Ladakh, India

London T14

In January 2015, British Exploring came to MPW, and the following month I was signed up to go on the expedition of a lifetime. I received funding for my equipment from an MPW Travel Scholarship. 

After a one-day training camp in the Midlands we left Heathrow for a five-week expedition with no communications home. The first part of the expedition was a nine-hour flight to Delhi, an incredibly humid city with the biggest contrast between poverty and affluence I’ve seen. The next day we flew to the remote town of Leh in the north-western state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Soon we were on the road: supposedly India’s ‘Highway 1’, it was more like a dirt track, but with some of the most beautiful views you could imagine. After three days we arrived at basecamp in the Pensi La Valley. Unloading the trucks took several days, but on the third day disaster struck: we found the food store had been set upon by yaks. The whole group assisted in scaring them away and moving the remaining food.

We then set off on our first expedition, to explore a neighbouring valley. Here we found evidence suggesting that a cave we had come across was the home of a rare snow leopard. Our second expedition was onto the Drang Drung glacier, where we performed experiments to check how fast the glacier was melting. The results showed it melting far faster than anyone had previously thought: the entire crevasse field changed shape overnight.

For the third expedition we headed to a mountain titled 5795 (its height in metres). It was then I made the biggest mistake of my expedition. I was ill the night before setting off and didn’t tell the team doctor. The next morning I was weak and I collapsed three times before lunch. To be able to get off the mountain the only way was up, so – without experience or the right equipment – we climbed a 70m ice gully. By the top I was starting to have blurred vision, but despite collapsing twice more I reached the summit and was rewarded with the most incredible view I have ever seen. An easier descent followed.

The fourth and final expedition was another mountain ascent, though more like a trek than a climb and all on scree, which was very tiring and somewhat tedious. At the peak we were once again surrounded by a spectacular 360o view. We then realised we were stretched for time: only four hours till sunset. From the peak we could see a gulley that seemed to lead right down to the ground. Unfortunately it turned out to be a dead end and by the time we’d climbed out, the light was almost gone. We could either attempt to spend the night on the mountain with nothing but an emergency group shelter or attempt to make it down the mountain in the dark. We found another gulley which looked promising and began to climb down but it was extraordinarily dangerous. One wrong step and we’d have fallen an enormous distance, and every step on a loose rock sent it careering down towards our teammates: a direct hit could be fatal. It was a spectacular if frightening descent.

A last trek up the glacier marked the end of the final expedition and we were soon heading back to Blighty.

Caleb Wheldon

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