Friday, October 7, 2011

Escaping Kanchenjunga

This title is perhaps too dramatic, after all we were enconsed rather than imprisoned in the potato field village of Ghunsa. We had also heard that parties had successfully descended the Ghunsa Khola as far as Lelep. Rob and Claire, the kiwis we met in Foley, had passed that way but not without witnessing a significant rockfall in the gorge. Rob was even hit by a rock ricocheting from the other side of the river. So we knew it was doable, but the thought of retracing our steps back over all those slips and under those cliffs just wasn't appealing so we decided on the high route to the east over the five thousand meter Mirgin La with a chance to visit the south Kanchenjunga base camp should the weather be more amenable. Five days perhaps we figured back to the road end at Taplejung.

Rob and Claire and us - a meeting of kiwis in Foley

Day 1: Mirgin La

After final farewells at Ghunsa we wandered south down the mainstreet, passing the school and health post, and then the hydro scheme before climbing sharply into the mist towards the Selele La. The mist cleared briefly for us at one stage so we could look down on Foley, the rectangular shapes of the buildings creating some order amongst the chaos of the old boulder field in which it is situated.We could also briefly look back and see the small peak GB and I had climbed a few days ago

Selele La is a gap on the ridge rather than a true pass and we reached here without too much trouble. After this the weather gradually deteriorated until just before Mirgin La it began snowing. Our worlds were circumscribed first by the rims of our umbrellas, second by the drifting mist. Outside this bubble we heard rockfall, felt thunder vibrating and saw brief glimpses of mountain sides and lakes.

Right on the Mirgin La we met a fellow traveller, a Spainard, coming the other way with his guide. A quick yarn in the middle of nowhere with a kindred spirit. On the other side of the pass it got colder and windier, we weren't equipped for this, and we kept pressing on, stressed by the cold and wet, until we found shelter beside a small tarn just above Tseram. When it rains we must rely on our memories as the camera is to precious to risk.

Day 2: Kanchenjunga South

Incredibly the day dawned clear and we were off, outta  here like bald men towards the glistening peaks. The trail climbs to the left of a vast lateral moraine up the valley, a chossy gravelly snake. We walk on grassy basins past picturesque lakes and the seasonal yak herding settlements of Lapsang and Ramche. Always above us the mountains grow, the triangular profile of Rathong we skirt to the left exposing its summit ridge and the bishop shaped pinnacle near its summit.

Gradually Kanchenjunga comes into view, including most of its seven summits. To its west though I am taken by a huge ampitheatre of fluted peaks, none of them named. Scrambling past Oktang we crane our necks for a view of Jannu but see only its massive shoulder. Below us here the moraine wall drops sheer to the cratered glacier. What a spot!

We retreat reluctantly, chocka with beauty, chinese biscuits and the apples GB carried from Gyabla to treat us with. I was a little ahead of the others when I was first surprised by the "Humph", a quick outburst of air by something large. I crouched and it happened again, the big herd of blue sheep was just 50metres down valley, watching me. Several sheep sported the huge curving horns they are famous for and which can weigh 20kg each. We watched and followed them for ten minutes, so fantastic to see them holding on here, providing prey for the solitary snow leopards.


Marcel said...


do you know if Rob an Claire made it down in time?


NaC said...

Some stunning shots - the first one and the last ones are my faves. Amazing.