Why Stok Kangri in Ladakh is meant for the experienced trekker

The number of new trekkers who want to do the Stok Kangri trek surprises me. Some of them have not done any high altitude trek, not even a relatively simpler one like the Roopkund. They want to have a go at the Stok Kangri summit — no doubt attracted by the glamour of scaling a known summit in the Indian Himalayas. At 20,500 feet Stok Kangri is the highest trekkable summit in India (6,153 m).

I want to throw in some words of caution for trekkers.

Stok Kangri

Requirement of proper acclimatisation

The Stok Kangri trek requires proper acclimatization. I am dismayed at the number of trek operators who casually say, “Stok Karna koi baat nahi. Paanch che din ka trek hai, ho jayega ji.” (Stok is no big deal, it is just a 5-6 day trek, and it will be done.) One of them came to our office with an air of invincibility. It alarmed me greatly.

Here are some real stories: In 2008, a close friend of mine had to return half way from the trek, hit by AMS, despite spending two days at Leh acclimatizing. Only one member from her team of 15 made it to the Stok summit. In 2009, a team of 6 trekkers made it 70% of the way to the summit in July and had to return, hit by a snow storm. The same team attempted Stok once again last year and all of them had to turn back, some with bleeding noses, hit by acclimatization issues – few of them were only meters away from the summit.

Most itineraries of trek operators are rather questionable. They have two days of acclimatization at Leh, as if acclimatization at 11,500 feet would help overcome a summit at 20,500 feet. The two days of acclimatization at Leh is required not for the Stok summit, but to get adjusted to the mountains after a sudden flight from Delhi, which is almost at sea level.

What a trekker needs is another trek that climbs to at least 15,500 feet (4,700 – 5,000 mts) before attempting Stok Kangri. No operator I know wants to include this in the itinerary – it makes the Stok Kangri expedition longer and more expensive. What is disheartening is most trekkers don’t insist on it either – it means taking more time off from office. Leaves seem to be expensive too!

Do not attempt Stok Kangri if you cannot spend at least 10 days in the mountains of Ladakh. And do not attempt Stok Kangri if you do not have the physical fitness to endure a trek that climbs nearly 5,000 meters prior to the Stok Kangri trek. What it means is you are going to do two very high altitude treks back to back. This requires a high order of physical fitness, for which preparation needs to start couple of months in advance.

Ability to make good judgement

Next, I’ll put down something as “judgement.” Because Stok Kangri is a trekkable summit, most first time trekkers throw caution to the wind about some things that happen frequently at extreme high altitudes.

The first of these is the weather. It changes colour like a chameleon. A bright sunny day turns into a blizzard in a couple of minutes. Caught unawares, a trekker without enough experience can panic. On a trek like the Stok Kangri you can hardly afford to do that. You need to keep your wits about you to get out of these situations. To do this, you need to prepare well – and one way to prepare is to read a lot about high altitudes. In the world of internet, it is easy to do that.

Judgement also comes into play when you take a call to return from a steep snowy shoulder just 50 metres short of the summit. Sometimes, it is not worth taking a chance on the summit if the snow on the shoulder is slippery. First time trekkers believe it is the guides job to take them to the summit. So, they trust the guide despite common sense waving a red flag. Trekkers with better judgement don’t do this.

Knowledge of Altitude Sickness and Medical Aid

AMS is another issue. The Stok Kangri trail gains altitude rapidly. Here, a person normal at 16,000 feet can suddenly start developing symptoms of AMS gaining only another 500 feet in altitude. This can be a potentially fatal situation if timely action isn’t taken. Judgment and experience here helps. Someone with experience is well prepared and knows what to do when hit by AMS. They know the emergency procedures and take corrective steps.

I recommend trekkers to be on a course of Diamox from Delhi before they start the Stok Kangri expedition.

I do not recommend the Stok Kangri trek for someone who has never done a high altitude trek before. Attempt Stok Kangri only if you have done treks above 14,000 feet. If you are new to trekking, do not attempt the Stok Kangri trek.

Trek operators in Ladakh will always give you an idea that Stok Kangri is an easy trek. They will rarely include an acclimatization trek in their itinerary and they will never talk about the vast majority of trekkers who never make it to the Stok Kangri summit.

The Stok Kangri summit is a wonderful gift for Indian trekkers. It is truly a summit worth climbing and a trek that does not require mountaineering skills.  With proper preparation and judgment everyone can make it to the summit. Just don’t let the glamour of a 20,500 feet summit, cloud your vision.

Having said that, there is another trek that as glamorous as Stok and not quite as popular.  I am talking about the Kanamo Peak trek.

Kanamo stands tall and above all else in its region at 19,600 ft. It overlooks over almost 35 other summits. It is a thriller of a climb.

Here is a video that tells you why Kanamo Peak makes a great alternative to the more popular Stok.

At Indiahikes, we are always looking for fresher, newer trails to give older treks some breathing space. Kanamo is one of the fresher treks, where you’re likely to be the only group trekking.

Do take note of the issues I have raised for Stok Kangri. They apply to Kanamo as well. Do keep those in mind before registering.

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Arjun Majumdar

Arjun Majumdar

An entrepreneur by profession and a trekker by passion, Arjun started Indiahikes in 2008. With a vision to explore and document new trails, solve problems in the mountains and implement sustainable ways of trekking, he leads Indiahikes, a community that has changed the face of trekking in India. He has written extensively for Discover India magazine and is a TedX speaker. Read Arjun's other articles. Read the full text of Arjun's TedX talk. Watch Arjun speak about our trekking trails. Learn from Arjun about what it's like to work at Indiahikes.

35 thoughts on “Why Stok Kangri in Ladakh is meant for the experienced trekker

  1. Thank you for your very frank and very good advice. Most operators will take the business first and if the hiker can’t make it, just blame it on AMS.

  2. Sir, first of all thank you very much for your this clear information and advice. Can you please tell that how should i start preparation for physical fitness? what should I do or what kind of exercise during preparing for physical fitness? And also can you please suggest or give some tips about AMS prevention and treatment and medication, it will help me a lot for sure.

    1. Hi Chinmay, this is a difficult trek and you will need to begin preparing at least 2-3 months in advance. Jog everyday and cover around 5 km in half an hour. Do some cross-training as well, to strengthen your muscles – squats, planks and some weights will help. You need to build your core strength. Have you done any treks before? Also, you can watch this video to learn about Acute Mountain Sickness and how to treat and prevent it. It will surely help you.

    2. Why not do some 4000m and 5000m treks in preparation for the Stok Kangri? Physical fitness is of paramount importance but experience also counts. There are so many amazing treks in India. People should be trekking for passion and not just to tell others they have conquered a 6000m peak. That’s the kind of attitude that results in failure 9 out of 10 times and can even be life threatening. The Stok Kangri is not going anywhere. There is absolutely no reason why someone should attempt this as his first trek unless he has zero passion for trekking and only wants to do it for bragging rights.

      1. Hi
        I have done Hampta Pass with indiahikes last year … was planning one for 2017 … stok kangri sounds really adventurous- what’s your advice ?
        Was also evaluating EBC in October – my fitness levels are good – run half marathon below 2.30 hrs

    3. Hi,
      When people asks questions like what I can do for physical fitness before the trek, Its a wrong question. You should adapt being fit in your life style, the daily walk/run helps alot down the line and you can experience it when you are on high altitude treks. Still, start preparing at-least two months before. Get into habit of drinking a lot of water is point one, two start running distance won’t matter in early days but the time is , run for continuous 10 min followed by 15 and so on. Third, wake up early and sleep on time , people don’t consider it a part of pre-requisite but it is. Sleeping properly at high altitudes is very important to feel fresh for trek next morning. Forth , breathe deep and make sure you are filling your lungs and expanding as much as you can. Fifth quit smoking/ drinking now.
      Have a happy trek.
      Anurag- Roopkund trek May’2017

  3. Sir, first of all thank you very much for your clear information and advice. I want to ask you that, how should I start physical fitness preparation? I mean what should I do or what kind of exercise for physical fitness? and also sir can you please give or suggest some tips for AMS prevention and treatment and medication. It will help me a lot for sure.

        1. That will do. After you have hit 5 km in 25 minutes, then try to reduce the time by around 30 seconds everyday. The more stamina you have, the better. Also, build you core body strength with some crunches and planks. That will help too!

  4. Having done several(300+) treks, while physical fitness definitely matters, it will boil down to mental strength. Secondly, running on flat surface is needed but doesn’t prepare one for elevation gains.

    If there are hills/mountains around the place you live, go hike them. If they are close enough, do this every week. We take breathing for granted, but that’s a skill after 14000 ft. One needs to pace oneself to keep breathing as normal as possible.

    Secondly, walking on snow, be it with crampons, spikes, snowshoes, whatever, can be very taxing. I’m adding all this to bring a level of caution to the excitement of doing such a summit. Anything above 16K deserves proper preparation, good mindset and most importantly respect for nature.

  5. I have been on top and really it is not a big deal.
    But remember:
    1. Basic knowledge of use of carampon is necessary
    2. Check the weather
    3. Aclimatise at least 1 week before
    4. Choose a good guide
    Of course if you step out of the plane in Leh and want to do Stok after 2 days, you must be nuts.
    Anyway a pretty easy nontechnical climb (I have done tougher treks in Ladakh). But the conditions may change with heavy snowfall.

  6. Thanks for sharing. This is very informative. I have a 5 year plan for Stok Kangri. I have never trekked Himalayas before, so I will start simple, keep going higher, and finally summit Stok. At least one major Himalayan trek each year. Rest in the Sahyadris, frequently gymming and plenty of cardio.

    1. You seem to be doing a lot. I did it when I was 15 with not prior training and exercise. Just normal running and push ups and that sorts of exercise. Good luck anyway.

  7. Hello Sir/Madam,

    I had been to roopkund, i got ams i had scaled until Kalu mantap and had to go back to Pathur nauchini as to be safe. I had tough time with AMS until i reached below tree level. I am getting fit and losing weight but do you think i should do Stok Kangiri. ?

  8. SIR, I AM 56 YEARS OLD WANDERING,TREKKING & MOTORBIKING IN HIGH HIMALAYA FOR THE LAST 35 YEARS.LAST YEAR I TREKKED EVEREST BASE CAMP TRAIL successfully. BUT IN OCT,2016 I suffered FROM HEART ATTTACK WITH 100% right coronary artery blocked & on medication. Though physically i again make my stamina & want to trek stok kangri. My question is that in may- june at stok kangri what is the minimum temperature remains at base camp & top..Actually doctor warn me not to expose in low temperature. what is your advice.

  9. Please read this>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Hello to everyone reading this. I am boy of 16 years and last year, I scaled Stok Kangri. So did 18 others with me from a group of 34. I do not agree with all the points in the article (no offense). I am currently studying in Sainik School Korukonda and I honestly do not have any past experience before doing the summit. Sainik School Kunjpura annually organizes such treks to various peaks and I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to climb this mammoth mountain. To be very frank, it isn’t that hard if you follow all the instructions given by the guides and experts. I had done no special training before going in for this trip. However, the thing that helped us the most was that, we did not reach Leh by flight. Rather, we took a bus from Sainik School Kunjpura(somewhere near Karnal) and made our journey through Manali to Leh in about 2 and half to 3 days. Again in Leh, we had acclimatization for about 5 days. In these 5 days too, no training or fitness tests were taken. We were just briefed about the precautions and the severity that could be caused. So if acclimatization is done properly, then I do not see why any able person with two hands, two legs, a pair of good eyes and a sound brain can’t make it to the top. Again, no offense to Mr. Arjun Majumdar or his article.

    I am just letting you all know that it isn’t something you should leave off thinking that it isn’t possible to do just because you are a beginner. The most important thing is to have the correct set of people and staff along with you who can help you throughout the journey. Locals are best for this.

    Hope this helps, regards.

  10. Hi everyone!! Good to see so many expert advise on this Blog!! Well I have a question in my mind? Hope an answer from blogger what’s the reason Kanamo is easy and Stok Kangri is tough if both are trekking peak? I had heard that it’s a good peak for beginners!!and after well acclimatization at Leh. Trek can be started from Stok village-to Mankormo-to basecamp. In 2days. And Summit push is 10hours to the top and back to basecamp isn’t it. I am really getting scared of Stok after reading this article… Kindly guide me i was about to attempt it in First week of September 2017. I wanted to do it with my 2 friends! DO i need to rethink before i attempt it. I run 5km usually.

    1. Hi Ravi, looks like you’ve fallen prey to all the misinformation on the internet. Stok Kangri is by no means a trek for beginners. It is a challenging trek that tests your endurance from the beginning to the end. Moreover, it cannot be done in two days – that’s quite ridiculous. You’re climbing to 20,000 ft. Even if you acclimatise at Leh, which is at 11.500 ft, that isn’t enough. This line kind of answers your question about attempting this trek next month – “Do not attempt Stok Kangri if you cannot spend at least 10 days in the mountains of Ladakh.”

  11. i have already completed CHANDARKHANI PASS & SARPASS IN last consecutive two years and small trek in maharashtra like KALSUBAI peak what should i prepare for stock kangri trek and which month is good for doing the stock kangri trek ?…….THANKS

    1. Hi Sriram
      Follow this regime for your trek to Stok Kangri. You need to do the one for difficult treks. Make sure you don’t stop preparing until you go on the trek. This is because you are only as fit as you were last week. As for which is the best season for it, read this article and scroll down to the part about Stok Kangri. It is a trek best done in the summer months. I would suggest you do the trek in July, August or September.

  12. Hi,

    Great article. Have read it 2, 3 times. I’m planning stok next year and I have done ebc and kp this year . Wanted to ask that do I need to keep longer itinerary as suggested by Mr Arjun or can u manage with 10 days general itinerary that includes acclimatisation at leh?

    Pls advise.

    Thanks and rgds
    Ashish Sharma

  13. I had done the stok trek in 2015. It isn’t as scary as it sounds in the article but definitely not to be undertaken in a whim. The climb between the base camp and summit is the most difficult. The trek prior to that is fairly easy if you have a general level of fitness. The most important thing that helped us during the trek was following the complete protocol of 14 days (6,4,4) for acclimatisation . We did have the luxury of time but for a trek like this, getting acclimatised is quite important.

  14. Nice article! After Kili and EBC, Stok seemed like a great trek for me to do. But after reading this article, I am leaning more towards Kanamo Peak.

  15. Yesterday a college friend of mine has passed away of exhaustion while descending Stok, he was 40 odd years old and was doing regular marathons and half marathons, I wish he had read this article 🙁

    1. Hi Pradeep,
      We are very sorry to hear this. Please accept our condolences.
      We sincerely hope that trekkers pay adequate attention to safety while undertaking such challenging treks in the future.

  16. I have done Kauri Pass Summit in February this year. I had no difficulty during the trek, but I really want to do stok kangri trek.
    Is it advisable?

  17. I am a 27 year old guy and have done ABC trek in 2016 and Chadar Trek in January this year. I regularly go on small treks and also participate in half marathons on regular basis. I am preparing for Stok from last almost 2 months and doing a very intense workout in my gym including cardio and weights. I also complete 5 kilometers of jog within 30 mins. I can say that I am in a good shape at least physically and mentally. The major concern that I have before going to Stok is of AMS as I use to be a smoker and have quit smoking from last almost 2 months. I have been training using high altitude training mask to strengthen my lungs. I am planning to go to Stok in this August and planning to acclimatize at least 5 days (including 2 days given by the trek agency). To acclimatize better I am planning to go to Khardung La pass. Still I am more concerned about AMS during the trek. Can you suggest something to overcome this?

  18. Hi,

    We are looking to climb stok kangri in late April(after 25th) or in early may before 10th, Is it possible during that time of next year. Please let me know.

    Your help would be much appreciated.

    Regards.

    1. Hi Neelaksh, Stok Kangri will not be accessible until July. It’s best done in late July, August and early September.

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