Stok Kangri (6153m) : Planning your trip

Stok Kangri (6153m) : Planning your trip

Introduction

Stok Kangri (6153m) is a trekking summit in India and more importantly, also known as the “easiest 6,000m peak”, serving as the gateway into experiencing high altitude mountains. Situated in Hemis National Park, it is the highest mountain in the Stok Range of the Indian Himalayas in the Ladakh region of India.

Despite having such a high altitude, climbing Stok Kangri does not require any technical skills or advanced mountaineering knowledge. It is suitable for experienced trekkers who have a good level of fitness and is extremely popular amongst novice mountaineers and trekkers seeking their first high altitude summit.

In fact, Stok Kangri was my first foray into high altitude treks. Around South-East Asia, the highest accessible mountain is Mount Kinabalu (4095m), Mount Rinjani (3726m) and if I move slightly further, maybe Mount Fuji (3776m), both of which are beginner mountains. It is hard to train or to access mountains above 5,000m, unless one visits Nepal, China or India. Stok Kangri is more than 2,000m higher than Mount Rinjani and Mount Kinabalu!

Despite its growing popularity amongst inexperienced climbers, the climb itself can be quite exhausting, dangerous (relatively) and presents different sets of challenges. Just because it is the “easiest 6,000m peak”, doesn’t mean it is easy! Acclimatization is also required at such a height, especially before you even arrive to the base camp. Just like going to Everest Base Camp, one would have to make their way to Leh, which is the capital of Ladakh and situated at a height of 3,500m!

Therefore, this is a post to guide on how to plan a trip to Stok Kangri, the different itineraries and what to expect from it!

Highlights

  • The view from the top of Stok Kangri top is absolutely amazing. If the weather obliges, the whole Zanskar and Karakoram ranges including K2 (8611m), the second highest peak in the world can be seen!
  • A trekking peak at 6,000m where most beginners can attempt safely with no prior mountaineering experience
  • Close proximity to Leh which has many enjoyable side trips. This makes a good combination for a trip
  • Combine Markha Valley Trek which is one of the most highly rated treks in the world, with the Stok Kangri Climb
  • Staying in local villages and interacting with them as well as campsites! The best of both worlds
  • Almost no forests!!! (If you know me, I kinda dislike forest and humidity so this is awesome)
  • Crossing high mountain passes of close to 5,000m or more with astonishing scenery
  • River crossings, either through a manual cable car or rope or just waddling with sandals.
  • A long summit push which involves crossing a glacier!

Who should go

Stok Kangri as they said is the “easiest 6,000m peak” without needing any technical experience. This means all you need are your 2 legs and stamina, along with some basic equipment like crampons and iceaxe (for safety).

Recreational trekkers like me who do not wish to do technical mountains but still wish to experience high altitude should go for Stok Kangri.

If you have done the main ones around South-East Asia, for example Kinabalu, Rinjani, Semaru etc, and still interested in trekking peaks, you would often wonder what is next?

You could of course get a bit more experience by doing 5,000m peaks in China or Nepal. That is of course advisable but to me not necessary if you are fit enough and well-prepared.

Stok Kangri is next, if you wish to make a jump (2,000m+ jump if you think about it). The itinerary for it is slightly longer than Rinjani, but at a higher altitude. I feel that if you have only done a 3-4 day trek before, doing a 10 day trek with a summit would be too big a leap, but Stok Kangri can be done within 5-6 days which is a perfect progression.

Therefore, consider Stok Kangri if you wish to go above 4,000m and experience the high mountains. China and Nepal are usually much more expensive. Stok Kangri is really cheap, well maintained and the agencies are well equipped.

When to go

It is almost impossible to access Ladakh during winter. Most of the guides and people in Leh move out during the winter season. It is generally only possible to climb during the summer months from June to October. It starts to get really cold from October onwards as it heads towards winter. Although June is the monsoon season in India, Leh is pretty much unaffected by it. Climbing in June – July would mean that most of the route will still be covered in snow, which requires slightly more equipment. Ideally, the best time is to climb when there is the least snow.

Therefore, the best time for Stok Kangri would be around Mid July to Mid September.

Weather

In the valleys, the temperature is 15-30°C during the day and 10-15°C at night.

At the base camp, it can get really cold and the temperature can fall to negative degrees at night. It might rain or snow occasionally. The sun can get pretty harsh at higher altitudes, which makes it worst because it can be extremely hot yet cold at the same time.

How long do you need

2 weeks is a comfortable period of time to climb Stok Kangri and explore Leh or the surrounding region in Ladakh. Stok Kangri climbs require around 7 days at least (more can be seen below in the itineraries).

Adding in 2 more days to spend in Leh to acclimatize, 1 day for flying in and out to Leh, there are around 4 days left for exploring the side trips around Leh or doing a longer itinerary for Stok Kangri, like combining Markha Valley with it.

On average, one would need at least 10 days for a comfortable trek to Stok Kangri.

 

Guides/Agency

If you are a really experienced trekker with your own equipment and really wish to do it alpine style, you could. Even if you didn’t have the equipment but wish to do it DIY, you could even go to Leh and find your own guides, porters, cook and horses to minimize your cost.

Also, you will need an IMF permit to climb Stok Kangri. It cost 50 USD.

However, the most logical choice would be to choose an agency to settle all the logistics and arrangements for the trek. Although Stok Kangri is a trekking peak, it is not done over 1 day. At 6,000m, it would be foolhardy to underestimate it. It is considered an “expedition” trek as you would require camping equipment, food supplies, mules or porters to carry the loads, cook and guides. A good guide is essential as it can be quite tricky for the summit climb. I would highly encourage using an agency unless you are a really fast trekker and have some experience doing it DIY before.

All the agencies can be found in Leh itself. It is extremely easy to arrange a Stok Kangri climb. Therefore, my suggestion would be to do some online research on the various agencies and their reviews, shortlist the good ones and go there to confirm. This is because there is really an abundance of trekking agencies and guides in Leh, which makes it really easy to arrange the trip. So there is almost no need to pre-book it, pay a higher price because you are booking from overseas or paying a deposit first.

The agencies also usually cover your accommodation in Leh (2-3 nights) as well as transport to the start of the trek and back to Leh.

The cost of the trip would depend on the number of days. A good rule of thumb is at most 50 USD per day, for example a standard 6 day Stok Kangri climb is at most 300 USD.

We did ours with Ecological Footprints.

Tip : My guide has mentioned that most of the good guides come from Sikkim, he is of course from Sikkim. 

 

Preparation for the trek

 

This is tricky. If you have no experience being in high altitude, there is almost nothing you can do to really prepare for it except being really fit.

This is definitely not a play-trek, where you can simply use your mental endurance to push through. One should be physically fit before attempting the climb. If you are not, please don’t because you risk your teammates and your guides! The summit push is no joke and requires both mental and physical endurance on top of power.

I am not a believer of doing 4-5 hour trainings like walking up and down bukit timah hill with a load because if you are a normal working adult, time is precious. I would suggest to build endurance by running 10-20km fast, 3 times a week if possible. If not, do at least 10km slow jog once a week, but 3 times a week of fast speed running of around 5km. An alternative would be to replace the fast running with stairs climbing with load. This builds your capability to push your body with lesser oxygen which helps a lot for the summit push.

For me, during my trip, I found out that the hardest to adjust to was being outdoors at lower temperatures for more than 3 days because my longest experience was Rinjani.

The temperature at high altitudes can be quite a killer as it can get really cold extremely fast. It can also be extremely hot due to the sun, but cold due to the wind at the same time.

This can be mitigated by good equipment and layering, sunglasses as well as vitamins like Redoxen to keep your body strong. Sunglasses are imperative! If not you could suffer from snow blindness.

Therefore, please train up before you go, get sufficient proper clothing and chances are you will make it to the summit. You could read up more on what the trek is like in the detailed post about my Stok Kangri Trek (coming up soon).

Getting In

Leh

Leh is the capital city of Ladakh. It is more of a small town actually. The main area is the central part which is made up of a few streets. It is very similar to that of Thamel in Kathmandu. All the trekking agencies, trekking shops and restaurants are situated around these streets. The most important thing about Leh is that it is in 3,500m high, which means a high chance of altitude sickness for those who fly directly in which means 1 extra day in Leh for acclimatization usually.

All visitors attempting Stok Kangri must first either fly in (mainly from Delhi) or drive into Leh (Manali to Leh highway). There are quite a few sights and side trips to do in Leh which I will talk about more in a post on it!

Map

A fantastic map of Ladakh was uploaded by Zheladakh. here. Click on this to zoom in.

 

 

Itinerary

There are 4 main itineraries or routes to Stok Kangri. Most itineraries will suggest to start from Stok Village, Rumbak, Chilling or Shang/Matho. There are of course many other starting points and ways to route to the summit, like in most treks long treks. Below is a map of the region which concerns Stok Kangri and its various routes. I have highlighted the important points for you to understand how it works.

So what is the difference?

Stok Kangri is situated in the middle of the circular route of the Markha Valley. The 4 routes are almost like coming in from the different entry points of North, South, East and West. To know which route to choose, it depends on the number of days you wish to have in the mountain and the type of view and terrain. Almost all the routes will converge at Mankorma before heading to Base Camp.

Therefore, the difference lies mainly in the number of days before that.

Stok Village is the closest and most direct routes, followed by Rumbak. Shang, Chilling and other routes are just extended versions of them. These itineraries exclude the 2 days in Leh as well as the summit buffer days. So for any of these itineraries, please remember to add 3 days. Some of the maps are taken from Ju-Leh Adventure  because they have done a good enough job drawing the map so I don’t need to do it! One issue is their altitude numbers are slightly off so please ignore the discrepancies.

Starting from Stok Village (Fastest Itinerary)

Credit to Ju-leh adventure
Credit to Ju-leh adventure

Choose this itinerary if you are….

  1. Extremely short of time
  2. Really fit and experienced mountaineer whose sole purpose is to bag summits. So you are intending to do multiple summits in one trip, Stok Kangri is like an appetizer to you and you don’t really care much about the route
  3. A really boring person because you like to go up and down the same way

Day 1 : Leh – Stok Village (3600m) – Chang Ma (3900m)

Day 2 : Chang Ma (3900m) – Mankorma (4380m) via Stok La Pass (4900m)

Day 3 : Mankorma (4380m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m)

Day 4 : Acclimatization Day at Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m)

Day 5 : Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Kangri Summit (6150m) – Base camp (4980m)

Day 6 : Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Village (3600m) – Leh

*Please add 1 buffer day to the base camp in case of AMS / bad weather

Summary : This is a standard itinerary from Stok Village. To save time, one can actually compress it by going to Mankorma on the first day and reaching Stok Kangri base camp on the second day like in the picture. You could also skip the acclimatization day if you wish to go really quick.

Starting from Spituk/Rumbak (My Trek)

Choose this itinerary if you ….

  1. Have not done a summit trek longer than 4 days
  2. Have little experience above 4,000m and you need some days to acclimatize.
  3. are a normal Asian working adult with not that much leave but still wish to enjoy your trek
  4. Don’t wish to exhaust yourself too much before the summit

Day 1 : Leh – Zingchen (3390m) – Rumbak (3870m) ~2h drive + 4 to 5 hrs trek.

Day 2 : Rumbak (3870m) – Mankarmo (4380m) via Stok La Pass (4900m) ~ 6 to 7 hrs

Day 3 : Mankarmo (4380m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) ~ 3 to 4 hrs.

Day 4 : Acclimatization Day at Stok Kangri Base Camp(4980m)

Day 5 : Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Kangri Summit (6150m) – Base camp (4980m) ~12-18hrs

Day 6 : Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Village (3600m) – Leh ~ 6-7 hrs

*Please add 1 buffer day to the base camp in case of AMS / bad weather

Summary : This is a standard itinerary from Rumbak. As can be seen from the map, some people start from Spituk. However, it is possible to drive all the way to Zingchen. The route from Spituk to Zingchen is all dirt road along with 1 river crossing. So I would suggest to conserve your energy for it and drive to Zingchen and reach Rumbak on the first day. This was the route I took and you can read more about it in my detailed post on my experience. To me, this is the best itinerary as it is not too long yet not too short.

 

 

Start from Chilling or Skiu (Skyu)

Choose this itinerary if you ….

  1. Wish to combine Markha Valley trek along with the Stok Kangri summit (see extended itinerary)
  2. Have too much energy so you wish to walk a lot more before reaching base camp
  3. Really love going through high passes, or are really scared of AMS so you wish to acclimatize more
  4. Don’t mind risking more days in the outdoors before reaching the base camp

Day 1 : Leh – Chilling (3390m) – Skiu (3870m) ~2h drive + 4 to 5 hrs trek.

Day 2 : Skiu (3870m) – Ganda La Base Camp (4500m) ~6 to 7 hrs.

Day 3 : Ganda La base (4500m) – Rumbak via Ganda La Pass (4900m) ~5-6 hrs

Day 4 : Rumbak (3870m) – Mankarmo (4380m) via Stok La Pass (4900m) ~5 –6 hrs

Day 5 : Mankarmo (4380m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) ~3 to 4 hrs.

Day 6 : Acclimatization Day at Stok Kangri Base Camp(4980m)

Day 7 : Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Kangri Summit (6150m) – Base camp (4980m) ~12-18hrs

Day 8 : Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Village (3600m) – Leh ~ 6-7 hrs

*Please add 1 buffer day to the base camp in case of AMS / bad weather

Summary : The drive from Leh to Chilling is longer and on a real bumpy road. The good thing about this itinerary is you cross an extra high pass in Ganda La and spend more time above 4,000m which means more acclimatization.  There is also the excitement of crossing the Zanskar river on a manual cable car in a small box. However, I feel that if you are not conditioned to staying outdoors (like me as a Singaporean) and it is your first time doing a 6,000m mountain, you are risking more chances for getting stomach aches, feeling sick etc.

 

Start from Shang

Choose this itinerary if …

  1. Heading up north is your true calling
  2. You have the same reasons as starting from Chilling
  3. You wish to meet people on the Markha Valley trek and mock them because you are headed to a 6,000m summit.
  4. Wish to reach Mankarmo via another pass

Day 1: Leh – Shangsumdo (3800m) ~2h drive

Day 2 : Shangsumdo (3800m) – Shang Phu (4,300m) ~5 to 6 hrs

Day 2:  Shang Phu (4400m) – Gangboche (4450m) via Shang Phu La (4950m)  ~6-7 hrs

Day 3: Gangboche (4450m) – Mankarmo (4380m) via Mato La (4500m) ~5 hrs

Day 4: Mankarmo (4380m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) 3-4 hrs

Day 5 : Acclimatization Day at Stok Kangri Base Camp(4980m)

Day 6: Base Camp (4980m) – Summit 6132 m – Base Camp(4980m)  ~12-18 hrs

Day 7: Trek from Stok base camp to Stok village (3570m) and drive to Leh (3524m) ~6-7h

*Please add 1 buffer day to the base camp in case of AMS / bad weather

Summary : Although the map doesnt show Mankarmo or Mato La, you can roughly see the route from Shangphu to Stok Kangri. I did not use this route at all, but it does seem to help acclimatization with an extra day. Other than that, this is very similar to starting from Spituk, just on the other side of the map.

 

Combine Markha Valley with Stok Kangri

 

 

Choose this itinerary if you…

  1. Wish to do the Markha Valley and summit a 6,000m peak together
  2. Have an absurd number of leave to clear
  3. Are currently unemployed
  4. Love staying in the mountains and not showering for a long period of time
  5. love saving the best for last, because the summit is at the end of a long trek

Day 1 : Leh – Chilling (3390m) – Skiu (3870m) ~2h drive + 4 to 5 hrs trek.

Day 2 : Skiu (3870m) – Markha (3850m) ~6 to 7 hrs.

Day 3 : Markha (3850m) – Hankar (4000m) ~4 hrs

Day 4: Hankar(4000m) – Nimaling (4650m) ~4 hrs

Day 6: Nimaling (4650m) – Kongmaru La (5150m) – Chogdo (4000 m) ~7 hrs

Day 7: Chogdo (4000m) – Gyuncho La (4600m) – Camp at (4350m)  ~6 – 7 hours


Day 8: Camp at (4350m) – Shang La (4800 m) – Matho Phu (4350 m)  ~6 hours

Day 9: Matho Phu – Mato La (4820 m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980 m)  ~5 hours

Day 10 : Acclimatization Day at Stok Kangri Base Camp(4980m)

Day 11 : Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Kangri Summit (6150m) – Base camp (4980m) ~12-18 hrs

Day 12 : Stok Kangri Base Camp (4980m) – Stok Village (3600m) – Leh ~6-7hrs

*Please add 1 buffer day to the base camp in case of AMS / bad weather

 

Summary : Markha Valley is a very famous trek in Ladakh which requires around 10 days. You could combine it together with Stok Kangri summit, or other summits actually such as Kang yatze etc.

However, this would mean that the trek is extremely long and the summit is at the end of it. Of course, you could do a reverse route, by starting from Stok, doing the summit of Stok Kangri and ending in Chilling. It sounds insane to me because I wouldn’t be able to motivate myself after going to the summit to walk another 8-9 days in 4000+m. Also, it doesn’t allow good acclimatization if you reverse it.

So the good thing is that you get to enjoy the whole Ladaki experience plus a 6,000m summit if you have time. Local villages with nice fields, monasteries, river crossing, dry valley landscapes, the whole Ladakh package in 1. Moreover, you wouldn’t need to worry about AMS at all.

Conclusion

For > 6,000m mountain, the cost of trekking Stok Kangri is really cheap. On top of that, the number of days required is quite little, which makes it a good progression if your toughest hike you have done is Rinjani. On top of doing an “easy” (relatively) high altitude mountain, you could always complement it with the numerous other side trips from Leh such as to Panggong lake, Markha Valley etc.

It also gives you an excuse to explore India, and more specifically the Ladakh region which is like “moonland” as they call it.

There are many things to enjoy in India, and Stok Kangri is one of the highlights, that is until you explore the other mountain ranges in the Indian Himalayas.

If you wish to know more of the day to day details of the trek, read my detailed post on my experience! 

 


Other links for reading :

https://www.himalayanwonders.com/blog/need-know-climbing-stok-kangri.html

https://www.themountaincompany.co.uk/assets/TMC_StokKangriExpedition_TripDossier_380_32.pdf

https://www.summitpost.org/stok-kangri-summit-route/348899

https://www.whitemagicadventure.com/blog/stok-kangri-summit-day-illustration

Stok Kangri (6,153m)

Markha Valley

https://www.bikatadventures.com/Home/Blog/Trek-to-Stok-Kangri-Ladakh

http://www.firstpost.com/long-reads/journeying-to-the-worlds-highest-observatory-3845287.html



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