Dispatch from Ladakh

(by Gerry Galligan, August 2008)
Travels in India and Nepal, and the (solo) first ascent of "Konchok" (5300m).


Greetings All,

A lot has happened since the Spiti Expedition, June/July. I travelled to Nepal hoping to get a motorbike for a trip home. Getting the bike was possible, however getting the paperwork for importing/exporting would have taken at least a month. Too long to wait around in the monsoon. So I headed back to Northern India, a place called Ladakh, and back into the mountains again. Besides, after the success and enjoyment of Spiti, I was hankering to get back to the hills again.

Nepal was enjoyable though. Dirt poor and everyone goes on strike whenever they can. Road blocks, huge petrol shortages, strikes against hotel managers in Kathmandu, and even against the newly-elected vice-president who swore into office in Hindi – a big no-no. It reminded me of Ireland in the 1980’s – damn all money and jobs about, but plenty of reasons to protest.

Anyway, I had done no research on Ladakh, and knew very little about the place. But over the past month I’ve been fascinated by it. It’s more Tibetan than Indian in terms of culture, religion (Strongly Buddhist) and environment (arid desert and dry mountain ranges). I wanted to explore some remote valleys and find another virgin peak to attempt. Naturally going solo limited my options for technical challenges, but off I went.

Spent two weeks in the Zanskar range, 110km West of Leh. Hired donkeys and setup BC in a remote village a half day from the roadhead. Got run down with sickness the first four days, wasn’t able to do much, just stumble about the place. Weather was bad too, with heavy storms in the evenings and nights. Needless to say, things were pretty miserable. But I got better. And slowly was able to recce some of the valleys. Lots of magnificent peaks all around me. But all of them way too technical – huge vertical rock faces and hundreds of pinnacles. Way too risky for me going solo. Limestone central and a rockclimber’s paradise. The main valley I was pinning my hopes on was blocked off by a swollen river from the storms, however I got lucky and found a lovely peak in an adjacent valley. Now the maps available here are useless, of huge scale and wildly inaccurate, but I estimate this peak being about 5300m. I approached it from the west, one day out of BC, dragged a couple of donkeys and a herdsman halfway up its western flanks, setup a high camp about 4900m and climbed it the next day. Plenty of scree on it and nice bit of rocky scrambling up to the summit, which gave it some spice. Got magnificent views over the Zanskars and North to the Karakoram. Serrated summits and snake-like ridges everywhere.

I gave it the name ‘Konchok’, Ladakhi for ‘Lucky’ ….. lucky I found it, lucky I had the health to climb it, and lucky to get helpful tips and local knowledge from a few fellas co-incidentally all called Konchok, throughout my stay here. Got down off it and did a five-day trek through quiet valleys back to the road again. Again, more great scenery all around me.

There’s a lot going on in Ladakh and quite a revelation for me. Enough tension between the Kashmiris and Ladahkis, a landscape that resembles the face of the moon, an army presence everywhere, almost no Hindus – just Buddhism that permeates everywhere, from the ubiquitous prayer flags and mani stone walls, to the hundreds of monks about, scores of gompas and of course the regular Ladakhi people – gentle old men and women in gonchas, spinning prayer wheels and fingering rosary beads, praying for eventual nirvana. This really isn’t India, it’s another world, a Tibetan world.

Anyway I’m back in town again, delighted with my explorations and ascents, both here and in Spiti, and now thinking about the long trip home. Overland with or without a bike. And another type of adventure I’m sure.

A few photos of ‘Konchok’ below. It may or may not get officially recorded and named as such, but hey, that’s not important. For me Ladakh, its people and its mountains have been a great experience.

Hope you all make the most of the remaining summer.

Best regards,

Gerry.


Some photos


Couple of mates of mine in Kathmandu


Anti-Chinese demonstrators in Leh


Monks making a mandala – Lamayuru monastery


Kanji village, Ladakh – base camp location


Typical Zanskar scene


Thought about this one, but then decided I’d better not


Konchok – western approach


View from Konchok high camp – soaring griffon


Konchok – sitting on top


Konchok – summit view south


Yeah, it’s a hard life!

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