Kanchenjunga Diary, November 2023

Kanchenjunga diary, November 2023 by Pasquale Equizi, mountain guide, Iyengar Yoga teacher, travel lover...

At the eastern end of Nepal, on the borders with the state of Sikkim (India) and Tibet, rises a chain of mighty mountains, among the highest in the Himalayan chain, with many peaks above 7000 metres, including Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain on earth at 8586 m, which gives its name to the entire chain. From 1838 is considered the highest peak on the planet, until British surveys established that Everest and K2 were higher.

The origin of the term Kangchenjunga is uncertain and controversial, but one of the most popular versions is the one that gives the word the translation "five chests of the great snow"with reference to the five peaks of which the massif is composed.

Departing from Milan by flight to Kathmandu, we stayed two days to visit the city, meet the Nepalese guides Mitra and Narayan and organise the last few things before taking an internal flight to Bhadrapur from where by jeep a long and winding road will take us to the village of Sekutum at 2300 m where we will begin our 14-day trek.  

The trek to the North and South Base Camps of Kangchenjunga from the Nepalese side is a fascinating route in an area never touched by mass tourism, leading to the 5150 metres of the North Base Camp of this Himalayan colossus and is reputed to be among the longest in Nepal.

We travel up the Tamur river valley to the village of Ghunsa (3400 m), first through very hot and humid fields and villages, then through rainforest that gradually gives way to high-altitude forest of rhododendrons and conifers, as villages of Hindu culture give way to Tibetan ethnic groups.

Each day we climb higher and higher to the village of Lhonak at 4700m, a fascinating place with plateaus surrounded by mountain ranges, very cold when the sun goes out. Early in the morning we set out for North Base Camp 5143m on the flanks of the moraines of the Kangchenjunga glacier, which offer two amphitheatres of peaks, many of which we have not yet reached. We arrive at North Base Camp 5143 m to everyone's great satisfaction. We return by the same route to Ghunsa.  

In the morning we deliver school materials we brought from Italy to the small school, the only one in the entire valley. The school in Ghunsa, in the remote village at the foot of the Himalayas, is the beating heart of the local community. Here, access to education is a luxury, and the school represents one of the few hopes for the children of this region. However, scarce resources and extreme climatic conditions make it difficult to support the school. Without up-to-date books, without adequate infrastructure, the educational environment is a constant balance of want and want.

Our support for this situation therefore becomes important to ensure that their school, the only one in the valley, continues to exist to guarantee them a better future: we are indeed collecting donations to take to them personally next November. (For this initiative, please contact Pasquale in private: pasqualeguidaalpina@gmail.com)

From Ghunsa, we resume our trek over the Lapsang-La Pass at 4700 m, which will take us along the valley leading to South Base Camp, and with a long descent we arrive at the village of Cheram. We stay for a day to rest and the following morning we set off on the stage that takes us to South Base Camp 4580 m. The route winds its way along a stream and then up the edge of the right moraine of the Yalung Glacier, until we face the southern face of Kanchenjunga with its 8586 m above our heads. After admiring the extraordinary views, with Kumbakarna (Jannu) and Nyukla Lachung in the foreground, we descend to spend the night back in Cheram.

Throughout the entire route, one does not encounter many hikers, and the charm of trekking therefore stems from the isolation of the region, untouched by tourism, with villages and populations still firm in their lifestyles, with rhythms and habits linked to a reality that has disappeared elsewhere, and with a natural environment, enclosed in the severe frame of the great Himalayan mountains.

The last three days of trekking await us, this time downhill, but not always...the forests, the flowers, the tropical plants, the heat on the skin, the villages inhabited by farmers working the land all the way to the large village of Yamphuding, from there, again a long jeep transfer to Bhadrapur and a flight to Kathmandu.

The large group was made up of sixteen people, almost all of them for the first time in Nepal and most of them did not know each other. We were very tolerant and mutually helpful in times of need. We laughed and joked a lot and this lightened those few moments of difficulty.

The trek takes place in a region with little tourism, not many facilities and therefore the few are very spartan, there is no hot water to take a shower and the region is very cold.

For some it was difficult at first to adapt to a life perhaps never lived before, but after a few days we got used to washing ourselves, sleeping in our sleeping bags dressed for the cold, and gradually also to the demanding days of walking. We walked from six to ten hours, every day we climbed higher so that we could acclimatise, and for two days we stayed in Ghunsa and Cheram to rest and to acclimatise better.

Our Nepalese guides Mitra and Narayan were very kind and considerate both to us and to the Sherpas carrying our luggage on their shoulders. Each Sherpa carries the luggage of two people plus his own, each person must have a maximum of 10 kg so he had at least 25 kg on his shoulders.

We had a good relationship with them, sometimes there was singing and dancing together, they taught us some Nepalese songs and dances. The food was always plentiful with rice, nuds, vegetables and pulses, in the evening always fruit apples and pomegranates, drinks of ciai and ginger tea and coffee in the morning.

The trip to Nepal is not only a sporting/physical performance but also an inner journey: Everyone back home realised that it was important to realise that we can do without so many unnecessary and superfluous things that fill our lives and spaces in the western world where we live. The importance of using everything that should not be wasted especially in the high altitudes, such as yak dung for fire heaters or for plastering houses

Seeing the Nepalese villagers who live with little, their smiles and greetings whenever you meet them, the simplicity and essentiality of their lives leads us to an inner reflection that remains within our hearts with the hope that something will change within and around us.

This 'leitmotiv' always accompanies us on our adventures and will also be present on future treks!

And especially at Everest Base Camp, info and bookings here:

Good Mountain to all!

Pasquale and all the ProrockOutdoor Team mountain guides!

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