Kangchenjunga (858 m), eastern approach. Northeast spur seen in centre. View from Muguthang. Article 3

1. Kangchenjunga (858 m), eastern approach. Northeast spur seen in centre. View from Muguthang. Article 3

Route on Kangchenjunga northeast spur to Camp 4. Article 3

2. Route on Kangchenjunga northeast spur to Camp 4. Article 3

IT HAS BEEN SAID by many famous mountaineers that It is only by a marginal difference in altitude that Kangchenjunga (8586 m), the highest peak In India, has been placed as the 3rd highest peak in the world. In terms of degree of difficulties involved, the ascent of Kangchenjunga, especially from Sikkim is far more challenging compared with Everest and K2.

The German expedition led by Paul Bauer made the first attempt to scale this peak from the Sikkim side in 1929 followed by another attempt In 1931 and was able to reach 7700 m.' After 46 years in 1977, an expedition of the Indian army led by Col N. Kumar succeeded in putting two members, namely Major Prem Chand and Naik N. D. Sherpa, on the summit of Kangchenjunga, from the northeast spur, on 31 May. After a gap of 10 years, in 1987, an Assam Rifles expedition led by Maj Gen P. L. Kukreti, attempted Kangchenjunga following the route of 1977 expedition. This expedition lost the famous mountaineer Phu Dorjee, an Everester, and 3 other members and claimed to have put 3 members atop Kangchenjunga.

The Himalayan Association of Japan (HAJ) had sent an expedition team to Kangchenjunga from the Nepal side in 1981. That time, we had planned to make a traverse of Kangchenjunga from the west peak to the main peak, but, we climbed the 'main peak and west peak only on 9 May. We could not traverse Kangchenjunga. The original plan of our Kangchenjunga expedition at that time, was to climb this mountain from Zemu glacier In Sikkim. But our wish was not realized due to unavoidable reasons. We continued making approaches to the concerned Indian organisations Niich as the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (I.M.F.) since that time. Over 10 years passed without a satisfactory response, but in 1990 our persistent efforts finally bore fruit, and we received a proposal for a joint expedition to enter this Shangrila.


  1. See H.J. Vol. 3&, p. 1 and the Editor's Note at the end of the article.

Photos 1 to 6


Upper Zemu glacier

Upper Zemu glacier

The expedition, jointly sponsored by The Himalayan Association of Japan (H.A.J.) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (I.T.B.P.), under the auspices of I.M.F. is the first international expedition that attempted the peak from the Sikkim side, since Paul Bauer's team in 1931.

The expedition was planned and launched within a record time of less than 8 months inspite of many hurdles in obtaining Government clearance and arranging funds and equipment. The expedition received full support from the Government of Sikkim, army and various other individuals and organisations.

Hukam Singh was overall leader of the expedition and Yoshio Ogata was co-leader. The team included 14 Japanese and 22 Indian members. 53-year-old Hukam Singh was the oldest and Tsuyoshi Akiyama, 20-year-old, was the youngest member of the team. The team also included 5 lady climbers.

On 24 February the advance party landed in Delhi. The next day we joined our cheerful Indian companions.

On 8 March, we flew to Bagdogra and reached Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim by mini bus. We were forced to stay there for 6 days to arrange for an entry into the area.

4 March we left Gangtok by 4 mini buses and 7 trucks with members and high altitude porters. We drove about 120 km on the north Sikkim highway and arrived at Lachen. The next day, we drove to Thanggu along the Tista river. A military road provided convenient access to Thanggu.

There are two routes to approach the base camp at Green Lake in the Zemu glacier. One of them is along the Zemu chu (river) from Lachen and the other is a roundabout way over the Lugnak la (5035 m), Thieu In (5212 m) and Tangchung la (5150 m). The route of our approach to the base camp had been set for the roundabout way by our overall leader. I was anxious about the snow conditions on these high passes for the yaks in the middle of March. It took the team 44 days to transport expedition loads from the roadhead to the base camp at Green Uike (4935 m). If it were not for the snow on the high passes, we could reach the base camp from the roadhead in only 4 days. The mlvance party arrived at the base camp on 31 March, and the last p.irty arrived on 26 April. We were hard pressed in our approach march such being the case. Owing to the roundabout way, we enjoyed a view of the mountains of the northern Sikkim such as Kangchengyao (6889 m), Chombu (6362 m), Chummakhang (6212 m), Chomoyummo (6829 m), Kora Chonekang (6187 m) and so many others.

An advance party selected a site for the advance base camp on 1 April. Carrying of supplies upto ABC started on 10 April.

The route to ABC led up the Zemu glacier from the base camp. ABC was on a glacier where the Twins glacier joined the Zemu glacier at 5200 m.

After ABC, we started route-making for Cl. The first obstacle was In the form of an icefall. This icefall stands just below the upper Zemu glacier where it was about one hour from ABC. At that point the east (ace of Kangchenjunga, which until then had been hidden by lower part of the northeast spur, came into full view for the first time. This icefall technically speaking was not as bad as the one on Everest but was far more dangerous due to the constant hazard of ice-avalanches and falling boulders. The members and high altitude porters often had narrow escapes from the bombardment of stones and ice-avalanches.

On 16 April, 6 climbers stretched 13 pitches of fixed rope across several crevasses and ice-walls. They reached 5600 m. The next day, they extended the route 9 more pitches up an ice-plateau on the upper Zemu glacier where we pitched Cl after several days.

On 19 April, both leaders and some members reached Cl. We had the view for reconnaissance to find a climbing route for the east face of Kangchenjunga. The east face was very steep with ice and rock mix face and was dangerous due to the constant hazard of big avalanches. We judged from that view that there was no feasible route up from the top of the upper Zemu glacier.

The same day, a huge icefall just below the snow-plateau broke down and the rope was cut to pieces. We changed fixed rope to the flank of the northeast spur on the following day.

Cl was set up at the south face of the northeast spur on 20 April at 5700 m.

After Cl we had to gain the crest of the deadly northeast spur. The south face of the northeast spur rises up almost vertically for about 300 m from the flat glacier basin, and the steep face with fluted ice-gullies was swept' regularly by avalanches. The route from Cl was a traverse of the south face.

On 21 April, Yoshida's party stretched 20 pitches of fixed rope across several ice-gullies and broken rock face. They reached just below the ridge at 6150 m. The next day, they extended the route 2 more pitches up an ice-wall, and they came out on the northeast spur. From there this spur had towers upon towers piled, cliff upon cliff, huge vertical columns which tapered like spires and shining curtains festooned with icicles, hanging down the precipices from the cornices above. There were great bulges and chasms wrenched by the wind and cold into fantastic mushroom shapes which had the likeness of night monsters. The fixed ropes were flung all over the place to secure the members and high altitude porters from falling into the sheer depths below. We had found old fixed ropes on the ridge presumably belonging to the 1977 and 1987 Indian expeditions. We stretched 34 pitches of fixed ropes from Cl to C2. C2 was pitched on a place above the cornices on the northeast spur at 6300 m on 27 April.

On 28 April, Nazuka's party started route making for C3. From thereon on the northeast spur, there were cornices which could not be climbed in any way. They passed through a natural tunnel to surmount these. They extended the route 9 pitches up on the rugged ridge from 28 April till 30 April.

On 1 May, Yoshida's party stretched 9 pitches of fixed rope across big crevasses and several huge ice-cliffs, and they reached 6550 m. They extended the route 10 more pitches up on the rugged snow-ridge on the following day, and they reached 6880 m. C3 perched on a snow-slope 5 pitches below the highest point reached on 2 May, was at 6800 m reached on 4 May. At that point, the spur became a wide snow-ridge, with no technical difficulty. Below one looks down a steep slope at the upper Zemu glacier. Across it is Siniolchu and Simvo massif. Beyond Siniolchu massif there is a view towards Bhutan Himalaya and the arid brown Tibetan plateau with its surrounding mountains.

On 4 May, we set up C3 at 6800 m which we had reached the previous day. On 6 May, Ogata's party reached a point on the spur where there were huge ice-cliff at 7250 m. We strung 14 pitches of fixed rope up the snow-ridge in two days. The next day, Oda's party succeeded in reaching a point of C4 at 7450 m. They strung six and half pitches of fixed rope up the spur.

On 9 May, we established C4, and Nazuka's party stayed the first night there. Next morning Nazuka's party started on the route on the spur starting from Junction Peak (Germans called it Zuchehutl Peak), and ropes were fixed all the way. The raute from C4 was up a snow-ridge with very steep arete which culminated at the highest point of the spur. From the arete one looks down the north col on the north ridge, and beyond the north col there is a view of Nepal Himalaya.

After four day's work to complete this route, 4 Indian climbers reached C5 at 7850 m on 14 May. The next day, they set up C5 with 2 high altitude porters.

On 15 May, Pasang Sherpa, Khem Raj, Sharki Bhutia and Lopsang Tshering went up for reconnaissance to find a final camp. They reached the old camp site of Indian expeditions in 1977 and 1987 at about 8100 m. They returned back to C5. That same day morning, Sato and Ogata started the laborious work to carry up the luggage to C5, and we reached C5 at noon. We met 4 Indian members at the time. They told us about the ascent route to the summit which can be seen from the highest point reached. I thought that they had plans for an attack on the summit.

The next day, they had an accident. They made a start from C5 nt 4 a.m. Four Indian members reached the old camp site of the previous 2 Indian expedition, deposited their loads at that place, and continued up towards the summit of Kangchenjunga at their own discretion with one oxygen cylinder each. During their attack Pasang Sherpa, tragically (i'll off to the north face side and was missing. I received the bad news «t Cl from Hukam Singh by walkie-talkie.

Though the accident upset the plan considerably, I again made plans for an attack to the summit. We went into mourning for Pasang Sherpa nt each camp the following day. We resumed the final stage of our expedition with heavy hearts.

On 23 May, 7 Japanese members were constituted into a support (mrly and on 24 May, the summit party, went up to the north face, and reached 7950 m on the north face. They established C6 at this piilnt, and now they were getting the full blast of the westerlies. Nazuka and Imamura stretched 7 pitches of fixed rope in the snow-gully at the rear of C6. The support party returned, leaving Hideji Nazuka, Hirotaka Imamura and Ryuzo Oda at C6. When they tried to fix their oxygen rtgulators, they found that there were two sets only. We discussed the lien! attack plan by walkie-talkie between C6 and base camp, and we decided that Nazuka should attempt the summit without oxygen.

On 24 May, they made a start at 4 a.m. in biting cold. Oda was «srrvin'i two oxygen cylinders and Imamura had one oxygen cylinder. They ndded another 3 pitches of fixed rope for safety on the descent. Very soon Imamura collapsed owing to some trouble in the oxygen mask, He left his oxygen cylinder and began climbing again without the oxygen. At 8.45 a.m. Oda left one of his half used oxygen cylinder to be used on the return journey. They slogged on and on, in deep snow and fierce winds. Sometimes the winds were so strong that they were pushed off their feet. At 10.57 a.m. Nazuka reached the west col on the main ridge between the Main peak and Yalung Kang (west peak). From there the summit ridge of Kangchenjunga traverses a snow and rock mixed face on the Yalung glacier side. He climbed along the Yalung glacier side of th%" summit ridge to the main summit. It was 11.50 a.m. when Nazuka stood on the summit of Kangchenjunga. He remembered the promise the team had given to the people of Sikkim. He left the last 2 m untrodden. He took pictures and came back the same way. He returned back to the west col at 1 p.m. and he met Oda and Imamura who had not yet reached the col Nazuka returned back to C6 in safety at 3 p.m. Imamura reached the west col continued climbing up the summit ridge. Very soon Imamura joined Oda. They finally stood up on the summit at 3.23 p.m. and returned to C6 in darkness at 10.30 p.m. in the night.

Early next morning the second summit party, consisting of S. D. Sharma, Kanhaiya Lai and T. Smanla started from the C6 to the summit. They reached the summit of Kangchenjunga at 2.30 p.m. and returned back to C6 at 7.50 p.m.

Because of the time and weather constraints, most of the members, both Japanese and Indians had to sacrifice their chance to climb the summit so as to support their colleagues in the best mountaineering tradition. Thus only six members could reach the summit.

The expedition also paid special attention to the environmental and ecological aspects in the Himalaya and rendered great service in cleaning the trail of the mountain, which was found littered with garbage, empty tins and filth.

Editor's Note: The 'northeast spur' actually is an 'east ridge'. Only in the last section, it turns north and is sharp. 'NE Spur' was the name given by Paul Bauer and this misnomer has continued. He called another ridge, going south, as the 'east ridge'. This ridge has on it the Central and the South peak of Kangchenjunga massif.

In some reports this expedition claimed to have climbed the 'east ridge'. Though this is the correct nomenclature, it is changed to 'NE Spur' in the article not to cause confusion with the earlier articles.


The ascent of Kangchenjunga from the east by an Indo-Japanese team led by Hukam Singh and Yoshio Ogata. Summit was reached on 24 May (3 Japanese) and on 25 May 1991 (3 Indians). Earlier, on 15 May 1991, Pasang Sherpa fell to his death on the summit bid. This was the third ascent of Kangchenjunga from the east.


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