Kanchenjunga Trekking Route (South to North)
Kanchenjunga is the world’s third highest mountain and is situated in the north-eastern corner of Nepal, straddling the border with Sikkim. Kanchenjunga is not a single summit but a mountain massif consisting of five summits with several satellite peaks and glaciers.
Until Nepal opened its borders to foreign visitors in the early 1950’s Kanchenjunga was probably the best recognised and most well known of all the Himalaya peaks as it could be clearly seen from Darjeeling, then part of the British regime. After the border control was relaxed, focus turned to the Annapurna and Everest regions and Kanchenjunga lost a bit of its appeal. Access became difficult from the east, the traditional starting point, as Sikkim then closed its border to foreign travellers. It was not until as late as 1988 that access to the north side of Kanchenjunga was relaxed and explorers, climbers and trekkers were able to fully appreciate the majestic beauty of this Himalayan giant.
The area is home to a variety of endangered species; The snow leopard, musk deer, red panda, grey wolf and the Himalayan Black Bear. It is still a pristine environment and an area that every mountain lover should not only visit but take an active role in protecting its natural diversity.
4,795 m /15,730 ft
Day 1 Suketar- Kunjari 7 hours
Day 2 Kunjari – Khesewa 7 hours
Day 3 Phungphung Danda – Yamphudin 6 hours
Day 4 Yamphudin – Tortong 9 hours
Day 5 Tortang – Cheram 5 hours
Day 6 Cheram acclimatisation day
Day 7 Cheram – Ramchaur 3 hours
Day 8 Ramchaur – Cheram 5 hours
Day 9 Cheram – Selele camp 8 hours
Day 10 Selele camp – Ghunsa 3 hours
Day 11 Ghunsa – Khangpachen 4 hours
Day 12 Khangpachen – Lhonak 4 hours
Day 13 Lhonak – Pang Pema – Lhonak 6 hours
Day 14 Lhonak – Ghunsa 8 hours
Day 15 Ghunsa – Amjilosa 8 hours
Day 16 Amjilosa – Thiwa 8 hours
Day 17 Thiwa – Lingkhim 4 hours
Day 18 Linghim – Suketar 5 hours
Kanchenjunga South Base Camp trek starts from Taplejung and getting there requires multiple hops from Kathmandu.
Day 1: Suketar to Kunjari 5-7 hours
From Suketar airstrip we will start walking to the east, through an unused road and continue up to Deurali (2578m) and then to Pathibhara Temple (3794) which takes around a day long trek. We will stay at a ridge to Lali Kharka (2266m) and enjoy our dinner.
Day 2: Kunjari to Phungphung Danda 7hrs
We will start with a steep climb to Gurung Kande Bhanjyang (2130m) where you will be able to enjoy the views of Kanchenjunga and take a forest walk on steps down through hot and steamy hamlets with various crops and then trek up to Delok (2125m) where we can stay for lunch. The trail then drops wildly to a beautiful waterfall under Khesewa and goes uphill , around a ridge and then through another long traverse lined with clear waterfalls. Then we will go through a long stepped pathway and down to Phungphung Danda (1860m). There are lovely tea houses where you can enjoy the delicious local food and tea.
Day 3: Phungphung Danda to Yamphudin 5-6hrs
You will be able to see cardamom plantation here. After hiding down the stairs, once we reach a suspension bridge we will start the gentle climb to Limbu Mamangkhe (1780m) where there are several teahouses with beds. Then we will make a steep climb, devoid of any shade, in hot and steamy condition alongside cool waterfalls. The route ahead is on small tracks and includes crossing a grassy cliff. Yamphudin (1692m) is a small village with comfortable lodges.
Day 4: Yamphudin to Tortong 8-9hrs
We will get breakfast early in the morning and prepare for the long trek ahead. We will cross Amji River and climb up to Dhupi Bhanjyang (2540m) with nice forest views. Then the trail drops through Rhododendron Forest on a muddy track and goes across Amji River on a swing bridge. Then the trail goes up on stepped path relentlessly until we encounter a path on the left from Sherpagaon. Then we will continue climbing through stepped track through beautiful forest up t Lasiya Bhanjyang (3415m). We will then climb down a grassy pass overlooking an immense landslip with the view of Mt Jannu (7711m) to the northeast then climb about 150m above it and descend on a muddy zigzag through lovely ancient forest with maples turning yellow and the deciduous larch, a feature of the Kanchenjunga area, starting to turn in late October to early November. After crossing Simbuwa River we will make a short climb to Tortong (2980m).
Day 5: Tortang to Cheram (Tseram) 4-5hrs
We need to me more careful about altitude sickness from the point as we plan to climb more than the suggested 300m/day for safety. Please watch out for any symptoms and we will rest if they emerge. We will ascent another 900m beside a river which is a strenuous bit of trekking but the views are stunning and one of the best ones Nepal has to offer. You will experience the changing sound of river, moss-hing forests with pine trees and larches giving way to large Rhododendron forest. You will be greeted with cool winds and warm sun and the experience is truly blissful. Another hour of walk and we will arrive at Yak Kharka where you may rest for a while for meal or tea. After 30mins we will arrive at Cherang (3868m).
Day 6: Cheram acclimatisation day
The acclimatisation day is specially needed due to a relatively high degree of altitude gain the day before. You can walk towards Ramchaur to a lake with marvelous views if you choose to.
Day 7: Cheram to Ramchaur 2-3hrs
We will leave Cheram behind and head up through moss-hung pines and rhododendrons with a small clear stream. After climbing and crossing a large gully we will climb again onto a pasture at Yalung (4000m). There is a monastery named Decherol Monastery after which follows a beautiful series of open ablation valleys, juniper, cinnamon-scented dwarf Rhododendrons and moraines and lakes with the Kabrus, Rathong and Kokthang hanging above. Care will be needed crossing the many frozen streams and seeps.
Day 8: Ramchaur to Cheram 4-5hrs
You can leave your stuff behind and just take a day pack. Its a gentle climb to a flagged cairn on a high moraine will with views of the Yalung Glacier and the south face of Kangchenjunga, quite shapeless and foreshortened but undeniably massive. Okhordung (4740m, Oktang) is regarded as the base camp but the actual camp is another 2km/1hr/100m up on a track collapsing due to glacial retreat.
Day 9: Cheram to Selele camp 6-7hrs
This day and the next, connect the south side of Kangchenjunga to the north side via a superb traverse. The traverse is remote and exposed to weather. The trail starts with a steep 800m climb above Cheram. We will climb to Sele La (4720m) in about 3 hours then descend a little and then up and down in pastures and scree with views as far as Makalu and Everest. Dropping steeply into a rocky valley we will arrive at the crystal clear Selele River and to the camp (4130m).
Day 10: Selele camp to Ghunsa 3-4hrs
The trek ahead includes a traverse on a rocky track to Selele La (4200m) with cairns and flags and the trail continues circling with views down the Selele River and then up to rocky peaks and rockfalls, across to the Nango La (4795m). It then depends steeply through old-growth Rhododendrons, silver birch, silver pine and larches below towards Ghunsa (3415m).
Day 11: Ghunsa to Khangpachen (Khambachen) 3-4hrs
Get ready for another high altitude gain of about 750m which is again more than double the recommend 300m/day. You should be look out for any signs of sickness in which case will will rest. If all is fine we will climb up the track through Ghunsa and cross a bridge. The autumn larches are like sunlight along the Ghunsa River. Its a gentle walk through the larches and Rhododendrons with yaks coming down loaded with patotoes and the valley blocked by the huge Jannu terminal moraine. After around 3 hours you will be greeted with the view of Janu (7711m) and the trail will climb steeply. Traverse and eventually cross a small stream into Kangpachen (4145m).
Day 12: Khangpachen to Lhonak 4-5hrs
Yet another high altitude gain of 750m and we recommend the same precautions to look out for altitude sickness. We will climb past the chortens above Khangpachen then steadily trek on the true right bank with beautiful icy rocky peaks all around, though big areas of sea-buckthorn that fruit prolifically in October but are not harvested locally. At times there may be avalanche snow across the track that can make crossing streams problematic. The last 30mins traverses a loose and exposed gully wall at length, crosses a rude bridge and then a sandy plain to seven scattered huts of Lhonak (4792m).
Day 13: Lhonak to Pang Pema to Lhonak 6hrs
This day takes you deep into the Himalayan mountains with time to enjoy and acclimatize but glacial retreat is collapsing the moraine terrace, meaning that some sections require considerable care and there is an ever-present risk of stone fall. About two-thirds of the walk is on grassy terraces. The views of Kangchenjunga and the glacier are stupendous. We also saw Himalayan pika (rock rabbits), a big covey of chukar (Himalayan snow partridge), and more blue sheep.
Day 14: Lhonak to Ghunsa 7-8hrs
Very charming walk with full valley views of the golden larches in season. Retrace your steps down-valley to Khangpachen in 3-4hrs taking care on the icy bits. Then on to Ghunsa in another 3-4hrs, taking care on the two big slips which are now in the sun. The smell and sights of the forest are enchanting after the barren uplands. It is a 1600m descent today so watch your knees.
From Khangpachen it is also possible to cross the Ghunsa Khola and descend to Ghunsa entirely on the Ghunsa side of the river. The trail is thin and crosses one major side stream, pick your crossing point carefully.
Day 15: Ghunsa to Amjilosa 7-8hrs
Cross the Ghunsa Khola on a swing bridge near the Yak Hotel, turn left, pass the ancient Tashi Choding Gumba (which welcomes visitors but is usually locked) and climb to a memorial to the many wildlife people killed in an horrific helicopter crash near Ghunsa in 2006. Look up right at the next bridge to the route to a yak hut just under Nango La (4795m), by which it is possible to reach the ancient village of Olangchunggola (~3000m) in two days. This village is reputed to be the original village settled from Tibet more than 600 years ago. Descend through the Tibetan refugee village of Phale (3215m) after 1hr. This atmospheric village offers a glimpse of authentic Tibetan culture with two active gompas, carpet-weaving and traditional lifestyle. In 2013 coming up- valley we stayed at the friendly **Kangchenjunga Folay Hotel (Rs500, db Rs300) and there are at least two other good homestays with private rooms. People were very welcoming.
The lower part of Phale is Ghunsa’s winter village.
Day 16: Amjilosa to Thiwa 7-8hrs
A beautiful day’s walking with many bridges. The track is close to the Ghunsa Khola and is being steadily improved with newly-laid slabs in good order. Cross a bridge to the true left and at a big cave look across the river to see monkeys. Shortly thereafter cross to the true right on a new bridge. Eventually cross a new bridge to the true left again, pass a slip and cross again to the true right. There are a lot of child porters on this section, with some as young as 12 years old carrying up to 50kg. They are paid about Rs2000 per day and have expenses of about Rs600-700, so earn about Rs1400 in a region where a good daily wage is Rs400.
A long swing bridge crosses the Tamor River which drains the valley that contains Olangchunggola and subsumes the Ghunsa Khola. The shortcut immediately left on leaving the bridge saves the climb through Lelep but is narrow and rough in places and climbs up to rejoin the main trail through Lelep. The cliffs across the valley have native honeycombs hanging in their sheltered places.A broad stone path eventually drops to a flat and beautiful walk through rice, millet and buckwheat fields interspersed with cardamom plantations. Much of the track is in welcome shade. Cross to the true left at Tapethok (1322m) with a Kangchenjunga Conservation Area checkpost for those entering but not for those leaving the area. Turn right, sidle the river and eventually cross a landslip of truly immense boulders. In 30mins suddenly arrive in busy civilised Thiwa (1185m, Chiruwa ‘corner’) with pretty thatched houses, well-stocked shops and ISD/STD phones.
Day 17: Thiwa to Lingkhim 3-4hrs
Our choice here was to take the upper trail towards Suketar rather than continue down the Tamor Nadi to Mitlung and climb up to Suketar. Lingkhim (1460m; Lingkham) is reached after only 3.5hrs but is easy to miss as it is a spread-out hamlet. A school above the road is the sign you have arrived, with the sole guest house a little further on. This is on the outside of a zigzag, so if you shortcut that particular zigzag then you will miss it.
Day 18: Lingkhim to Suketar 5-6hrs
We will follow a tractor road and arrive in Mayam (2000m) where you may have noodle soup. Afterwards, we will cross a swing bridge below the road and, taking numerous shortcuts steeply up to avoid zigzags, reach another new road and shops on a pass. From here, we will follow the road direct to Suketar (2420m) in about 2.5hrs, circling and descending in the last stages. You can see Taplejung ahead and below. A tractor-trailer (gharry) comes along this top road daily from Suketarand returns in the early evening but it is best not to rely on it. Treat it as a bonus if it happens and if you want a rough and dusty ride.
Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) has been implemented jointly by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) to ensure safety and security of trekkers and to control illegal trekking operations. Trekking companies will be asked to furnish personal information of trekkers like their passport numbers, nationality and their contact address and their itinerary. The data will be uploaded in visitors’ database which can be accessed in case of accidents and/or natural calamities in order to inform the concerned institutions about the number of trekkers inside a certain trekking area. TIMS cards should be collected by both Free Individual Trekkers (FITs) and trekkers taking the service of government authorized trekking agencies. Past experiences have revealed that difficulties were seen while carrying out rescue operations during times of accidents and natural calamities. Due to the lack of proper record system of trekkers, rescue and search missions used to face difficulties in spotting the missing trekkers. Based on the data collected through TIMS cards, however, it will be possible to know the position of a trekker in case a rescue operation is needed. The provision of Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) came into effect on January 1, 2008. Since then, the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) and Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) started recording trekkers’ details and began issuing TIMS Card to trekkers. As per the recent MoU signed by NTB and TAAN, TIMS card is applicable in all trekking areas of the country including restricted areas. Group trekkers will have to pay Blue TIMS cards by paying a fee of Rs 1,000 per person, while FITs have to get Green TIMS cards by paying a fee of Rs 2,000. Similarly, group trekkers from SAARC countries have to pay Rs 300 for TIMS cards, while FITs from the SAARC region have to pay Rs 600 each.