Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Kanchenjunga Trek - The Mountains

The Kanchenjunga trek is mostly a loop, with out & back sections to the basecamps on the south and north sides of the mountain.

We started to see more trekkers and porters at the junction villages (Tseram and Ghunsa) on either side of the Selele La, the high pass between the north and south side, since the routes converge from several directions with people going up and down from the base camps, up from the start of their treks, or up or down from the pass. Lucky for us, most of the people are camping so vying for lodge space has not been an issue.

As we trekked up to Ramche (highest overnight location on the south side), I was starting to feel the altitude. A bit light headed and breathing heavier. I was paranoid especially when later in the afternoon I started to get a headache. Luckily a couple ibuprofen and couple hours lying down helped to straighten me out.

The bit of grapple and snow that had fallen the day before didn’t amount to too much and the sun soon melted a lot of it.

The little bit of forest area above Tseram was some of the most beautiful of the trip

Looking back down the valley towards Tseram
Ramche is in a lovely spot, just down the glacier from the south face of Kanchenjunga. We enjoyed both sunset and sunrise views and had a beautiful clear day to hike up to Oktang, which is considered the south basecamp of Kanchenjunga. This is the side that most climbing expeditions start from.

The lodge at Ramche
There were a lot of these little blue flowers. Between cold and altitude, I have no idea now they survive!
The south face of Kanchenjunga

Kanchenjunga means the "Five Treasures of Snow" due to its five peaks. Although four of its five peaks are over 8,000m in height, only the main summit is counted in the top fourteen 8,000m peaks of the world. I believe the main summit is the third peak from the right. 
Kanchenjunga south face, from Oktang
We headed back to Tseram the same day and then took two days to go over the high pass of Selele La.
Some of the view while crossing Selele La
Selele camp
Our accommodation at Selele
Panorama of Selele camp
After a rest day in Ghunsa we spent overnights at Khangpachen and Lhonak to help with acclimatization before planning to head up to Pengpema, the north basecamp of Kanchenjunga). (Ghunsa is a happenin' little town so I'll do a separate blog post.)

While carefully making our way along a narrow trail across a steep slope with occasional landslide areas, we got our first “real” views of Mt. Jannu. Luckily I didn’t fall off the trail when I glanced up because that I think that particular view of Jannu is one of the stunning and spectacular sites I’ve seen. The photos just don’t do it justice. The top of the peak is a very sharp point but below is a large massive body with an incredibly steep north face. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sunset on the peak was also quite beautiful.

First views of the north face of Mt. Jannu

Massive north face of Mt. Jannu
Beautiful sunset and clouds - the mountains are on fire!
I didn’t see how Kanchenjunga could possible compete and unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to find out for sure. As we arrived in Lhonak the clouds seems to be different than previous days. It started snowing in the evening and continued all night. Although there was a bit of blue sky down the valley towards Tibet, up the valley toward Kanchenjunga was completely clouded in. Those in the know figured it would be like that for a few days.

Almost at Lhonak
The next morning -- snowed most of the night and cloudy for a couple days after. 
Panorama of Lhonak
The conditions in Lhonak were not conducive to staying for a while to see if the weather cleared. Being smoked out in both dining/cooking and sleeping area by yak dung fire; open toilet with pretty much no areas to hide behind; and dormitory style rooms.  I again had a headache but I think it was more due to the yak dung smoke than the altitude.

Yak dung fire, broken chimney, lots of smoke!
A visitor to the kitchen

We headed down and made it back to Ghunsa in one day. It continued to be quite cloudy for the next couple of days.

See my other Kanchenjunga Trek posts. 

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