The Route to Kanchenjunga

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on February 04, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

All photos by Jack Wheeler

The Route to Kanchenjunga
Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

Last week, in our exploration of the highest summits of the Himalayas, we ended our Route to Everest at the Red Hat Tibetan Tengboche monastery.   

Having now been to world’s 6th, 4th, and highest mountain of all – Cho Oyu, Lhotse, and Everest – this week, we continue on to the giants of Makalu – the world’s 5th at 8,485m/27,838ft – and Kanchenjunga – 3rd highest on earth at 8,585m/28,168ft.

The Route to KanchenjungaWe return from Tengboche to the Lukla Airport where we arrived from Kathmandu (Nepal’s capital) the previous day to refuel our helicopters onward to Everest. Lukla is the staging place for treks and climbs to Everest, so everyone flies in here, even though it’s built on a slanted ledge on a mountainside and is considered “the world’s most dangerous airport.”

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

This is of no concern to us as we safely land and take-off by helicopter! After spending the night at the comfortable Everest Summit Lodge, we lift off for Makalu in the early morning light.  Let’s orient ourselves. The yellow line is the trekking route to Everest Base Camp.

The Route to KanchenjungaEven though it’s only 12 miles between the summits of Everest and Makalu, the normal heli flight path would be far to the south below the high mountains, then over the Shipton Pass (above the word “PARK”), then up the Baruntse Valley to Makalu B.C.  With our ultra-high altitude AS 350 B3 Eurocopters, however, we have pioneered a route virtually directly from the Everest-Lhotse massif to Makalu.

Following the trekking route, we overfly Tengboche (spelled Thyangboche in the map and in the bottom of the photo below) back towards Ama Dablam and the Lhotse-Nuptse Wall.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

Getting nearer, we get a close-up view of the summit of Everest peeking over the Nuptse Wall, and the entire gigantic south face of Lhotse summit to base.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

We fly around Ama Dablam…

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

And with one last glorious look at Everest and Lhotse…

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

We turn right past Ama Dablam and head straight for Makalu. We fly over massive glaciers and high passes when, suddenly, there it is, The Great Black Makalu in Sanskrit as the abode of the Black God of Hindus, Shiva.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

Closer and closer until we skirt Makalu’s gigantic South Face.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

To land at Makalu Base Camp.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

To be here is to truly feel the majesty of our Earth, which we take the time to celebrate.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

Now we head for the far east of Nepal to find the remotest and, thus, least climbed and trekked of the Himalayan giants. Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu are all on Nepal’s border with Tibet. Kanchenjunga stands athwart Nepal’s border with the former Tibetan kingdom of Sikkim, militarily invaded and incorporated into India in 1975.

The world’s 3rd highest mountain is named “Five Treasures of Snow” – Kanchenjunga in Tibetan – for its five main peaks, four of which are over 8,000 meters (26,247ft).  

To get there, we fly down the Baruntse Valley – so spectacular it was called the “Valley of Eternity” by Sir Edmund Hillary – over the Shipton Pass (named after Hillary’s climbing partner, the famed Eric Shipton), and straight for the Five Treasures. We refuel at a Sherpa village in the valley.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
The Shipton Pass
©2019 Jack Wheeler

As we approach the Kanchenjunga Massif, its enormity becomes apparent – for it has 16 peaks over 23,000 feet and 170 glaciers.  

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

As our helicopters are capable of flying at 7,000 meters, or 23,000 feet, we can see what no one else sees – the entire ridgeline of Kanchenjunga over 8,000 meters high, with its four peaks of (right to left) Kanchenjunga South, Central, Main, and Yalung Kang.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

There are two approaches to climb the principal summit, Kanchenjunga Main – via the North Face with the base camp at Pangpema and the Southwest Face with the base camp at Ramche.

The Route to KanchenjungaWe go to both. First up the Kanchenjunga Glacier to Pangpema for the magnificent North Face.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler
The Route to Kanchenjunga
Kanchenjunga Main North Face
©2019 Jack Wheeler

The photo above can only be taken by our ultra-high altitude helicopters. There are only a handful of human beings who have ever seen this sight.

We then circle the massif around to the south to enter Kanchenjunga’s inner sanctum, with the sentinels of Jannu on the left and the Kabru Towers on the right.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

It is here we witness Kanchenjunga Main soaring above us.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
Kanchenjunga Main – Southwest Face
©2019 Jack Wheeler

We celebrate an extraordinary day at the Ramche Base Camp.

The Route to Kanchenjunga
©2019 Jack Wheeler

We now fly all the way back to Kathmandu, to celebrate the day again at the bar of our home base in Nepal, the legendary Yak & Yeti.

Next week, we’ll continue exploring the Himalaya’s greatest mountains via The Route to Annapurna. If you want to explore them for real with me this coming April, click here for details to join the Himalaya Helicopter Expedition and have the greatest one-week adventure possible on earth today.

Carpe diem. Life is short. The time for a great adventure is now.

Jack Wheeler is the founder of Wheeler Expeditions

Click here to get advance notice of expeditions you can join & stunning photos of Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventures

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on February 04, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

©2019 Jack Wheeler – republished with permission

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