Kanchenjunga, 3rd Highest Mountain in the World: Part Two

Madelyn at Kanchenjunga

Madelyn at Kanchenjunga

We started off on a warm sunny day. I was carrying a light day pack. It was a marvelous path; hand hammered stone precisely laid rocks by laborers, years ago using many women workers. In the following days as we hiked, the trail became narrower, steeper and the terrain more strenuous. We followed the Zemu River with its rushing lather of foam, blasting against the massive boulders, rushing downward and eventually merging with other rivers to the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean. The massive mountain range has such force creating its own weather patterns, its own glaciers and its own rivers.

The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. As I walked along the side of this river, all around us were big mountains and further on higher and higher mountains with glaciers and ice covered peaks. The first day’s hike we were already at 10,500’. Each camp we went higher. We had porters and cooks. It was a pleasant experience as I had recently completed the Appalachian Trail and I was in good shape for hiking. I had little work to do on this trek and could focus on climbing. At first we walked through rhododendron forests and then foliage became sparser as we hiked higher until it became just rocks before it changed to ice.

We stopped for lunch each day along the trail, the food was great and it was an opportunity to get to know my hiking companions who were from around the world. Breakfast and dinner were served at our camps as we ascended higher. Each day I looked forward to new sights and I was excited to see Green Lake. When we reached it there was nothing but a waterless dent in the earth.  Several years ago the glacier had receded taking away the wall that held the lake and completely drained it. It took with it the farmers cattle, yaks and goats that were grazing further down the valley.

Eventually we hiked to the foot of the Zemu Glacier, the largest in the world. We are in a confluence completely surrounded by mountains: Mt. Siniolchu, Simvo, Twin Peaks, Nepal Peak, and Kanchenjunga. This mountain has five peaks. It is so huge. It is so majestic. Breathtaking, sums it up!

Kanchenjunga is a very dangerous mountain. Fewer people have climbed it and more have died than on Everest. After a few more days of climbing we descended and worked our way back to Lachen. We had an extra day in the village and a few of us decided to climb to a cave, 15,000’ up the side of a mountain where Alexandra David-Neel, a French woman who became a Buddhist priest lived for three years, My Journey to Lhasa.  It is one thing to travel and experience adventures but to live in suchharsh conditions over an extended period is true sacrifice. Later in the day we stopped and had dinner at the home of a Lepcha family. The mother made yak cheese and had it hanging to dry. We had a potato dish, rice, yak meat with gravy, cooked vegetables and a fried egg, all cooked over a wood hearth. At the monasteries we were served yak tea. It is hot water with yak butter. The last night we were entertained at the home of the town postman who showed us a movie in French of Alexandra David Neel when she lived in this cave. He went with us when we hiked to the cave and also hiked on Kanchenjunga with us.

We descended to Gangtok and Jamling’s wife joined us. I did a little sightseeing, to the Chogyal (King of Sikkim) and Hope Cook’s old palace, shopping and a farewell dinner. We descended to the jungles where the monkeys come out onto the road for treats thrown out by passing motorists and finally into northern India where the road became congested with bicycles, rickshaws, people, cows and dogs. Finally we were at the airport, ready to depart and home. From each adventure I gain new friends, an awareness of other cultures, an education of the countries visited and much more. From Jamling, I learned humbleness. Something more Americans should possess, honor your guests, kindness to others and being a thoughtful listener. It was quite an experience going to Kanchenjunga, a beautiful, powerful place and where people are thankful for the common things in life. Have you experienced an extraordinary event in your life?