We live in strange and surreal times, with countries across Europe going into lockdown because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. For most of us, travel plans are on hold for the foreseeable future. We have a duty to keep ourselves more isolated during the outbreak, to avoid spreading the virus to those more vulnerable than ourselves.
But we also have a duty to keep optimistic, cheerful and entertained, so that we’re still relatively sane when the hard times come to an end. We never stop dreaming, and one way I’ve been entertaining myself is by watching more YouTube videos to give myself travel ideas for when all of this is over.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a fantastic series on the Great Himalaya Trail. This inspired me to return to my old footage of the last time I was in Nepal. It’s now two years since Edita and I trekked the Kangchenjunga Base Camps circuit, and I still hadn’t completed editing my video footage from that trek.
Well, now I have, and it’s been great fun going back and reliving it. The Kangchenjunga Base Camps trek is a horseshoe that takes you to both sides of the world’s third highest mountain. You start by trekking up a valley to see the north side at a place called Pangpema (and if you’re feeling energetic, climbing a little peak called Drohmo Ri). Then you traverse the west side of the mountain across a high pass to reach the south side at Oktang. The final trek out involves some interesting trekking in the foothills as you cross a series of lower passes.
The full playlist of our trek involves 9 videos and 53 minutes of footage. You can watch the whole thing in one go or watch the videos individually below.
And since some (or perhaps most) of you are readers rather than watchers, you can also read my 2-part trip report of our Kangchenjunga trek here:
1 The first day of the Kangchenjunga trek
Trekking from Taplejung Airport in eastern Nepal, on the first day of the trek to Kangchenjunga Base Camp, across high suspension bridges and through fields of cardamom.
2 Forest fire in Nepal
On the second day we witnessed a devastating forest fire on the other side of the valley, which spread in a matter of minutes before our eyes.
The fire was inside a national park, and was started deliberately by locals to clear a mountainside of forest in order to plant cardamom, a valuable cash crop. You can read more background about this forest fire in a previous post of mine.
3 Kangchenjunga Trek from Sukathum to Ghunsa
Trekking through forest on the Kangchenjunga Base Camp trek in eastern Nepal, from Sukathum to Ghunsa. We rise through rhododendron and bamboo forest to a high mountain sanctuary containing a Tibetan village with gompa and prayer wheels.
4 Jannu Viewpoint, Kangchenjunga Trek
Trekking up a deep river valley from Ghunsa to Kangbachen on the Kangchenjunga Base Camp trek in eastern Nepal.
Above the village of Kangbachen a steep valley leads up to a breathtaking viewpoint of 7,710m Jannu, one of the most dramatic mountains in the Himalayas. On the way back down we saw some blue sheep frolicking among rocks on a hillside.
5 Hundreds of blue sheep at Lhonak near Kangchenjunga
Trekking up a snowy river valley from Kangbachen to Lhonak on the Kangchenjunga Base Camp trek in eastern Nepal.
Lhonak is a community of teahouses in a breathtaking setting at a junction of valleys. The village basks in the sun in a pleasant grassy corner of a huge, sandy plain. Giant snow-capped Himalayan peaks are all around.
On a rocky hillside just a few metres from the village, we were thrilled to see a huge herd of blue sheep skittering across precipitous rocks.
6 Drohmo Ri and the north face of Kangchenjunga
Drohmo Ri is an easy trekking peak with breathtaking views of the daunting north face of Kangchenjunga in the far east of Nepal.
The north face (or more accurately its ridge) was first climbed by Doug Scott, Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker in 1979. Drohmo Ri has been climbed more frequently by people not as talented, including myself. It’s an easy 3 to 4 hour walk above the teahouse at Pangpema, at the end of the Kangchenjunga Base Camp trail.
We weren’t sure if Drohmo Ri would pass the magic 6,000m in height, but if it did it was going to be one of the easiest 6,000ers in the world, a hike up a hillside with a spot of boulder hopping at the end. It was with a measure of anticipation that we got out our GPS devices on the summit to measure.
You can read more background about our ascent of Drohmo Ri and its discovery here.
7 Over the Selele Pass, Kangchenjunga Trek
The Selele Pass lies on a high trail linking the Kangchenjunga North Base Camp Trek with the Kangchenjunga South Base Camp trek.
The pass is actually one of a series of high passes on this linking trail that are often snowbound. The linking trail starts at the village of Ghunsa on the north side and ends at Tseram on the south side. It usually takes two days to trek. There is an overnight campsite and teahouse just beneath the pass on the north side.
8 Kangchenjunga south face from Oktang
Kangchenjunga (8,598m), on the border of Nepal and India, is the third highest mountain in the world. Its towering south face was first climbed by a British team in 1955. Joe Brown and George Band reached the top first, but as legend has it, they stopped a few metres below the summit at the request of locals who believed that the very summit was a holy place. The south side has now become the standard route up the mountain.
The summit can be viewed from Oktang, at the far end of the Kanchenjunga Base Camps trek, where the four summits of Yalung Kang, the main summit, the central summit, and the south summit – all of them over 8,000m – stand in a line.
This video follows a beautiful alpine trek up the Simbuwa valley from Tseram, all the way to the end of the trail at Oktang.
9 Descending the Kangchenjunga trail to the lowlands
The trail to and from the south side of Kangchenjunga is a much tougher trek than that on the north side. This video follows a descent from high in the alpine regions near Tseram to the rolling lowlands near the village of Hapu Khola.
Initially the trail descends a valley to the village of Torontang, but after this things get harder as the route crosses a series of passes in hotter lowland regions.
The terrain is varied, passing through colourful rhododendron forests, alive with the sounds of nature. A huge landslide, triggered by an earthquake, has devastated one hillside. Another has been destroyed by human hand as a digger carves out a road. In between, there are rice and cardamom fields, precipitous footbridges and clifftop trails.