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Updated: January 2010. Click on an image to see the FULL size with a caption.
Kangchenjunga, Peak IX of the Indian survey, is the world’s third highest mountain at 8586m. It is the most easterly of the 8000m peaks, standing on the border between Nepal and Sikkim. From almost any direction, the peak looks like a vast tent, the massif being created by four ridges radiating virtually on the cardinal points from the summit.
Three of its subsidiary summits are over 8000m: the south summit, sometimes called Kangchenjunga II, at 8476m; the central summit, between the south and main summits, at 8482m, and the west summit, called Yalung Kang, at 8505m. Long considered sacred, the Tibetan name (Kang-chen-dzö-nga) has been translated as ‘The Five Treasures of the great Snows’. Although some claim this to be a reference to it five distinct summits, it is more likely to stem from the number of glaciers flowing from it.
In 1848/9, the British botanist Joseph Hooker made two long journeys in Sikkim, traveling within a few kilometres of Kangchenjunga. In 1899, Douglas Freshfield and a small team including the famous Italian mountain photographer Vittorio Sella made a complete circuit of the Kangchenjunga massif, and wrote a book called Round Kangchenjunga.
Most treks to Kangchenjunga North Base Camp in Nepal start with a flight to Biratnagar (70m) and another flight to Suketar (2400m). Because of flight delays at Biratnagar, I decided to drive to Basantpur (2200m) and then trek to Doban (640m) below Suketar. The trek ascends up the valley, passing Mitlung (880m), Chirwa (1190m), Sakathum (1640m), Amjilassa (2490m), Gyapra (2730m), and Phole (3210m) before finally arriving in Ghunsa (3410m), the main village of the valley, and what I consider to be the start of the trek - the work is over, and the pleasure begins.
The trek from Ghunsa crosses a huge active landslide with potential rock-fall danger as Jannu comes into view just before Kambachen (4150m), a Tibetan settlement of about a dozen houses. The trail passes the yak pasture of Lhonak (4790m) and arrives at Pang Pema (5140m), with one of the most magnificent mountain vistas in the world with glaciers, The Twins, Kangchenjunga and Wedge Peak.
The trek from Kangchenjunga North Base Camp to South Base Camp goes back down to Ghunsa (3410m), turns east and ascends to Sele La camp (4290m) and over the Sinion La (4663m) with views of Jannu's magnificent southwest face. The trek continues over the Mirgin La (4660m) and an Unnamed Pass (4724m) before descending to the Yalung valley, and trekking up the valley to Ramche (4620m), the uppermost yak grazing pasture in the Yalung’s ablation valley. The trek from Ramche is straightforward to Oktang (4800m) with a view of the magnificent southwest face of Kangchenjunga to the head at the valley.
The trails descends down the valley from Oktang to Torontan (2990m) and Omji Khola (2340m). The trail then ascends to the saddle of Lamite Bhanjyang (3410m), crossing some dangerous landslides, and then steeply downhill to Yamphudin (1690m). The trail from Yamphudin traverses down the valley to Yangpang (1720m) before ascending to Sinchewa Bhanjyang (2240m). The trail then descends 810m, crosses a stream and then goes uphill 1150m to the top of the ridge, where it is an easy walk to Suketar (2400m).
The Kangchenjunga First Ascent was completed by the 1955 British expedition led by Charles Evans. Evans was in the first summit attempt on Everest in 1953, but turned back at the South Summit. The team followed the Yalung Glacier to the foot of the southwest face. They then climbed via the Western Buttress, though the upper icefall, across the Great Shelf up the Gangway, and crossed a ledged ramp leading across the headwall to the west ridge, avoiding the pinnacles.
On May 25, 1955 Joe Brown and George Band made the first ascent of Kangchenjunga, with Brown climbing a rock wall just below the summit. Norman Hardie and Tony Streather reached the Kangchenjunga Summit the next day, but they found a snow ramp and avoided the difficult rock wall. The British expedition honoured the beliefs of the Sikkimese, who hold the summit sacred, by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit.
The second ascent of Kangchenjunga was made in 1977 by an Indian Army team led by Col. Narinder Kumar. They completed the north-east spur, the difficult ridge that defeated Bauer in 1929 and 1931. Major Prem Chand and Nima Dorje Sherpa reached the top on May 31, 1977.
The first ascent of the Kangchenjunga Northwest Face (and the third overall ascent) was made by a small four man British expedition in 1979. Doug Scott, Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker reached the Kangchenjunga Summit on May 15, 1979, without using high altitude porters or supplemental oxygen. This climb marked a turning point away from the huge siege style Himalayan expeditions to a more Alpine style.
The first ascent of the Kangchenjunga Northwest Face Direct was made by a Japanese expedition, with five climbers reaching the Kangchenjunga Summit on May 14, 1980 and another three on May 17.
Jannu (now officially known as Kumbhakarna) lies 11km to the West of the summit of Kangchenjunga, and is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
Guide Magnone’s 1957 reconnaissance confirmed suspicions that Jannu would prove a daunting challenge. The precipitous North and East Faces were deemed impossible and when Jean Franco led the first full attempt in 1959, it was from the south.
In his book Conquistadors of the Useless, Lionel Terray describes Jannu: “ … Jannu, the most spectacular of all the unclimbed peaks. This granite tower, rising in two successive vertical tiers to a height of 25,295 feet, appeared to be the most impregnable of nature’s remaining fortresses. … (The south-east face is a) gigantic face interrupted only with overhanging seracs and walls of rock. … No single section of it looked unclimbable in itself, but the sheer length and continuity of the difficulties were out of all proportion with the most grandiose ascents so far done.”
Jannu was first reconnoitered in 1957 by Guido Magnone, and first attempted in 1959 by a French team led by Jean Franco, being stopped just 310m below the summit.
The First Ascent of Jannu was completed in 1962 by a French team led by Lionel Terray by the south glacier and Southwest Ridge. René Desmaison, Paul Keller, Robert Paragot and Gyaltsen Norbu reached the top on April 28, 1962 and a day later Lionel Terray, André Bertrand, Jean Bouvier, Paul Leroux, Yves Pollet-Villard, Jean Ravier, and sirdar Wongdi also reached the Janu summit.
The huge steep North Face was climbed for the first time by by a large Japanese expedition in 1976, with 16 climbers reaching the Jannu Summit. The route starts on the left side of the Jannu North Face, and then meets the Jannu East Ridge, avoiding the steep headwall at the top of the face.
The first ascent directly up the Jannu North Face was successfully completed by a Russian Team led by Alexander Odintsov in May 2004. After over 60 days on the face, five members of the team stood on top, completing one of the most difficult high-altitude big walls ever attempted. Dmitry Pavlenko and Alexander Ruchkin reached the Jannu Summit on May 26, 2004, with Gennady Kirievskiy, Nikolay Totmyanin, and Sergey Borisov reaching the Jannu Summit on May 28, 2004.