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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Trip report for Kanchenjunga Circuit (Nepal) in October/ November 2013

Photo: north face of Kanchenjunga
This year we had eleven trekkers signed up for our Kanchenjunga Circuit trek starting in Kathmandu on October 30th 2013. Almas Khan was the leader of this group having stayed on in Nepal after leading our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek earlier in October. Supporting Almas for this trek was Jire Rai, he is one of our most experienced Sirdars and knows this region very well having completed Kanchenjunga Circuit trek on six previous occasions.  

On October 31st the group flew to Bhadrapur airport in the east of Nepal and then drove for five hours to Ilam where they stayed in a hotel for the night. After an early start the next day the bus arrived to Taplejung/ Suketar for lunch and then the group started the trek by walking to the first camp at Mitlung village in about three hours.

Earlier in October this year I walked along the same section of trail from Suketar to Lhonak with my Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT group. After returning to Ghunsa from Lhonak my group crossed passes heading west into the Makalu region whereas Almas’s Kanchenjunga Circuit trek crossed Mirgin la to the east. As you can read from my Trip Report from Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT we experienced very heavy rain and snowfall as a result of Cyclone Phailin. Luckily for Almas’s group the weather was much more stable in November; it was cloudy for the first few days with rain overnight at Chirwa camp however it cleared up after Sekathum and stayed settled throughout the rest of their trek.

Overall this trek went well and for the first five days followed the itinerary as planned arriving to Ghunsa on November 6th. Everyone enjoyed this day walking to Ghunsa especially passing through Phole village where the group visited the monastery, shops and school. In Ghunsa they camped at Kanchenjunga Guest House where they had the benefit of the comfortable dining room with a fire and power points to charge batteries.

In Ghunsa they woke to a clear morning and most of the group decided to go for an acclimatisation walk along the route to Lobsang La. This turned out to be a good option as the trail gains height quickly. The group got to 4,000m in about 3 hours after leaving the camp and took 2 hours to return to Ghunsa for lunch. This was a good walk for acclimatising purposes by following the rule “climbing high and sleeping low”. This would have helped the group adjust to the gain in altitude over the next three days as they travel up to the northside Kanchenjunga Base Camp.

From Ghunsa it is a two day walk to Lhonak the highest camp on this trek at 4,785m. On the way the group stayed at Kambachen which is a cold camp as, at this time of year, the sun disappears behind the mountains at 2.30pm. On the next day's walk up to Lhonak there was some snow and ice remaining on the trail from the heavy snowfalls my group experienced earlier in October so took a little longer than usual with the group arriving to Lhonak camp around 2pm. It was a beautiful clear day although there were cold winds coming up the valley.

On November 10th the group walked to the northside Kanchenjunga Base Camp. Due to a several landslide areas they took a higher route than usual reaching Base Camp in about four hours. After enjoying the views of the dramatic north face of Kanchenjunga for a while they walked back to Lhonak in about three hours on another cold and windy afternoon.

That evening a group decision was made to walk back down to Ghunsa on 11th and then have a well-deserved rest day on 12th. This walk to Ghunsa would be a long day however by going lower in altitude would help everyone recover after the tougher days higher up due to more oxygen in the air. In fact this group had not had a proper rest day since leaving Kathmandu so everyone enjoyed relaxing in the sun and by the evening felt re-energised for the next few days crossing the Mirgin La over to the south side of Kanchenjunga.

On November 13th they left camp at the usual 8.00am start and arrived to the Mirgin La high camp at about 2.30pm. Everyone had a good day as it was a sunny and warm with wonderful views along the way. On 14th they left camp earlier at 7am anticipating a longer day, luckily it was another sunny day with little wind so everyone made good progress arriving to Tseram camp at 3pm.

The next morning they walked up to Ramche camp arriving by midday and then after lunch everybody joined the side trip up to Oktang. It took about about two hours to walk up to the chorten at the viewpoint and then about hour and a half back down to Ramche. Today the weather was sunny and clear so everyone enjoyed themselves looking at the superb views of the south west face of Kanchenjunga. It was simply a classic trekking day in the high Himalaya!

From Ramche it took Almas's group five days to walk out to Suketar camping along the way at Tortong, Yamphudin, Pumphe Danda and Khunjari. On November 21st they drove back to Bhadrapur arriving at 7pm in the evening. On November 22nd they flew to Kathmandu and were checked into Hotel Tibet by 3pm. That evening I gather the group had an enjoyable dinner together at the Fire and Ice restaurant eating their legendary pizzas and ice cream.

I would like to thank Almas and Jire very much for their help in leading this trek as well as the rest of the trek crew. We have received good feedback from the group, please take a look below:

“The trek was great and on reflection, perhaps enjoyed it more than any other trek I've been on.  This is largely down to it being a stunningly diverse trek, a very good leader, excellent porters/kitchen staff and a good group.” Helen, November 2013

“The trip really was superbly organized and we were looked after extremely well by the efficient team, for whom nothing was too much trouble. Almas is a good leader and his ability to converse with the Nepali staff in Hindi is a big advantage. Your Sirdar, Jire Rai, is superb too and a wonderful human being. He is a major asset to the Mountain Company.” Nick, November 2013

The Mountain Company is organising our next Kanchenjunga Circuit trek in late October 2014, this group will be led by Jill Lawson. We already have quite a lot of interest in this departure so please get in touch with us soon if you are interested in joining this trek.

We are also organising a longer trek from Kanchenjunga to Makalu along the first section of The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT") in late September 2014.

Roland Hunter

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