impressions from

Kangchenjunga: Introduction

Five Treasuries of the Great Snow

Imagine there's a 3rd highest mountain on earth and nobody knows about it. That's almost true with Kangchenjunga, a summit at the border of Eastern Nepal and Sikkim. The massif's highest peak reaches 8'586 meters and is surrounded by dozens of peaks a little 'smaller' though not any less stupendous. So far the area has been largely ignored by tourists.

 [Note: In fall 2003 I was again in the area in a recently opened valley system called Olungchungkola, there you'll also find pictures of the Kangchenjunga trek with a slightly different route]

Beautiful hamlets on terraced hillsidesBut that's not all the region has to offer.We fly in and start our trek in Suketar, a small airstrip in the low hills. Just a few dozen miles south of the towers of eternal ice, but still quite a different world. Dense forests and rice terraces cover the gentle hillsides which will become steeper and more barren during our hike towards the "Five Treasuries of the Great Snow", as locals call the massif.

The people in the hills are Rai and Limbu and mainly live on agriculture and a little husbandry. The small hamlets are spread over the hills, if it weren't for the white and orange houses the terraced hillsides would look like a gigantic natural green pyramid.

We follow the Tamur river upstream, cross endless sidevalleys on suspension bridges or more traditional wooden bridges. After the confluence of the wild Ghunsa Khola the scenery starts to change. Neither fields or fruit trees surround the village of Amjilosa, a few houses situated on a severly exposed hillside. The valleys become more narrow, ascents are steeper and the dense forests change their appearance. Firs and cedar take the place of large ferns and broad-leafed trees. Rhododendrons are blooming, flowers sprout on the alpine pastures.

Jannu, stunning peakPhala is the first bigger Tibetan settlement, at the town's entrance we are greeted by prayerflags and chortens. The people living here are of Tibetan origin and adapted well to living at high altitude. Instead of buffalos or cows people keep small herds of yaks. Potatoes have replaced rice as staple diet. The last snow melted just days ago and the villagers in Ghunsa are busy ploughing the fields and planting new potatoes. During the day temperatures are pleasant, but our first night at 3'500 meters is cold. Acclimatization is essential, and we spend another day exploring the interesting village and its surroundings.

As we approach Kangbachen, we slowly move above the timberline where glaciers and rock dominate the scenery. The stupendous view of Jannu makes me stare in awe; its vertical rock face reaches high into the sky and towers above all other peaks.

Camp in LhonakWe walk along the glacier to Lhonak where we will put up base camp for the coming excursions. Nightly snowfall makes the scenery even more enchanting. Some of us will explore a valley leading to the Tibet, others walk towards Kangchenjunga's north base camp. A steep wall, intermingled with several glaciers and a summit  8'586 meters high, the mountain was climbed 1955. The first climbers in 1905 all died in an avalanche.

Dozens of peaks are crammed around the massif. One of the smaller mountains is Tengkoma, a steep scree slope that ends in a snow dome. We will try to climb it, from its summit at 6'215 meters you can see even Mount Everest on clear days.

After 20 days it is time to start to retrace our steps and head back to Suketar airport.

Start in Kathmandu

Carsten Nebel, 22 January 2001

In-depth travelogue with pictures: View from Airplane

Map of our Route

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Pictures only

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