Trans Himalaya 2019 – Part 3: Ladakh

After the onset of the Northeast monsoon in the lower Himalayas I moved on to the high altitude rock desert of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir.

We are now 3 months into the journey with 83 passes explored up till 6200m covering 2100km with total elevation gain of 120 thousand meters. It have been long 12 hour days, sometimes covering up to 50k and 2000 meters elevation gain across treacherous terrain including glaciers, morraines, loose scree, deep snow, dangerous stream crossings and steep ice slopes. Mid July most of the snow had melted below 5000m making it easier to traverse high passes.

Ladakh is a vast, barren world covering a large area of the Himalayas between Kashmir, Tibet and Lahaul. The average altitude is around 4000 meters with 5000m passes between the 6000m high peaks. Larger distances to cover and less oxygen and intense UV at these higher altitudes.

As you explore this entirely different world, you get immersed in unearhly rock formations, unusual textures and colors of the mountains, glacial streams cutting deep canyons and gorges and beautiful hidden furtile valleys with a bustling eco system.

Ladakh’s desolate desert landscape has a surprising rich biodiversity including wildlife and invaluable treasure of medicinal alpine flowers. Once you explore the interior valleys and canyons you discover hidden green oasises with rich flora and fauna. Glacier and snow meltwater flowing down the valleys give life to a bustling eco system with grass, bushes, insects and birds during summer.

Some hiking routes are impossible during early summer when more melt water causes dangerous stream currents in some valleys and canyons. Due to this I had to reschedule some of the passes in my initial planned journey.

Ladakh has many interior villages and small hamlets surrounded by lush green farmlands fed by meltwater from streams. Stuppas and piles of mani stones mark the boundaries of these habitats. The government is making a serious effort to connect many villages by road and provide electricity. However most youngsters leave the hardship of these villages for a better life in the cities leaving a declining population of elder people behind. Villages are completely cut of from the world during winter due to heavy snowfall. With no firewood available people cook using cattle dung.

Ladakh has a vast array of trekking routes and is a popular destination among European hikers. Most people hire a guide and horses to carry their (comfort) luggage. Others follow the routes along the many homestays along the villages which provide food and night stay. You also meet a few alpine style hikers navigating their own way but mostly loaded with heavy backpacks. No one seems to go solo, minimalist or in ultra pace.

Most routes are marked clearly with cairns (piles of stones) and it’s easy to follow the horse poop. Passes are marked with colourful Tibettan prayer flags and Ibex skulls. Being a popular hiking destination many routes and passes are marked on Open Street Maps and the Swiss Olyzane hiking map series of Ladakh.

Unlike Uttarakhand or Himachal where people speak only Hindi, most Ladskhi’s master English well making route enquery easy. Communication with the outside world is mostly impossible due to absence of any mobile networks except in very few major cities. Solar power enabled me to recharge my phone for navigation in many villages where electricity is absent.

Clear drinking water is available everywhere through smaller streams which channel meltwater to the main valleys. You can also fill your bottle with snow and shake it to melt it. There are a few edible plants which make a good backup if you run out of food.

I covered around 30 passes in central Ladakh around the Hemis national park between the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Next (August), I m planning to cross over and explore the interior mountains between Zanskar and Lahaul as well as some interior valleys of Hemis after meltwater has reduced in the streams.

A memorable experience in my journey was the crossing of the Kang La (5500m), one of the largest glaciers in this part of the Himalayas, connecting Lahaul and Zanskar. It required traversing large sections of morraines, a 20km crevassed glacier and walking through deep, soft snow. Usually done in 8 days by the average hiker supported by guide and horses, I crossed over in 2 days solo. Camping minimalist at 5000m altitude on the snow covered glacier was a unique experience.

Another highlight in the journey was the summit of the Stok Kangri peak (6200m). This required waking up at midnight when the snow is hard frozen and climbing up 1300m in 5 hours from the basecamp to view sunrise above the Hemis national park. The final section is a steep ridge below the summit where hikers use crampons and ropes. Being minimalist I had no technical gears with me and managed with my ice axe. Views from the peak were stunning and will be edged in memory for a lifetime.

Yet another memorable experience was the visit to the 1000 year old gompa or monastry of Sumda Chungun, a remote interior village. The 11th century gompa spots two large Budha statues, beautiful 3D carved walls and ancient wall paintings and Tibettan prayer scrolls. Amazing to see such a rich history hidden deep inside these remote, inaccessible mountains.

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Trans Himalaya 2019 – Part 3: Ladakh After the onset of the Northeast monsoon in the lower Himalayas I moved on to the high altitude rock desert of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir. We are now 3 months into the journey with 83 passes explored up till 6200m covering 2100km with total elevation gain of 120 thousand meters. It have been long 12 hour days, sometimes covering up to 50k and 2000 meters elevation gain across treacherous terrain including glaciers, morraines, loose scree, deep snow, dangerous stream crossings and steep ice slopes. Mid July most of the snow had melted below 5000m making it easier to traverse high passes. Ladakh is a vast, barren world covering a large area of the Himalayas between Kashmir, Tibet and Lahaul. The average altitude is around 4000 meters with 5000m passes between the 6000m high peaks. Larger distances to cover and less oxygen and intense UV at these higher altitudes Read more: http://ultrajourneys.org/trans-himalaya-2019-part-3-ladakh/ Part 1: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featured/expedition/trans-himalaya-2019-first-contact/ Part 2: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/news/trans-himalaya-2019-breathless-in-the-himalaya/ #Explore #Himalayas #AlpineStyle #Minimalist #UltraRunning

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