Friday, July 17, 2015

Kangchenjunga and Makalu | Sixty Years since the First Ascent

Kangchenjunga as seen from above Green Lakes in the Zemu Valley, North Sikkim

It is sixty years since the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1955. Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition followed by Norman Hardie and Tony Streather the next day. They stopped short of the summit as per the promise given to the Chogyal that the top of the mountain would remain inviolate. But the route from the Zemu valley shown in this photograph remained unclimbed until an Indain expedition led by Col "Bull' Kumar summitted the peak from the north east spur in 1977. This was only the second ascent of the mountain. This was the same difficult route that had beaten the Germans under Paul Bauer in 1929 and 1931. But, as far as I know, the east face direct route on Kangchenjunga is still waiting  for world class alpinists. This may remain one of the last great unclimbed faces in the Himalaya!

Makalu as seen from the Rhenjo La pass above the lakes of Gokyo
It is sixty years since the first ascent of Makalu in May 1955.A spectacular mountain it is not seen very often from the Everest region. Makalu was first climbed by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy on May 15th 1955. They were part of a  French expedition led by Jean Franco. Franco, G. Magnone and Sardar Gyaltsen Norbu summitted  on May 16th 1955  followed by Bouvier, S. Coupe, Leroux and A. Vialatte on the 17th May. This was an amazing achievement at the time to have the majority of expedition members summit, especially on such a difficult peak. Prior to this time, summits were reached by 1-2 people at most with the rest of teams providing logistical support before turning around and heading home. The French team climbed Makalu by the north face and northeast ridge, via the saddle between Makalu and Kangchungtse (the Makalu-La), establishing the standard route. The trek to Makalu base camp from Tumlingtar is a route which is also not very popular in the Nepal Himalayas mainly due to the long approach to the mountain. 

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