- Case Study: Kanchenjunga Expedition 1905
- How to climb the Kanchenjunga
While Himalayan mountains like Everest and K2 are well known to the general public, the sacred mountain of Kanchenjunga lies in obscurity and is only known to locals, travel veterans and mountaineers. The mountain used to be a popular challenge for British and American explorers, who first went to the beautiful city of Darjeeling – then the closest city with modern infrastructure – to assemble a team of porters and climbers. Climbing without a full-fledged team was and is not considered sensible procedure considered. Not surprisingly, most humans who attempted the Ascension failed, often losing some members of their team to the unforgiving environment where they may have joined the pantheon of gods said to reside in the icy expanses of Kanchenjunga.
Until recently, the governments of Nepal and India had banned unauthorized persons from climbing the infamous mountain, citing conservation, safety and religious sanctity concerns. However, as the local labor economy, traditionally made up of Sherpas who earn a living as mountain guides, dwindles in wealth and size, the government has decided to reopen the mountain to the public, albeit with an enormous list of restrictions and regulations, and fees.
- Height: 8,586 m (28,169 ft)
- location: East Nepal, Northeast India
- duration: Ten weeks
- Costs: $7,000
- difficulty: Extreme
- Agency: Asian trekking
Case Study: Kanchenjunga Expedition 1905
Before we go into detail, a look back at the infamous 1905 expedition will shed some light on the dangers of Kanchenjunga, as well as the kind of people who were drawn to explore it. Since then, almost 120 years ago, the conditions on the mountain have not changed. Do not delude yourself that modern technology makes the ascent safer. In fact, rumor has it that Kanchenjunga is more dangerous than ever as climate patterns change, triggering avalanches and rockfalls.
Aleister Crowley, the evil occultist from England, traveled to Darjeeling with the intention of climbing Kanchenjunga. According to his esoteric research, there are important secrets and truths to be discovered on the mountain – an ancient belief shared by Hindus and other religious groups in the region. Among others, he joined forces with the Swiss photographer Jules Jacot-Guillarmod (back when photographers were daring explorers and pioneers). They each recruited locals to join a church-arranged team, and Crowley hired his hotel owner, a young Italian named Rigo De Righi.
In short, as soon as they set out on the climb, the climbers went insane. With the scent of forbidden immortality now motivating him, Crowley turned into a bully, risking the team’s life to reach the summit faster. Jacot-Guillarmod and De Righi were left with no choice but to conspire and mutiny against Crowley, leading many porters to reject his authority as well. Despite madness and betrayal, the team managed to establish Camp V over the Yalung Glacier. However, the mutinous team members decided they had had enough and began dismounting against Crowley’s orders. Perhaps due to a malicious spell, or perhaps due to Crowley’s genuine premonition, the team was struck by an avalanche while descending from the glacier, killing at least four people. The next day Crowley dismounted himself and returned to Darjeeling where he looted the expedition funds and disappeared.
It was not until 50 years later that Kanchenjunga was successfully climbed.
How to climb the Kanchenjunga
First, prospectors must apply for long-term visas to either Nepal or India, depending on which side of the mountain they want to climb. The most popular passage is in the South Face, which can be accessed from Nepal.
duration and time
The climb takes about ten weeks, which means that the climb must be carefully planned to take into account the change of season. It is advisable to avoid climbing during the monsoons, which fall in the summer months between May and August. It’s also best to avoid climbing in the spring, as melting ice can pose a hazard. It is therefore advisable to do the expedition in November or December, when the ice is hard and there is less rain. However, there is no ideal time to climb Kanchenjunga as the weather is notoriously unpredictable.
Plan on around $10,000 per person. This includes the cost of porters, equipment, provisions for ten weeks, visas, permit fees, insurance, medical examinations and aftercare. It’s a good idea to stay in a decent hotel before and after the climb, as recovery requires expensive comforts and good food.
Preparation for ascension
In traditional mountaineering guides probably nothing of the sort has been covered. The fact is that few people, living or dead, have attempted to climb Kanchenjunga, and even fewer have succeeded. One must be very fit, healthy and technically proficient with experience in the routes of vertical ascent, glacier climbing and rappelling. In addition, one must have an advanced knowledge of rope climbing and the various knots involved. Every climber should also complete emergency medical training specializing in high-altitude conditions.
Assemble a team
A team of porters, often but not always from the Sherpa clan, must be hired and paid well. They will be the essential lifeblood of the journey, knowing the necessary techniques and paths to survive the expedition, let alone complete it.
It makes sense to have a doctor trained in high-altitude medicine on the team.
Although it differs depending on the route, there are about six camps above the base camp. Each camp marks a specific altitude milestone and provides a relatively safe place to rest and recover, although most of the time climbers must set up their own camps between the larger ones.
The base camp for the South Face is reached by trekking through the Arun Valley in eastern Nepal. Here hikers can come across rare creatures like the snow leopard and the red panda.
Climbing at a pace of around ten hours a day, most climbers reach Camp IV without any problems. Here, however, one of the most dangerous challenges has to be overcome – the Yalung Kang Glacier. With the help of hooks, ropes and a lot of teamwork, the mighty glacier has to be overcome. It is also worth noting that after Camp IV, based on the recorded deaths, there is a significantly higher likelihood of mortality from a number of reasons listed below.
Once at the summit, the descent back to base camp is comparatively quicker and easier, but not without its dangers.
The most common causes of death on Kanchenjunga are hypothermia, falls, avalanches, asphyxiation from lack of oxygen, falling rocks and disease. People fall most frequently on Yalung Kang and after Camp IV. One case of high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) was recorded.
Mysteriously, many people just disappear with no documented cause of death. Experts in mountaineering, theology, and psychology can speculate as to what happened and whether or not the disappearance was intentional. This may sound ridiculous, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many people from around the world came to the Himalayas in search of the mythical Shambala, and who can really say they haven’t found it?
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