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ExWeb series: Top 10 reasons not to climb Kangchenjunga
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Jan 27, 2005 03: 26 EST
Previously published Jan 21, 2005

First it was Everest in 2003, and then it was K2 in 2004. This year, it’s Kangchenjunga’s turn to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first ascent.

Kang is a huge, ragged mountain with five main peaks – reflected in the name meaning ‘the five treasures of the great snow’. At 8586m it is the third tallest mountain on Earth… but not the third most visited of the great 8000ers. Instead, Kang is a relatively lonely mountain. Few dare to climb its dangerous slopes and even less are lucky enough to say they’ve reached the summit. That is, if they live to tell at all. Even the 8000ers collectors need to think twice before they consider this challenge.

Invitation to a birthday party

We have witnessed the big mountains blow up when celebrating their summit birthdays: More than 300 teams gathered at the foot of Everest in 2003; K2 was simply unrecognizable last summer, 50 years after the first successful ascent. Anniversaries seem to be the perfect argument – or excuse – to encourage climbers, sponsors and media towards the celebrating peak. K2 had always been the ‘savage mountain’ and only a bold few dared to go for its sharp summit… until last summer, when all records were broken.

So should we expect something similar for Kanchenjunga in 2005? Probably not. The spring season is getting closer and yet we have had news of only a few expeditions headed for Kang. The question is why?

The answer could rest in one of the “Ten reasons not to go to Kangchenjunga :”

1.- It’s not high or famous enough. It lacks the fame of Everest and the ‘prestige’ of K2. As an Everest summiteer you’ll be the hero of your neighborhood. As a K2 summiteer you’ll gain respect from fellow climbers. But if you mention back at the office that you’ve spent 12 weeks “climbing a peak called K-A-N-G-C-H-E-N-J-U-N-G-A”, you’ll get a “whaaat???” response and the unanimous guilty verdict of wasting your time and money.

2.- It’s too remote. Just to get to BC requires a long (around 15 days) difficult approach. The Kangchenjunga trek to the SW side is one of the less frequented in Nepal. There are no lodges and no roads. You’ll spend the last four days on a glacier, which can be hard in bad weather. Approaching from India is not easy either.

3.- It’s located entirely in Maoist territory. Instead of smiles and ‘namastes’, you will be greeted by machine guns, red flags and an offer - not to be refused - to contribute with your money to the revolutionary cause.

4.- There is no easy way to the summit. No mater what side or route you choose: climbers must find their way through difficult terrain; each step will be more and more difficult to the very top. First ascent was completed through the SW face. Sikkim face was first climbed through the North East Spur by an Indian Army team in 1977.

5.- It can’t be easily ‘tamed’ with fixed ropes. Only some passages can be fixed by the usually small teams, and climbers must be prepared to progress self-sufficiently without ropes.

6.- Commercial outfitters usually don’t offer expeditions to Kangchenjunga. Logistics are too complicated and it would be difficult to find guides who had previously summited the mountain – and willing to repeat the experience.

7.- Media may not be interested in covering an expedition to a mountain they can’t even spell properly. Base camp would be too quiet for journalists and filming on higher altitudes could be too hard for almost any cameramen.

8.- Even if you do climb it, there are too many possibilities of not reaching the summit. Too long, too high, too cold, too hard.

9.- Even if you do reach the summit, there are too many possibilities of not getting back safely. Exhaustion, confusing sections in bad weather and avalanches have taken the life of more than a few climbers.

Up to now only 187 climbers had summited Kangchenjunga and 40 have died. The overall summit/fatality rate is about 22%. According to the numbers, K2 and Nanga Parbat would be more dangerous. But while the death toll is decreasing on both these mountains, recent statistics shows that Kangchenjunga’s rate actually has increased (!) slightly over the last decade. Only deadly Annapurna is still on top of the danger rate.

10.- It’s expensive. Stats on failed attempts and mortal accidents are so scary that few sponsors are keen to invest money in the adventure. The entire history of the mountain is spilled with blood. And Nepal climbing permits for 8000ers cost US$10000.

One reason to go to Kangchenjunga

So, there you have it. Considering all this one could actually wonder why anyone would even attempt such a climb. Well, the answer is in the climbers’ memoirs. Some beautiful pages of mountaineering history have been written on the slopes and ridges of the amazing Kangchenjunga. It is one of those mountains which shall be climbed not for fame or glory, but for one self.

Kangchenjunga, also known as the “Five Treasures of the Great Snow,” is an immense mountain mass situated on the Sikkim-Nepal border and the most easterly of the Himalayan peaks. The peak was once thought to be the tallest mountain in the world. Attempts to climb the peak started in 1905. But it was fifty years and at least eight expeditions later before British climbers George Band and Joe Brown first stood on its summit on May 25, 1955. Out of respect for Sikkim religion, the party stopped just shy of the summit.

Image of Kangchenjunga from SW side Base Camp, courtesy of Carlos Pauner.
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