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  • Writer's pictureVoita

Into the Wild

Where were we...?

Ah, the wasted Friday morning.

Skip ahead.

spying on the army

4 PM meeting means that by 7 we are almost ready to leave, driving around town, looking for a gas station where we could fill air into tyres. No machine in the entire town is working. Moving on.

Siddhartha's car, with him behind the wheel, Arjun as his co-pilot and me piggy-backing in the spare space rear-side. Wild Siddhartha changed is trekking with friends who came to visit him. The atmosphere in the car is much calmer, even with the shadow of a night in 19.000 feet looming above us. But that's only tomorrow. Friday evening, we're driving half-way to the trailhead.

next story in the making

Himalayan Yeti (a Czech car)

these keep multiplying

An hour into the night ride, we stop for dinner. When I ask for tea, the guy guffaws and neglects to even write it on the order. What kind of an idiot would want a hot beverage for dinner, right? India's "first military restaurant" didn't live up to its military hospitality standards.

or did it

floating momos for dinner

Another hour later, we're back on the road. It's odd, cruising through the valleys at night in a car. I've always been on a bus...

Two hours pass and midnight ushers us into a new day, wrapped in a freezing cold darkness.

We were meant to be looking for a homestay by nine at the latest.

Now only gangs of dogs are awake and chasing us away from any quiet house we try to approach.

With luck, Siddhartha manages to knock on the right window and we eventually get to sleep in a room, rather than in a car. The idea of building a tent in some ditch didn't appeal to any of us one bit.

"We should leave by six, start hiking by eight, be at the base camp by midday and maybe manage one peak in the afternoon."

The plan was clear.

It did not account for us getting into bed at 1AM.

Or the homestay owner refusing to feed us before nine - although that's still pretty early by homestay standards. India hasn't been made for raising before the sun has safely settled high up in the sky.

Siddhartha's ride (bot)

We're in the eastern part of Ladakh, which you could call small Tibet.

We're cruising in 15.000 feet, in valleys which would swallow medium sized cities without much trouble. Small settlements by the road are mostly nomadic yurts or low-profile stone and mud houses. Furious winds rule and shape the landscape into gentle hills with dwarfish shrubs, void of snow except for the highest of peaks or dark northern slopes.

The expansive views stretching for hundreds of kilometres into distance, inviting free spirits to roam the country, unhindered by human rule, are the very definition of freedom for me.

Every night in this environment is earned and gifted by the land. There's no space for falsehood, laziness or extravagance. Here, the essence of being alive shines like a diamond in all its emotions.

our trailhead

Pologongka la, 16.404 feet

We pack up our few civilizational tricks for survival and head right into the middle of the wilderness.

It's midday and we need to climb 2.600 feet into a pass guarding a secret lake which belongs to the heavens more than to the human realm.

Wind is in our back; this can be considered an auspicious sign; had it been in our face, we simply wouldn't have been allowed to enter. As is, every step with our backpacks is a struggle and a test of our will to proceed.

We're stood up on the pass, battered by the ceaseless, uncompromising wind, by half five, with the setting sun drawing our elongated shadows on opposing slopes.

The lake's hidden in a shadow below us, its surface rippled by the wind.


looking back (see the car?)

We drop over the edge, keeping a respectful distance from the wind-smacked tarn and eventually settle in cozy 18.777 feet. Our gear works, this time, and we're permitted to survive.

More or less.

guardians of the pass

a pair of 20.500 feet peaks

and one perishable fool 😬

Barely thirty minutes after sundown, the water in streams is already starting to freeze and simply pulling few litres for dinner and next day leaves my friends with half-frozen fingers.

Shivering, crouching in one of the tents, we quickly eat up, and get into blankets, praying for the morning sun to have mercy on us and bring us back to life.

But there is a cost to pay.

Chomo Chonkar lake, 18.500 feet

my tent and improv wind wall

good night and sweet dreams...

Mountaineer's rule of a thumb sets 1.000 to 1.700 feet as a safe nightly altitude increment.

Anything more runs the risk of massive, night-long, head splitting headaches which turn any trip into a nightmare eating you awake.

Siddhartha slept in 21K feet on his recent climb; he's gucchi.

I slept in 19K - in May. My acclimatization is a massive question mark.

Arjun, our brave first-timer, has slept in 15K few times.

Almost 4K difference.


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