Kanchenjunga Circuit – Sekathum to Ghunsa

Days four to six of a three week hike around Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Things started to get more epic in terms of scenery and it was great to replace the 4WD tracks of the first few days with proper trails.

We left camp at Sekathum crossing one of the many impressive bridges along the hike.

This is a volatile landscape illustrated by the size of the slip on the other side of the river.

There were a perhaps surprising number of new buildings along by the trail.

Long gone were the 4WD tracks, it’d be a real challenge to get roads into here. The path ran along the steep valley, by fast flowing glacial and snow melt.

While a porter waited for us to cross the bridge I spotted this handy pole he uses to support his load. Our porters were carrying a maximum of 35kg. The Mountain Company follow best practice guidelines, but porters can be seen elsewhere carrying almost unimaginable loads of 50-60kg.

The landscape was getting pretty big now four days into the hike, with epic bridges and waterfalls.

I particularly enjoyed this section down by the raging waters, feeling much safer on the concrete paths than the bamboo constructions that apparently had existed only a few years earlier.

Steps, sturdy bridges, and waterfalls were a theme for the day.

There is a fair amount of rubbish on the trail. It’s not terrible but being used to New Zealand tracks which are usually devoid of rubbish, every piece caught my eye. It does improve the further away from permanent settlement though, and most of the rubbish is local brands, so I assume most of it is from locals rather than hikers.

We set up camp in a pretty cool spot in Amjilossa, on a ledge looking over the valley. The only downside was that our tents were only a few inches shorter than the ledge was deep, and there was a decent drop over the ledge, so careful footwork was needed to get to my tent (second from the end!).

The valley looked even better in the morning light.

It’s a lush landscape, even at around 2,500m above sea level.

Lunch was interrupted by a small herd of yak coming through.

This sign was the only sign I saw of bears though. Ditto with a later sign referring to red pandas.

More colourful yak, another cool bridge, and big views.

Gyabla was easily the best place to date that we spent the night, with a well equipped tea house for us to camp by, surrounded by stunning landscapes.

We arrived early, about 2pm, so had time for an hour walk around the local area, up to some homes and more views, including some sizeable mountains.

The lodge at Gyabla we camped outside of also had the first indoor toilet of the hike to date, plus welcome electricity to charge my devices. The solar panel I’d bought specifically for this trip (and tested at home) refused to work as soon as I started the hike, which was somewhat stressful, relying on the charity of fellow group members. The weather was good for charging almost the whole trip, though mainly at lunchtime as the sun rarely made it over the mountains by the time we left at half eight in the morning, and was often already starting to setting by the time we typically arrived into camp around 3pm.

It was a cold walk the next day until the sun finally made it over the mountains.

The autumn colours had started to appear in November.

There were plenty of steps today, climbing up around 900m. The track is maintained by the locals, local businesses, and the conservation park authorities and is of a very good standard, if a little easy for my liking. I missed New Zealand’s endless tree roots to navigate.

Today’s main hazard was a couple of groups of horses passing by in the other direction.

We had lunch at Phole, which looked almost abandoned apart from a few animals wandering around. It is used as a winter village for locals living in Ghunsa further up the valley. It was the first section in five days where the landscape really opened out, quite spectacular.

There was a colourful shrine on the hill.

We were lucky that the local monk (one of four) let us in to take a look around the Tashichuoling Monastery. This was a typical example of a Tibetan monastery, with prayer wheels outside, and plenty of interest inside.

The autumn colour was visible on the final push uphill to Ghunsa, to be covered in the next post.

Author: jontycrane

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