok Kangri
- Few Essential Things to Know Before Stok Kangri Trek
- Summing Up
Stok Kangri, with its variety of peaks, each with different trekking grades appeals to trekkers of every kind. But it is important not to get carried away by the surreal pictures of this trek you see on the internet, because a trek as hard as this needs loads of experience, preparation, and endurance.
The “Little Tibet”
Ladakh, where the Stok Kangri Mountain is located, is nicknamed “Little Tibet” thanks to the similarities it shares with Tibet, in relation to culture as well as geography. Just like in Tibet, Buddhism is highly practiced in Ladakh, so much so that, on the way to Ladakh, you can see walls decorated with stones carved with the “Om Mani Padme Hum” chant, called mani stones. These walls are really long, usually running up to 2 to 3 km. Not only this, you will also see chorten which symbolizes Buddha’s mind.
Where it is Located: Ladakh
Number of Trekking Days: 8 Days
Trekking Grade: Very Difficult
Max. Altitude: 20,187 ft
Trekking Distance: 40 km.
Geographical Details of the Region
The village Stok, where Stok Kangri is located, is situated in the Hemis National Park. The highest point on the mountain has an elevation of 6,153 metres, prominence of 888 metres and co-ordinates 33°59’10’’N 77°26’33’’E. The mountain is mostly free of snow in July-August, except for its peak. This is the best season for trekking to this mountain top, because during this season, most part of the trek route, barring a few kilometres from the top, will be free of snow.
The region of Ladakh and its capital, Leh are extremely popular for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers. Its beautiful landscape and pristine scenery cannot be described in words, nor captured in the camera. As is rightly said, one has to look at the natural beauty of Leh and Ladakh to understand its beauty. Its residents are known to be very warm and friendly to tourists. This place offers one of the best combinations of natural beauty and cultural exquisiteness, making it a very popular for sightseeing. The presence of mountain ranges of all levels of difficulty makes mountaineers, hikers and trekkers especially interested in this place.
Stok Kangri is replete with valleys and ridges to give the trekker a visual taste of sudden changes in the natural surroundings. From the top, you will be able to witness a magnificent view of the Zanskar and Indus Valleys. The snow-clad mountain peaks and the sun shining above them cast an almost surreal picture. It is no surprise that trekkers are drawn towards this peak that provides adrenaline rush as well as a picturesque climax.
Brief details of the Stok Kangri trek
Since this trek requires quite a few days of mountain climbing and trekking at high altitudes, it is recommended that the trekkers opting for this Himalayan trek have a previous experience of trekking in the Himalayas at such altitudes and are physically fit to endure the weather changes and landscape changes. This will make sure that they know the weather, temperature, and terrain of this region.
The following are the brief details of this trek that will help you plan the trek better and make you aware of the requirement that you must fulfill before starting this trek.
The trek commences upon arrival to Leh from New Delhi. From Leh, at an altitude of 11500 feet, the route to the village Stok, situated at an altitude of 11,800 feet, is beautiful. It is rife with lush green valleys, flowering blooms and mighty Himalayas in the back drop. Such is the grandeur of the region that words don’t do justice to it.
From Stok, the trek leads to Chang Ma at an altitude of 13,087 feet. Mankorma, at 14,200 is the next stop of the trek, followed by the base camp, set up at an altitude of 16,300 feet. From the base camp, the trek proceeds to the summit of Stok Kangri, before the descent begins. The full trip takes around 8 days, and all days are strictly planned so that there is no delay or unwanted wastage of time.
All trekkers are expected to strictly follow the itinerary.
How to Reach Stok Kangri
There are many options you can choose from, in order to reach Leh, the starting point of your trek.
- Reaching by flight: Many flight operators offer a daily flight to Leh from New Delhi, covering a beautiful scenic route on way. It is advisable to book the tickets in advance for the summer season as it is the peak tourist season and fares tend to be on the higher side.
- Reaching by road: The road between Manali and Leh is the preferred route by road, open only during summer months. It usually takes between 2 and 4 days to cover this distance and one must carry enough supplies to sustain during travel. Buses ply in this route and have an overnight halt at Keylong, but sometimes there may be an additional overnight halt, depending on the condition of the road and traffic. Another road route to Leh is from Srinagar by taxis.
- By Motorbike: Only experienced bikers are advised to travel to Leh on their motorbikes.
What you Need to Join the Trek
Before you make up your mind about trekking to Stok Kangri, a few requirements need to be fulfilled. They are as follows:
- Experience level: This trek is recommended only for those people who have taken a basic course in mountaineering. You would also require a fitness certificate from the Chief Medical Officer of a government hospital before you enroll for this trek. Having experience of minimum two treks of similar height in the Himalayas is desirable before attempting this one.
- Physical fitness: In order to trek through this terrain and weather without a major difficulty, you should have a few fitness benchmarks under your belt. Some parameters for judging your stamina and strength are the ability to run 5 kilometres in under half an hour, ability to hold your breath for at least 40 seconds and ability to perform the basic set of exercises like lunges, squats, and steps.
- Desirable skill: In addition to the above prerequisites, some skills like basic knowledge of first-aid, using the ice axe for self-arrest, using crampons and climbing boots etc. are desirable for this trek.
A Typical Itinerary of the Trek
It is recommended that a trekker should devote about 8-10 days to this trek for experiencing every facet of this natural beauty. We will now see the day-wise breakup of a basic itinerary of the Stok Kangri trek.
Arrival in Leh
The first day of the trek marks your arrival in Leh. You may take a flight to Leh from New Delhi, or choose to drive to Leh via Manali or Srinagar. It must be kept in mind that taking the road route to reach Leh might be tiring and too lengthy. You would have to take into account the travel time before you fix the trek itinerary. Because of the long-time taken by the road journey and the fatigue associated with it, most people take the flight from New Delhi to reach Leh.
Acclimatization in Leh
Since the change of location from New Delhi (almost at sea-level) to Leh (at 11,500 feet) marks a drastic change in altitude, it is advised that one full day should be devoted to getting acclimatized in Leh. This is very important for your body to get used to the weather difference and the altitude difference. This day can be spent trekking within Leh. Alternatively, you might visit some of the many monasteries and temples to get a feel of the distinct culture of the region. You might even meet the locals and experience their warm hospitality.
Reaching Chang-Ma from Leh
The first actual day of the Stok Kangri trek involves reaching Chang-Ma at an altitude of 13,087 feet from Leh, via the Stok village. The day typically begins with a drive to Stok village which seems to be just out of a fairy-tale with its lush valleys, exotic flowers and beautiful streams of water. The Stok village is also home to the King of Ladakh and has the Royal Palace and museum which showcases religious and ancient artifacts of the region. The best season to go here is summer time because the route and the trek will be largely free of snow. Only the last few kilometres of the trek will still be snow-clad.
The trek from Stok village to Chang-Ma will take a few hours and requires physical stamina and strength. Once you reach Chang-Ma, the overnight stay will be in outdoor tents. To witness the clear night sky with tiny little star sparkled across it is a very different and memorable experience in itself.
Reaching Mankorma from Chang-Ma
The trek from Chang-Ma to Mankorma (at 14,200 feet) will bring about an extreme change in the natural vegetation and scenario of the surroundings. The trek by itself is not very difficult and passes through barren land and valleys of the mountain. You will be greeted by occasional streams of water. The night will be spent in outdoor tents where you will rest for the challenging trek the next morning.
Reaching the Base camp from Mankorma
A few hours of trekking from Mankorma will take you to the base camp situated at 16,300 feet. During this trek, you will witness a drastic change of natural scenery as the barren land is replaced by grassy valleys and plenty of water bodies. You will be able to see many Himalayan peaks from the base camp. Again, the night will be spent in outdoor tents.
Day for Preparation
This day is reserved for final preparation before making the final ascent to Stok Kangri. Since the final part of the trek will involve a dramatic change of altitude, air quality, and temperature, it is advisable that the trekkers get acclimatized for these changes. This day is spent by getting familiarised with the weather and snow, practicing trekking in few feet of snow, thereby preparing the body and the mind to be able to trek in those conditions the next day.
Reaching the Summit of Stok Kangri from the Base Camp
This day will be dedicated to making to the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 20,080 feet and returning back to the base camp. It is ideal to start early in the morning because the trek lasts about 10 hours and passes through glaciers and other snowy regions of the mountain, and it could be a difficult trek in some regions. One has to be physically as well as mentally prepared for this last lap of the Stok Kangri trek. The view and feel offered by the summit is worth all the effort that the trekker puts in to reach here. You will witness the majestic Karakoram range in the north and the resplendent Zanskar range in the south of the peak. The feeling one gets upon making it to the top is indescribable.
After basking in the glorious view from the summit, the descent to the base camp has to be made. This takes much lesser time than the ascent but requires the same amount of carefulness and alertness. Once you reach the base camp, the night will be spent in outdoor tents, probably thinking about the magnificent views you witnessed earlier in the day.
Returning to Leh
As you descend back with the mesmerizing views from Stok Kangri still fresh in your mind, you will be greeted by different landscapes and flora on your way down. The descent has to be done carefully because the terrain will change drastically as you climb down. After a few hours of climbing down, you will reach Stok village where you can indulge in a treat and rejoice your successful Stok Kangri expedition. You can also buy souvenirs and artifacts from here.
More Things to Do in and Around Leh
Once you reach Leh, you will find yourself drowning in its pristine natural beauty. Of course, the Stok Kangri trek is a glorious adventure in itself, but you can enrich your experience further by visiting a few places which are symbolic of the culture and history of the region, for example, the Lamayuru Monastery and Diskit Gompa. Another kind of enchanting places are the ruins of the palaces Turtuk and Bordang, that give a surreal feeling upon visiting.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and the Leh Royal Palace are two attractions that draw a large number of tourists. You may also explore the scientific wonder of the Magnetic Hill. Finally, the scenic beauty of the Nubra Valley will enthral your senses and the beautiful Pangong Lake will leave an everlasting memory in your heart. All these places are reachable by shared taxis and should definitely be visited. The ideal time to visit these attractions is during your acclimatisation days.
Call Your Family from Anywhere During the Trek
The mobile network of BSNL is the one with the best cellular connectivity in the Leh-Ladakh region, although private networks are also functional. It should be noted that due to the state rules and regulations, only post-paid connections are functional in this region.
During the trek to Stok Kangri, you will get mobile network coverage from time to time, even at the summit!
So, you can be in touch with your loved ones and tell them everything about the scenic beauty and natural marvel of the place, during your acclimatisation days and overnight stay during the trek.
What to Pack: Checklist for This Trek
Here is a comprehensive list of items that you must carry with you on the trek to Stok Kangri:
- Regular trekking gear: Including trekking pole, ropes, UV protection sunglasses, a waterproof rucksack, torch with spare batteries etc.
- Footwear: Including good quality, non-skidding hiking shoes and a pair of lightweight sandals.
- Clothing: Considering the dramatic change of weather as you ascend towards the summit, you should carry clothes apt for cold as well as not-so-cold weather conditions. For example, enough underwear, at least 2 pairs of thermal body-warmers, full sleeved shirts and lowers, one set of rain-coat and pants, 1 jacket each of fleece and padded type, at least 3 full sleeved sweaters, warm woollen cap, a towel, sun cap and enough pairs of thermal socks.
- Gloves: A good pair of gloves fit for use in snow.
- Utensils: Basic set of utensils like plate, spoon, mug and a box with lid. Metallic utensils are preferred.
- Toiletries: Basic toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrush, lip balm, sunscreen lotion, toilet paper, moisturizing cream, deodorant, sanitary napkins for women trekkers, etc.
- Medicine kit: It is common for the Stok Kangri trekking guides to have a first-aid kit, but it is advisable to carry any medicine that you are regularly taking, or one which suits you incase of fever, cold, cut or bruise etc.
- Miscellaneous items: Including disposal bags, camera, energy bars, dry fruits etc.
Typical Inclusions and Exclusions in a Group Trek to Stok Kangri
There are many group trek organisers that arrange guided treks to Stok Kangri. It is advisable to undertake this trek only with a registered and experienced guide. The cost terms vary according to the services offered, but for a typical tour, here are the lists of inclusions and exclusions for the fee you pay:
- Included: All accommodation, like guesthouse at Leh and outdoor tents during the trek, first aid kits, oxygen cylinders, vegetarian meals throughout the itinerary, basic equipments required for the trek, IMF permits and transport within the trek route are generally covered during the trek.
- Excluded: Food at Leh, travel insurance, fees for porters, any personal expenses etc. are usually not covered by the tour operator.
These are just indicative of the inclusions and exclusions and it is advisable to get a full list form the tour operator because different operators have difference in the costing.
Few Essential Things to Know Before Stok Kangri Trek
Since the trek to Stok Kangri is often underestimated by trekking enthusiasts, once they start the trek, they realise that it is not as easy as it is perceived to be. Here are a few things you should definitely keep in mind before planning a trek to Stok Kangri:
Need for complete acclimatisation
Most itineraries have one day for acclimatizing at Leh. While this single day may be sufficient for regular mountaineers and trekkers, most of the people require an additional day before their body gets adjusted to the altitude. It is needless to say that people who are living in the mountainous terrain have a different metabolism compared to those living in the plains.
In addition, professional trekkers will have a very different body fitness level compared to those who trek as a hobby only. Keeping these things in mind, it is recommended that you stay one extra day at Leh, just to make sure that your body and mind are prepared for the trek.
It should be kept in mind that while most itineraries conclude the Stok Kangri trek in about a week’s time, you should keep at least ten days for this trek. This is because Himalayan expeditions are tricky and unpredictable, especially for the unseasoned trekker. If you have not done any trekking in the Himalayas before, it is perhaps better to start with an easier peak before attempting Stok Kangri. After completing two treks in the Himalayas, you will be much better prepared to scale the summit of Stok Kangri. This is because the expedition to Stok Kangri will require more than one ascents in high altitude with a corresponding change in air properties, weather and temperature.
Mountains are precarious when it comes to their terrain and weather changes with altitude. It is not uncommon for many trekkers to experience extreme altitude sickness while scaling Stok Kangri. This is because this trek takes a massive jump in altitude with a few minutes during the trek. Given the tricky terrain of this mountain, altitude sickness can be a potentially life-threatening situation if proper action is not taken within seconds.
This is another reason why only experienced trekkers should attempt this trek. After having the exposure of the Himalayas before, you will be much better prepared for the unexpected changes during the trek.14,000 feet should be the minimum cut-off for your previous experience before you plan a trek to Stok Kangri because if you can sustain at an altitude above that, it is more likely that you will be able to successfully conquer the peak.
For people who are still unsure of whether they are susceptible to altitude sickness should talk to a doctor regarding this, and get a proper medicine to take with them at all times.
Making sound judgement
Owing to the massive popularity of Stok Kangri as a trekkers paradise, many people venture into this trek underprepared and overconfident. It is no doubt that this peak is trekkable, but one should never overlook the fact that the enormous altitude at which we would have to trek is no joke!
At such high altitudes, the weather changes in the blink of an eye. You may have bright sunny day in one moment and a cold snowy blizzard the next minute. In such situations, being mentally and psychologically prepared is as important as being physically and technically prepared. This is where a sound judgement will come in very handy. Quick decisions regarding the next step in unpredictable conditions will make a difference in your response to capricious conditions.
This is why it is highly recommended that people attempting this trek have a through exposure of the Himalayas before, in terms of weather at high altitudes, trekking in snowy terrain and changes in air composition.
Importance of the right trekking guide
It has to be kept in mind at all times that while many trekkers attempt Stok Kangri, not everyone can make it to the top. This is because the trek, though impressive and grand, is difficult. Choosing the right trekking guide is very important. The guide should have ample experience of taking groups successfully to Stok Kangri summit and bringing them back safely.
Also, the guide should prepare the trekking group of the various changes expected at different altitudes. The guide should always be positive, encouraging and careful during the trek. A vast local knowledge is the guides is always a plus point and instils more faith in them.
In case of a member of the group experiencing medical problems, the guide should be able to take a quick action and decide whether that person should continue with the trek or not. It is mandatory that the trekkers follow all instructions of the guide and do as they are told.
Last few considerations
After reading the above details, if you think you are ready to trek to Stok Kangri, please keep these few things in mind:
- Stok Kangri is India’s pride. Please do not indulge in any behavior that will tarnish the reputation of the trek.
- Please respect the natural beauty of the region and the trek route. Do not litter.
- Be respectful and co-operative with other trek members and the guide.
- Be careful and prompt to offer help.
Stok Kangri offers a holistic trekking experience and rewards the trekkers with breath-taking views in lieu of their efforts. This trek is difficult, but with the right preparation and precautions, you will be able to complete it successfully.
Have you ever been to Stok Kangri? How was your experience? What tips will you give to ones who are planning to go for this trek? Do let us know in the comments!
And Happy Trekking!