Kanchenjunga Base Camp
See the 3rd highest mountain in the world up close, trek on glaciers, challenge yourself on high mountain passes, enjoy spectacular forests of rhododendron and the openhearted hospitality of the Sherpa, Limbu, Rai and Lhomi communities.
- Duration & distance: About 20 days total; daily distance is not important to grade
- Gradient: Some steep and arduous sections
- Quality of path: Formed & rough tracks, some obstacles
- Quality of markings: Limited signage
- Experience required: Some walking experience required
- Walking times: Less than 6½ hours per day
- Steps: Steps not included in grade
- Highest point: 5143m
- Best season: Apr-May/Oct-Nov
- Accommodation: Camping or basic teahouses
- Recommended map: NP101 GHT Series Kanchenjunga Region, Himalayan Map House, 2017
The return trek to Kanchenjunga Base Camp takes about 20 days and can be combined with a number of trails to explore some magnificent wilderness areas. If you want to visit the southern valleys of Kanchenjunga, combine trails to Yalung via Ghunsa and Yamphudin. Another great option is over Nango La from Ghunsa to the intriguing communities of Olangchun Gola and Yangma, from where you can explore some really remote mountains.
There are two main seasons (April-May and October-November) for visiting Kanchenjunga; both offer very different trekking experiences. Being isolated from the other main ranges in Far East Nepal, Kanchenjunga is renowned for making its own weather and suffering from heavy monsoonal rains. After the monsoon has finished the mountains are free of lingering cloud and the views in late October and November are probably at their best. By mid-December snow closes the higher trails, which will not open again until mid to late March at the earliest. The pre-monsoon period is famous for the stunning forests of rhododendron that begin at Suketar and continue throughout the trek, and are perhaps the most extensive throughout the Nepal Himalaya.
Getting to and from the Kanchenjunga region can be time consuming. In the main trekking seasons a scheduled flight operates between Biratnagar and Suketar a few times a week. For the remainder of the year, you either have to drive to Taplejung or Phidim, or charter a helicopter to Suketar.
If you have experienced crew, or can employ a local guide, it is worth the effort to continue along a small, dangerous trail that climbs around the massive curve in the glacier to the north. This route is very rarely trekked and after three hours will require you to traverse and then walk across a glacier; beyond here you will need ropes and associated climbing equipment. After two days you reach Jhinsang La and the border with Sikkim and Tibet. Expect to take another two days to return. Be paranoid about the weather, this is not a place to get caught out.
The small river that creates the landslide and loose rock about an hour below Kanchenjunga Base Camp flows from a glacier complex on Mera Peak. On either side of the river are two minor rocky summits of close to 6000m, which do not require permits to climb and are fantastic viewpoints.
GHT Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Chyamtang
GHT through-hikers tend to either begin or end their journey in the Kanchenjunga Base Camp area or on the Singalilla ridge near Phalut. The remotest starting point for the Great Himalaya Trail in east Nepal is Jhinsang La, a 2- to 3-day walk from Kanchenjunga BC. The approach to the pass is along the true right (left-hand) side of Jhinsang Glacier and although locals don’t visit the area often, it might be possible to employ a local guide from Ghunsa. Crossing the pass into Sikkim is not permitted. From the pass, follow the main trail to Ghunsa (see Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek, days 9-13 in reverse) and then to Olangchun Gola. Note that a major landslide has damaged sections of this trail such that it might be closed. Consult local communities before attempting the route between Ghunsa and Olangchun Gola.
Ghunsa to Olangchun Gola (Holung)
From Ghunsa, descend the main trail beside the Ghunsa Khola for 1½ hours to a trail junction, just before the Yangma Samba Khola (before Phale) that descends from the Nango La valley to your right. Ascend a small trail, first through scrubby pine forest and then grassy hillside for 3¼ hours to a series of kharka (summer grazing pasture), which offer some rough tent platforms.
The following morning get an early start for Nango La (4776m, 1¼hrs), as cloud often obscures the view. Once over the pass descend to a bowl-shaped valley to a dharamsala (emergency shelter) in 30 minutes. Livestock have made the ground around the dharamsala very muddy so only stay here if you have no other choice. Descend to the west on the true right (northern) bank of a stream, which rapidly grows in size and often involves some route finding through scrubby rhododendron.
There is an excellent grassy campsite at Lanjong Kharak (3734m, 3hrs from the dharamsala) towards the end of the valley before you descend through dense woodland to the Yangma Khola valley. Once beside the river, the trail swings north, upstream, for about one hour before descending to the Yangma Khola bridge (3430m, 2hrs), which you cross. There are many minor up and downs as you walk downstream on the true right (western) bank of the Yangma Khola and then turn west (right) into the Tamor Khola valley (2800m, 3½hrs). Do not cross the bridge over the Tamor Khola: you must stay on the true left (northern) bank following a broad trail to Olangchun Gola (3191m, 1½hrs).
Olangchun Gola (Holung) to Chyamtang/Hongon
There are some signs along this route now, they are accurate and should be followed. From Olangchun Gola head north-west for 3½ hours along the Tamor Khola, which brings you to a river confluence and bridge, which you cross to head up the Dingsamba Khola. There is a campsite at the confluence of the two rivers (3712m). A small trail through dense rhododendron forest climbs the true left side of the valley to a large, flat area used by herders (1½hrs).
At the end of the valley a trail climbs up and over a black rock band into another, smaller valley (4453m, 2½hrs), where you should camp. A stream cascades down a rocky slope on your left; climb the broken trail on the true left (north-west) side of the stream to exit tha main valley. If snow covered, this can be a tricky starting place to find, so use the GPS reference: N 27°43’53” E 87°41’21” at approx. 4,470m. You then reach a plateau (1½hrs) with a lake and views of the Lumbha Sambha. Climb the ridge on your right (northern side of the small plateau), heading for the northernmost of three obvious saddles. There is a small trail to follow but snow often obscures your route. You should crest the saddle (5136m, 1hr; Finaid: Topkegola, sheet: 2787 07, ref: 658 697 / GPS ref: N 27°43’44” E 87°39’55”) after another hour.
Do not descend into the Palun Khola valley below! There is a small trail that traverses beneath a peak marked 5422m on the map to another saddle and the Lumbha Sambha La proper (5159m, 30 mins; Finaid: Topkegola, sheet: 2787 07, ref: 642 688), with views of Kanchenjunga and Jannu to the east and Makalu to the west. An easy-to-follow trail descends to the north-west into a large valley and the source of the Lapsi Khola (1hr). This valley has many campsites and the following day you should reach the strongly Tibetan-influenced community of Thudam (3556m, 4hrs) where there is a basic teahouse.
The trail gradually becomes overgrown and harder to follow as you descend the Medokchheje Khola, there are many minor trails in the area and you might appreciate the knowledge of a local guide for this section. Just before a large wood-cutting camp the trail climbs (3020m, 1½hrs; Finaid: Tiptala Bhanjyan, sheet: 2787 03, ref: 512 707) and splits again after 30 minutes of climbing, take the west (left) fork. A sometimes scrambly trail winds around ridges and climbs to a minor pass (3369m, 2hrs) before descending into dense forest beyond where you can camp in a small sloping kharka (1½hrs). The trail continues in much the same vein to another kharka (2hrs) dominated by a large rock. The trail goes to the right of the rock and climbs steeply to another minor pass (2820m, 1hr) before a long descent down countless switchbacks to a bridge over the Arun Nadi below (1850m, 2hrs). You are bound to receive a warm welcome from the Lhomi people in Chyamtang (2187m, 1hr), where you can now enjoy the luxury of a main trail!
From Chyamtang there is a direct route to Molun Pokhari by following a ridge-top trail along the Simbokpa and Pejung Danda. This route requires a local guide as it is rarely used and poses some very tricky navigation. However, although a very long day, it is still faster than going via Hongon.
The more popular route is via Hongon as the local shops have more variety than in Chyamtang. It is an easy day to Hongon (2323m, 5½hrs) where you can easily stock up on food and fuel before embarking on the next section to the Makalu region.
OTHER MAJOR TRAILS IN THE KANCHENGJUNGA REGION
From Ghunsa, there is a trail to Olangchun Gola (Walangchung Gola) via Nango La, which takes a total of three days to complete, see Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Chyamtang below. The trail from Olangchun Gola back to Lelep/Sekatum takes two days; there is a convenient riverside camp at Magawa, after 3½ hours of walking on the first day.
It is possible to trek to a remote 5700m Tibetan border pass via Yangma without any additional permits. Camping is the only option, but if you have the time this is one of the most remote corners of the entire Himalaya. Allow three to four days from Ghunsa to Yangma, then four days minimum (without an acclimatisation stop) to reach the border and return to Yangma, and a further two tough days to Olangchun Gola, where it would be wise to rest for a day or two.
An alternative route from Suketar to Ghunsa goes via Yamphudin, Cheram (Tseram) and Yalung Base Camp and is a great trail to create a circular trek. It requires camping gear and takes 10-14 days depending on your route and time spent at Yalung. Note that a major landslide has made access to Yalung dangerous and it is not advisable to take laden porters.
The border with India and the spectacular Singalilla National Park are restricted areas that require a special permit issued from the police station in Chyangthapu (Phunlading) or a valid Indian tourist visa. From Phalut, trails head almost due west to Taplejung in about six days via Sablakhu and Kande Bhanjyang. En route you pass near to Phathibhara Temple, a very popular pilgrimage site and a worthy side trip to any itinerary. Trails further westwards to the Makalu region from Taplejung either head through Dobhan or Topkegola.
Dress CodeMid-altitude alpine clothing and camping equipment required
IncludedKanchenjunga Base Camp
Not IncludedSpecial PermitsTea Houses AvailablePersonal Guide