Monday, 15 April 2013 18:24
Reaching the trailhead
Kanchenjunga South Base Camp trek
Kanchenjunga North Base Camp trek
Returning from trailend
Streams & Valleys
The satisfaction of completing 27 continuous days of strenuous self sustained, independent trekking.
The thrill of trekking 8 continuous days without meeting another human being and being one with nature.
The fear of your trekmate having lost the way. The relief on knowing that he is ok. The state of shock of my trekmate on nearly losing his way in the dark.
The power of the vagaries of nature - with its relentless snowing, heavy rains, deafening hail, unpredictable white outs.
The numerous recces, some dangerous to find the routes.
The varied practices/cultures of the Limbu/Rai/Buddhist communities. The hospitality and genuineness of the mountain folks.
The excitement of my 19 year old trekmate on seeing yaks...
Lonely planet : Trekking in the Nepal himalayas.
Maps : GHT (Great Himalayan Trail) maps for Eastern Regions. Kanchenjunga and Lumba-Sumba Pass Maps (around NRS 500)you
Maps : Makalu & Kanchanjanga Pocket Map (Scale 1:170000) (around NRS 150)
One needs a Trekking permit that is issued by the Department of Immigration, under the Ministry of Home of Govt of Nepal. I approached the Immigration department and was told that the application has to be submitted through a registered trekking agency in Nepal. The trekking agency would not oblige unless you hire at least 1 porter/guide through them. The service charges for trekking agency may vary between 75$/person to 200$/person - depends on the trekking agency and the services provided. Also, there is a minimum need of 2 people to be doing this trek. The permit fees is 10$/per week for the first 4 weeks.
There is Kanchanjunga Conservation area (under department of national park and wildlife conservation, government of nepal) fees which one has to pay at a checkpost in Yamphudin (if doing the Kanchenjunga South trek) or Tapethok (if one is doing the Kanchenjunga north base camp trek). This is about 500NRs for SAARC nationals and 2000NRs for non-SAARC nationals.
Both the Trekking permit and KCAP permits are checked at Ghunsa.
Possible Extensions to this trip
One can cross-over to Makalu from Kanchanjunga via the Lumba Sumba pass from Olanchung-gola to Thudam/ Chyamthang. Olangchung-gola can be reached from Phole/Ghunsa via the Nango La pass. If you want to avoid the Nango LA pass Olangchung-gola can also be reached from Lelep. However, crossing the Lumba Sumba pass is a remote route and will require the assistance of a local guide. Very few guides would have actually done this route.
It is possible to cross into India through the Khang-la and Jongsang-la into Nepal.Khang-la leads to the Yalung glacier camp and the Jongsang la from Pang Pema.
Getting to/from this trip (Taplejung) :
Coming from India : Cross the border at Kakaribitta. To get to Kakaribitta either take a direct flight to Bagdogra and then a bus to Panitanki (Indian side of the border) from the airport. If you don't get a direct bus from the airport take a rickshaw to Bihar mod (about 1-2 km away) and you would find plenty of buses going to Panitanki (<45 mins). If you are coming by train you would most likely be taking a train from Howrah to New Jalpaiguri (NJP). From NJP you can get to siliguri and then to Panitanki (< 1.5 hours by bus). After crossing over the border at Panitanki one reaches Kakaribitta.
From Kakaribitta take a bus to BirtaMod (about 30-45 mins). From BirtaMod one can find direct buses to Taplejung. These buses start very early in the morning (around 5 a.m) and reach Taplejung around 3 p.m. So depending on when you are coming from India one may have to spend a night at BirtaMod. There is a so called super-deluxe bus which starts at 5 a.m in in the morning (in addition to ordinary buses) and this is pretty comfortable. The road to Taplejung is very good (contrary to what is mentioned in the Lonely Planet - Trekking in the Nepal Himalayas) and the bus journey is pretty comfortable.
Coming from Kathmandu.
One can fly in directly from Kathmandu to Suketar via Biratnagar. The Royal Nepal Airlines has 2 flights on Friday and Sunday from Biratnagar. The tickets for this can only be booked at Biratnagar and would cost around INR Rs 2000/ (from Biratnagar to Suketar) for Indians. There would be an additional cost for flying from Kathmandu to Biratnagar and one can see that in the websites of respective airlines.
The other option is to come by road from Kathmandu to BirtaMod. This is a long overnight journey of 12-14 hours.
Prologue : The Kanchenjunga north and south base camp treks was something I had wanted to do in the Oct/Nov of last year (2012). However, as I could not find partners at that time I did the Makalu Base Camp trek. A couple of my former trekmates had agreed to accompany me this time. However, in the last week prior to the trek they decided to pull out for personal reasons. So, now I had to scout for another partner, as the permit would not be given until there were 2 people doing the trek and I also had to re-route my travel plans to go via Kathmandu in order to find a partner. As luck would have it I found a german 19 year old, David, who was also keen to trek in Eastern Nepal about 2-3 days before my departure. After a few phone/e-mail exchanges we decided to team up. I was to meet him in KTM airport.
Journey to the roadhead
I met David in KTM on the 5th of March. As both of us wanted to do the trek independently we decided to go to the Immigration department which issues the permit. At the immigration department we were told that the permit would only be issued through agencies. We then went to my friend's company and asked him if he could arrange the permit for us. He did arrange a permit for us but then we had to take a porter that he arranged. Unfortunately, 6th March there was a bandh in Nepal but my friend, arranged the permits and porter despite that on the same day. After purchasing most of our rations in Kathmandu we were just in time to catch the last bus leaving to Kakarribita. It was supposed to be an overnight journey but on 7th March morning at 6 a.m the bandh kicked in again and our bus was stopped midway on the road and we had to be in no-man's land till 5 p.m. By the time the bus resumed its journey it was closer to 6 p.m and it was around 8 p.m by the time we reached BirtaMod. We checked into a hotel near the bus stand and caught the deluxe bus to Taplejung at 5 a.m the next morning (8th March). It was a fairly comfortable journey and the fact the roads were fairly good, helped immensely. We checked into a hotel in Taplejung.
Kanchenjunga South Base camp trek
After some last minute purchase of rations/fuel we set out on 9th March for Lali Kharkha. Though there is a road to Suketar we decided to walk to Suketar. There are sections where there is a steep ascent to Suketar. Beyond Suketar, the trail continues along the jeep road (fit for tractors) upto Lali Kharka. Unfortunatey, the porter with us, struggled to lift the 25kg-30kg load he had to. He was nearly 20-30 mins behind us within an hour's climb. So, midway I took some of the load of him and put it in my rucksack. Still he struggled and huffed and puffed his way to Lali Kharka with the load. No sooner had we pitched our tents, that it started to rain heavily. Our porter was feeling cold and he went into one of the tents and slept off. We cooked some food (maggi) and gave him before we could cook our dal-bhat-tarkari, our staple diet for the whole trek. However, he refused to eat. Wanting to take care of him we asked him to sleep in a room in a hotel nearby, while the 2 of us slept in our tents.
10th March. In the morning after breakfast we asked our porter whether he could carry on. The thought in our minds was if he struggle so much at such low altitudes, how would he survive at higher altitudes and given that the first day's walk was relatively easy how would he be able to cope the following days which were bound to be tougher. We then had a talk amongst ourselves, and our friend at the agency in KTM and briefed him about the situation. I had already given a heads up the previous day to the agency in KTM. Then our porter spoke to my friend who runs the agency in KTM and finally decided that he would head back to KTM. My friend in KTM said that it was better to send him back now than struggle with him further on in the trek. Now, this posed a new problem for us. The load/rations that we had bought assuming that we had a porter now had to be distributed. Just for the readers to get an idea here is how the load was distributed. 4 KG dal / 2.8 litres of petrol / 2 kg of milk powder / 2 kg of sugar / 0.5 kg of coffee powder / 0.8 kg TANG / spices/condiments (0.2 kg) / rice mix (0.4 KG) - to me. 5 KG rice / 1.5 litres petrol / 0.5 kg milk powder / rice mix (0.6 kg) / cooking oil (0.5 kg) /noodles and chowmein to David. So an additional 8 kg of rations for David and 13KG of rations for me to carry. If you add that to the 3 kg tent, 1-1.5 kg sleeping bag, 0.8 KG mat, 1.5 kg down jacket, 6-7 kg of clothes, 1.5 kg pressure cooker, utensils, 0.5 kg stove, books, maps, compass and other essentials - ice axe, slippers,toiletries, 2 kg rucksack and I was easily carrying over 30 kg+ -:). Not a very pleasant task but one that had to be done nonetheless... So, we set off with our heavy backpacks at around 10:00 a.m. I wont get into too much details of the route through the dense forest (which you can find in maps/guidebooks) - just suffice to say that the route was marked by steep ascents and descent. One loses and gains about 800M today and this is what one calls a "Nepali flat" terrain -:). Around late afternoon 3 p.m it started drizzling - adding to the weight of our already heavy backpacks. Towards the end of the day we made a mistake in our route finding. Instead of turning left (north) at one point we descended in the east for about 15 mins till we reached a school in a village. This turned out to be a lucky mistake for us as the teacher of the school allowed us to stay in an abandoned classroom that was under construction. That evening it hailed as if there was no tomorrow. The thunderous sound of the falling hail on the tin roof was deafening. The teacher provided us with "Rai" (local spinach) which was to be our tarkari for the night and following morning.
Another lesson I learnt during the trek in general was that it is not easy to keep up with a fit 19 year old teenage athlete especially if you are lugging about 7-8 Kgs weight more than him. I used to be about 10-15 mins behind him on an average.
11th March : This mornign we had to retrace our paths a bit and we set out to Mamankhe by around 9:00 a.m. It was about a 7 hour walk to Mamankhe.
En route we witnessed a lovely Nepali marriage in one of the villages - with drum beats, meat and "Rakshi" (the local drink) being consumed in equal measure. For the benefit of the ones not used to the terms - "Chang", "Thongba", "Char" are all local drinks. "Rakshi", distilled from millet is the strongest of them all. "Chang" is like beer and less strong than rakshi and is fermented from millet, barley or rice. "Thongba" is like Chang, made from millet, and would normally be served in a wooden casket, with a metal or wooden straw. It would have millet and one has to keep pouring hot water into it. A tip - if you dont want to get a hangover dont stir the millet in the casket with your straw.
Despite us stopping for coffee & biscuits on the way we were really hungry by around 4 p.m after completing about a 300 M steep descent followed by an equally steep ascent nearly to the same height again. As there was not much water on the way at the first sight of water in a village we decided to have some dal-bhat to regain our strength. After spending about 45 mins with our cooking, eating and cleaning we resumed our journey to Mamankhe which we reached in the next 45 mins or so. We got Iskhus from the local household for our tarkari...
12th March: We resumed our journey at our usual time of around 9-9:30 a.m from Mamankhe. Just outside Mamankhe village one gets NCELL connectivity for sometime. This is the last place for cellphone connectivity on this phase of the trek. It was a relatively shorter day as we reached Yamphudin by afternoon around 2.30 p.m. It was nice to reach early. Here we had to get our KCAP permits and our permits were checked at the police checkpost. This is the last inhabited village at this time of the year on our trek route. We also had a nice shower in the freezing cold waters of the Kabeli Khola. This is the last village where we could get supplies. So, we got some additional fuel, noodles, sugar. This is also the place where I made the elementary mistake of not checking the amount of rice we had left - which was to haunt us later. We could also get fresh milk here for the evening and next morning - which enabled us to have our coffee with fresh milk as opposed to milk powder. That seems like a welcome luxury on a trek - a fact we take for given in our everyday city lives. Yamphudin has electricity and few lodges/hotels for trekkers. Things get expensive here. For example 600 ml of Kerosene (a San miguel beer bottle) costs 200 NRS (INR 125).
Couple of observations for the journey this far. Though the altitude might not be much there is a feeling of remoteness to this whole route and the stretch so far has been pretty strenuous - partly because of our heavy backpacks and partly because of the innumerable ascents and descents. The trail so far goes something like this. The village is just beyond the hill - meaning one has to ascend all the way up a hill, usually anywhere around a 500M ascent followed by a descent all the way to a bridge across a river (khola) followed by another ascent -;), thus crossing a beautiful valley before we come to a village. Of all the treks in Nepal I have done so far I have felt this to be one of the tougher access routes for the reasons already mentioned. But as most of the route so far is through thick forests (a carpet of green) one does not feel much of the tiredness, as a large part of the route is in the shade of the trees. Another fact is that most of the villagers that we had met enroute till Yamphudin had said that we would not be able to go beyond Yamphudin as there is "lots of snow (huen - in Nepali)". I always take such advice with a "pinch of salt".
13th March : We started the steep ascent to Dhupi Bhanjyang (2540 M). (Bhanjyan means pass) from Yamphudin at around 9:30 a.m. We aren nowin the bamboo forests and rhododendron country (though there has been rhododendrons all the way from Taplejung). There is a sea of red rhododendrons, with the white one breaking the monotony of the red, for visual effect. It is a sight to behold. Luckily for us we met a yak herder on top of "Dhupi bhanjyang". He said that we could accompany him to his hut and that he would show the way till "Torongten" the next day. We took him up on his offer, as it was better than going through "Lamite Bhanjyang", where there was supposedly no water. It was a steep and tiring climb, upstream along the Amji Khola, through dense bamboo forests which seemed to go on forever. Add to this was the fact that it started snowing lightly later in the evening. It was around 5 p.m when we reached his hut. David was excited all the way as this was the first time in his life that he would be seeing yaks. I can't but help mention that I have never seen a person click so many photos as he did on this entire trip -:). He would probably have a separate "yak" album. We were greeted by his guard dogs - the mother and its pup, for whom he had gone to get food (maize) from Yamphudin. The views from the huts were spectacular both in the evening and the following morning. The yak herder (Lhaka Sherpa) offered us good dal-bhat (with ghee) both for dinner and breakfast the following morning. Having fire helped us to keep warm. Just in case you were wondering a yak herder's hut means that you would most likely sleep on wooden planks covered with maybe a rug/plastic and would still need a sleeping bag.
14th March: After breakfast, at around 8:30 a.m, Lhakpa sherpa started guiding us to the top of the "unnamed bhanjyang" - another hour/hour and half of steep climb. This was followed by a steep and dangerous descent through the forests, where there was almost no trail, and through knee deep snow (sometimes more). Though Lhakpa sherpa gave us each a pair of walking sticks, we still slipped and slithered our way for nearly 2-3 hours before we rejoined the main trail to Anda Phedi at around noon. This is a trail that one can never find unless he is guided by a local. I doubt whether we would even be able to retrace the path despite having done this trail once. This is where we bid goodbye to Lhakpa Sherpa. Despite a heavy breakfast we started feeling hungry - so after a quick break for coffee and noodles along the "Simbua Khola" we crossed the bridge, to reach Toronten, which has 2-3 lodges, which were all closed. We continued on our way till we reached "Anda Phedi", marked by a solitary yak herders hut, which like all others was shut. It had started raining/snowing and we had to hunt a bit till we found a good camping ground about 15 mins away, where there was water close at hand and a flat place for camping. By this time we had mastered cooking inside my 2 man tent, a practice not recommended, to avoid getting wet in the rain. Also, David had taken up the task of fetching water and cleaning the dishes. Making coffee, and getting the dal/bhat ready in the pressure cooker was my task. While making tarkari (where possible) or getting the dal a bit more liquid with garnishings of garlic was taken up by David. On some days, we had soup and on 2-3 days we even had popcorn which I taken along. It used to be 9:30 p.m before we wrapped up for the day and got into our sleeping bags. I used to wake up at first light say around 5:30 a.m / 6:00 a.m and make coffee and then David used to get up, when the coffee was ready. After cooking and having breakfast (dal/bhat), cleaning the vessels, we used to pack our tents, load our rucksacks and set off and invariably this whole exercise took 2-3 hours from the time we got up. It was a routine we fell into.
15th March : The journey from "Anda Phedi" to "Tseram" was a relatively short one, albeit an ascent, as we reached Tseram by around 2 p.m - in time for lunch. En route to Tseram, at a place called Watha (3730 M) is a small cave temple of Shiva, that is marked by a Trishul and prayer flags. The overhanging rock has a serpent like marking on it. There are 3-4 lodges at Tseram but all were closed. After hunting around a bit for a source of water we found one that was close to the first closed lodge. We camped under the lodge (the rooms were on the first floor) and it provided a roof cover over us thus preventing our tents from getting wet in the snow. As if on cue, it started snowing by around 2 p.m. From Tseram one starts getting good alpine views of the snow covered peaks.
16th March : The journey from "Tseram" to "Ramche" was supposed to be a short one of 2-3 hours but somehow it seemed to extend much longer to about 4-5 hours. The views of the Kabru Dome (6700 M) and Rathong (6678 M) peaks, straddling the Indo-Nepal border, dominate the journey. The walk is a 750M ascent crossing a couple of frozen lakes. As it neared 2 p.m, we were getting tired and hungry, and we wondered as to why we had not reached "Ramche" yet. It had also started snowing slightly. We re-checked our maps and GPS location, and decided to walk a bit further, picking up our pace as we went. There were strong icy winds blowing by this time. Soon we saw the solitary hotel (locked up) at "Ramche". We camped in the vertex of the "L Shape" formed by the hotel to protect us from the strong glacial winds. One can distinctly feel the difference in"wind chill" when one is in the "open ground" as opposed to having a wall to one side. No sooner had we pitched our tents around 3.30 p.m that it started snowing.
The challenge here is that there was no clean source of flowing water as they were all frozen. The still water was yellowish in colour (and that might be because of yak dung). Anyway since we were boiling the water it was ok. The places here are so cold that often even lighting the stove is a challenge - for ones your hands are numb and hence one does not have much force when striking the matches against the matchbox (we did not have a lighter). From Tseram on everything freezes in the night. Even if you store the water in the water bottle (normal nalgene ones or metallic ones) it freezes. So, even once you light the stove in the morning, for making coffee, one then had to heat the cap of the bottles slightly to even open them (as the water bottle caps would have frozen). Then you could probably get a bit of water from the bottle which is not frozen and heat it. Use that hot water to pour onto the caps of other bottles so that they could be opened. And then when one started heating the water/ice it takes twice as long to heat. Making coffee in the morning was a 30-45 mins task in itself. The sunlight at 8:30 a.m - 9:00 a.m was something we used to look forward to. The mistake I had made of not checking the rice at Yamphudin proved to be costly. That means we had to ration our rice from Tseram onwards. We had rice enough for 2 days if we rationed and noodles enough to last another day.
17th March : We left around 7:30 a.m from Ramche, after an early breakfast, to explore the Yalung glacier. It was about two hours walk on the moraines before we reached the Yalung glacier. With the peaks of Kabru Dome and Rathong towering about it the Yalung glacier is a sight to behold. There is a chorten, with trishul and prayer flags. Beyond this there was a landslide area and the track went further on into the moraine. One is supposed to see the south face of Kanchenjunga and the top of Jannu (Kumbhakaran ) peaks from here. But the Kanchenjunga and Jannu were hidden in the clouds. There was not much point in going further as the cloud cover was moving in. So after having some refreshments (TANG) we headed back to Ramche. The actual Kanchenjunga south base camp is a further 2 day journey. We could see the next campsite of Oktang. After a quick coffee break at Ramche we packed our bags and headed back to Yalung bara. A short while after we started from Ramche it started snowing, quite heavily, thus covering the trail and making the path slightly slippery as well. We made good time to and reached Yalung Bara by 4:30 p.m. Though we were tired we decided to recce the path to Sele La. We did find a trail leading up but we could not go high far enough as the clouds were closing in - but there definitely seemed to be a trail. The Lonely planet had mentioned that from Yalung bara most groups turn west to Sele la while the maps indicated a route from Anda Phedi - some others had said the route was from Tseram. Given that there seemed to be a trail we decided to camp at Yalung bara and not head back to Tseram, which is another 20-30 mins away. By the time we reached this decision the clouds had cleared again and David decided that he wants to recce once more as there seemed to be "cairns" above - but we could not be sure. I was exhausted and decided to pitch the tent. AS luck would have it, when David was about 30-45 mins up the clouds suddenly closed in and there was a "whiteout". I was hoping that David would have the good sense to turn back. The adventurous teenager however thought that the cairn was close by and kept walking (as he later recounted) till he reached the cairns. IT was 5:30-5:45 p.m and light was fading quickly and I was worried. 5.45 p.m became 6:00 p.m and with the whiteout conditions I did not know what to do. I was praying that he was not lost - but given the nature of the valley he could not veer off too far. No point in me going in search now. So, I waited patiently. Suddenly, I heard David's voice crying out "Sathya I am lost and cant find the way". I was relieved to hear his voice. I put on my headlamp and ascended a bit in the direction of the voice. Soon, I could make out David in the whiteout. He saw me and descended. Was I relieved. I could see he was fatigued/tired. Neither of us had anything solid to eat since our breakfast. Soon it started snowing heavily. Got him into my tent - rubbed his hands and feet to get him warm and got him into my sleeping bag. Quickly made some soup to get him warm. He said he was not feeling very hungry - loss of appetite. Not a good sign. So, I cooked a couple of packets of noodles for him. He was in a state of shock at "nearly getting lost" in the mountains and had become afraid. After the food he was better - physically ok but psychologically a bit dented. Soon, he pitched his tent and went of to sleep. After this I started cooking my "dal bhat" and it was 9:30 p.m by the time I had my dinner - a good 14 hours after my breakfast -:) and having thanked the gods I went off to sleep, a tired and contended man, at around 10:00 p.m.
18th March : This was going to be a big day. We either had to find a route to Sele La, say by noon or we had to head back as our rice supplies would last only 2 more days. We could not afford to do another recce. Given the confirmation from David that there was indeed a cairn above and the update that the route beyond was not clear I decided that we would go upto the cairn - 1.5 hour steep ascent with our backpacks and then I would do the recce. Before that we had the small matter of having a good breakfast and packing up our tents. However, the dal in the dal-bhat just refused to cook today - despite keeping it in the cooker for extended period of time twice. In the end we just ended up eating half cooked dal - as it was getting late, the worst food we had on the trek (9:30 a.m). Once we reached near the cairns David took rest, while I went ahead on the recce for another couple of hours, sans the backpack. There was no clear way and I ploughed through the snow on the steep slopes and reached a good elevation. I was nearly at the top and could see that we would have to walk through another 2-3 ranges, at least around another hours walk. It was close to noon and again the clouds closed in and there was near total whiteout conditions. I came to a decision. Even if I headed down and decided to come back up with our backpacks to the current point it would be another hour and half's journey and going further would be another hour and then we would still not know what awaits us - if we were on the right track to the pass, - it did not seem so - , and surely the whiteout conditions did not look like improving soon. Given the circumstances and with the whiteout conditions it would be too dangerous to descend without knowing where it is leading and the fact that we had rations for just 2 more days meant my decision was to head back to Yamphudin (especially given the shock David had the previous day). It was past 12 when I headed back to meet David, near the cairns. We both quickly descended and made our way back to Anda Phedi by 5.30 p.m in the evening.
19th March : This was going to be a long day as we had to reach Amji Khola and we had to cross Lamite Bhanjyang (3410 M) and knowing that there was going to be no water along the way. We crossed Toronten, the last water point after an hours walk around 10:30 a.m and began our ascent. There is supposed to be a trail from Toronten directly to Hellok but the Lonely planet says that it is a trail to be avoided, as the risk of losing your way is high. Later on at Hellok we learnt that the trail has been improved by KCAP and that the trail from Toronten to Hellok is reachable in 1 day. Anyway, we did see some footsteps in the snow, as we crossed Lamite bhanjyang and wondered whose it would be as there was no one whom we met along the way. There are a few dangerous looking landslides which one has to cross. As one reaches the top of the pass the route appears even more treacherous as the path crosses a ridge with a massive landslide, which will cause your heart to miss a beat. The landslide really looks scary and leads straight from the ridge down to the river several hundred meters below. The path continues passing a solitary hut (seemed like a yak herder's hut) that was locked and then descends. We are back in Rhodendron and bamboo forest country. Nearly three quarters of the way down the path bifurcates with one path leading towards amji khola, an hour away, and the other heading towards upper yamphudin ( a fact we did not know then), another 3 hours away as per the map/guidebook. As it was nearing 5 p.m we decided to go down to Amji Khola. We were very near the Amji Khola campsite and you cant imagine the pleasure we got at seeing a yak herder - ANOTHER HUMAN BEING SIGHTED AFTER NEARLY 8 DAYS. After having water, we spent time talking to him and also got a couple of litres of fresh milk & 1 kg of of freshly made yak cheese from him. We descended down to the locked tea shop/lodge at Amji Khola campsite and luckily a couple of the shelters (maybe for porters) had woven bamboo doors and even wooden planks/benches. So, we enjoyed the luxury in our 5 star suites -:) without having to pitch our tents and to top that we had the pleasure of having coffee with real milk both in the evening and the following morning. What more can one ask for ?
Kanchenjunga South Base Camp onto Kanchenjunga North Base Camp trek
20th March : As we were packing our bags to head lower Yamphudin (the way we had come) after our breakfast, the yak herder came by and was chatting to me. I told him that we wanted to head to the North Basecamp trek towards ghunsa and he mentioned that the fastest way would be to go towards upper yamphudin and then to hellok in 2 days (for him...). Well we took up his suggestion as we did not want to retrace our paths so we headed back up an hour along the way we had descended yesterday (till the place where the path forked towards upper Yamphudin) and then descended, a steep descent, towards a river. The path then contoured high above the river till we reached the upper Yamphudin around 2.30 p.m with a fairly moderately paced walk. It felt strange seeing so many people (well the number of folks were definitely in double digits -:) ). This place has a hotel, lodge, school and a satellite phone. We replenished our stock of rice, dal, sugar so that it lasts us another 2 days till we reached Hellok. It felt nice calling home again on the satellite phone after a gap of 10 days or so. We once again had an audience from the adjoining school, and the proprietors of the campsite giving us company as we cooked our snacks and dinner. It turns out that the owner of the lodge/campsite also has a hotel in Tseram. The "mystery footsteps" we had seen in the snow were of the 9 porters he had sent a few days back to take food supplies to his hotel in Tseram, in anticipation of an Chines-Korean joint Kanchenjunga expedition group that would arrive in Yamphudin in 4-5 and make its way to Kanchenjunga South base camp via Tseram. He also recalibrated us that though it was possible to go from Yampbhudin to Hellok in a day it might be difficult for us given our heavy backpacks. He did mention that just beyond the pass at Deurali Bhanjyang there was a hut where we could stay and then proceed to Hellok on the following day.
21st March : Thinking it would be a moderate day of walking we started from Yamphudin at around 10:00 a.m. It was a steep 2 hour climb to the "Got" - yak herder's hut. We had "chai" and an interesting conversation who informed us that it would take us another 5 hours before we reached the hut after crossing the Bhanjyang. The route contoured on the side of the hills traversing through dense forests till we reached a "Khola" (stream). By this time it was past 3 p.m in the evening and it had been now drizzling for the past hour and soon it began snowing really heavily. We surmised that the "khola" would be the last point where we would get water. It was so cold that my hands had swollen and it was a great struggle fitting our hands into the glove. After a quick "TANG" energy booster we put our heads down and began our ascent. It was snowing "cats and dogs and its cousins " (taking the liberty of using the phrase for snow as opposed to rain). The visibility , i.e whenever we could raise our heads, was really poor and there was almost complete white-out, and the ascent was unrelenting. The trail had been completely obliterated due to the snow. We soldiered on, hoping that if we reached the top-of the treeline that was visible we would be at the top of the pass. Every time we would reach such a "top of the treeline" another such "top of the treeline" would become visible. After, what seemed like an endless ascent through snow, with a backpack which seemed to be getting ever heavier with the snowfall, we reached the top of the pass marked by stone cairns, flags and a dilapidated hut at around 5.45 p.m. With the slight smile that this brought to our faces I managed to extract my hand from my gloves and also the camera from my backpack to click a couple of photos. WE had been warned not to take the trail on the right or the left but to go straight down to the other side. We were both famished, drained of our energy and hoping that we would be able to locate the hut soon. WE had been told that the hut was about 5-10 mins from the top. Either way there was no trail to be seen as we were in a "magical whiteland". We actually chose the easiest way down guessing it would be the right path.. We ploughed through , sinking upto our knees in snow during our descent and after about 10 mins we saw a black rubber pipe for carrying water. This raised our hopes that the hut would be near and sure enough after another 10 mins David shouted that he had found the hut. It was perfect timing as the heavy snowfall was relentless and it was getting dark. David went out in search of water but soon returned saying he could not spot it. WE quickly (as quickly as our cold fingers allowed us) got out of our wet clothes. My hands were so numb that it was tough to unzip the trousers with my fingers. Somehow we changed and got the stove out of the bag. I could not even turn the fuel valve of the stove and had to finally do it with my teeth. Lighting a match was a "herculean exercise" as our hands were so cold that we could not strike the match against the matchbox with any force. Somehow eventually we lit the stove and finally we could warm ourselves and when we melted snow and had some coffee the feeling was blissful. With snow around there was no dearth of water -:) for either dinner or breakfast.
22nd March: We got up to clear weather. What a relief -:). The world was now in black and white. So after breakfast we wore our gaiters and descends. Lo and behold in 15-30 mins we were in territory where one would ask "did it snow yesterday ?". We soon had to take off our gaiters lest we look like idiots. Enroute we met a group of 9 KTPC (Kanchenjunga Tourism Promotion committee) members who had done the Kanchenjunga North base camp trek and had chosen to avoid the Sele Le pass , a fact we took heart from. From here on it was a gentle descent contouring through the rhodendron and bamboo forests followed by a steep descent over stone steps, that takes its toll on the knees, as we approached Hellok. At Hellok, which is of the main trekking trail, we had the privilege of staying in the house of a KCAP official. His wife was a teacher and they were very genuine folks. We had a lovely time interacting with them.
I would say we concluded 2 phases of our trek today and were eagerly looking forward to the 3rd phase. So far we had met no other trekkers in our whole journey and for nearrly 8 days of this journey we had seen no one - not even a local. Some of that was about to change.