How difficult is Kanchenjunga Trek?

Published date: January 13, 2020

Well that depends on who is asking the question?. If your idea of a good work out is a trip to your local shop, near impossible. My dad, whilst relatively fit for his age, would struggle and probably give up. However, if you are someone who is fit with a good degree of stamina, coupled with a strong desire to achieve something very special, read on, this trek may well be for you. The Kanchenjunga Trek is an epic trek on a path far less traveled and not on the radar of most of the tourist community who visit Nepal.

Challenging it is one of the most challenging high altitude treks in Nepal. Trekkers have to cross 4000m to 5000m high passes and hike along remote high altitude trails for several days with the highest point at 5143m. Altitude can be a major problem on the Kanchenjunga Circuit trail if you do not properly acclimatize, rest days built in are essential as you go. The infrastructure on the trail, whilst improving, is still very basic so do not expect gourmet meals, Dal Bhat (rice Lentil soup with vegetables) and instant noodles are likely to be the dish of the day. Also, the trails can sometimes be misleading, especially when covered with snow. Stamina is important as trek itineraries generally range between 20 and 24 days not including time spent in Kathmandu

As you are hiking through remote landscapes, communication at higher altitudes (whilst also improving) remains poor. There are a number of difficult ascents and descents and as the elevation increases, with the thinning air, the level of difficulty seems twofold.

Having said all of this, to sum up; if you are up for it, fit and passionate for the challenge, you are already unbeatable.

Janu Himal


Mount Kanchenjunga Some Facts:

Mt. Kanchenjunga is a mighty giant, in far-eastern Nepal straddling the border between Nepal and India, with Tibet to the north. Considered a massif and not a single peak, it dominates all the other peaks in one of the most beautiful conservation areas in the country. It is the second-highest mountain in Nepal (after Mt. Everest) and the third-highest in the world at an elevation of 8,586m.

Kanchenjunga, a Tibetan word, translated means “The Five Great Treasures of Snow” (gold, silver, precious stones, grains, and Holy Scriptures) comprises of the two significant peaks that make up Kanchenjunga and the three peaks within the massif. The region is protected by Kanchenjunga Conservation Region (spread over 2,035 km) it is jointly run by WWF Nepal in partnership with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.

Exploring Janu Himal


The Kanchenjunga Trek (a brief):

A circular trek that starts from Taplejung on a trail that takes you up through lush valleys, full of seasonal flowers nourished by the heaviest monsoon rains throughout the Himalayan range. As you trek north you enter into a spectacular high alpine region with landscapes covered with woodlands amidst a plethora of mountain streams. The trail leads you up and over high passes to both Kanchenjunga Base Camp and Ramche Yalung Base Camp, before trekking back down again to lower elevations and finally returning to the Taplejung.

Kanchenjunga South Base Camp


Getting There:

By Air:

There are two ways to reach Kanchenjunga, by air one is fairly straight forward than by road. My choice would be the flight to Bhadrapur as it saves a lot of hassle and uncertainty whilst also providing an opportunity on the bus to soak up the local landscape.
 

Fly Kathmandu to Bhadrapur: (45 mins):

Bhadrapur Airport

The most straightforward way is to take the 45 minute flight to Bhadrapur. A town situated on the plains in the south of the country. There are daily flights which your trekking company will manage as most quotes provided will include transportation. From Bhadrapur it’s a ten hour jeep ride to Taplejung where the trek begins.
 

Fly Kathmandu to Suketar Flight: (1 hour 20 mins):

If life was easy, this would be your best bet, fly in to the tiny mountain airport of Suketer. From here it’s just a case of start walking for around an hour to Tapljung. Unfortunately weather conditions make this option a very dodgy choice. Flights are irregular and they are also cancelled on a fairly regular basis.


Kathmandu to Taplejung by Road:

Jeep Ride to Taplejung

If you are up to the rigours of Kanchenjunga from day one, a road trip is always a possibility. You will need to break your journey at either Bhadrapur or Birtamod, before continuing on to Taplejung the following day. If you are thinking of a road journey, a private Jeep is by far the best option, hiring a vehicle in Kathmandu (Your trekking company will arrange) provides the options and flexibility to stop off on the way, take things at your own pace and truly get ready for the journey to come!!.

The other option is a local bus. There are a number of daily buses leaving Kathmandu to Birimod (12 hours) from the New Bus Park. The following day take a bus up into the hills to Taplejung (10 hours). Any discomfort is more than made up by witnessing the different aspects of country, culture and the local people on the way.
 

Coping with Potential Difficulties on the Kanchenjunga Trek:

Kanchenjunga Base Camp is a as mentioned a strenuous trek; however, with a good degree of fitness, very achievable. By following appropriate advice you can improve your chances of successfully, and more importantly enjoy completing the journey.
 

Acute Mountain Sickness:

One issue to begin with is how to minimise the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness. High altitude and unpredictable weather are the main problems when trekking in the Kanchenjunga area.

Acute Mountain Sickness does not discriminate and can affect anyone, regardless of their level of fitness. It is vital that you keep your fluid levels constant as hydration is one of the keys to avoiding any problems. Another important issue is not to gain too much altitude in one day; a good guide will take care of this, planning acceptable days on the trail. The better trekking companies provide their guides with a Pulse Oximeter to check guests health (twice a day). This helps the guide keep track SPO2 (running oxygen level in the blood) and BPM (blood pressure) before deciding on whether to trek on, or take an extra day to acclimatize.

In a real emergency, there are *helicopter rescue services available, however arranging a helicopter rescue is time consuming so don’t expect a helicopter immediately, it can take many hours

You must make sure that your insurance covers evacuation costs.
 

Get fit Keep fit:

It should be clear by now that this trek is not a walk in the park. If your daily routine already includes a lot of sport and exercise, you are probably O.K. on this one. If however you feel you could benefit from toning up the muscles and improving your lifestyle, here are a few tips that will help.

  • Get walking in some hills on a regular basis before your arrival.
  • Join a Gym, stretching and muscle building exercises will go a long way to ensure that you enjoy the trek.
  • Eat well, a good constitution goes a long way
  • Go Swimming and when you feel tired keep going and do one more length. Swimming is great for building lung capacity.
  • Don’t take lifts/elevators, take the stairs whenever possible.
  • If you are prone to alcohol, try to limit your intake before you arrive. Never drink at high altitude.
  • Mindfulness is all the fad nowadays, but it actually does help in difficult situations. It will help you to concentrate on your breathing which in turn normally helps people to focus on the task (often a high pass) ahead.
     

Make the trek more comfortable:

  • If you feel the cold take more ‘layers’
  • Fill your water bottle with boiling hot water at night.
  • Nightwear a hat, thick socks, and pull in your sleeping bag baffles
  • Use dry bags to protect important items
  • Use a sleeping bag liner (preferably silk or fleece) to add up to 5 degrees of extra warmth
     

Permits and Bureaucratic Stuff before beginning the trek:

You need to obtain a special trekking permit to visit the area available from the Nepal Tourism Board. (Your agency will cover this and arrange)

Trekkers also need to purchase a Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Permit (KCAP). (Your agency will cover this and arrange)

You need to hold a valid passport and a visa to enter Nepal via air or a road with at least six months duration before expiry.
 

Government Rules for the trek to Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek

  • Travelers must be in a group of at least 2 people
  • You must be accompanied by a government registered licensed guide
  • You must go through a trekking agency to purchase a trekking permit.

Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek Permit Cost Updated in 2020:

  • Restricted Area Trekking Permit: USD 20 per person per week
  • Kanchenjunaga Conservation Area Permit Cost: NRS 3,000 per person or equivalent foreign currency
  • All the above will be covered by your chosen trekking agency who will advise you before you travel what you need to bring photos etc.
     

People and culture:

If Kanchenjunga was a Swiss mountain it would still be a fantastic trek, however what makes a trek in Nepal so special, is the magic of Nepal and in particular the Kanchenjunga region.

The Kanchenjunga region is well known for its bio-diversity, it includes the world's largest natural rhododendron forest along with the highest number of rhododendron species in the world. You will be trekking within an alluring rich cultural heritage, reflected by the Buddhist gompas (monasteries) where the flowing waters of small streams continuously spin prayer wheels with the prayer "Om Mane Padme Hum" inscribed on them. Its meaning (but I am not sure many trekkers will make it, certainly not in 24 days or so!!) is that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha" work that one out!.

The cultural diversity of the region is remarkable, with the region being home to many different ethnic groups each with their own customs and way of life. Limbus Chhetris and Brahmins occupy the lower levels, with the higher regions inhabited by Sherpas, Rais, Gurungs, Tibetans, Magars, Newars, Sunwars, Tamangs.

Cardamom farming, agriculture, animal husbandry and tourism are the major sources of income for the people here. The Sherpas, who arrived from Tibet more than four hundred years ago, live in the highest altitudes, although their culture and tradition is quite different from that of the Sherpas of Solukhumbu district in the Everest region.
 

 Kanchenjunga trek equipment checklist:

For many people a trek to Kanchenjunga will be their first remote high alpine trek. Whilst the Kanchenjunga Trek takes you over high passes of 4500 meters and more, it is not like climbing a high mountain. Mountaineering requires a lot more technical equipment, you will not need ice axes or crampons and there is no need for ropes and helmets. The secret is to travel as light as possible whilst ensuring the gear you have is reliable and adequate for a comfortable trek. Below is a list that will help you plan what to bring. If trekking in Kanchenjunga is going to be a once in a lifetime experience, then it is not necessary to bring all your gear with you. Kathmandu is full of trekking and climbing shops that will sell or rent you almost any article or piece of equipment you will need.

Consider Microspikes, they are adjustable and fit easily on to trekking boots and will help you in snow at high altitudes.
 

Suggested Gear List:

Feet:

  • Walking boots. A pair of good quality water repellent boots with ankle support. Make sure your boots are well “worn in”
  • Sports shoes for the evenings at lower altitude
  • Gaiters. A pair used to keep boots dry if walking through deep snow. (winter only)
  • Walking socks. 2 pairs of thin, lightweight inner socks. 2 pairs of heavy poly or wool socks. Cotton socks (optional).
     

Lower Body:

  • 2 pairs-breathable underwear briefs.
  • 1 pair of hiking shorts.
  • 1 pair of hiking trousers.
  • 1 pair of lightweight thermal bottoms (seasonal).
  • 1 pair of fleece or woolen trousers.
  • 1 pair of waterproof shell pants, breathable fabric.
     

Hands:

  • 1 pair of lightweight poly-liner gloves.
  • 1 pair of lightweight wool of fleece gloves with a polar-fleece mitt liner (optional)
     

Upper Body:

  • Polypropylene shirts (1 half sleeve and 2 long sleeves)
  • Light and expedition weight thermal tops.
  • Fleece wind-stopper jacket or pullover.
  • Waterproof shell jacket (preferably breathable fabric)
  • Down jacket
  • Gore-Tex jacket with hood, waterproof and breathable
     

Sleeping:

  • 1 sleeping bag (-15/20 degrees)
  • Fleece sleeping bag liner (optional)
     

Rucksack and Travel Bags:

  • 1 medium rucksack (50-70 liters/3000-4500 cubic inches, can be used for an airplane carryon)
  • 1 large duffel bag
  • A small daypack/backpack for carrying your valuables should have good shoulder padding
  • Small padlocks for duffel-kit bags
  • 2 large waterproof rucksack covers (optional)
     

Medical items to consider:

  • Small, personal first-aid kit. (Simple and light)
  • Aspirin, first-aid tape, and plasters (Band-Aids)
  • 1 skin-blister repair kit
  • Anti-diarrhea pills
  • Cough and/or cold medicine
  • Anti-altitude sickness pills: Diamox or Acetylzolamide
  • Stomach antibiotic: Ciprofloxacin, etc. Do not bring sleeping pills as they are a respiratory depressant.
  • Water purification tablets or water filter.
  • 1 set of earplugs
  • Extra pair of prescription glasses, contact lens supplies.
     

Practical Items to consider:

  • 1 small roll of repair tape, 1 sewing-repair kit
  • 1 cigarette lighter, 1 small box of matches
  • 1 compass or GPS (optional)
  • 1 alarm clock/watch
  • 1 Digital camera with extra cards and batteries
  • Large Ziplocs
  • 1 Water bottle (1 ltrs) consider 2.
  • 1 small folding knife (Swiss Army best)
  • Binoculars
  • 4 large, waterproof, disposable rubbish sacks.
     

Toiletries: Wherever Possible please use Biodegradable products:

  • 1 medium-sized quick-drying towel
  • Toothbrush/paste (preferably biodegradable)
  • Multi-purpose soap (preferably biodegradable)
  • Deodorants
  • Nail clippers
  • Face and body moisturizer
  • Female hygiene products
  • Small mirror
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Wet wipes (baby wipes)
  • Tissue/toilet roll
  • Anti-bacterial hand wash
     

Extras/Luxuries:

  • Reading books
  • Trail map/guide book
  • Journal and pen
  • iPod
  • Travel games i.e. chess, backgammon, scrabble, playing cards (to help you pass the time at teahouses or camps)
  • Voltage converter
  • Plug adapter (2 round pegs to 2 flat pegs)
     

Conclusion:

I hope this helps, if you have got this far, then you are probably thinking of The Kanchenjunga Trek. I have trekked and climbed in Nepal for many years and have many fond memories of high trails and clear summit days. Among them all, the trek to Kanchenjunga is up there with the very best.

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