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Kanchenjunga Double Magic
North and South Base Camps
Unspoilt and cultural, the Kanchenjunga region offers some of the best trekking and exploring in Nepal. We begin in the warm middle hills, whole hillsides of terraces and picturesque villages, and work our way up thru thick forests into the high alpine regions with valleys that just keep going and going. No crowds, no trekkers lodges high up, just mountains and more mountains, and bloody big too.
The sight of Kanchenjunga, seen from Pangpema (the north base camp) and Oktang (south side) is unforgettable, as is the north face of Jannu, a worthy destination itself. Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain on the planet but unlike Everest and K2, the trek to its base camps has been strangely neglected.
"From the slideshows we've been putting together for friends and family, Nepal always comes out on top. We picked one hell of a trek to go on! Like Niels, we think back on the trek a lot too. Aside from visions of the 'crapper tent' and freezing our asses off, we both really have incredible memories from the trek."
Note I haven't finished writing out this detailed itinerary; in the past we have run this trip in the reverse direction. The whole thing works and is more flexible than it appears, there is enough time to stay at Pangpema (Kanchenjunga's north base camp) and visit the south base camp region too. I will finish it sometime.
We trek in to Pangpema with the Kanchen Gola Wild team then they start climbing while the Kanchenjunga Double Magic team treks to the south side. Namgyal will be with you for the whole trek . Namgyal has climbed Everest with Jamie and previously lead this trek.
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you should be met at the airport and escorted to the hotel. Normally Jamie will meet you there.
Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu 1350m
Arrive in Kathmandu. You’ll be met at the airport by one of our local staff, so look out for a Project Himalaya sign with your name on it. If, for some strange reason, our staff aren't there either contact us or take a taxi to the hotel. Normally your leader meets you at the hotel and then introduces you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu.
Thamel is a mass of energy and chaos with a myriad banners, signs, pumping music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and travellers. Over dinner we check your insurance details and equipment and get to know each other over a beer.
Day 2 - Kathmandu 1350m
Today we’ll explore the sights of Kathmandu and the valley (opens in a new window) with a good local guide. Many trekkers are already familiar with Kathmandu so we match the sightseeing itinerary to what people haven't seen before. In the late afternoon we can sort out any equipment that you need.
Day 3 - fly to Suketar 2420m then trek to Phurumbu
We take a charter flight direct from Kathmandu to Suketar, the airport for Taplejung, the district capital. (If our itinerary changes then alternatively we will fly to Biratnagar on day 2, overnight there, then the this morning fly to Suketar.)
The one and a half hour flight by the 16 seat twin-engined Twin Otter to Suketar drops us in the heart of the middle hills. The porters and crew, who took a 3 day bus journey in, will be waiting for our arrival. After landing we take an early lunch, while the crew sort the newly arrived gear. In the afternoon we blow out the cobwebs with a good 3 to 4 hours walking down through terraced fields and small villages to camp in a school yard at Jogidanda - also called Phurumbu.
Be aware that this is a fine weather flight only and occasionally there are delays. All flying is visual, and there are mountains in those clouds!
Day 4 - trek through small villages to Chirwa 1800m
Continuing along the trail we descend to Chhiruwa (Chirwa). Chhiruwa is a village set among huge boulders where the majority of the houses are made from bamboo. We will spend the night in a grazing field.
Day 5 - trek to Sekathum 1650m
The descent we have made brings us along side of the Tamur Nadi (river) at 1360m. In the low country it is hot and perhaps we can find a swimming hole. In the shaded forest it is pleasant, the ideal conditions for the spice cardamom, or as the locals call it, olanchi (elachi, elanchi). Used in Indian cuisine, especially for chicken tikka masalas and to give Kashmiri tea its distinctive flavour, it is grown everywhere here as a cash crop. The Simbuwa Khola originates from Kangchenjunga's south side, and then only 3/4 of an hour later, we cross the Ghunsa Khola river originating from Kangchenjunga's north side. Quite a fluke of nature that they meet so closely. Here at the confluence of the Ghunsa Khola and the Tamur, we camp by a couple of small teahouses. The women here dress in typical Tibetan/sherpa fashion with a grey ungki (front-wrap dress) and aprons front and back tied with a single silver clasp, a sign of marriage. The rear scarf is to keep the kidneys warm. The main sherpa village of Sekathum is 200m, or a good half hour walk above.
Day 6 - trek to Amjilosa 2460m
The Ghunsa Khola valley is deep and steep-sided and the old trail up the valley had a bit of a reputation, with many steep climbs and descents. The new trail deserves one. Despite local assurances that it is flat, it is anything but, but it is an improvement as it crosses the khola many times rather than climbing unnecessarily. Our goal for today, the 3 house hamlet of Amjilosa is still where it was, high on the grassy hillside, so we end with a stiff climb.
Day 7 - trek to Yangswa (Gyabla/Kyapra) 2800m
You will be pleased to know that most of yesterday's ascent isn't wasted. After traversing through mixed Himalayan Oak, Rhododendron and bamboo forest we meet the valley base, which has risen steeply. We pass more camping places while climbing on a pleasant trail and eventually come to Yangswa, a sparse sherpa settlement below the village of Gyabla.
Day 8 - trek to Ghunsa 3400m
The climb continues steadily, but relatively gently to the village of Phale, where we have lunch. Phale is in two parts, the traditional winter village for the people of Ghunsa, and a Tibetan village of refugees displaced by China's invasion of Tibet. We relax and enjoy Phale before setting off for the short hours walk to Ghunsa. The trail is through beautiful, peaceful forest, mainly juniper with some hemlock and several different types of rhododendrons.
Ghunsa is a picturesque Tibetan village. Prayer flags flutter from the wooden houses and there are two gompas. One of the local specialities is 'tongba', a curious alcoholic drink. A jug or large bamboo cup is filled with fermented millet seed and boiling water poured over. The flavour and alcohol seep though while you sip it with a special straw.
Day 9 - short day to Rampuk Kharka 3800m
The morning is to recover from hangovers and perhaps wash, and during the afternoon we gently ascends through beautiful pine and rhododendron forests, passing many mani walls and chortens. Rampuk Kharka is at just the right altitude for acclimatizing.
Day 10 - trek to Khambachen 4100m
We begin with a tricky section across conglomerate landslides but on the other side soon Jannu's astounding north face slowly revealing itself. Nestled in this truly alpine terrain is the small summer settlement of Khambachen. On a small grassy plain with a sparkling stream with mountains all around, it is a beautiful spot.
Day 11 - rest day at Khambachen 4100m
Soak up the sun, explore the valleys and revel in the mountains, it is your choice for our acclimatization day here. Although it is a tough day it is possible to visit Jannu base camp.
Day 12 - trek to Lhonak 4760m
Expect to feel the altitude a little today, and we have a long dangerous slide area to cross. The breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains provided added incentive for numerous rests. Our lunch stop is Ramtang, from where the incredible fluted summit of Wedge Peak first becomes visible and during the afternoon Nepal Peak, the Twins, Mera and the White Wave all come into view. The campsite at Lhonak is on a windy grassy plain that overlooks the Kangchenjunga Glaciers opposite of the Wedge Peak. The walk should take approx 5 to 6 hours.
Day 13 - to Pangpema and return to Lhonak 4760m
Another acclimatization day. There are plenty of options for exploring including a very unlikely gorge that actually goes, leading to a high sanctuary-type alpine valley. On my first there Rodney and I saw some blue sheep disappear up there and resolved to follow them. We were astounded when we broke out into grazing area above and thought to ourselves surely no other foreigners have been crazy enough to find this place. While having a drink with Doug Scott he also mentioned this tight gorge that surely no-one else had been mad enough to explore. Both of us were rather surprised!
Day 14 - return to Lhonak or Khambachen
There are several hills behind Pangpema that can be scrambled up for even more astounding views, one of them in in fact over 6000m! In the afternoon we return to Lhonak or Khambachen.
Day 15 - trek to Ghunsa
What was a long walk up requiring two days and many rests becomes a pleasant stroll now that we are used to the altitude.
Day 16 - trek to Sallerle
We climb thru old forest, up and up, climbing out beyond the tree line, and if it is clear it is sometimes possible to Everest and Makalu in the distance.
Day 17 - trek to Tseram 3750m
After traversing the rolling passes here we drop down STEEPLY into the south side area.
Day 18 - trek to Ramche 4360m
It is a short day's walk up the final 600 metres to Ramche, otherwise known as Kanchenjunga South Face Base Camp. The scenery is magnificent as we ascend past snout of the Yalung Glaciers and into a series of ablation valleys which give easy walking and good camping. A frozen lake, clear streams and views of Koktang, Rathong and Kabru are the highlights of this stroll. Expect to feel the altitude today. Walking involves approximately 4 to 5 hours.
Day 19 - Ramche 4360m
Setting off early with a packed lunch, we have our first close encounter with Kanchenjunga. Following the ablation valley round its sweeping curve, at Oktang, 4630m, we are suddenly confronted with the southern wall of the mountain. This vast ridge forms a cirque over 15 kms long, nowhere less than 7500m high and with the three main summits of Kanchenjunga at 8420m, 8586m, and 8474m!. It is a breathtaking mountain panorama.. Especially impressive is Jannu (Khumbakarna) and the glaciers flowing from its east face. We then return to our camp at Ramche. Walking involves approximately 5 to 6 hours.
Day 20 - trek to Torontan 3080m
If the yeti still exists, it could be in the forest here.
Day 21 - trek to Lamite jungle camp
After climbing and climbing thru the forest we cross a tricky landslide section, take care.
Day 22 - trek to Yamphudin 1650m
Descending, we come to the first village on the south side.
Day 23 - trek to Mamankhe 2000m
Day 24 - trek to Kharde Bhanjyang
Day 25 - trek to Suketar 2420m
Day 26 - fly to Kathmandu
We take Yeti's direct Suketar-Kathmandu morning flight to plonk us back in the realities of a third world city. Infrequently flights are delayed. First stop Fire and Ice for pizza? The hotel has plenty of hot water!
Day 27 - Kathmandu
A free day for shopping and in case any flights are delayed.
Day 28 - depart
We hope (we know!) you had a fantastic trek!
For this trek we rely on porters to carry sometimes heavy loads, and our staff work in sometimes challenging conditions but we truly care about them. We ensure that all porters going above the tree line are given wool sox, spare shoes (usually given at the beginning of the trip), wool gloves, wool hat, jacket and pant set, sunglasses, have adequate shelter and all have access to our medical knowledge and supplies. Jamie was a representative of the International Porters Protection Group (IPPG) and runs this trek according to the letter and spirit of their guidelines. Sure, this costs a little more, but my - our - conscience is clear. We care. More (opens in a new window)...