We arrive in Delhi in the morning and transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover from the flight or for individual exploration of Delhi. Rooms in the hotel are usually available from noon. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel during the day.
A very early start today for the flight to Leh. We usually leave the hotel at around 2am and drive to the airport for the very early morning but highly spectacular flight over the Himalaya to Leh. If the weather is good and the flight goes on time we should be in Leh for breakfast. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatize to the altitude (3,500m). In the morning we rest and catch up on some sleep and in the afternoon there will be a gentle orientation walk of Leh and its bazaars.
Today there is a sightseeing tour to three of the major gompas (monasteries) in the area. We first drive to Shey, a former Royal Palace of the Ladakh kings. Inside is a small temple containing a 350 year old copper and gold statue of Buddha. From Shey we drive to Tikse, where we visit the monastery - perched on top of a hill - its red and white buildings can be seen for miles. A recently built temple contains a magnificent image of the Future Buddha. Next we drive to Stakna, a small, friendly monastery perched on a hill above the Indus River.
Today we will have an acclimatisation walk round the Leh Valley. Set above Leh on the Namgyal Hill are the ruins of the Old Royal Palace. From here a winding path takes us to the Tsemo Monastery, from where we are rewarded for our efforts by magnificent views of the whole of Leh and its surrounding villages. Descending round the back of the palace we walk via Sankar to the recently built Japanese Peace Pagoda with good views back to the palace and across to Stok Kangri, dominating the skyline across the valley. The rest of the day is free to explore the back streets and bazaars of Leh. There is the chance today to make an optional jeep safari to the Khardung La at 5,602m, one of the highest motorable roads in the world. This can be booked and paid for locally. Your leader will have details. (If you do the jeep safari this will be in the morning and you can do the walk in the afternoon).
We leave Leh and drive to the start point of our trek. The road follows the Indus River for a short while before turning off into a small dirt track, which winds along following the Zanskar River. The scenery is truly spectacular as the valley narrows into a gorge. At the first bridge we leave our vehicle and have a short climb to Choksi (3,210m) where we camp. This pretty village is a model of self-sufficiency. It is inhabited by one large extended family who farm this small valley. In the afternoon we can have a short acclimatisation walk in preparation for tomorrow.
A fairly hard first days walking as we climb very steeply out of Choksi. As we ascend the valley narrows and becomes more and more spectacular. Looking back we can see the magnificent rock formations of the Ladakh mountains. The dramatic mountains in various shades of purples, greens and browns can be seen for miles in every direction. The trail ascends the valley all day and our first night's camp is a small rocky site by a shepherd hut. In the afternoon we will have an acclimatisation walk up the valley which is opposite the camp for views of the surrounding peaks.
For acclimatisation purposes we have a very short walk today up to the base of the Kang La (4,900m). After lunch we will trek to the top of the small rocky peak behind camp, at 5,056m. We have called it 'Exodus Peak' and from the top the views are magnificent - we can see the Kang La and Palam Peak ahead and the Himalaya are spread out in front of us with the Ladakh range in front. This is one of the most spectacular wild camps with great views across to the Karakorum. Look out for marmots whistling to one another all around the campsite.
Today is a hard day as we cross our first pass. The climb is a long ascent, which is gradual at first with a last steep rocky section to the top of the Kang La (5,260m). The paths are little used and can be indistinct. From the top of the pass we have the opportunity to walk up Palam Peak (5,380m) for views second only to the view from the summit of Stok Kangri. Ahead we can now see the summit of Stok Kangri and in the distance is Leh. Behind us the Ladakh Range and Himalaya can be seen for miles. From the top we descend a little and then contour round into the next valley. As the trail contours round the top of the valley we have great views across to Stok Kangri. Descending a short way we have another magnificent wild high camp at 4,900m for acclimatisation with views across to Stok Kangri. (Please note that occasionally if the weather is bad or there is no water we cannot camp here and have to continue on and camp below the Ganda La).
An easy day today after the exertions of yesterday. We contour round the valley and on up to our second pass, the Ganda La (4,970m). This pass provides access into the Markha Valley and we may well see other trekkers today crossing the pass in the opposite direction. From the pass we can see our route for the next couple of days. It's an easy descent down the valley and we walk through the one house village of Yurutse to the valley bottom. Crossing the river we have a short ascent to Rumbak village. Rumbak has round 20 houses and we may well be invited in to a local house to try the traditional Ladakhi butter tea. Our camp is just beyond the village at the base of the Stok La tonight. Ahead the mountains are truly amazing; fold after fold of multicoloured jagged rock tower above us and as the sun sets and the light fades the colours change dramatically. One of the beauties of this short trek is that it is a geologist's paradise; every pass we cross brings us in to another spectacular valley with amazing rock formations.
Today is probably one of the most spectacular walks in Ladakh as we cross the Stok La (4,900m), our last pass of the trek. At first we trek on a beautiful, gently sloping trail, but then the path becomes steeper and steeper as it zigzags up to the top of the pass. Rock flutes rise all around us, home to the elusive snow leopard. From the top the views are even more spectacular; layer upon layer of multicoloured rock cathedrals are spread before us in every direction. The descent is very steep at first and then we contour round two valleys to the junction with the river coming down from Stok Kangri. We follow the river, crossing a few side streams, until we reach a shepherd settlement at Mankarmo (4,380m). Look out for the herds of Blue Sheep scrambling on the rocks around camp.
The next two days are devoted to our ascent of Stok Kangri. From Mankarmo the trail ascends the valley easily. It is a half day walk to base camp and as we ascend the valley Stok Kangri can clearly be seen ahead of us. There will probably be a couple of river crossings today. We will reach our base camp by lunchtime and the afternoon is spent resting and preparing for the climb. Gear will be checked and there will be a full briefing about tomorrow's ascent and a run through of walking in a rope team and with crampons. After an early dinner we retire to bed to rest for a few hours.
The summit day is long and hard (at least 12 hours). After a very early start in the dark (2am), we cross a glacier to the foot of the climb. Although not technical, the route to the summit is very steep and usually involves the use of ice axe and crampons. For safety we will also carry a rope and we usually rope up along the ridge and sometimes before. The summit route is steep and is along an exposed ridge for some of the time, with some scrambling on loose (sometimes icy) rock. The altitude will be the greatest difficulty, though. The climb from camp to the summit will take five to seven hours. The final hundred metres needs special care while crossing the slopes just below the summit. From the summit the views are amazing. Miniscule Leh can be seen in the distance, and all around us the snow-capped peaks of the Himalaya, the Karakorum and the Ladakh Range reach far to the horizon. We spend a short while at the top to savour the beauty of it all and regain our breath before descending slowly and carefully back to Base Camp, where the crew will be waiting with welcome hot food. (Please note the actual climb is entirely optional. For anyone not intending to climb there are wonderful walks from the base camp itself. There will be an optional walk for those not climbing to the glacier at the foot of Stok Kangri for magnificent views).
An easy but one of the most spectacular walk down the valley to Stok. As we descend layer upon layer of multicoloured rocks surround us. The trail finally emerges from this amazing gorge and the valley widens as we approach Stok village where our transport will meet us for the short drive back to Leh. We return to Leh by lunchtime for a welcome hot shower and a well-deserved celebration.
An early start for the flight back to Delhi. The rest of the day is free in Delhi for individual shopping or sightseeing.
This morning we depart Delhi for the flight to London arriving in the early evening. Those not flying with us to London will leave the hotel after breakfast.