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Kanchenjunga Double Magic
South and North 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 Oktang and from Pangpema (the north base camp) 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.
We are true specialists of the region; few people have trekked it as many times as us and our crew.
"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."
This is a demanding trek and so you should be fit, or know that you can get fit quickly. It isn't possible nor necessary to get truly trekking fit before the trek, over the course of the first week you'll be amazed at how your fitness improves. We trek a daily itinerary that suits loaded porters, who, carrying 30kg loads cover more distance that you might think, but not so much so as to finish you.
Being way out in east Nepal, we fly there and back rather than add days of bus journeys. This distance from Kathmandu, which adds to logistics and the fact that Suketar airport is still five days walk from the heart of the mountains, unlike the Everest region's Lukla which is one and half, mean that the Kanchenjunga region is still mercifully lightly trekked. So while Everest is packed in October, and Annapurna's Jomsom trail groans under the weight of trekkers, we will only meet a smattering of groups while trekking at the very best time of the year.
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 Lali Kharka
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 an easy 2 to 3 hours along the ridge line to Lali Kharka, a grazing area, where we camp.
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 to Khesewa 2100m
After traversing the hillside a short way, we descend to the village of Pakora along the Phawa Khola, crossing a suspension bridge before beginning the steep climb up towards Kunjuri. Lunch will be taken somewhere below Kunjuri and the afternoon's walk takes on up a short distance over the crest of the ridge then to our campsite at Khesewa. We get our first views of Kanchenjunga, and should be able to clearly make out the south and main summit along with Yalung Kang.
Day 5 - trek to Mamankhe 2000m
From Khesewa the path traverses steep hillside through terraced fields high above the Kabbeli Khola. There are some ups and downs crossing side valleys but there are many shady spots to rest. After lunch at one of these we pass the village of Anpan, before descending to cross the Kashawa Khola (stream) and then, finally, we climb again through terraced fields to camp at the village of Mamankhe or nearby. En-route we have our first glimpses of the awesome Jannu (Khumbakarna), 7710m.
Day 6 - trek to Yamphudin 1650m
Beginning with an easy climb, the walk to Yamphudin is along a track which contours the hillside above the Kabeli Khola. The path has several ups and downs as we cross the ridges and stream beds that make up the valley sides, but generally the route is flat and the river eventually becomes level with the trail a couple of hours before Yamphudin. At last we can stop to bathe in one of the many clear pools in this beautiful river. It is a truly idyllic spot and after lunch by the river we complete the day's walk to Yamphudin. Yamphudin is the most remote settlement in this area and the last village we will see until we reach Ghunsa. Needles to say, it is a charming place tucked away beneath the ridge of the Deorali Danda, which we must cross next.
Day 7 - trek to Lamite jungle camp
Beyond Yamphudin the trail ascends a steep spur, a gentle introduction for what will come. Leaving villages behind we trek through pleasant forest, stopping for lunch in a meadow atop this spur which commands fine views, north and south. A steep descend to the river and an interesting bridge across the Omje Khola bring us to our campsite in a clearing in the Lamite jungle.
Day 8 - trek to Torontan 3080m
We climb a real hill today, 3 hours of steep ascent to the crest of the Deorali Danda, in dense forest much of the way. From the 3230m pass we see Jannu again, definitely closer! We descend across some steep and exposed scree before entering the forest again. The steep descent through beautiful forest continues down into the valley of the Simjua Khola. Across the 'interesting' wooden bridge is Torontan, a camping place with numerous rock shelters amid towering conifers. The steep hills make today a tough 6 to 7 hours trekking.
Day 9 - trek to Tseram 3750m
We follow the river through more beautiful forest, the conifers giving way to rhododendron forest. The valley climbs fairly steeply and as the day progresses the trees become more stunted and scattered, giving us glimpses of the snow-capped giants ahead and of the massive snout of Yalung Glacier. Just before Tseram the towering heights of Kabru and Rathong peak start to peep over the moraine. Camping at Tseram, a grazing area, the night temperatures will remind us that we are really gaining height.
Day 10 - trek to Ramche 4360m
It is a shorter day's walk up the final 600 metres to Ramche where the trail to Kanchenjunga South Face Base Camp turns dangerous. 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.
Day 11 - Ramche 4360m
Setting off early 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 and especially impressive is Jannu (Khumbakarna) and the glaciers flowing from its east face. We then return to our camp at Ramche.
Day 12 - trek to Sallerle over the Mirgin La
Leaving behind our campsite we trek down the valley, passing the turn off to the high and challenging Labsang La route to Ghunsa and the north side of Kanchenjunga. This pass is rough and dangerous, especially for porters so we take the more southern set of passes, beginning with the Mirgin La. After an initial very steep climb and several false summits we reach the Mirgin La. Apart from the magnificent Jannu, on the horizon are Makalu, Gyakung Kang, Everest, Lhotse and Chamalang. To the south it is possible to see right down to the Terai, a panorama worth the effort. Our campsite will be beyond the pass, after 6 to 7 hours tough walking.
Day 13 - trek to Ghunsa 3475m
Although there four more passes, there is little descent between them, so in effect it is a high scenic traverse. After lunch a short steep descent brings us to Lamba Sumba Kharka where there are more views of the awesome Southwest Face of Jannu. From the Kharka, the going is easy again down a pleasant forested trail to the village of Ghunsa, where we camp in the village. Ghunsa is a picturesque Tibetan village, prayer flags flutter from the wooden houses and there are two gompas, and is a welcome sight after the many days of wilderness. 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 and you drink it with a special straw. You might need a drink after the tough 4 to 6 hour walk.
Day 14 - trek to Khambachen 4130m
The trail gently ascends through beautiful pine, larch and rhododendron forests, passing many mani walls and chortens. There are several tricky sections across conglomerate landslides before we stop for lunch by the river at Rampak Kharka. Crossing the Ghunsa Khola the trail climbs and traverses to the summer village of Khambachen. Again, Jannu puts on a show, although not all of the mountain is visible.
Day 15 - Khambachen 4130m
Soak up the sun, explore the valleys and revel in the mountains, it is your choice for our acclimatization day here. The best daytrip, if you are feeling fit, is to Jannu base camp, or at least to the holy rock en route. We have seen snow leopard up here previously!
Day 16 - trek to Lhonak 4780m
The trek up to Lhonak is not too strenuous and despite the increase in altitude by now we should be able to hike along easily enough enjoying the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, as they reveal themselves. We have two large and tricky landslides to cross though. Our lunch stop is Ramtang Kharka, 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 grassy plain that overlooks the Kanchenjunga Glaciers and is opposite the spectacular Wedge Peak.
Day 17 - trek to Pangpema
A short, occasionally challenging 3 hours walk from Lhonak is Pangpema, the north face base camp of Kanchenjunga. We hike up at a leisurely pace with plenty of "photo stops", due to the altitude. Across the glacier is the huge and fearsome north face of Kanchenjunga. We can make this a day trip or preferably stay overnight for a Kanchenjunga sunset.
Day 18 - trek to Lhonak or Khambachen
The early morning light is great for mountain photography. For the energetic and well acclimatized we can climb a 6000m hill near Pangpema for fantastic views; this means we stay at Lhonak.
This trek is combined with the Kanchen Gola Wild exploration and this is where the exploratory team - and Jamie, your leader - leave you. The sirdar will take care of everything, no problem, by this stage.
Day 19 - trek to Ghunsa, Phole or Yangswa (Gyabla/Kyapra) 2800m
With the porters lightly loaded and everyone fit, we return to Suketar at a faster pace. We walk more steadily but the days aren't much longer since descending is much less effort than ascending.
More descent thru magnificent sections of forest and as long as we make Amjilosa tomorrow it doesn't matter where we stay.
From Ghunsa an hour down we pass through Phole, a village in two parts. The upper section are Tibetans, refugees who are now well established, the second is the winter village of Ghunsa. Further down is Yangswa, a great and warm camp.
Day 20 - trek to Amjilosa 2460m
Initially we pass thru beautiful forest then this opens out to steep, grassy hillsides where Amjilosa is perched.
Day 21 - trek to Sakathum 1600m
Down, down and down! After a short traverse we begin the steep descent that will take most of the day. We reach the confluence of the Tamur and Ghunsa Kholas, where we camp.
Day 22 - trek to Chhiruwa (Chirwa) 1200m
Less than an hour down we cross the Simbu Khola, which originates from Kanchenjunga's south base camp, the khola that we followed up from Torontan. It is pleasantly warm at these low altitudes and cardamom grows freely in the moist shaded forest. Crossing numerous small tributary streams we reach Chirwa, a village set among large boulders. We camp in a field out of the village. This is an easier day.
Day 23 - trek to Phurumba
The villages are beautiful today, pure middle hills. We camp at Phurumba school.
Day 24 - trek to Suketar 2420m
Traversing in an out of minor valleys, we pass thru a succession of picturesque villages on our way to Suketar, we should reach there around lunchtime.
Day 25 - 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 26 - Kathmandu
A free day for shopping and in case any flights are delayed.
Day 27 - depart
We hope (we know!) you had a fantastic trek!