The massive and captivating Kanchenjunga 8,586 m (28,169 ft) situated on the border between Nepal and India is the world’s third tallest mountain. The peak lies in a larger portion of the Himalayas known as the The Kangchenjunga Himal that includes 16 peaks over 7,000m (23,000 ft). Most of the region is protected as part of a large national park that spans both India and Nepal and protects the natural beauty of the region and cultural traditions of a diverse range of ethnic groups. The mountain consists of 5 separate peaks and in Tibetan Kanchenjunga means the “Five Treasures of the Snow.” The peak is considered holy by the people of Sikkim and climbers have always stopped just short of the summit out of respect for the mountain.
Four giant glaciers cover the bulk of the terrain above 5000m/16000ft and encompass a vast area that measures over 315 km / 125 square miles. The glaciers, Zemu, Talung, Yalung and Kangchen radiate out from the mountain at nearly ninety degree angles while the main ridges of the mountain run almost north to south and east to west forming a giant cross. On the eastern point of this cross one finds the beautiful peak of Siniolchu (6,888 m / 22,598 ft) described by one climber as “the most beautiful snow mountain in the world.” Jannu (7,710 m /25,300 ft) on the eastern point of the cross is known as one of the world’s most technical climbs due to its sheer north face.
Kangchenjunga is the furthest east of all the 8000m peaks in the Himalayas and is subject to the full force of the of the Indian Monsoon as moisture laden clouds have nearly a direct path from the Bay of Bengal. Rains usually begin in early June and linger until late September or early October. The heavy precipitation is responsible for the massive glaciers in the region as well as numerous avalanches which challenge climbers who approach the peak. The best time for trekking is in late October and November and also during the spring months of April and May between the monsoon and winter snows.
Kangchenjunga was assumed to be the world’s tallest mountain until 1852 until a survey by the Indian Government found the correct elevation of Mount Everest. It’s one of the most dangerous 8000m+ peaks to climb due to the prevalence of heavy snowfalls and frequent avalanches and was first climbed in 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band.
The approach from Nepal is a long one involving almost three weeks of trekking but is well worth it. The route lies in a seldom visited region of eastern Nepal that lies largely undeveloped an imparts to the traveler a sense of how the Everest Region must have felt on Hillary’s first visit over 60 years ago. Treks are organized as camping style expeditions given the lack of tea houses in the region and to avoid backtracking makes a circuit that combines both the South and North Base Camps. The journey starts with a flight from Kathmandu to the small airstrip at Taplejung from where the trail heads across the lowlands. It’s a demanding route ascending and descending across a series of ridges which combined total over 15000m (49,200 ft) of elevation loss and gain. Once the south base camp is reached one backtracks to Tseram and crosses over the Miring La (4805m / 15760) Pass in order to reach the North Base Camp. The northern base camp or Pang Pema (5140m) sits just at the base of the massive footwall of Kanchenjunga.
The people of far eastern Nepal maintain many of their traditional ways and the natural geographic barriers created by the mountain valleys has resulted in a diversity of cultural identities. For example the Limbu people are a casteless subsistence society famous for their elaborate jewelry while the Gurung people are traditional shepherds who are most known for their music and dance traditions. The far east of Nepal gives the visitor the chance to get a glimpse of a different world as you trek between the small villages where traditional lifestyles have hardly felt the modernization of society. Although you can hardly be surprised to see the farmer driving oxen across the fields with a cell phone in hand.
The route to Kanchenjunga is an easier than the route in Nepal and takes only 10 days. Given its accessibility it receives more trekkers and has to rank as one of the best in the entire Indian state of Sikkim. The starting point is at Yuksom a five hour drive from Siliguri which itself can be reached by flight from wither Delhi or Kolkata.
Starting from the lush lowand forests at Yuksom the trail passes through a series of beautiful Oak and Rhododendron forests which come into bloom in early May and are a spectacular sight. Those looking for a shorter trek typically stop at Dzongri Top which offers fantastic views of both Kangchenjunga and Mount Pandim. Continuing on to Goecha La the trail crosses the shores of Samiti Lake a beautiful and sacred lake where camping has been prohibited to maintain its crystal clear waters.s