Kanchenjunga Circuit – Ghunsa to Khambache

After a two day delay in Ghunsa due to illness I finally made it further up the valley into proper mountain territory, relatively close to 7,000m plus peaks and epic views. Unfortunately due to the delay I wasn’t able to make it to the northern Kanchenjunga base camp with the rest of the group, but it sounded like it was a tough and cold trip with limited views of the mountain top.

It was another cold start to the day in Ghunsa, illustrated by this frozen pipe.

There was a 400m altitude gain today, to 4,100m above sea level, but it felt much tougher than a similar acclimatisation walk yesterday from Ghunsa. Having just recovered from a stomach bug I was now coming down with a nasty head cold, one of those post Covid specials, my first in a couple of years, not ideal at altitude. I think breathing in literally freezing air for the past three nights hadn’t helped. I only noticed on my final morning in Ghunsa that my room had a foot high gap to the outside around the top of one of the walls.

The path went through atmospheric woods, crossing over solidly frozen streams.

This shrine added a touch of colour.

There were a number of sizeable slips along the track, quite slippery in places to cross with ice.

The sun was making its way nicely down the other side of the valley, but it remained freezing on the track side. I’ve rarely hiked wearing so many layers for so long.

Finally at 10am, over 2 hours after starting, sunshine hit the track bringing some welcome warmth, though tempered by a cold wind.

There was plenty of attractive lichen hanging from the trees.

And patches of bold autumn colour.

Stopping at this basic tea house at gave me a welcome chance to catch my breath and rest.

This was a rather notable rock.

I stood aside to let this convoy of yak pass. Being a yak herder must be a relatively lucrative business up here, with all of them sporting flash mobile phones. There are no roads up here so everything must be carried by man or beast.

This is when the really epic scenery started, with the distinctive peak of the 7,711m Jannu coming into view in the distance. This is a tough mountain, the 32nd highest in the world, and first climbed in 1962. It’s only been climbed about a dozen times since. In 2019 six people had a permit to climb it. None succeeded.

The views up the Kumbhakarna Glacier offered four mountains over 6,000m high, with a couple more hidden behind them.

The track the other side of the valley looked pretty much impassable now due to slips.

This impressive suspension bridge heralded the home stretch into Khambachen, the original home of Tibetan exiles, but most have now moved to the relative warmth of Ghunsa.

There was a particularly snow covered peak in the distance though I can’t work out from the map which it was.

I stayed at the Sunrise Hotel Lodge. I initially missed the Kanchenjunga Guest House in Ghunsa. No English was spoken here, but the room was warmer as it was much smaller, lacked any obvious large openings to the outside, and had some semblance of insulation. They made pretty good momos, though I’m glad I chose the vegetable ones, not yak, a wise decision when I saw the meat sat on a shelf in the kitchen.

There were impressive mountain views all around.

There was some great sunlight down the Nupchu Khola valley, though it left the valley by 3pm, and the highest peaks by 5pm.

Just before losing the light I had an explore of the village. Even more so than Ghunsa it primarily seems to be guest houses, 4-5 of them, and a few locals houses.

The prayer flags up the hill looked intriguing but it was hard work walking up to them. Worth the effort though.

There is a Snow Leopard Research Station here, and a yellow and red complex which looked like an impressive guest house but it clearly wasn’t open.

I just about made it to this stupa before the light went, with views of Khambachen below.

There was a huge flock of crow.

My first day in Khambachen ended with the warm colours of the setting sun on the peaks of Jannu, Sobi Thongje (6,670m), Phole (6,645m), Ghabur Peak (6,044m) and Mera Peak (6,364m).

Author: jontycrane

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