Dzo Jongo East and Dzo Jongo West: the videos

Yes, folks. It’s time for the next mesmerising instalment of my award-winning video diaries (I awarded myself a bottle of Cotswold Gold Ale after I posted the last set). But before I start, here’s a quick reminder.

Back in August and September 2022, Edita and I embarked on our first (and still our only) Himalayan trek since the COVID pandemic, to Ladakh in northern India. Also known as Little Tibet, Ladakh is a desert region north of the Himalayan divide, comprising red granite peaks rising above 6,000m and split apart by crashing river valleys. It was Edita’s first visit, and my first since 2007. We chose the Markha Valley as our destination, a popular and accessible 5-day trek not far from Ladakh’s capital Leh. We extended the journey to climb some trekking peaks and cross a pair of high passes into more remote valleys.

I left you a month ago having passed through the villages and oases of the narrow Markha Valley, and ascended into the wide open spaces of the Nimaling Valley. Here we had our first opportunity to survey the mountains we had come to climb, and study their routes from close range.

We quickly realised that the main summit of Kang Yatze was going to be a serious mountaineering challenge with a certain amount of objective danger in the form of hanging seracs beneath the summit. Meanwhile its second summit, which everybody else was climbing, appeared to be little more than a steep snow slope leading up to something that wasn’t much of a peak.

Dzo Jongo’s two summits, on the other hand, were much more like the easy Nepalese-style trekking peaks we were looking for after such a long break from high-altitude mountaineering. At Nimaling, we had a short discussion with our guide Santosh, and agreed to abandon our plan of climbing the main summit of Kang Yatze in favour of trekking up both summits of Dzo Jongo.

You can catch up on the first set of videos in my earlier post. If you’re more of a reader, you can also read about our Markha Valley trek in the post I wrote from 2022.

The full playlist involves 3 videos and 24 minutes of footage. You can watch the whole thing in one go here. You can also see all my still photos from the trip here. You can read about our ascent of Dzo Jong East here and of Dzo Jongo West here.

1 Dzo Jongo and Kang Yatze from the Konmaru La

Watch on YouTube

On our so-called rest day at Nimaling, we hiked up to the Konmaru La (5,270m), the pass over to the Indus Valley that people trekking the Markha Valley cross on their way back to Leh.

We arrived in cloud. The air was damp with sleet, but the forecast was more promising. While we waited for the clouds to clear, we hiked along the ridge over a series of crests to reach a prominent 5,480m peak overlooking our camp. We didn’t know if it had a name, but in Himalayan tradition we called it Konmarulatse (‘The Peak above the Konmaru pass’). While Edita and Santosh hunted for snow leopard tracks, the weather gradually improved, providing a magnificent view to the west of all our peaks.

The following day we packed up our camp and continued up the Nimaling Valley to reach our base camp for the Dzo Jongos. While our crew set up camp, Edita and I continued a little further to look for our first peak, Dzo Jongo East, and survey the route at close quarters.

2 Dzo Jongo East

Watch on YouTube

We began our ascent of Dzo Jongo East, the lower of the two summits, at 4.30am the next morning. We set off in mountaineering boots, but carried crampons, harness and rope in our packs, expecting to encounter a glacier somewhere along the way. In fact, Dzo Jongo East was nothing more than a straightforward plod up a snow-lined ridge, slightly trickier towards the top as it crossed awkward boulder fields hidden beneath the snow.

From the 6,220m summit, we could see that it was only a short scramble down and back up along a triangular ridge to the higher summit of Dzo Jongo West. The weather was perfect, and we thought seriously about continuing over to it once we got our breath back. But in the end we decided to head back down and continue with our plan of climbing it separately from the other side.

When we returned to our secluded base camp nine hours after setting out, we were surprised to discover that our tents had been absorbed into a huge camp that had been erected by the Indian trekking operator Trek The Himalaya (TTH) in our absence. Despite the miles upon miles of open space available in this broad and remote valley, they had inexplicably decided to stop exactly where we had and surround our tents with theirs!

3 Dzo Jongo West

Watch on YouTube

The horses were unable to reach our high camp, so we had to load up our 35-litre packs with everything we could tie to the back and hike up. The route went on and on, up to a high rocky plateau and along a rib of moraine to the dizzy heights of 5,800m.

With only 500m to the summit and a cloudless start to the day, we set off from our high camp believing that it would be a mere formality for us to reach the top. However, as the terrain became steeper, the weather gradually worsened. The snow fell in giant flakes and we found ourselves in a total white-out, unable to see a single feature of the terrain around us. Afraid of walking over an edge, we stopped several times to wait for a break in the mist.

We made the decision to turn back about 120m from the summit. Although there was only a short snow slope above us, it gradually steepened, and so much fresh snow had fallen that there was a high risk of triggering an avalanche.

Still, we had no regrets about our decision to climb the west peak separately. It had been an interesting and varied couple of days that we may have skipped had we bagged the summit from the other side.

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