Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition. They stopped short of the summit in accordance with the promise given to the Chogyal that the top of the mountain would remain intact. Every climber or climbing group that has reached the summit has followed this tradition. Other members of this expedition included John Angelo Jackson and Tom Mackinon.
The brothers Hermann, Adolf and Robert Schlagintweit explained the local name 'Kanchinjínga' meaning “The five treasures of the high snow” as originating from the Tibetan word "gangs" pronounced [kaŋ] meaning snow, ice; "chen" pronounced [tɕen] meaning great; "mzod" meaning treasure; "lnga" meaning five.
Local Lhopo people believe that the treasures are hidden but reveal to the devout when the world is in peril; the treasures comprise salt, gold, turquoise and precious stones, sacred scriptures, invincible armor or ammunition, grain, and medicine.
Panorama of the Kangchenjunga massif from Tiger Hill, Darjeeling
The Kangchenjunga Himal section of the Himalayas lies both in Nepal and India and encompasses 16 peaks over 7,000 m (23,000 ft). In the north, it is limited by the Lhonak Chu, Goma Chu, and Jongsang La, and in the east by the Teesta River. The western limit runs from the Jongsang La down the Gingsang and Kangchenjunga glaciers and the rivers of Ghunsa and Tamur. Kanchenjunga rises about 20 km (12 mi) south of the general alignment of the Great Himalayan range about 125 km (78 mi) east-southeast of Mount Everest as the crow flies. South of the southern face of Kanchenjunga runs the 3,000–3,500 m (9,800–11,500 ft) high Singalila Ridge that separates Sikkim from Nepal and northern West Bengal.
Kangchenjunga and its satellite peaks form a huge mountain massif. The massif's five highest peaks are listed in the following table.
Southwest (Yalung) face of Kangchenjunga seen from Nepal
The main ridge of the massif runs from north-northeast to south-southwest and forms a watershed to several rivers. Together with ridges running roughly from east to west they form a giant cross. These ridges contain a host of peaks between 6,000 and 8,586 m (19,685 and 28,169 ft). The northern section includes Yalung Kang, Kangchenjunga Central and South, Kangbachen, Kirat Chuli, and Gimmigela Chuli, and runs up to the Jongsang La. The eastern ridge in Sikkim includes Siniolchu. The southern section runs along the Nepal-Sikkim border and includes Kabru I to III. This ridge extends southwards to the Singalila Ridge. The western ridge culminates in the Kumbhakarna, also known as Jannu.
Four main glaciers radiate from the peak, pointing roughly to the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest. The Zemu glacier in the northeast and the Talung glacier in the southeast drain to the Teesta River; the Yalung glacier in the southwest and the Kangchen glacier in the northwest drain to the Arun and Kosi rivers.
The glaciers spread over the area above approximately 5,000 m (16,000 ft), and the glacialized area covers about 314 km2 (121 sq mi) in total. There are 120 glaciers in the Kanchenjunga Himal, of which 17 are debris-covered. Between 1958 and 1992, more than half of 57 examined glaciers had retreated, possibly due to rising of air temperature.
Kangchenjunga Main is the highest elevation of the Brahmaputra River basin, which forms part of the southeast Asian monsoon regime and is among the globally largest river basins.
Kangchenjunga is one of six peaks above 8,000 m (26,000 ft) located in the basin of the Koshi river, which is among the largest tributaries of the Ganges.
The Kangchenjunga massif forms also part of the Ganges Basin.
Although it is the third highest peak in the world, Kangchenjunga is only ranked 29th by topographic prominence, a measure of a mountain's independent stature. The key col for Kangchenjunga lies at a height of 4,664 metres (15,302 ft), along the watershed boundary between Arun and Brahmaputra rivers in Tibet. It is however, the 4th most prominent peak in the Himalaya, after Everest, and the western and eastern anchors of the Himalaya, Nanga Parbat, and Namcha Barwa, respectively.
Kanchenjunga-north from base camp in Nepal
There are four climbing routes to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga, three of which are in Nepal from the southwest, northwest, and northeast, and one from northeastern Sikkim in India. To date, the northeastern route from Sikkim has been successfully used only three times. The Indian government has banned expeditions to Kanchenjunga; therefore, this route has been closed since 2000.
South face of Kangchenjunga seen from Goecha La, Sikkim at 4,940 m (16,210 ft)
Kangchenjunga seen from Darjeeling War Memorial
Early reconnaissances and attempts
Between April 1848 and February 1849, Joseph Dalton Hooker explored parts of northern Sikkim and eastern Nepal, mainly to collect plants and study the distribution of Himalayan flora. He was based in Darjeeling, and made repeated excursions in the river valleys and into the foothills of Kangchenjunga up to an altitude of 15,620 ft (4,760 m).
In 1883, a party of William Woodman Graham together with two Swiss mountaineers climbed in the area of Kangchenjunga. They were the first who ascended Kabru within 30–40 ft (9.1–12.2 m) below the summit. They crossed the Kang La pass and climbed a peak of nearly 19,000 ft (5,800 m) from which they examined Jannu. They concluded it was too late in the year for an attempt and returned once again to Darjeeling.
Between October 1885 and January 1886, Rinzin Namgyal surveyed the unexplored north and west sides of Kangchenjunga. He was the first native surveyor to map the circuit of Kangchenjunga and provided sketches of each side of the peak and the adjoining valleys. He also defined the frontiers of Nepal, Tibet, and Sikkim in this area.
In 1899, British mountaineer Douglas Freshfield set out with his party comprising the Italian photographer Vittorio Sella. They were the first mountaineers to examine the lower and upper ramparts, and the great western face of Kangchenjunga, rising from the Kangchenjunga Glacier.
In 1905, a party headed by Aleister Crowley made the first attempt at climbing the mountain. Aleister Crowley had been part of the team attempting the 1902 ascent of K2. The team reached an estimated altitude of 6,500 m (21,300 ft) on the southwest side of the mountain before turning back. The exact height reached is somewhat unclear; Crowley stated that on 31 August, "We were certainly over 21,000 ft (6,400 m) and possibly over 22,000 ft (6,700 m)", when the team was forced to retreat to Camp 5 by the risk of avalanche. On 1 September, they evidently went further; some members of the team, Reymond, Pache, and Salama, "got over the bad patch" that had forced them to return to Camp 5 the day before, and progressed "out of sight and hearing" before returning to Crowley and the men with packs, who could not cross the dangerous section unassisted with their burdens. It is not clear how far Reymond, Pache, and Salama had ascended – but in summarizing, Crowley ventured "We had reached a height of approximately 25,000 ft (7,600 m)." Attempting a "mutinous" late-in-the-day descent from Camp 5 to Camp 4, climber Alexis Pache (who earlier that day had been one of three to ascend possibly higher than any before), and three local porters, were killed in an avalanche. Despite the insistence of one of the men that "The demon of Kangchenjunga was propitiated with the sacrifice", Crowley decided enough was enough and that it was inappropriate to continue.
In 1907, two Norwegians set about climbing Jongri via the Kabru glacier to the south, an approach apparently rejected by Graham's party. Progress was very slow, partly because of problems with supplies and porters, and presumably also lack of fitness and acclimatisation. However, from a high camp at about 22,600 ft (6,900 m) they were eventually able to reach a point 50 or 60 ft (15 or 18 m) below the summit before they were turned back by strong winds.
In 1929, the GermanPaul Bauer led an expedition team that reached 7,400 m (24,300 ft) on the northeast spur before being turned back by a five-day storm.
In May 1929, the American E. F. Farmer left Darjeeling with native porters, crossed the Kang La into Nepal and climbed up towards the Talung Saddle. When his porters refused to go any further, he climbed alone further upwards through drifting mists but did not return.
In 1931, Paul Bauer led a second German expedition team who attempted the northeast spur before being turned back by bad weather, illnesses, and deaths. The team retreated after climbing only a little higher than the 1929 attempt.
In 1954, John Kempe led a party comprising J. W. Tucker, S. R. Jackson, G. C. Lewis, T. H. Braham and medical officer D. S. Mathews. They explored the upper Yalung glacier with the intention to discover a practicable route to the great ice-shelf that runs across the southwest face of Kangchenjunga. This reconnaissance led to the route used by the successful 1955 expedition.
A sign board on the last traversable road to Kangchenjunga
Sunrise over Mount Kangchenjunga at Pelling, Sikkim, India
The ascent proved that Aleister Crowley's 1905 route (also investigated by the 1954 reconnaissance) was viable. The route starts on the Yalung Glacier to the southwest of the peak, and climbs the Yalung Face, which is 3,000 metres (10,000 ft) high. The main feature of this face is the "Great Shelf", a large sloping plateau at around 7,500 metres (24,600 ft), covered by a hanging glacier. The route is almost entirely on snow, glacier, and one icefall; the summit ridge itself can involve a small amount of travel on rock. The first ascent expedition made six camps above their base camp, two below the Shelf, two on it, and two above it. They started on 18 April, and everyone was back to base camp by 28 May.
Other notable ascents
1973 Yutaka Ageta and Takeo Matsuda of the Japanese expedition summitted Kangchenjunga West (Yalung Kang) by climbing the SW Ridge.
1977 The second ascent of Kangchenjunga, by an Indian Army team led by Colonel Narendra Kumar. They completed the northeast spur, the difficult ridge that defeated German expeditions in 1929 and 1931.
1978 Polish teams made the first successful ascents of the summits Kangchenjunga South (Wojciech Wróż and Eugeniusz Chrobak, 19 May) and Kangchenjunga Central (Wojciech Brański, Zygmunt Andrzej Heinrich, Kazimierz Olech, 22 May).
1982 The 6th of May sees Ang Dorje, Friedel Mutschlechner, and Reinhold Messner (suffering from amoebic liver abscess) reach the top by a variation on the North Face route without supplemental oxygen.
1983 Pierre Beghin made the first solo ascent. It was accomplished without the use of supplemental oxygen.
1986 On 11 January, Krzysztof Wielicki and Jerzy Kukuczka, Polish climbers, made the first winter ascent. Otto Guilherme Gerstenberger Junior (Brazilian) and Johann Krigeer (South African) reach the peak without using supplemental oxygen.
1988 First successful American Expedition; led by Carlos Buhler, from the North Face. Summiting were Buhler, Peter Habeler (Austrian), and Martin Zabaleta (Spanish)
1989 A Soviet expedition successfully traversed all four summits of Kangchenjunga that are higher than 8,000m. Two separate teams traversed the summits in opposite directions.
1989 American Expedition led by Lou Whittaker, with six people summiting on the Northwall: George Dunn, Craig van Hoy, Ed Viesturs, Phil Ershler, Larry Nielson, Greg Wilson.
1991 Slovenian Marija Frantar and Joze Rozman attempted the first ascent by a woman. Their bodies were later found below the summit headwall.
1991 Slovenian Andrej Štremfelj and Marko Prezelj completed an alpine-style climb up the south ridge of Kangchenjunga to the south summit (8,494 m).
1992 Carlos Carsolio made the only summit that year. It was in a solo climb without supplementary oxygen.
1992 Wanda Rutkiewicz, the first woman in the world to ascend and descend K2 and a world-renowned Polish climber, died after she insisted on waiting for an incoming storm to pass, which she did not survive.
1995 Benoît Chamoux, Pierre Royer and their Sherpa guide disappeared on 6 October near the summit.
Because of its remote location in Nepal and the difficulty involved in accessing it from India, the Kangchenjunga region is not much explored by trekkers. It has, therefore, retained much of its pristine beauty. In Sikkim too, trekking into the Kangchenjunga region has just recently been permitted. The Goecha La trek is gaining popularity amongst tourists. It goes to the Goecha La Pass, located right in front of the huge southeast face of Kangchenjunga. Another trek to Green Lake Basin has recently been opened for trekking. This trek goes to the Northeast side of Kangchenjunga along the famous Zemu Glacier. The film Singalila in the Himalaya is journey around Kangchenjunga.
Five Treasures of Snow
The area around Kangchenjunga is said to be home to a mountain deity, called Dzö-nga or "Kangchenjunga Demon", a type of yeti or rakshasa. A British geological expedition in 1925 spotted a bipedal creature which they asked the locals about, who referred to it as the "Kangchenjunga Demon".
For generations, there have been legends recounted by the inhabitants of the areas surrounding Mount Kanchenjunga, both in Sikkim and in Nepal, that there is a valley of immortality hidden on its slopes. These stories are well known to both the original inhabitants of the area, the Lepcha people, and those of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural tradition. In Tibetan, this valley is known as Beyul Demoshong. In 1962 a Tibetan Lama by the name of Tulshuk Lingpa led over 300 followers into the high snow slopes of Kanchenjunga to ‘open the way’ to Beyul Demoshong. The story of this expedition is recounted in the 2011 book A Step Away from Paradise.
East face of Kangchenjunga, from near the Zemu Glacier, Sikkim
In The Epic of Mount Everest, first published in 1926, Sir Francis Younghusband: " For natural beauty Darjiling (Darjeeling) is surely unsurpassed in the world. From all countries travellers come there to see the famous view of Kangchenjunga, 28,150 feet (8,580 m) in height, and only 40 miles (64 km) distant. Darjiling (Darjeeling) itself is 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above sea-level and is set in a forest of oaks, magnolia, rhododendrons, laurels and sycamores. And through these forests, the observer looks down the steep mountain-sides to the Rangeet River only 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea-level, and then up and up through tier after tier of forest-clad ranges, each bathed in a haze of deeper and deeper purple, till the line of snow is reached; and then still up to the summit of Kangchenjunga, now so pure and ethereal we can scarcely believe it is part of the solid earth on which we stand; and so high it seems part of the very sky itself."
In 1999, official James Bond author Raymond Benson published High Time to Kill. In this story, a microdot containing a secret formula for aviation technology is stolen by a society called the Union. During their escape, their plane crashes on the slopes of Kangchenjunga. James Bond becomes part of a climbing expedition in order to retrieve the formula.
John Angelo Jackson 1955. More than Mountains Book containing data on the 1954 Kangchenjunga reconnaissance. Jackson was also a team member of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1955, also relates the Daily Mail "Abominable Snowman" or Yeti Expedition, when the first trek from Everest to Kangchenjunga was accomplished * . Relevant pages 97 onwards with two detailed maps.
Charles EvansKangchenjunga The Untrodden Peak, Hodder & Stoughton, Leader of the 1955 expedition. Principal of the University College of North Wales, Bangor. Foreword by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G.
Joe Brown, The Hard Years, tells his version of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1955.
Colonel Narinder Kumar 1978. Kangchenjunga: First ascent from the north-east spur. Vision books. Includes the second ever ascent of Kangchenjunga and the first from the northeast spur on the Indian side of the mountain. See also Himalayan Journal Vol. 36 and 50th Anniversary Edition
John Angelo Jackson 2005. Adventure Travels in the Himalaya. Indus Publishing. Recounts in more detail the first ascent of Kangchenjunga.
Simon Pierse 2005. Kangchenjunga: Imaging a Himalayan Mountain. University of Wales, School of Art Press, ISBN978-1-899095-22-3. An anthology of word and image published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first ascents of Kangchenjunga. Well illustrated with reproductions of paintings, prints, and photographs describing the climbing history and cultural significance of the mountain. Preface by George Band.
The above Himalayan Journal References were all also reproduced in the "50th Anniversary of the First Ascent of Kangchenjunga" The Himalayan Club, Kolkata Section 2005.
Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca Khangchendzonga: Sacred Summit. The book details the stories and legends celebrated by the communities living in the Kangchenjunga's shadow, goes over the exploits of the early explorers and mountaineers. Chapters cover what Khangchendzonga means to Buddhism, mapping, early explorers, Alexander Kellas, early expeditions, the first ascent in 1955, the Indian Army ascent (1977), the second British ascent (1979), women climbers, the Tiger climbers, the yeti, and more. Profusely illustrated with many period photos.
The Geographer at High Altitudes, "Climbing on the Himalaya and other Mountain Ranges", By J. Norman Collie, F.R.S. Edinburgh: David Douglas. 1902.
The Glaciers of Kangchenjunga Douglas Freshfield The Geographical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4 Apr., 1902, pp. 453–472
Round Kangchenjunga. A Narrative of Mountain Travel and Exploration, Douglas W. Freshfield Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 36, No. 2 1904
C. K. Howard-Bury. 1922. The Mount Everest Expedition. The Geographical Journal 59 (2): 81–99.
"General Bruce's Illness a Serious handicap" "The Times", (British) World Copyright, Lt. R.F.Norton, 19 April 1924. Expedition in the Kangchenjunga area.
Account of a Photographic Expedition to the Southern Glaciers of Kangchenjunga in the Sikkim Himalaya, N. A. Tombazi, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 67, No. 1 Jan., 1926, pp. 74–76
An Adventure to Kangchenjunga, Hugh Boustead, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Apr., 1927), pp. 344–350
^Denjongpa, A. B. (2002). Kangchendzönga: Secular and Buddhist perceptions of the mountain deity of Sikkim among the Lhopos. Bulletin of Tibetology 38 (2002): 11.
^Nirash, N. (1982). The Lepchas of Sikkim. Bulletin of Tibetology 18 (2): 18–23.
^Herrligkoffer, K. M. (1983). Sieg am Kanchenjunga: die deutsche Erstbesteigung. Droemer Knaur, München.
^De Schlagintweit, H.; de Schlagintweit, A.; de Schlagintweit, R. (1863). "IV. Names explained". Results of a Scientific Mission to India and High Asia, undertaken between the years MDCCCLIV and MDCCCLVIII by order of the court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company. Volume III. London: Brockhaus, Leipzig and Trübner & Co. p. 207.
^Scheid, C. S. (2014). "Hidden land and changing landscape: Narratives about Mount Khangchendzonga among the Lepcha and the Lhopo". Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions. 1 (1): 66–89.
^Subba, J. R. (2009). Mythology of the People of Sikkim. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
^Wikramanayake, E. D., ed. (2001). Ecoregion-based Conservation in the Eastern Himalaya: Identifying Important Areas for Biodiversity Conservation. Kathmandu: World Wildlife Fund and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. ISBN978-9993394006.
^ abChettri, N., Bajracharya, B., Thapa, R. (2008). Feasibility Assessment for Developing Conservation Corridors in the Kangchenjunga Landscape. Pages 21–30 in: Chettri, N., Shakya, B., Sharma, E. (eds.) Biodiversity Conservation in the Kangchenjunga Landscape. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu.
^Asahi, K. (1999). Data on inventoried glaciers and its distribution in eastern part of Nepal Himalaya. Data Report 2, Basic studies for assessing the impacts of the global warming on the Himalayan cryosphere, 1994–1998. Institute for Hydrospheric-Atmospheric Sciences, Nagoya University and Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, HMG/Nepal.
^Ashahi, K., Watanabe, T. (2000). Past and recent glacier fluctuations in Kanchenjunga Himal, Nepal. Journal of Nepal Geological Society (22): 481–490.
^Bajracharya, S. R., Palash, W., Shrestha, M. S., Khadgi, V. R., Duo, C., Das, P. J., & Dorji, C. (2015). Systematic Evaluation of Satellite-Based Rainfall Products over the Brahmaputra Basin for Hydrological Applications. Advances in Meteorology: 398687.
^Shijin, W., & Tao, Z. (2014). Spatial change detection of glacial lakes in the Koshi River Basin, the Central Himalayas. Environmental Earth Sciences 72(11): 4381–4391.
^ abSchlagintweit, H. v. (1871). "Die Singhalila Kette zwischen Sikkim und Nepal". Reisen in Indien und Hochasien. Eine Darstellung der Landschaft, der Kultur und Sitten der Bewohner, in Verbindung mit klimatischen und geologischen Verhältnissen. Zweiter Band. Hermann Costenoble, Jena.
^ abCrowley, A.; Symonds, J.; Grant, K. (1989). The confessions of Aleister Crowley: an autobiographyChapter 52 Arkana, London