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by Jamie McGuinness
The trek: Huge rewards for those intrepid enough; an ancient culture and scenery to rival the Everest region. A classic trek, classic expedition style from the middle hills to the north base camp where avalanches rumble and glaciers groan on the world's #3. But wait, as if that isn't enough, we also have an optional climb of Tengkoma, a straightforward climb.
I like the information age; it has seduced so many people; they assume if it isn't written about then either it doesn't exist, or it isn't worth doing. Our Kanchenjunga Magic exploratory trek was for people who think outside of the square, it was exploratory, a fact that was clearly uncomfortable with a few people a few days in, as we slithered down a seemingly near vertical muddy morass of a trail. Once camped in a villager's backyard we relived the exciting moments of the day in gruesome detail, but the highlight was yet to come. For it was the daughter of the house who had given us permission to take over their yard, and her mother had yet to return home. Here we were, 13 trekkers, seated in our dining tent around the tables, and being treated like royalty by our trekking crew. Outside was a small army preparing our food, cleaning the dishes and generally looking after us. It is not entirely normal to camp in somebody's yard, but the terrain was particularly steep and there was nowhere else, and the beauty of Nepal is that hospitality and generosity come naturally, and the unexpected is accepted almost instantly. The look on her face as she walked in was priceless!
With your own kitchen and dining room it is easy enough to insulate yourself from the real Nepal just beyond the campsite, but this is a gross mistake. We took to drinking the locally served tungba, a sometimes mellow, sometimes pungent fermented drink. An elegant wooden mug is filled with fermented millet seeds, then filled to the brim with boiling water. You drink from a bamboo straw with two small slits cut in the base that are supposed to filter out the seeds, but don't always. But the drink is only half the reason we were there - it is usually served by the eligible daughters of the house, and singing and dancing are encouraged...
There was relief and regret as we arrived in the high country where our more noble stated aims were supposed to take over, for we were really here to climb mountains. His Majesty's Government of Nepal had opened three previously unlisted peaks in the Kanchenjunga region for mountaineering without the usual stiff royalty fees and hassles with a liaison officer. It had still been a paper chase to get the permit, but here we were with high ambitions. Now it was the mountain's turn to play hard to get; there had been a huge dump of snow about a week previously. First up was a peak perhaps called Tengkoma, 6215m, just off the main Kanchenjunga north side (Pangpema) base camp trail. We were surprised that there was no established high camp, so we hacked out a couple of tent platforms in a likely spot. The next morning, laden with climbing equipment, we set off into the unknown. We scrambled up and traversed up into a rubble-filled gully where the new snow proved useful for catching the rock fall and lessened the one step up, two back tendency of the scree. Finally we gained the ridge and the views were already spectacular. Further up was real scrambling but never to the point of needing the rope, and then we traversed under the lozenge-shaped glacier that we thought was the summit, but further along, gaining the ridge, proved that the summit was the rock behind the glacier. And we had completed to climb without using the rope.
For me a summit whether high or low is enveloped in a special peace. For four out of eight members, this was their first 6000 meter summit. The panorama was 360 degrees of mountains, as spectacular as any of us had seen. In our elated state we visually mapped the region for our later exploration. Later research revealed that we were probably only the third expedition to summit this peak.
Not for want of trying over the next ten days, this was our only summit but we whet our appetite for more. There is one gloriously long valley that was once used as a trading route with Tibet that is lined with interesting 6000 meter peaks, and there are several more valleys and peaks to explore yet. A hardy bunch of us continued to the Makalu region, for a total of 2 1/2 months trekking. You can read more at www.project-himalaya.com under the news heading, and our future trips are listed there too.