Monday, February 7, 2011

Scheduled Expedition for Spring 2011: KANGCHENJUNGA

Objective:        Mount Kangchenjunga
Altitude:           8,586 meters,     28,169 ft
Location:          Nepal/India border
Latitude:           27.73820   N 
Longitude:        88.13440   E
Year First Climbed:  May 25 1955
First Climbers:          George Band and Joe Brown, British Expedition

After a very long climbing season in the Himalaya and Karakorum in 2010, I took three months off to rest, enjoy family and friends, as well as my other hobbies.  But now I  have resumed my training for the upcoming climbing season 2011 in the Himalayas and Karakorum and am very excited about my upcoming expeditions since they will take me to some very special places in this world.

I'll start with the extremely remote Kangchenjunga this Spring 2011. My climbing partner will be Pema Chrring Sherpa and our  expedition will be following the route taken by the pioneering British expedition of 1955. Since the first ascension of this peak, there's a tradition among mountaineers not to stand on the actual summit. It's been said that the expedition leader of the British team who first got the permission to climb this peak promised the Maharajah of Sikkim that in deference to the local people's belief and reverence of the mountain, he and his team would stop a bit short of the summit.  I will consult with  Ms. Hawley, The Himalaya Database administrator, as to the acceptable distance from the summit and let her know that  I intend to honor this tradition as well, that is,  if the mountain Gods allow me to  make it that far up.  Most Expeditions since 1955 have stopped somewhere ranging from 2 feet to  about 6 feet short of the summit.

Kangchenjunga is one of the least accessible mountains of the Himalaya Range. I find this particularly interesting. This remoteness safeguards the unique experience I'll have  in a rather exotic part of the world, rich in local culture, fauna, flora, and fantastic panoramic views. Sounds like a mountaineer's paradise to me... This is a whole different climb than the Mount Everest one. Unlike the circus played at Everest every year, climbers should not expect to find BC to Summit fixed ropes, well trodden trails, or ice fall doctors making a "safe" passage for the occasional adventure backpacker through the Khumbu ice fall. The thought of descending steep faces, narrow  and corniced icy ridges in complete white out has stopped many from going higher on Kangch's hill. Kangchenjunga's complex topography is visible from satellite pictures as are the odd shape of the lines on its south face where I'll be. I'm sure this will be a challenging climb. It's said by many that Nanga Parbat (also known as the killer mountain) is the most difficult of the 8000ers in Pakistan due to its sudden change in the weather conditions and death defying descent. But Kangchenjunga is the most difficult 8000er in Nepal courtesy of its hurricane wind forces in the upper parts of the mountain, giving this mountain a reputation for the most dangerous descent because of the sudden change from calm to violent weather in mixed, dangerous terrain.  Nanga taught me a lot about high altitude mountaineering. For example, no matter how hard you have trained for a mountain and how badly you love that mountain, you still need to feel that connection with it, you must feel in sync with it.

The 8000ers inspire me, they electrify me as I feel so alive the higher I go. I would be lying if I said that the summit is not important to me when I climb an 8000er. Why would I invest so much time and sweat equity on a peak I'm not super motivated to summit? However, my climbing partners' lives are more important than any given summit and so is my own life.  No doubt, from every account, this is a mountaineers mountain in Nepal, and I hope that I'm ready to meet the challenges this mountain will throw at me.  My experience on Nanga was very valuable in learning how to deal with extremely high winds day in day out and with long lonely days that turned into weeks of double digits negative temperature and deep snow. In addition, I think that Nanga and Gasherbrum I (aka K5, Hidden Peak) were  great training grounds for facing Kangchenjunga's topography, especially, when you try to defend yourself from the objective dangers while hanging by your eyelashes. One slip and it's bye, bye! Ropes will only be fixed on the absolutely necessary areas for safety. The people I know who have climbed this mountain before, describe it as so remote, so inaccessible, and extremely inhospitable that the thought "what have I got myself into"  came to their minds a few times while they attempted  it.  I have been preparing myself physically and mentally for this awesome yet demanding climb.

Kangchenjunga has 5 main peaks: Main summit (8,586m), Yalung Kang (8,505m), Kangchenjunga West (8,420), and the Twin Peaks (both 8,476m). For the Sikkimese people who worship this mountain, each peak represent a treasure: salt, holy books, silver, gold, grains and jewels. It will be interesting for me to climb this mountain also since it's the eastern most 8000er in the Himalaya range. Last year I climbed the western most 8000er of the Himalayas: Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.

It is widely known that this mountain is infamous for mega avalanches, extreme wind, extreme low temps, and deep crevasses. all objective dangers seem to be gargantuan there, from snow fields to ice falls to deep crevassed glaciers. Yeah, all the fond memories of Nanga Parbat and K5 come back to me... :-)
Commercial logistics will be up to Basecamp, above it we'll have to take care of all the logistics on the mountain ourselves. Very cool... but a lot of work!

Kangchenjunga lies on the border of Nepal and Sikkim. This mountain was thought to be the highest mountain in the world until the  British Great Trigonometric Survey of 1849 established Everest as the highest and Kangchenjunga (8,586m) as the third, after K2 (8,611m). It can be climbed either from the Nepal side or the India side. However, the Sikkimese people regard Kangchenjunga as a sacred peak and so the Sikkim government has banned expeditions climbing from the Indian side. Of course, I'll be climbing it from the Nepal side. The trek to advanced base camp (ABC) will start from idyllic Ramche and follow the moraine that, eventually, will lead to ABC. Ramche is often described as  a village surrounded by dwarf rhododendrons, rivers and emerald colored lakes...  Some Sherpas say It's possible that one might see blue sheep on the hills and pandas in the lower elevations.

A strong mental and physical preparation is required to successfully accomplish such a project. I have been following the same plan of exercises for the climbs I did in the past but increased anaerobic. Also, I'll be working on my advanced expedition technique course in the Alps as well as mixed terrain/vertical ice climbing at altitude in February/March. Acclimatizing on shorter peaks before going to an 8000er has served me well in the past and I plan on doing it again this season.

To  assist me with increasing my chances at success in this peak, a  Bern, Switzerland based company will provide me with weather forecast data. These guys were right on with their weather forecast on every peak I climbed in the past.

Here is a little of Kangchenjunga's history:
One of the first accounts to attempt the summit of Kangchenjunga was by an expedition led by Professor Dyhrenfurth (he was quite a character). Professor Dyhrenfurth was well known in the mountaineering circles of the time and famous for his militaristic leadership.  Every book I read on Kangchenjunga describes him as a highly skilled expedition leader.  However, Dyhrenfurth would not give in to pressures from sponsors, the professor aborted the attempt on Kangchenjunga soon after an avalanche almost killed the whole team.

Mark Twain was one of the earliest visitors to the Kangchenjunga area, staying at Darjeeling Station, back in 1896.  Mr. Twain was so fascinated by Kangchenjunga's beauty and mysticism that he dedicated quite a few pages of his book Following the Equator to this magnificent peak.

In 1905, Aleister Crowley, one of the earliest explorers of K2, was also one of the first explorers of Kangchenjunga. He was the expedition leader for his team but was stripped off of his leadership position because of his inhuman treatment of the expedition's porters. By all written accounts of Mr. Crowley's Kangchenjunga expedition, he even refused to rescue members of his own team who had been caught in a deadly ice avalanche while he sipped tea in his tent.

In 1954, John Kempe of the Hyderabad Public School and his team saw a route on the upper Zemu glacier which seemed viable. Finally, on May 25, 1955  Britons George Band and Joe Brown touched the virgin summit of Kangchenjunga.

I'll have more detailed info on my trip to Kangchenjunga as I near the departure date.  I'll post the expedition's tracking site so you can follow my climbing progress as we near our departure date.  Also, my sponsor will be furnishing GoPro cameras and if they work well on the mountain, I'll have some videos  to post as well. 

 Suggested Readings:
Aleister Crowley - The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
Charles Evans - The Un-trodden Mountain
John Angelo Jackson - More Than Mountains
John Angelo Jackson - Adventure Travels in the Himalaya