Adventure on Kangchenjunga: Climbing to the Roof of India

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Kangchenjunga is the highest mountain in India and second highest in Nepal and is the easternmost 8,000-meter peak. The mountain is in the Kangchenjunga Himal, a high mountainous region bounded on the west by the Tamur River and on the east by the Teesta River. Kangchenjunga lies about 75 miles east-southeast of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

The name Kangchenjunga translates "Five Treasures of Snow," referring to Kangchenjunga's five peaks. The Tibetan words are Kang (Snow) chen (Big) dzö (Treasury) nga (Five). The five treasures are Gold, Silver, Precious Stones, Grain, and Holy Scriptures.

Fast Facts: Kangchenjunga

  • Elevation: 28,169 feet (8,586 meters)
  • Prominence: 12,867 feet (3,922 meters)
  • Location: Border of Nepal and India, central Asia
  • First Ascent: George Band and Joe Brown (UK), May 25, 1955

Mountain Has Five Summits

Four of Kangchenjunga's five summits top 8,000 meters. Three of the five, including the highest summit, are in Sikkim, an Indian state, while the other two are in Nepal. The five summits are:

  • Kangchenjunga Main: 28,169 feet (8,586 meters); 12,867 feet (3,922 meters) of prominence
  • Kangchenjunga West: 27,904 feet (8,505 meters); 443 feet (135 meters) of prominence
  • Kangchenjunga Central: 27,828 feet (8,482 meters); 105 feet (32 meters) of prominence
  • Kangchenjunga South: 27,867 feet (8,494 meters); 390 feet (119 meters) of prominence
  • Kangbachen: 25,928 feet (7,903 meters); 337 feet (103 meters) of prominence

First Attempt to Climb Kangchenjunga

The first attempt to climb Kangchenjunga was in 1905 by a party led by Aleister Crowley, who had attempted K2 three years before, and Dr. Jules Jacot-Guillarmod on the southwest side of the mountain. The expedition climbed to 21,300 feet (6,500 meters) on August 31 when they retreated because of avalanche danger. The following day, September 1, three team members climbed higher, possibly Crowley thought to "approximately 25,000 feet," although the height was unsubstantiated. Later that day Alexi Pache, one of the three climbers, was killed in an avalanche along with three porters.

First Ascent in 1955 by British Party

The 1955 first ascent party included famed British rock ace Joe Brown, who climbed a 5.8 rock section on the ridge just below the summit. The two climbers, Brown and George Band, stopped just below the sacred summit itself, fulfilling a promise to the Maharaja of Sikkim to keep the summit undefiled by human feet. This tradition has been practiced by many of the climbers who have reached Kangchenjunga's summit. The following day, May 26, climbers Norman Hardie and Tony Streather made the mountain's second ascent.

Second Ascent by the Indian Army

The second ascent was by an Indian Army team up the difficult northeast spur in 1977.

First Woman Climbs Kanchenjunga

On May 18, 1998, Ginette Harrison, a British climber who lived in both Australia and the United States, became the first woman to reach Kangchenjunga's summit. Kangchenjunga was the last 8,000-meter peak to be climbed by a woman. Harrison also was the second British woman to climb Mount Everest; the third woman to climb the Seven Summits, including Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia; and the fifth woman to climb the Seven Summits, including Carstensz Pyramid. In 1999, Ginette died at age 41 in an avalanche while climbing Dhaulagiri in Nepal.

Mark Twain Wrote About Kanchenjunga

Mark Twain traveled to Darjeeling in 1896 and later wrote in "Following the Equator": 

"I was told by a resident that the summit of Kinchinjunga is often hidden in the clouds and that sometimes a tourist has waited twenty-two days and then been obliged to go away without a sight of it. And yet was not disappointed; for when he got his hotel bill he recognized that he was now seeing the highest thing in the Himalayas."