A hundred vertical meters beneath the summit of Stok Kangri. Would I make it?
Continued from Part One
Just past midnight. It’s Summit Day.
Someone bangs a saucepan and yells “Good Morning Base Camp!” I feel well rested. It’s not too cold, and I put on my clothes and go into the homestay tent. Thankfully it doesn’t smell too badly of cheap fuel. Breakfast is porridge and there’s honey and I drink some tea. We’re given a packed lunch, too, all wrapped in foil. The others seem tired and they reveal they didn’t get much sleep. Poor Tom is suffering from a churning belly. Of all the mornings!
I feel strong, and I think I might just make it.
Stok Kangri – lower base camp
I stand on top of the mountain, arms thrust high, holding my ice axe. All around me, far below, the world spreads out. Valleys, ridges, some of them obscured by cloud. I breathe the thin air as deep as I can.
And then I stop daydreaming, snap the laptop shut, and get ready for the office. All this visualising success, all this planning; I just want it to end so I can get to India and try to climb Stok Kangri.
Edmund Hillary once said “Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it”. That very much sums up our approach to Huanya Potosi, a popular peak just north of La Paz.
↑ Glacier Yoga, 5,600 m above sea level
Sir Ed, a remarkably likeable guy, it seems, also said: “You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.” This is certainly true of Huayna Potosi, known by some as the “easiest six-thousander in the world”. We’d even heard one woman, blissful in her ignorance, tell us Potosi was easy because “there are no clouds above 4,000”.
But as we battled a fairly convincing snowstorm before dawn at 5,750 meters – just a shade above the mythical “zone of no clouds” – we thought that perhaps Potosi wasn’t as easy as the “been-there-done-that” guys on the backpacker trail liked to make out.
Our directions were less helpful than a pirate’s treasure map – we didn’t even have an “X” to mark the spot. Just the name of a village deep in the Qinghai plateau: Xiadawu. Near there, so these clues suggested, we could find our way to one of the holy mountains, sacred to Tibetan Buddhists: A’nye Maqen. In all, I’d found two sentences on the internet, and they were a few years old. Not much to go on. But in one of my favourite novels, Professor Lidenbrock had made a Journey to the Center of the Earth with nothing more than a centuries old scrap of paper reading:
Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jokul of Snæffels, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done: Arne Saknussemm.
If a fictional Professor could do that, surely we could reach A’nye Maqen? Continue reading