Kangchenjunga (Nepali:कञ्चनजङ्घा Kanchanjaŋghā) SewaLungma (Limbu language) is the third highest mountain in the world (after Mount Everest and K2), with an altitude of 8,586 metres (28,169 ft). Kangchenjunga translated means "The Five Treasures of Snows", as it contains five peaks, four of them over 8,450 metres. The treasures represent the five repositories of god, which are gold, silver, gems, grain, and holy books. Kangchenjunga is also called Sewalungma in local Limbu language and considered sacred in Kirant religion.
Three of these five peaks (main, central, and south) are on the border of North Sikkim district of Sikkim, India and Taplejung District of Nepal, while the other two are completely in Taplejung District. Nepal is home to the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project run by the World Wildlife Fund
, in association with HMG in Nepal, the sanctuary is also home to the Red Panda and other snow animals, birds and plants. India's side of Kangchenjunga also has a protected park area called the Khangchendzonga National Park.
Although Kangchenjunga is the official spelling adopted by Douglas Freshfield, A.M. Kellas, and the Royal Geographical Society that gives the best indication of the Tibetan pronunciation, there are a number of alternative spellings which include Kangchen Dzö-nga, Khangchendzonga, Kanchenjanga, Kachendzonga, Kanchenjunga or Kangchanfanga. The final word on the use of the name Kangchenjunga came from His Highness Sir Tashi Namgyal, the Maharaja or chogyal of Sikkim, who stated that "although junga had no meaning in Tibetan, it really ought to have been Zod-nga (treasure, five) Kang-chen (snow, big) conveyed the meaning correctly". Following consultations with a Lieutenant-Colonel J.L.R. Weir (HMG political agent to Sikkim), he agreed that it was best to leave it as Kangchenjunga, and thus the name remained so by acceptance and usage.
Until 1852, Kangchenjunga was assumed to be the highest mountain in the world, but calculations made by the British Great Trigonometric Survey in 1849 came to the conclusion that Mount Everest (known as Peak XV at the time) was the highest and Kangchenjunga the third-highest. Kangchenjunga was first climbed on May 25, 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band of a British expedition. The British expedition honoured the beliefs of the Sikkimese, who hold the summit sacred, by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit. Most successful summit parties since then have followed this tradition.
The five peaks of Kangchenjunga are as follows:
| Name of peak
|| Height (m)
|| Height (ft) |
|| 28,169 |
|Kangchenjunga West (Yalung Kang)
|| 27,904 |
|Kangchenjunga Central (Middle)
|| 27,828 |
|| 27,867. |
|| 25,925 |
The huge massif of Kangchenjunga is buttressed by great ridges running roughly due east to west and north to south, forming a giant 'X'. These ridges contain a host of peaks between 6,000 and 8,000 metres. On the east ridge in Sikkim, is Siniolchu (6,888 m/22,600 ft). The west ridge culminates in the magnificent Jannu (7,710 m/25,294 ft) with its imposing north face. To the south, clearly visible from Darjeeling, are Kabru North (7,338 m/24,075 ft), Kabru South (7,316 m/24,002 ft) and Rathong peaks (6,678 m/21,910 ft). The north ridge, after passing through the minor subpeak Kangchenjunga North (7741 m/25,397 ft), contains The Twins and Tent Peak, and runs up to the Tibetan border by the Jongsong La, a pass.
Kangchenjunga is known for its famous views from the hill station of Darjeeling. On a clear day, it presents an image not as much of a mountain but of a white wall hanging from the sky. The people of Sikkim revere Kangchenjunga as a sacred mountain. Permission to climb the mountain from the Indian side is rare, but sometimes allowed.
Because of its remote location in Nepal and difficult access 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 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 goes to the Northeast side of Kangchenjunga along the famous Zemu Glacier.
The Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) covers 2,035 km² surrounding the mountain on the Nepalese side.
Early reconnaissance and attempts
- 1848/49 Joseph Dalton Hooker explored parts of the eastern Nepal previously completely unknown to Europeans. He made repeated tours of the river valleys into the foothills leading up to Kangchenjunga, reaching within 22km of the peak, and the passes into Tibet.
- 1855 Herrmann von Schlagaintweit from Germany is put in charge of the Magnetic Survey of India, exploring the vicinity and painting a panorama of Everest and Kanchenjunga, prior to being turned back by Nepalese soldiers.
- 1882/83 British pioneer of Himalayan mountaineering, W.W. Graham, claimed to have circumnavigated the mountain in March 1882, returning in July 1883 with two Swiss guides for a purported attempt whilst climbing other peaks in the area and hunting snow leopard.
- 1899 British explorer Douglas Freshfield and the Italian photographer Vittorio Sella are the first to circumnavigate the mountain. They are the first mountaineers to view the great Western Face of Kangchenjunga.
- 1905 The Kangchenjunga expedition (1905) was the first attempt at climbing the mountain, headed by Aleister Crowley and Dr. Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. Unsuccessful, they reached 6,500 metres on the southwest side of the mountain. Climber Alexis Pache and three local porters were killed in an avalanche.
- 1929 A German expedition led by Paul Bauer reached on the northeast spur before being turned back by a five-day storm.
- 1930 An International Expedition led by George Dyhrenfurth, German Uli Wieland, Austrian Erwin Schneider and Englishman Frank Smythe (who published "The Kangchenjunga Adventure" in the same year). The attempt failed due to poor weather and snow conditions.
- 1931 A second German expedition, led again by Paul Bauer, attempted the northeast spur before being turned back by bad weather, illnesses, and deaths. The expedition retreats after climbing only a little higher than the 1929 attempt.
- 1954 A reconnaissance of Kangchenjunga's southwest side is made by John Kempe (leader), J.W. Tucker, Ron Jackson, Trevor H. Braham, G.C. Lewis, and Dr. D.S. Mathews. This reconnaissance led to the route used by the successful 1955 expedition.
The first ascent
In 1955, Joe Brown and George Band made the first ascent on May 25, followed by Norman Hardie and Tony Streather on May 26. The full team also included John Clegg (team doctor), Charles Evans (team leader), John Angelo Jackson, Neil Mather, and Tom Mackinnon.
The ascent proved 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 high. The main feature of this face is the "Great Shelf", a large sloping plateau at around , 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 April 18, and everyone was back to base camp by May 28.
- 1973 Climbers Yutaka Ageta and Takeo Matsuda of the Japanese expedition, summited Kangchenjunga West (Yalung Kang) by climbing the SW Ridge.
- 1977 The second ascent of Kangchenjunga, by an Indian Army team led by Colonel Narinder Kumar. They completed the northeast spur, the difficult ridge that defeated the German expeditions in 1929 and 1931.
- 1978 A Polish team made the first successful ascent of the south summit (Kangchenjunga II).
- 1979 The third ascent, on May 16, and first without oxygen, by Doug Scott, Peter Boardman, and Joe Tasker who established a new route on the North side (AAJ Vol 22 no. 2 issue 53)
- 1983 Pierre Beghin made the first solo ascent and without oxygen.
- 1986 On January 11, Krzysztof Wielicki and Jerzy Kukuczka, Polish climbers make the first winter ascent.
- 1991 Marija Frantar and Joze Rozman attempt the first ascent by a woman but their bodies are later found below the summit headwall. The same year, Andrej Stremfelj and Marko Prezelj complete a perfect, technically demanding, elegant alpine style climb up the south ridge of Kangchenjunga to the south summit (8,494 m).
- 1992 Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish climber, dies near the summit after refusing to descend in an approaching storm.
- 1995 Benoît Chamoux, Pierre Royer and their Sherpa guide disappeared on October 6 near the summit.
- 1998 Ginette Harrison becomes the first woman to reach the summit. Until then Kangchenjunga had been the only eight-thousander that had not seen a female ascent.
- 2005 Alan Hinkes, a British climber, is the only person able to summit Kangchenjunga in its 50th anniversary of first ascent.
- 2006 Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian mountaineer, is the second woman to reach the summit. .
Relevant Background Reading
Some titles are no longer in print but are easily locatable on the Internet.
- Joseph Dalton Hooker "Himalayan Journals" 1855. Assistant-director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
- Maj L.A. Waddell, "Among The Himalayas", 1899; Travels in Sikkim. Book includes the exploration of the south of Kangchenjunga.
- Aleister Crowley "The Confessions of Aleister Crowley", Chapters 51, 52 & 53, Tells of the 1905 Kangchenjunga Expedition by he and Dr. Jacot-Guillarmod.
- Douglas Freshfield "Round Kangchenjunga - A Narrative of Mountain Travel and Exploration", published by Edward Arnold 1903 (Publisher to the H.M. India Office).
- Paul Bauer "The German Attack on Kangchenjunga" by (Blackwell, 1937) is the story of Bauer’s two attempts in 1929 and 1931.
- Paul Bauer "The German Attack on Kangchenjunga" The Himalayan Journal, 1930 Vol. II.
- Lieut. Col. H.W. Tobin "Exploration and Climbing in The Sikkim Himalaya" The Himalayan Journal, April 1930 Vol. II. Provides the early exploration and climbing attempts on Kangchenjunga.
- F.S. Smythe "The Kangchenjunga Adventure", 1930 to 1931. Victor Gollancz, Ltd. Smythe was the team member responsible for writing and sending the dispatches to The Statesman in Calcutta, (Mr. Alfred Watson Editor), who transmitted the dispatches to The Times (editors Deakin & Bogaerde), during the expedition of 1930 * example
- Prof. G.O. Dyhrenfurth "The International Himlayan Expedition, 1930" The Himalayan Journal, April 1931, Vol. III. Details their attempt on Kangchenjunga.
- "The ascent of Nanda Devi", H.W. Tilman, June 7th 1937,Cambridge University Press. Relates the story of their intention to climb Kangchenjunga.
- Irving, R. L. G., Ten Great Mountains (London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1940)
- John Angelo Jackson "More than Mountains" 1955. Book containing data on the 1954 Kangchenjunga reconnaissance. Jackson was also a team member of the 1st 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 Evans "Kangchenjunga 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, "Kangchenjunga: First ascent from the north-east spur", 1978, Vision books. Includes the second ever ascent of Kangchenjunga and the first from the North-East Spur on the Indian side of the mountain. See also Himalayan Journal Vol. 36 and 50th Anniversary Edition
- Peter Boardman, Doug Scott, Sacred Summits – A Climber's Year, 1982; Includes the 1979 ascent of Kangchenjunga with Joe Tasker and Doug Scott. Also in The Himalayan Journal Vol 36.
- John Angelo Jackson Adventure Travels in the Himalaya Indus Publishing 2005, Recounts in more detail the first ascent of Kangchenjunga.
The above Himalayan Journal References were all also reproduced in the "50th Anniversary of the First Ascent of Kangchenjunga" The himalayan Club, Kollkata Section 2005.
- Khangchendzonga: Sacred Summit, a book by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca published from Sikkim. 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 first British ascent (1979), women climbers, the Tiger climbers, the yeti, and more. Profusely illustrated with many period photos.
Articles, Reviews and Media
- 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
- The Mount Everest Expedition, C. K. Howard-Bury. The Geographical Journal, Vol. 59, No. 2 Feb., 1922, pp. 81-99. see also Yeti. pp. 97 onwards with good detailed maps.
- "General Bruce's Illness a Serious handicap" "The Times", (British) World Copyright, Lt. R.F.Norton, April 19th, 1924. Expedition in the Kanchenjunga 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
- The Times Literary Supplement, Thursday, December 11, 1930. "The Kangchenjunga Adventure", F.S. Smythe.
- Im Kampf um den Himalaja, Paul Bauer. The Kangchenjunga Adventure, F. S. Smythe, Himalaya: Unsere Expedition, G. O. Dyhrenfurth. 1930
- The Times Literary Supplement, Thursday, April 9 1931. "Kangchenjunga", Paul Bauer.
- The Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. XXVI, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 79, No. 1 Jan., 1932, pp. 53-56
- Recent Heroes of Modern Adventure, T. C. Bridges; H. Hessell Tiltman, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 81, No. 6 Jun., 1933, p. 568
- Um Den Kantsch: der zweite deutsche Angriff auf den Kangchendzönga, Paul Bauer, 1931. The Geographical Journal, Vol. 81, No. 4 Apr., 1933, pp. 362-363
- Himalayan Campaign: The German Attack on Kangchenjunga, Paul Bauer; Sumner Austin The Geographical Journal, Vol. 91, No. 5 May, 1938, p. 478
- The Times Literary Supplement, Friday, December 21st, 1956. "Kangchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak", Charles Evans.
- Kangchenjunga Climbed, Charles Evans; George Band, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 122, No. 1 Mar., 1956, pp. 1-12
- In the Swallows and Amazons series of books by Arthur Ransome, a high mountain in the Lake District (unnamed in the book, but clearly based on the Old Man of Coniston) is given the name "Kanchenjunga" by the children when they climb it in 1931.
- 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, in height, and only distant. Darjiling (Darjeeling) itself is 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 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 and James Bond becomes part of a climbing expedition in order to retrieve the formula.
- The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, which won the 2006 Man Booker Prize, is set partly in Kalimpong, a hill station situated near Kangchenjunga.