Trekking in the Sikkim Kingdom to Kanchenjunga
By Natasha Owen, Exodus' E-Commerce Manager
Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain,* sits right on the Nepal/Sikkim border and forms the backdrop to this eight day trek to Goecha-La, a pass that sits in the south-eastern shadow of the mountain.
The small, remote sikkimese village of Yoksum (1,770m) acts as the starting point for the trek and with the sound of rain on our tents and the village monks leading their nightly procession through the village to warn off spirits, we were all early to bed to get a good night’s rest before beginning the trek in the morning.
After a hearty breakfast, we set off up a steep slope behind the campsite. One of the great things about this trip is that the terrain varies so much. On this first day we walked predominantly through the forest, crossing four bridges in total and giving way to the dopey yaks and mules along the way that act as porters. After a quick lunch by the trail-side we then had a steep relentless climb for about two hours before eventually arriving at Tsokha (3,000m), our campsite for the night. We had ascended quite rapidly and our guide, Dilip, very wisely made sure that not only did we drink plenty of water as we walked, but that we always topped up our liquid intake with (garlic!) soup at meals too.
I woke up for sunrise the next morning and was lucky enough to enjoy tremendous views of the peak of Pandim. Again, the day’s walking started with a steep ascent, but for much of this morning the trail consisted of a laid wooden path that wound it’s way through rhododendron bushes (normally in flower for the March departure). Inevitably, the laid path ran out and we found ourselves climbing up stone steps, leaving the forest behind us. Our campsite for the night was at 3,990m.
A pre-dawn start followed the next morning up a steep ‘hill’ behind our campsite. We climbed about 200m in 30 minutes – definitely a challenge at –3 degrees centigrade, half asleep, pitch black and at altitude. But the dawn sky was clear and we enjoyed a resplendent shade of orange/pink on the slopes of Kanchenjunga in the distance – our first really good view of the mountain and surrounding Himalaya.
After breakfast back down at campsite, we set off again. The surprise today was that we actually had a steep descent, zigzagging our way down the path all the way to the river. It was about a 400m drop and my walking pole definitely came in handy – give me uphill any day!
Of course we made up the altitude again in the afternoon and that night’s campsite at Thangshing (3,930m) was in a very open spot and absolutely freezing! However, the six layers of clothing and generous servings of tea, hot soup and good food all helped to fend off the cold.
The acclimatisation day followed. This was a 7hr round journey walk to Lam Pokhri Lake at 4,420m. Apart from the very last part of the walk you’re climbing at a gentle rate and your reward at the end is enchanting glimpses through the breaking up mist down into the lake beneath you.
Our next campsite was only a two hour walk away but once there we continued up the slope to Lake Samiti to familiarise ourselves with part of the route we would be walking early the next morning in the dark on our way up to Goecha La.
That evening, the weather turned on us - rain, then hail and then snow – and quite a bit of it too. We went to bed knowing sadly that Goecha La was now off limits but that there may still be a possibility to climb to the viewpoint for sunrise.
Luckily, the snow did stop and miraculously the sky was completely clear. So at 3am I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, piled on the layers and head-torch, ready for the off. Now, it is fair to say due to the snow the night before there were a few hair-raising moments. We could hear the river to our left, down the slope, but really could not see much at all other than our own feet and the person immediately in front of you. The walking pole certainly came in handy to stop me slipping on occasion, but once over the boulders and that first steep part, the path to the viewpoint was easy but extremely slow-going because of the altitude.
As a group we stood at the viewpoint (4,610m), with a well-earned cup of hot soup in our hands, and were treated to the delightful sight, not only of Kanchenjunga coming alive in the sunlight, but the Himalaya range spreading away in the not-so-distant sky. The people of Sikkim revere Kangchenjunga as a sacred mountain and with its mystical beauty that morning it’s easy to understand why.
Delighted with our achievements we set off back down. The second descent day took us a different route – no yaks and mules to dodge on this day! The temperature rose quickly and we were quickly stripping off the layers, enjoying having the warmth on our backs as we ducked the low branches of the rainforest.
Arriving back at Yoksum we celebrated the trek in style with our guides and porters – be warned the Sikkim beer is 8% and as for the rum…. Let’s just say it was a great night!
If you’re a keen trekker that likes a lot of contrast, this is the trip for you. But be prepared, this is quite different from trekking in Nepal – it’s much quieter and there aren’t the teahouses along the way, but you will definitely be rewarded with stunning views and memories.
Natasha went on Exodus’ Darjeeling, Sikkim & Kanchenjunga trip in October 2008.
* There are some claims that Kanchenjunga is second in height to Everest.