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Ladakh 2015: Tsokar - Tsomoriri / Gyama Peaks
practical hints

On this page, we give some practical information about our trekking trip in Ladakh 2015. General topics which already were covered in the information about our Ladakh 2014 trip will not be repeated.

Changthang - "Little Tibet"

Geography

The Indian province of Ladakh can geographically be divided into four zones:

  • Zanskar (in the west)
  • mounains north of Nubra Valley (in the north)
  • central Ladakh
  • Changthang (in the east)

Zanskar is characterized by a rugged topography dominated by deep gorges. Similarly rugged and inaccessible (but even higher) are the mountains in the small part of the Karakoram which belongs to India. The rivers Shyok and Nubra form the limit between Himalaya and Karakoram. Central Ladakh has some broad valleys but also impressive gorges. The higher mountains are more easily accessible than in Zanskar. There are a few rather easy peaks but also more challenging peaks e.g. in the Kang Yatze group. We visited this region last year. Ladakh's east, in contrast, is an ample hilly terrain, the Changthang. The major part of Changthang is further to the east in Tibet. The valleys of Changthang are situated as high as 4500 m, the mountains frequently reach 6000 m (Lungser Kangri and Chamser Kangri 6600 m). The landscape is a high altitude desert with extremely few precipitation. Where there is water (glacier drains), a few vegetation can be found: in sheltered locations, grasses and flowers grow up to 5800 m altitude. Generally, Changthang is more windy than central Ladakh.

Most of the mountains are easy rambles, even several 6000 m peaks offer ascents in walking terrain. Many south flanks show no glaciers or snow to above 6000 m.

Our 2015 trekking was crossing a large part of Ladakh Changthang.
For a visit of Indian Changthang, an Inner Line Permit is needed. In our case it was organized by the trekking agency. The borderland to China is touristically not accessible. Indian and Ladakhi military are operating many military bases there to secure the border. By guess, about half of the traffic on the roads there has a military background.

Weeather

In summer 2015, the weather in Ladakh was generally worse than in 2014. June was rainy (which is rather unusual), and in the beginning of August locally there was severe rainfall. A few people died in floods, many roads and trails were blocked by landslides. As we arrived mid August, most damages were repaired and roads were usable again, but generally temperatures were distinctly lower than a year ago.

During the day temperatures on the trek were about +10°C (even at Yalung Nong at 5900 meters). In the evening it cooled down quickly: During dinner the 4 to 5°C felt very chilly, so we always used our "evening dress": down jacket, long underpants. The mornings were slightly frosty: In base camp -4 to -5°C, in ABC even down to -11°C. During the trek the weather mostly was sunny, sometimes with cumulus clouds.

Altitude data

For all places which we visited, I use my own GPS data (Garmin etrex 30). It showed a position accuracy of usually about 3 meters; I guess that the altitude accuracy was better than 10 meters.

Trekking with child

Nina is now six years old. We had no problems on the trip last year: neither stresses and strains of the travel in general, nor becoming familiar to other people, horse riding or high altitude were a problem. Especially for acclimatization one cannot rely on the absence of problems on subsequent trips - as we know from our own experience, accliatization is sometimes better, sometime worse on different trips. But also this year, Nina had the fewest altitude problems of all of us. The low temperatures in the very high camps were a bit hard because her sleeping bag was designed only for a few degrees below zero. So she went to bed with four or five trousers, and with daddy's big gloves on her feet, then it was warm enough.

As soon as there is some water running, Nina can keep herself occupied with building bridges or dams. Even in ABC at 5500 meters in the frozen stream, she didn't feel too cold for that.
Altogether, this trip of course was not an actual "family holiday". The general schedule and the alpinistic goals were given by us adults. But we could adjust the boundary conditions such that also a six year old child was neither overstrained nor too much bored. The riding horse for the trekking days was, of course, an essential component.

Agency in Ladakh

We booked this trip - like also our Ladakh trip in 2014 - with Gesar Travel as an individually composed complete package from and to Delhi. Again we could go with the same guide as last year, Rigzin Tsewang (here his Facebook page). Again everything was perfect, we could fulfill our mountaineering goals and experienced a fascinating landscape. The crew engaged a lot for our well-being. Also changes of the plan during the trek were possible.

Rigzin has learned quite some German in order to better commnicate with visitors like Nina. For us adults he was a very competent conversation partner who could give us some understanding about the current sitation of Ladakh in several discussions at the evenings. We could exchange travel experiences from many different regions. Besides his mountaineering and organization skills we also admire his vision about environmental topics.

Route and place descriptions

Places

La = pass, Tso = lake, Ri = mountain, Kar = white, Sumdo = confluence

Pangong Tso

Pangong Tso is a salt lake at 4250 m altitude, 130 km long and up to 8 km wide. The lake has about the size of lake of Constance, but there is almost no vegetation. For tourists, from India only the western shore is accessible. On the eastern shore there are several military posts. The major part of the lake is Chinese territory. There are only a few small settlements along the shore which mainly offer accomodation for tourists.

In India, Pangong Tso has become famous by the movie "3 Idiots", the final scene takes place at the shore of the lake. This caused an enormous rush of Indian tourists to Pangong Tso and to Ladakh in general. Unfortunately, many visitors lack environmental consciousness, what is harmful to such a sensitive high mountain landscape.

Access via Chang La

From Leh, a road leads via (5370 m) to Tangtse and further, crossing the unremarkable Yaktil La (4300 m) to Pangong Tso. Chang La is denominated as the world's third highest motorable pass; according to my GPS measurement it is 20 meters higher than Taglang La and therefore after Khardung La the second highest pass. Besides that, probably there are several even higher road passes in Tibet, which are however not generally accessible.
The pass road begins in (3330 m, 38 km from Leh). From there to the pass the distance is 42 km, the descent on the other side to Tangtse River (3900 m) is 31 km long. From there to the shore of Pangong Tso: another 42 kilometers. The road is mostly paved, but on many shorter stretches the pavement is missing due to erosion damage. Chang La is kept open in winter in order to ensure the supplies for the military camps at the Chinese border.

Pangong Kangri Chogota (4660 m)

Because of the vicinity to the border, the high mountains of Pangong Range are not accessible to foreign mountaineers (no climbing permits are issued). Besides the high mountains, the only bump which in some respect resembles a mountain is the small Pangong Kangri Chogota above Man. This hill has two summits of the same height (4660 m) which are situated about 1.5 kilometers apart. Both have cairns on the top. The view to the lake and the Pangong Range on the other side is very impressive.

Trekking Tsokar-Tsomoriri

The trek from Tsokar to Tsomoriri normally begins in (4230 m) at the Manali-Leh Highway. The first day leads to Kyamar (4550 m), on second stage two passes (5080 m, 5210 m) are crossed to get to Tisaling (4950 m). On the third day another pass (5230 m) is crossed and Tsokar (4600 m) is reached. The "white lake" is a shallow lake without drain. Unlike Pangong Tso, the salt is clearly visible and tasteable. The shores are mostly white of salt deposits. Tsokar has almost no inlets, therefore evaporation is dominating.
On the forth day, Nuruchang (4690 m) south of the Tsokar is reached. We omitted there days and began the trek directly in Nuruchang, because our focus are the mountains at the end of the trek, so the most of the time (5 days) are scheduled for a stay in a base camp there. Our days were therefore:

  1. Nuruchang (4690 m) - Horlang Kongka (4965 m) - Rajunkaru (4925 m)
    9.5 km, 355 height meters ascend, about 4 hours
    Near Nuruchang the brook is crossed southbound, the trail leads directly towards the pass. About 2 hours to the pass. On the other side a gradual descent to the brook (4845 m). On the other (southern) side of the brook, the trail slowly ascends again. Soon one can see the nomad tents, but it takes some time to get there. By the way, Rajunkaru can also be reached by car from Nuruchang on a cart track crossing the more eastern pass.
  2. Rajunkaru - Kyamayuri La (5430 m) - Gyamabarma (5200 m)
    11.2 km, 500 height meters, about 5 hours
    The ascent to the pass Kyamayuri La (4 km, 500 HM) takes about 2 1/2 hours. From the pass the view opens to a spacious, very meager hilly landscape. A bit further, a few snow covered mountains come into the background, the Gyama Peaks. The trail follows the plain valley floor outwards the valley, always with a sight of the roundish Yalung Nong. The campsite Gyamabarma is situated where a path begins to leave the valley southbound to Kostse La. We crossed the river west of the campsite and camped on the south shore. From Kyamayuri La to Gyamabarma about 2 hours.
  3. Gyamabarma (5200 m) - Kostse La (5400 m) - base camp (5315 m)
    12.6 km, 385 height meters, about 3 1/2 hours
    From the campsite, the path climbs up traversing the slopes to Kostse La (1.6 km, 1 hour). From the pass one can see the southern Gyama Peaks and the northernmost of the Mentok summits. Descent into the small valley of Kyama Sharma Chu; the brook is crossed a bit above the flat valley floor. Around a corner into the flat valley floor of Kyama Yogma at 5160 m (3.5 km, 1 hour from the pass). Crossing the valley floor, entering the valley which drains the right side of Yalung Nong. Who is doing the usual Trek will follow this valley, gradually ascending, to the pass Yalung Nyau La (5450 m) and then descend to Korzok. Since we want to climb Yalung Nong, our base camp is pitched as close as possible to this mountain (1 1/2 hours and 3.6 km from Gyama Yogma to base camp). The green valley floor is quite narrow here, one can only pitch a handfull of tents well here. There is water, but not enough grass for the horses. They are sent back down to Gyama Yogma.
  4. Base camp (5315 m) - ABC (5550 m)
    5.7 km, 235 height meters, about 2 1/2 hours
    We had planned for five days in the base camp in order to attempt also the higher Gyama Peaks. But from this base camp at Yalung Nong, the distance to one of these 6000 m peaks through the barren, plain rolling country would be too far for a day trip. So we relocate to an even higher campsite where there still is water. This advanced base camp (ABC) was situated at 5550 m, about 6 kilometers and 2 1/2 hours valley upwards from base camp. To do so, the horses were brought up from Gyama Yogma, the camp was relocated and the horses were brought down again - because in the ABC there is even less grass growing. We wondered how much food the yaks which are grazing here would find at all.
    The small brook in ABC was usually frozen until around noon. When wind came up, the ABC was a very uncormfortable location, and the altitude is not suitable for permanent living. All except Claudia, I and our guide Rigzin had never before stayed overnight at this altitude before.
  5. Descent ABC (5550 m) - Yalung Nyau La (5450 m) - Korzok (Tsomoriri, 4550 m)
    13.4 km, 0 height meters, about 4 hours
    From ABC we taversed the flat scree slopes on the right side of the brook towards Yalung Nyau La without a trail. We reached the pass after 2.6 km and 45 minutes. The eastern side of the pass is steeper, the trail leads through a narrow valley which obviously was partially covered by mudflows. Soon the flat valley floor is reached, which is then crossed for 4 kilometers to Korzok Sumdo (4636 m) - 8 km and 2 hours from the pass. From here to the village Korzok it is another 3 kilometers (1 hour).

The whole trek can be done without problems in sneakers. For the river crossings, trekking sandals are recommended because it is not easy to balance in the stony streambeds barefoored.

Approach and return

The approach was first on Manali-Leh Highway via Rumtse and Taglang La (5350 m). In contrast to the text inscribed there, this pass probably is the third highest rather than the second highest. The road is mostly very good, often even wide enough to pass ongoing traffic without congestions. 27 km beyond the pass, we branched off to the left towards Tsokar. Another 10 km to the lake, and another 12 km to Nuruchang.

Horlam Kongka Ri (5215 m)

At both sides of the (westerly) passes Horlam Kongka there are hills topping the pass by about 200 height meters überragen. The western hill which is given as 5180 m on the map seems the higher one. Either hill can be reached without difficulty in 45 minutes from the pass.
Remark: On the Olizane map, the pass is indicated where the cart track is leading from Nuruchang to Rajunkaru. The trekking route uses the pass more to the west; I use the name Horlam Kongka for this pass used by us.

Gyama Peaks

This mountain group is not marked in the Olizane map, none of the summits has a name, and only a few have an approximate altitude. The writing "Korzog Range" on the map marks both the Mentok summits and this group. According to our guide Rigzin, the mountains north of the Mentok massif are usually referred to as "Gyama Peaks" because they are located above the valley Gyama. The mountains are mostly gentle and dome-shaped. Such they differ from the Mentok group in the south, where the summit areas are almost completely flat, but the mountains have steep walls towards the east.

Yalung Nong (6080 m / 6063 m)

Yalung Nong is a plateau summit northeast of Tsomoriri. It can be easily reached from almost everywhere; the ascent leads to tedious scree slopes. Probably this is the easiest 6000 m peak which one can find in the world. The summit plateau has two elevations: A northwestern summit, and a southeastern summit. According to my GPS measurement the NW summit is 6063 m, the SE summit is 6080 m. In between is a saddle of 5954 m.

From our base camp at 5315 m it took us about 3 1/2 hours to the summut. At the saddle there are some snowfields cross which dont' soften during the day. But they are not steep, so no crampons were necessary.

East of these two summits there is another peak of almost same height, but much steeper. Its southern ridge leads towards Korzok. It is not indicated in the map; one could name it Yalung Nong East. It is very clearly separated from the other two summits by a gap 500 m deep.

P. 6100 (Gyama)

The first 6000er from ABC is situated a little before the main crest of the Gyama Peaks. Using the left scree slope, it can be climbed without difficulty. The "rock" is completely loose, rough debris. The ridge has three steeper sections where care should be taken of the loose debris. The summit is spacious with a nice panorama of the main range, Tsomoriri and the Mentok summits. GPS measurement yielded 6100 m.
The descent throught the scree was by far not as delicate as suspected. From ABC it took 2 3/4 hours to the summit.

Pyramid (Gyama) (6293 m)

North-west of the last Mentok summit, the southern end of the Gyama Peaks main range has three peaks of almost the same height. We chose the northernmost of the three which sends a nice snow crest down towards us. Its shape somewhat resembles a pyramid.der Form her an eine Pyramide.

From ABC, we passed P.6100 on its right side through a flat and boring scree plain directly towards the Pyramid. From a flat saddle (5870 m, 1 hour) we descended 40 meters down to the glacier and traversed the crevasse-free glacier towards the base of the ridge or a little to the left (5780 m, until here completely 2 hours). The ridge has a steepness of about 30-35° short portions a little steeper. From the base to the summit, we had 2 1/2, so the whole ascent was 4 1/2 hours from ABC.

Remarks about the GPS summit heights

Most summits turned out to be higher than given on the map. The heights of the passes, however, better agreed to the numbers on the map.
GPSmap
Pangong Kangri Chogota46604670
Chang La53705300
Taglang La53505300
Horlam Kongka Ri52155180
Kyamayuri La54305430
Kostse La54005380
Yalung Nong N60636080
Yalung Nong S60806050
P. 610061006060*
Pyramide62936230*
Yalung Nyau La54505430
Korzok45504550*
* Altitude taken from (10m contours)

Literature

  • For Leh und Pangong Tso: "Editions Olizane Ladakh & Zanskar 1:150 000 Centre", ISBN 978-2-88086-413-2
  • For Tsokar/Tsomoriri: "Editions Olizane Ladakh & Zanskar 1:150 000 Sud", ISBN 978-2-88086-414-9

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Hartmut Bielefeldt
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