Kangchenjunga: A Trekkers’ Guide

Review by planetFear
Friday 1st October 1999
If it came to a vote amongst well-travelled visitors to Nepal, I suspect that the two-week trek to Makalu from the foothill town of Hille would come out tops as the most beautiful and varied in the country. However, running a close second would surely be the highly scenic approach to Pangpema Base Camp at over 5,000m on the north side of Kangchenjunga.

Until 1988 the only western travellers allowed into this relatively remote region of North East Nepal had generally formed part of a few privileged mountaineering expeditions. Even by the mid-1990s the number of visiting trekkers was tiny but the last few years has seen a rather more rapid increase. However, by comparison with popular venues such as the Annapurna Circuit, travellers will still find little in the way of teahouses or lodges and are unlikely to encounter many other western tourists on a daily basis.

Two reasons why this should be so spring immediately to mind. By ‘normal’ standards it is a demanding journey and despite the recent relaxation in government regulations, which allows free movement on the Everest, Annapurna and Langtang treks without the need of an official permit, the trails to both North and South Kangchenjunga Base Camps are still restricted to those who travel through the organization of a recognized agency.

Kev Reynolds, probably the most authoritative and prolific British author to walking guidebooks outside the UK, has produced yet another excellent little addition to his series of trekking guides to Nepal. After a succinctly written introduction covering preparation, necessary bureaucracy, history plus environmental and cultural considerations, he details treks in daily stages to the North Side Base Camp, South Side Base Camp and the ‘high level’ link between the two. Each stage is well-described, often including amplified details of the various points of interest passed along the way, which are frequently illustrated in black and white or with a well-reproduced selection of colour photographs. Added to this is a brief section on two short treks in Sikkim leading to excellent viewpoints from which to gaze on the world’s third highest mountain, while tucked away in the appendices is a well-researched résumé of climbing on and around Kangchenjunga, beginning with the pioneering explorations of Hooker back in 1848.

I have only two, quite minor, criticisms. As Reynolds freely admits to not having started the North Side trek from the STOL airstrip at Suketar, he hardly gives this approach a mention, despite the route fast becoming the standard means of access to the Tamur Valley. In addition, once the bridge is completed above Kabeli there will be road access all the way from Kathmandu to Taplejung, the district administration centre just downhill from the airstrip. Secondly, although Reynolds does a good job in alerting his readers to the dangers of the well-known landslide area below Kambachen, he fails to mention the equally hazardous section below Ramtang Kharka.

Whilst the delights of these treks shine through the prose, it is nice to find no exaggerated sales talk. From the beginning Reynolds is at pains to point out that trekking in Nepal can be far from a bed of roses and that this particular adventurous journey can bring more hardship and potential danger than many of the country’s well-known alternatives. He spells out the possible down sides and strongly suggests those in any doubt should simply consider another trek or even another type of holiday. However, those who manage to ‘survive the ordeal’ are sure have a marvellous experience and find Kangchenjunga - A Trekkers’ Guide a very worthy companion.

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