Kanchenjunga: 3rd Highest Mountain in the World: Part One

Madelyn with Jamling Tanzing Norgay

Madelyn with Jamling Tanzing Norgay

It was awesome to have two amazing adventures in one year! I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail and set my starting date for March 26, 2009. I hoped to finish in six-seven months. Two weeks before I began hiking the AT Trail I signed on a team to go with Jamling Tanzing Norgay, Touching My Father’s Soul to the East Base Camp of Kanchenjunga. This was to be October-November 2009.

I was delighted to complete my through-hike in four months leaving me enough time to rest and prepare for this once in a lifetime trek onto the 3rd highest mountain in the world. I had never been to Himalaya and the excitement to learn the culture, meet the people and to climb in a remote area not often open to foreigners was beyond my wildest dreams. I would be traveling alone, but then I had just been alone over four months. I had been classified as one of the fastest woman hikers of my age on the AT Trail.

I knew I would have Sherpa guides, porters, and be with other team members. Jamling Norgay had led the IMAX Everest Expedition Team at the time of the terrible storm and disaster of Into Thin Air. He helped to bring down some of the fated team members to safety. I hiked two weeks with Jamling. His father, Tanzing Norgay, Tiger of the Snows, was the first to summit Everest with Edmond Hillary. Jamling had not climbed on this side of Kanchenjunga. It was exciting to be in this part of the world where Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan all come together. The mountains separate the countries. Darjeeling in northern India used to be the starting place to reach Everest, Kanchenjunga and most of the tallest mountains of the Himalaya.  Once I committed to a journey I had to get busy. Once I decide there is no turning back.

My first leg of the journey brought me to New Delhi, India. I decided to take a few days and tour this area and took a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It is an absolute masterpiece and the story that goes with it. No wonder it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The next day, I flew to Bagdogra, India and there met my guides and we drove by jeep to Gangtok. As we neared the border there were army vehicles on the road and one collided with one of our jeeps causing a stop and delay at the local police station. No one was hurt. From here on we and inched our way closer to the biggest mountains in the world always going higher in elevation, more remote and more difficult traveling. The roads twisted and turned and grew narrower with fewer bridges. Along the way we stopped at Stupas and famous monasteries and had Tibetan tea with the head monks and met with a Dalai Lama. Our last stop before hiking was Lachen, a tiny village in Sikkim. We stayed in a lovely, small, newly built stone hotel but the heating system was not installed, I used hot water bottles for my feet. It seemed colder than when I am on a glacier in my tent. Electricity was also quite new to the area and was not that dependable. Sometimes the power was on sometimes it would go off. We never knew if it would stay on and how long. After a night’s rest we gathered our mountain gear and were driven to the trail head. There was quite a group waiting for us, cooks and porters from the area and a police escort. We were not to use outside communications while trekking here as we were so close to the Chinese border. After the first day of hiking we never saw another person going up or coming down until we descended to Lachen. It was really remote. It was God’s country, beautiful, serene and majestic. In every direction I looked were the tallest mountains some still unnamed. I had traveled more than halfway round the world and the experience was worth it.