Day 20 Saturday 21 July. Leh - Khardong La 32km

The ride north of Leh into the Nubra Valley crosses the highest road for vehicles in the world at 5,602m asl. That’s higher than Everest Base Camp at 5,300m. We have dried apricots (which we soak in our tea to soften), sun dried tomatoes, wheat porridge, lentils, rice and a few onions so we can stop where we can and camp.

Alan had to ring Habib in Srinagar again to send his bike bag to Leh. He is sending it up with some Aussie travellers and Alan will pick it up from them before he flies out. The Nubra Valley is close to the Pakistan and Chinese borders so we had to purchase Inner Line Permits to travel up that way. We left Leh quite late for our standards at 9am. The road was mostly sealed and it wound its way out of Leh up and up. It is 40km to the top of Khardong La pass climbing from 3,600m to 5,602m a vertical climb of 2km. Alan is struggling with his injuries and the effects of altitude. mark worrying that something was wrong. He just has to travel slowly at his own pace. I waited 1½ hours for him at the 15km I tried riding behind him so we could stick together but it was too difficult to get into a rhythm. I usually look for a hairpin bend that will give me a good vantage position to see him approach.

I suggested we camp at a small grassy spot 14km from the top but Alan wanted to continue on. However from there the road worsened into a rocky broken track crossed by rivulets of melted snow. I decided to just walk my bike as I was becoming short of breath and Alan was still a long way behind. We had been riding, walking, resting and waiting for 10 hours, it was 7pm. Darkness was approaching and there was just nowhere to safely stop. It would be getting cold once the sun set. There is a point where bravery, guts and determination give way to madness and foolhardiness, and I think we had just crossed that point.

Stragglers on motor bikes coming down the mountain from the pass stopped and asked if we are OK. They could see we wouldn’t make it to the top before dark and were concerned. We should have also been concerned. There was a tin shed and some sort of work station/ emergency depot I could see ahead, the only structure or sign of habitation since we left Leh. Old fuel drums and the smell of diesel and a bunker style shed right on a bend on the shear face of the rocky mountain. In the lee of a tin wall we scraped the rocks away from the ground as flat as we could to make a space big enough for two people to lay down. I didn’t waste time firing up the petrol stove so we could get some warm food and drink into our cooling bodies. I couldn’t help compare our situation with bush walking in the Wollemi National Park. At least in the bush I can make a fire no matter how wet, dark and dismal things may be. But here above the tree line there isn’t a twig for miles.

I prepared packet soup with tomatoes for dinner and a mug of black sweet tea. Alan was totally exhausted and just laid on his mat. He has not complained once ever about the conditions, his injuries or anything else. Perhaps he might just be mad. We are both short of breath. It’s a strange sensation breathing at this altitude. It becomes cold once the sun slips down behind the mountains and eerily quiet. No vehicles travel at night on any of these roads as it is just too dangerous. We have thermals and good sleeping bags so unless it snowed during the night we would be OK. It is below 0˚C as the rivulet I collected water from had a frozen crust on the top. Laying back looking at the clear starry sky was some consolation to a really difficult day.