Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mountain Expeditions – Kanchenjunga 2022

Kanchenjunga 2022 updates from Jon Gupta and his ‘Mountain Expeds’ Team!

7th May

Today we woke early and descended back to the comfort and familiarity of our Basecamp. We were welcomed with warm smiley ‘Namastes’ from our Nepali crew, a cup of stupendously good juice and toast with fried egg. Perfect. This was followed swiftly by warm showers in the shower tent – which had never felt so good! Even at 5400m life feels so normal and easy compared to the last few nights up high. I’m
back in jeans and trainers once again, a small luxury I permit myself on every expedition. Recovery has begun in earnest.

The key to all of this high altitude lark is acclimatising – allowing our bodies to slowly and gradually adjust to the change in air pressure and thus the available oxygen as we ascend higher and higher. A few days ago we settled into Camp 2 at 6230m for our first night on the upper mountain. Generally poor sleep was had, appetites slightly diminished, occasional light head aches common place, but impressively the shared experience and inter team care was above and beyond as always. I almost felt like a spare part (in a good way) as they looked out for each other. Their individual willingness to be open, accepting and understanding of each other is admirable.

During the next few days, accompanied by the ever unwavering and dedicated Sherpas Lhakpa, Mingma and Pemba, we climbed to Camp 3 at ~6900m…

3rd May

Kanchenjunga // Days 11 to 15: Basecamp life & acclimatisation to 6200m (Bananagrams, Snow & Puja!)

I stared intently at the upper mountain as the silence of the crisp morning air around me was momentarily broken by the murmurs coming from the cook tent. Surendra and Amrid were doing what they do best and preparing incredible meals for everyone.
After our monster final day trekking up the Yalung Glacier the day before it was a real treat to wake up in Basecamp to warm sunshine, surrounded by giant ice covered peaks and with no formal plans. Three full rest days were on the agenda.
These precious moments early in the morning are always magical. More often than not a vast blue sky is clear of clouds, and the first of the sun’s rays cast long shadows across the glaciers. These moments provide a little space to breath and think before all the team rise and Basecamp comes alive with the humdrum of activity.

Showers, unpacking, sorting, lunch, faffing, internet for the first time, more tent sorting and the first of many games. Bananagrams and Backgammon seem to be the expedition favourites so far. However, many of you will be pleased to know that Monopoly Deal, Scrabble and Rhummikub have all made an appearance as well as Yanif and other card games too.

As expedition leader one of my favourite things about these trips is to facilitate bringing everything together and letting it naturally evolve. Watching the team members cry with laughter at each other’s jokes and stories fills me with huge amounts of satisfaction. The best thing about this trip already is the team. The amazingly humble, determined and selfless Sherpa team as well as Tom, Matt, Nick, Adam and Rupert. The ingredients are in the mix for one of the best trips I’ve ever done, I am sure of it.
On the 27th we enjoyed our expedition Puja. An integral and special part of these big Himalayan expeditions where we all get together and pay our respects to the mountain and ask the gods for safe passage. I’ve enjoyed many Pujas over the years but this was definitely one of the best! Plenty of offerings and tossing rice and flower at each other. Even our porters were keen to get involved with the festivities, before descending the valley back to their homes.

The next day we went for an acclimatisation climb to Camp 1 at 6200m and back to basecamp. These days are so valuable for a multitude of reasons, not least to gain some altitude and further aid our acclimatisation. Although pretty hot and tough going in parts, we all climbed up to C1 and dropped off a load of kit before descending the route back to BC. That evening there was a new buzz in the camp (between the tired yawns) as for the first time it felt like we’d really got onto the mountain and the reality of what we are hoping to achieve was setting in. Both terrifying and incredibly exciting!

The route is really interesting and fun to climb with a mix of steeper snow slopes, traverses and shorter rocky steps. From C1 you can see 90% of the route to the summit. After a short time we turned and began the down climb back the way we had come. The weather soon deteriorated as we descended and it began snowing a little too. All good fun.
Afternoon clouds and snow seem to be a common pattern so far on Kanchenjunga. In fact we’ve had snow every day we’ve been here but it looks like some better weather may be coming…

29th April

Kanchenjunga // Day 4 to 7: Yamphudin – Basecamp!

With the Yaks and Porters loaded we left the beautiful Yamphudin behind and set off into the forest.

The low mountain forest (2000-3000m) in far Eastern Nepal is a really beautiful mix of huge old trees soaring over 100ft into the sky and dense rhododendrons, at this time of year in full flower. Up and up we went for nearly 1800m of unrelenting ascent until finally we reached a col and a tiny simple hut where we had some hot tea and devoured our packed lunches.

An easier descent saw us weaving our way down through the damp mossy forest accompanied by rain and hail to the valley bottom and the beautiful raging Yalong river before arriving at Torongton, a one lodge settlement. Incredible.

The team enjoyed a well earn brew sat by the open fire inside the lodge whist drying out wet kit. That was a big day to open the account of the trek to Basecamp!

The next day was sensational! A beautiful trail weaved through the forest never straying far from the rumbling river. A shorter and much easier day was throughly enjoyed by everyone and it wasn’t long before we arrived into Tseram (3900m) for an early lunch.
Over the course of the next 3 days based in Tseram we rested, washed clothes, did some yoga, acclimatised to 4700m and revelled in our situation. It felt very real and remote and we loved it. Evenings are spent playing games, watching films and an awful lot of laughing. (The team are getting on famously).

After saying our good byes we took to the trail again and a swift 3 hours later we arrived into Ramche (4500m). Ramche is the last inhabited settlement before Kanchenjunga Basecamp and although very basic it was a wonderful picturesque place to stay for a few nights.
Again we did an acclimatisation day, this time tagging 5000m, and a rest day pottering about playing games and enjoying the views in all directions. An improvised game of boules provided hours of competitive entertainment for the team. Then the Heli arrived with our 6th and final member – Adam – and we were complete!
The next day was the BIG day. 12 hours from Ramche to Basecamp, 11 of which were on the vast and broken Yalong Glacier. The terrain was incredibly slow doing and hard won. Overall it wasn’t much fun. Spirits were lifted after 6 hours when we met our Basecamp cook Surendra who’d come down to meet us with an incredible lunch.

Finally, eventually, we crawled into Basecamp in varying degrees of brokenness and collapsed into our tents. Our new home for the next 3-4 weeks.

27th April

Kanchenjunga // Day 1 to 3: Kathmandu to Yamphudin
Welcome along to our current expedition – live from Kanchenjunga!

What an EPIC week we’ve had and we haven’t even started climbing yet! It feels incredible to be here at Kanchenjunga Basecamp after a truly wonderful trek in. I now have access to wifi so will begin updating our journey so far…

Leaving Kathmandu (16th April) we flew east to Bhadrapour, close to the border with India, where we met our Jeep and driver for the next 2 days. In true expedition style we strapped our vast amounts of luggage to the roof and bundled in to the jeep – it felt like the adventure had truly begun! The journey took us through endless fields of unspoilt farmland green with life and full of character. The sense of being in an untouched part of Nepal felt very real and very special, I couldn’t help but smile as we drove towards the mountains. That evening we arrived into Phidim and celebrated Tom’s birthday with cake, beer and a sporting rendition of happy birthday (his is the first of four birthdays in this expedition!).

The next day we continued in the jeep for a few hours gaining our first glimpses of Kanchenjunga and Jannu way off in the distance. It looked big, beautiful and mildly terrifying at the same time! The Kanchenjunga Massif is huge.
The tarmac roads soon changed to dirt as we turned onto the never ending bumpy mountain roads. Any form of civilisation soon felt very far away. At 4pm we hit a road block as a landslide had cut the road off completely. Only an hour from our destination and the end of the road, Yamphudin, we portaged our luggage up and over the road block and transferred into our rescue vehicle – a tractor and trailer!
Rupert, Nick and Matt lay on the luggage in the trailer whilst Tom, Pemba and I sat in the tractor being defined by pumping Nepalese music blasting into our ears. As the last of the suns light faded we turned the final steep bumpy hair pin and arrived into the wonderful Yamphudim Guest House. What a cool day!

The following day we enjoyed a very relaxing rest day in perfect weather. Time was spent lying on the green grass under a warm sun, sorting our kit for portering, and playing backgammon. We even took a short walk to a near by river and took a very brisk dip in the icy water. The scenery was stunning and the dip, albeit quick, which was incredibly refreshing after two days on the dusty roads!
As I had hoped the team are getting on super well and I have a deep sense that this trip is going to be incredibly special. We are all looking froward to our 6th and final member – Adam – joining us in a few days time.