Situated in the Kangchenjunga Himal subrange of the mighty Himalayas, the Kangchenjunga massif towers above its surroundings. Rising high above the northeastern Nepalese border with the Indian state of Sikkim, the mountain was once thought to be the highest on Earth.
However, it was soon discovered to be the third tallest, but remains the highest point in India. Overall, the massif boasts five main summits, the tallest of which is located directly above the border between India and Nepal, and countless other minor peaks.
Kangchenjunga is composed of two major ridgelines, which run from east to west and north to south. Together, they form an X and boast numerous minor peaks. The most common ways to climb the peak are to head up the north, south and west ridgelines.
Quick Facts about Kangchenjunga
- Kangchenjunga is covered by four main glaciers, which radiate from its summit and runoff to feed one of the largest river basins in the world: the Ganges.
- Due to its spiritual importance to the local people on the Sikkim (Indian) side of the peak, it is customary for expeditions to stop just below the summit, which is a holy place for the locals. As a result of this status, it is also prohibited to climb from the Indian side.
- Kangchenjunga has long been rumoured to be home to the Dzö-nga, or yeti. Supposedly, a British geological expedition spotted the bipedal creature in 1925. Locals had previously reported seeing something similar.
History of Kangchenjunga
Kangchenjunga has long held spiritual importance to the local people living on its numerous slopes, which is largely why a prohibition on climbing the peak from the Indian side was reintroduced.
The peak has long been known to Westerners as well, who up until 1852, assumed it was the highest mountain in the world. It was later confirmed, in 1856, that Kangchenjunga was the third highest peak in the world.
The first attempt to climb Kangchenjunga came in 1905 when English mountaineer (and occultist) Aleister Crowley made it to 6,500 metres (21,300 feet) up the southwest slope of the mountain before having to turn back.
The peak was later successfully climbed for the first time in 1955, when Joe Brown and George Band summited Kangchenjunga using a similar route to Crowley’s from 50 years before, but stopped short of the summit as a result of a promise made to the local ruler.
Experience Required for Climbing Kangchenjunga
As with any 8000er, the main summit of Kangchenjunga – known as Kangchenjunga Main – is not an easy mountain to climb and due to its specific location, the peak has various unique challenges.
The climbing itself is quite technical and requires an upper-intermediate level of snow, glacier and ice climbing to reach the top. There are base camps located at each of the main route starting points. These are all very remote and can only be reached after a 10 to 14-day trek through the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area.
Due to Kangchenjunga’s location at the southeastern end of the Himalayas, it receives the brunt of the monsoon season. This makes avalanches an especially prevalent danger throughout the climbing season.
Main Routes up Kangchenjunga
Historically, there were four routes that led to the summit of Kangchenjunga, one heading up each of the four main ridgelines. However, as of 2000 climbing from the Indian (northeastern) side of the peak has been prohibited. The other three ridges begin in Nepal and remain accessible to climbers.
The most popularly taken of these is the north face route, which is generally seen as the safest but no less technically challenging than any of the others.
The north face route begins from an idyllic basecamp, which sits in the meadow of Panorama at 5,180 metres (17,000 feet). From here, climbers will attach themselves to fixed lines and make a 900-metre (3,000-foot) mixed climbing ascent up to the north col. This is the most technically difficult part of the climb.
Once atop the col, climbers will follow the north ridge all the way to the summit, setting up three high camps en-route to the top.
Useful Information about Kangchenjunga
Height: 8,586 m (28,169 ft)
Weather: During the main climbing seasons, average daily temperatures on Kangchenjunga sit at around 10 ºC (50 ºF) and steadily drop to below freezing as altitude is gained. The climbing season comes at either end of the monsoon months and as a result are much drier, though closer to the monsoon, rain is not infrequent.
Peak Climbing Season: late August to November
Summit Window: late August to November, March to May
Average Expedition Length: 55 days
Accepted Currencies: Nepalese rupee (NPR)
How To Get To Kangchenjunga (H2)
Climbers heading to Kangchenjunga will generally start with a flight into Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM), in Kathmandu. From here, climbers will meet the guide and transfer to Suketar Airport, in the east of the country. After arriving at the airport, Kangchenjunga’s base camp can be reached after a 10 to 14-day trek.
Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.