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 North Sikkim Traverse - Lachung to Lachen to Tholung

North Sikkim Traverse

Once more I am lucky to enjoy the beautiful variety of Sikkim. During one of my previous visits to North Sikkim I became very intrigued by the mysterious area where countless sidevalleys beg for exploration.

Emchi gompa in GangtokEven more stunning than the landscape is the bureaucracy, but thanks to the effort of the local travel agent all the permits got sorted out just in time. So after some days in Gangtok with fine views from Emchi Gompa and small journeys around the valley, I'm finally ready to start.

My goal is a traverse from Lachung to Lachen, from there up the Zemu glacier and over the Kishong La into the fabled Tholung valley. After a seven hour drive we arrive in Lachung, a place often visited by tourists, but for me it is not the end of the journey but just the beginning. The next day I meet the crew in Yumthang. They are from Lachen, and will prove reliable, hardworking and humorous companions in the days to come.

SiniolchuDuring the first night it snows 5 inches, in addition to what's already at the pass, thus making the crossing of the Lhaba La more difficult than expected. Therefore we stop at the first suitable spot on the other side, bruised and rather worn out after struggling through bushes on slippery trails in dense fog. The next morning reveals the beauty of the Etini valley with its frozen creeks, rhododendron-covered slopes and sheer mountain flanks.

From Lachen we head into the Zemu valley and walk towards Kangchenjunga. In the afternoon, the south summit rises out of the fog, in the morning sunrise illuminates the steep east face of the earth's 3rd highest peak. The higher we get the more peaks are revealed: Siniolchu, Simvu, Kangchenjunga, Tent Peak, Pyramid Peak. We climb up towards Kishong La and encounter ever-increasing snow.

Sunrise on Kangchenjunga's rarely seen east faceAs fog and dusk set in, we finally reach camp. It's a wonderful yet desolate place. Snow is all around us, plus a freezing wind sucks all energy out of us. Just as I manage to doze off, porters wake me because they have heard yetis on the ridge above us. At first I think they are playing a practical joke, but I quickly realize that their fear is for real. They want to move my tent closer to the fire, and I agree, mostly for not wanting to ridicule them, but I admit that noise during the night wakes me more easily than on previous days. Later I find out that a nearby pass is called Migo La, the pass of yetis. Most porters did not sleep that night; they prayed, sang and watched the fire, occasionally throwing salt and tsampa in the flames to keep the yetis at bay.

Climbing up to Kishong LaIt's hard to imagine a more perfect day for crossing the pass into the Tholung valley: it's warm, and the sun makes the snow crystals sparkle against the deep blue sky. Rather quickly conditions get worse; the snow gets waist-high, the slopes become steep and are covered by boulders with nasty invisible gaps between them. 

When fog moves in the disgruntled porters are on the brink of a mutiny - the first one has turned around, others sit down dejectedly in the snow. I ignore them, and struggle up the hill alone. I'm lucky to find a good route and make quick progress. Five minutes later I scream down the hillsides, and the mix of compliments, threats and promises has the magic effect of getting the porters moving again. Everybody is fine, if very tired, and manages the last half hour to the pass.

Climbing up to Kishong LaNone of us stop at the Kishong La pass that translates into "Peaceful One", instead we rush down the other side and rest, sharing the last water and snacks. Everybody beams with a sense of achievement - and relief. 

In the next three days we drop into the thick forest of Tolung and camp at the monastery that houses ancient Buddhist treasures. We continue to follow the Ringi Chu down to Lingza where we stay in a monastic school that is supported by a French NGO, and appreciate their hospitality. 

On a small road we drive to Mangan, and from there back to Gangtok to enjoy the luxuries of civilization after a short but strenuous 12 day trek in the most remote parts of Sikkim.

See all pictures in the gallery

Picture Gallery

Part 1: Gangtok to base Lhaba La
Part 2: Lhaba La to Lachen
Part 3: Lachen to Kishong La
Part 4: Kishong La to Gangtok

Map Overview
Map Route

Pictures only

Outside sources of information:

Thanks to:
Discover Sikkim Travel Services (tdoma AT for organizing; and the crew from Lachen for not bailing out, their strength and courage during the crossing of passes.