These photos are from the slideshow I gave to the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club in 2008
To get you pumped up for the photos to follow...
Introductions necessary? From left to right, me, Sarah, Sam and Josh. Note our sweet Nepalese-made hats and the third highest peak in the world, Kangchenjunga, towering behind us.
We had to get to Delhi first. We ended up with 12 bags that were nearly all over weight so some extra baggage fees were incurred. A couple of the bags were older equipment that Sam and Sarah brought to donate to the local Indian mountaineers
In LAX we found out our flight over the pond was canceled due to a mechanical issue. We had to gather our bags and re-check them with a different airline carrier, Air Malaysia, since we were moved to a different flight that would route us through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
As it turned out Air Malaysia was super nice to fly on and the airport in Kuala Lumpur (seen here) was super nice and modern. Since we had four hours to kill, we took a cab into the city for a quick walking tour to check it out
The Petronas Towers are the tallest twin towers in the world. A skywalk joins the two way up there. As it turns out, you can go up to the sky walk every day but Mondays and we were there on a Monday. So sad.
So we walked around the city and this major park
A running track through the park had me wishing I had my running flats
The airport in Delhi. It was under construction so it was a mess. But, amazingly, all 12 of our bags arrived on time and without issue. That's a first!
We nabbed a couple taxis to get to our hotel for the night. We got in late so we didn't see any part of Delhi and headed straight to the hotel. This is the next morning taking the taxis back to the airport so we can fly to Bagdogra, West Bengal.
Before we flew to Delhi I kept an eye on the weather there. Often it would report, Heavy Smoke, as a weather condition. This is what that means, apparently. Sunrise.
Loading up our bags on the Go Air flight to Bagdogra. They did not charge us additional baggage fees nor overweight fees. We were impressed.
In Bagdogra we met up with our outfitter guide Dawa, his wife and a number of assistants. They got all our bags into and onto this one jeep.
Driving from Bagdogra to Gangtok was, at times, slow but always interesting. That's a load of rebar and other construction materials on the bike. Behind them is the passenger bus with many people riding on the roof since the main cabin is full. To the right is a billboard depicting a new hotel construction that is planned. Note that we saw nothing that looked that fancy anywhere in India.
We stopped for lunch on our drive to Gangtok. These are some yummy momos with a spicy sauce. The drive to Gangtok took most of the day and we arrived at our hotel after dark. It's 149km from Bagdogra to Gangtok.
After arriving in the dark, it was awesome to wake up to this view out of our hotel room of Kangchenjunga at sunrise. Phenomenal!
The owner, Barap, of the outfitter company we used for transport and basecamp logisitics, Sikkim Holidays, had arranged a day of touring Gangtok for us for the day. First stop was to a mandir for some prayer.
Gore tex shoes not allowed in the mandir
Prayer flags over the road near the mandir
This is Raja the Himalayan black bear at the Himalayan zoo.
Snow leopard. They are rare and difficult to catch a glimpse of. We sat in our cammoed blind for days for this shot. I photoshopped in the fence behind him. :-)
All together now....awwwww! The uber-cute red panda. They are endemic to the Himalayan mountains. We could not convince them to let us bring one home.
This belongs on CuteOverload.com
A Lady Amherst pheasant. Serious colors
Whipping up some vegetable momos.
And we think green chile is hot
Said momos after being cooked. Yum.
Apartment buildings in Gangtok. The city is built on the hillside with varying levels of terraces for streets and blocks.
Monks playing cricket at the Rumtek Monastery
Prayer wheelz at Rumtek
This is looking at the city of Gangtok on the hillside across the valley from the Rumtek Monastery. A big, new greenhouse is being built in the foreground
Handmade wooden concrete forms sure made things look a bit rickety
We're big in India! This big poster made our presence felt. As you can see from the poster we had permits for three peaks. We attempted Thengchinkhang [sic], succeeded on Jopuno and never even got close to Frey Peak. Frey looks pretty badass, though. This is at the office of our outfitter company, Sikkim Holidays. Here we met our liason office, Suraj.
The only gear store in Gangtok. Most of the stuff was knock-off North Face gear.
Downtown Gangtok was undergoing a renovation and was slated to have marble medians with nice lights.
Our second evening in Gangtok, Barap (right) graciously had us over for dinner at his house. Four big bottles of beer were cracked open but Josh and Sam don't drink beer so Sarah and I had to step up.
The next leg of our trip was a half day jeep trip to Yuksom, the launching point for our expedition. Here we get loaded up at the hotel.
Our first stop was the Enchey Monastery where we received a blessing before going to the mountains.
Prayer wheels after the blessing ceremony. The ceremony was very interesting...cramped quarters, lots of noise and chanting, heavy incense smoke and lots of dry rice. I'm convinced this was effective, though, because I'm here writing about it.
Josh and I had not received our “inner line” permits somehow so we had to stop by the office of tourism to get that squared away. It was interesting as well. It appeared very formal where we had to wait quietly in the office for the offical to arrive. We stood up and asked politely to obtain our permits. With a disappointed look he told us we should have gotten them within 24 hours of being there, not 48 like it had been. We were thinking we were going to have to do some serious palm greasing to rectify the situation but he just completed a couple of forms and handed us our permits. No payment necessary.
A lunch stop in Singtam. We did a lot of eating on this trip.
Not sure what I ordered but it sure looked amazing and tasted even better
My artsy side saw this photo opportunity in the restroom. The leftmost toothbrush had a bit of a fishy taste for some reason. Kidding, of course.
We stopped at this Bon Monastery en route to Yuksam. I didn't fully understand (not even partially, actually) the intricacies of the religion but did discover that Bon followers spin the prayer wheels opposite of traditional Buddhists.
Now that's an offering!
Very ornate and intricate paint work
There's another monastery across the valley on that hill that one must hike up to.
The drive to Yuksom was only something like 30 miles but it took all day because of the complicated terrain. Drive up switchbacks to a high ridge, descend switchbacks to the valley floor, cross a bridge and repeat a few times.
A lot of driving was on yet to be paved roads. Paving there is a very manual process with mostly Lepcha peoples breaking the rocks into smaller and smaller pieces to create the chip seal for the road
Our hotel in Yuksom. We arrived around 4pm. It's a small town and the starting point for most, if not all, treks and expeditions into the Thangsing valley.
Yuksom is just right and down of center on this map. The Thangsing Valley and Jopuno are marked on this map at the top of the map and a couple peaks to the right of Kangchenjunga.
We had the evening to walk around and explore the sights of Yuksom. This is, obviously, at the Coronation Throne of Norbugang. Feel free to read it and try to understand what was going down. I didn't.
Gigantic prayer wheel!
The poster followed us to the hotel in Yuksom
Our dinner that night at the hotel. It was the first of many dinners prepared by our amazing expedition cook Bomba. He was a rad Nepalese cook who had served as expedition cook on many Everest expeditions.
That night Sarah and I were introduced to Chang. a beer made from fermented millet. You pour hot water into the mug full of millet, let it steep for a few minutes and suck it down via the bamboo straw. It was cool to try it but I'll stick with New Belgium 1554 beer.
The view in the morning from our hotel room window. I'm still not sure what peak that is but we hiked in that general direction.
It turned out our porters and cook slept there in that corral which seemed a bit rough to us. Our porters are packing our gear on the Dzos (yak-like pack animals.)
Load balancing our bags so they could put them on the Dzos with even distribution
Photo shoot before heading out. Barap had made shirts for all of us that had the poster logo on them. From left to right: Me, Josh, Barap, Suraj, Dawa, Sam and Sarah.
A fully loaded Dzo
As we started our hike through the town, Barap accompanied us to the end of town. Dawa was in obvious pain with an infected or sore tooth of some sort. We later learned he had to tough it out otherwise he wouldn't get paid.
Dzos on the trail on the first day. Our first day on the trek to basecamap took us from Yuksom to the village of Tshoka. I'm not sure of the mileage covered but we gained 5,050' vertical feet in just under 8 hours which included a trail-side lunch stop where the tables were deployed a full-on cooked meal was served. This surprised us--we weren't expect that kind of treatment.
Crossing one of the four bridges en route to Tshoka on the first day
The lunch stop. It was extremely impressive and completely unexpected.
Sam and Sarah laughed at Josh and I when we bought umbrellas in Gangtok. But we figured hiking in the rain in the jungle in Gore-tex would be kinda miserable. We were psyched to have the umbrellas.
We arrived at Tshoka and went straight to this restaurant hut for hot tea and milk. We all purchased one of the Nepalese-made hats, too.
Now here was another surprise--it started snowing that night. Tshoka is around 9,000 feet elevation. We were pleased to find out we had a space in the hut and didn't have to deploy our tents in the mud and snow.
The next morning we visited a monastery in Tshoka to hang our prayer flags for good tidings for our expedition.
Suraj working with Josh to hang our prayer flags.
Breakfast! French toast and honey. This kind of meal was typical for three meals a day for the entire time on the mountain (except for when we were at our advanced basecamp and eating dehydrated meals.) It made leaving basecamp difficult.
Day two of the trek was from Tshoka to Dzongri. The new snow made the going a bit slick and cool but it warmed up pretty quickly. At varying times we all donned our iPods and just enjoyed the hiking.
Arjun was the “kitchen boy” as they called him. He's a super nice guy with a strong work ethic. I wish he owned a backpack, though.
We arrived at the Dzongri hut, elevation 13,000 feet, after 4.5 hours of hiking and gaining 3,650' vertical feet. Bomba is kneeling (in gray) cooking us yet another fine dinner.
Dawa was on the mend and feeling better!
We all got up at 4:45am to hike up 700 vertical feet from Dzongri to a popular trekker's view point to see Kangchenjunga at sunrise. We were definitely not disappointed!
This is the upper Thangsing Valley. Kangchenjunga is on the left in the sun. Mount Pandim (6,691m) is near center. Next is Tinchenkang (6,010m) and the right-most peak is Jopuno (5,936m). Our basecamp was on the flanks below Tinchenkang and Jopuno right about snowline in this photo.
Left to right: Me, Sarah, Sam, Dawa, Josh and Suraj
After the early morning viewing of Kangchenjunga we hiked back down to the Dzongri hut for breakfast and then headed out towards our eventual basecamp.
From our highpoint here we descended into the Thangsing valley to the white “field” seen in the bottom of the valley. From there we hiked up the brownish ridge to the right to a plateau right about the snowline in this photo for our basecamp.
The hut at Thangsing. We had camped in the field to the right of the hut for one night and then headed up to our basecamp on this day.
Our camp in the field by the Thangsing hut with Pandim, Tinchenkang and Jopuno in the background
Our camp at the plateau at about 13,900'. This was our basecamp area for the next 16 days
That afternoon we did a recon hike up towards Tinchenkang and got above the clouds. Pretty phenomenal.
We wasted no time and did a carry to 16,000' the day after arriving at basecamp. Basecamp can be seen in the right portion of the photo.
Josh admiring Tinchenkang after we dropped our cache for the day
We ended up digging tent platforms into the scree and talus here and spied this gully as the one potential way to get onto Tinchenkang's NW ridge
No photos from our rest day at basecamp. :-)
Packed up our camp and moving up to ABC at 16,000' below Tinchenkang's NW ridge
All nestled in at ABC. Because we could, we brought three tents so Josh and I had our own tents while Sam and Sarah shared a tent.
A recon and caching of gear that afternoon. We had no beta about accessing the ridge so we made it up as we went. It was mostly third class but had some fourth class action every now and then.
On the NW ridge proper with a beautiful day giving us a great view of the upper Tinchenkang
March 14th was a planned rest day for us so we could acclimate. But it ended up snowing hard in the afternoon anyway. Something we'd get very used to, unfortunately.
New snow at ABC after an overnight storm. No climbing today as we had planned. Another rest day.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset that night, though
I was calling it the A-Bomb sunset
After two rest days, Josh and I got antsy and figured we should make some sort of upward progress. We called it a summit attempt but really, because of the new snow, we waited a bit in the morning for it to melt and started later than one would normally start for a true summit attempt
The climbing up the third and fourth class slabs to the ridge proved a bit dicey with the new snow
But once on the ridge and at our gear cache, we were pretty stoked for this view.
Unfortunately two hours later it was completely socked in on the glacier making navigating difficult
Getting thicker and starting to snow
At around noon we called it off and began our retreat
It snowed harder as we descended leaving the slabs really sketchy
Where we would have normally scrambled we opted to rappel because of the slick conditions.
One more rappel to get down to relative safety
We were nearly out of food and the weather wasn't improving so all decided to head back down to basecamp.
Double carrys up, single carry down means big packs
The scene back at basecamp that afternoon. Obviously the weather hadn't been much better down here.
Given the weather pattern of getting nasty every afternoon, we opted to shift our focus to Jopuno, a slightly lower peak to the south of Tinchenkang. Also, we hoped we could climb Jopuno from basecamp which would save us the effort of moving up to another ABC. This sunrise view of Kangchenjunga also made basecamp appealing.
So I went on a solo recon of Jopuno that day. On our trek into basecamp we became immediately interested in the aesthetic, unclimbed west ridge of Jopuno and decided to give that a shot. Jopuno had been climbed only once before, via the south ridge.
This view from about 15,500 shows almost all of the west ridge. It starts out with some glacier and snow ridge climbing leading to a golden band of beautiful granite into poor black shale rock to the snow capped summit ridge.
Since we would attempt Jopuno from basecamp, we took a day to carry much of our gear to a cache at about 16,900 feet. This would also give us a chance to scope out more of the route.
Tinchenkang (left) and Jopuno (right)
Some scrambling on our way up to the gear cache
Above our planned gear cache location. Josh and I opted to keep going up the ridge until we got tired or the weather deteriorated. The latter came first.
Steeper snow climbing to the lower crux of the ridge route, a 40 foot pitch of WI3 climbing
Josh takes the lead through the ice pitch
Up above the ice pitch on the now more defined snow ridge. This was about our high point for the day.
Rapping down the ice pitch. Since we'd be back, we left the ice screw anchor for later use.
Nearly full moon illuminating Jopuno
Summit day for Jopuno. We awoke at 3:30am (an actual summit day wake time) and made very good time up to our gear cache at 16,900'.
Sunrise at about 17,100'
Sam leading through the ice pitch to gain the main glacier
Josh and Kangchenjunga
Getting higher and steeper on the glacier's ridge
Once we hit the ridge proper the climbing was stellar. Nearly styrofoam conditions made for quick, fun climbing.
One more short, awkward, right-leaning ice pitch before gaining the golden band
Looking back at Sam and Sarah on the ridge
Josh and I were making good time and picked our way through the quality rock of the golden band. We placed pink flagging to mark our route so we could descend the same way on the return even in poor conditions (which we encountered.)
About the 19,000' level Josh and I both noticed a very curious senstation and sound. We culd hear loud buzzing like bees and then suddenly felt the stinging on our body anywhere we had metal. The ice screws on our harnesses were particularly good at stinging our asses. We ditched all our metal ASAP on the ridge above us and came down here to hunker down for a bit. The electricity in the air quickly dissipated and we continued our ascent.
The new snow on the shitty shale rock was really making for an interesting and difficult go at the upper mountain. We left our crampons on the entire day for additional traction.
At arond 12:45pm I reached the summit after some interesting climbing on weird snow just below the summit. That's Josh heading up to join me.
On the summit of Jopuno, 19,475' (5,936m) for the second ascent of the peak and first ascent via the West Ridge (Ed. 2010--It turns out we likely made the first ascent of the peak as well as first ascent of the west ridge. See http://bit.ly/jopuno )
By the time we got to downclimbing, the new snow had really piled up on the nasty rock. Super tedious, super scary downclimbing. We couldn't wait to be off of it.
Sam and Sarah had waited for us at the start of the golden band so we could all descend together. When we arrived there we realized how miserable they must be. it was in the full on path of the wind and snow and very exposed. It was very generous of them to wait for us in such an exposed location.
I wanted to make a longer movie but it was too cold. But this short clip gives a feel of the wind and blowing snow.
Sarah rappelling from the golden band. We would do at least three more rappels along the ridge. As the angle lessened, Josh and I would downclimb, facing in, while Sam and Sarah rappelled so we could be a little more efficient.
The sky cleared for a short bit giving us a good view back up the ridge towards the golden band
Sam on one of the many rappels down the ridge. It was more exposed and steeper than this photos suggests.
Getting dark around 7:15pm. Here we've just rappelled the initial ice pitch we had climbed to gain the glacier.
Back at our cache at 8:00pm with still 3,000 feet to descend. But from here things got considerably easier. We flashed our lights down at basecamp and Suraj and Dawa flashed their lights back. We got back into camp around 10:30pm to discover Bomba had prepared us a big, hot dinner. We are forever indebted to the whole expedition crew for their work and help.
The next couple of days we were pretty beat after our 6,000' foot, 18.5 hour summit day on Jopuno so we hung out at camp for a couple days. Mostly we ate and played frisbee.
Moonlight show of my tent and Kangchenjunga
Suraj was a frisbee master
Sam and Sarah got excited to go check out Tinchenkang again but from the northern side of the NW ridge. They geared up and left basecamp while Josh and I opted to rest another day. Josh and I had both battled sinus infections at some point during the expedition and just generally didn't feel super strong.
Yummy breakfast! This, again, was pretty typical of our meals at basecamp
Another light dusting of snow at basecamp. This happened almost every evening/night. We think this was atypical for the region in March but maybe not.
Food resupply! Taking inventory of the latest food supplies to come up valley.
While Sam and Sarah headed up toward Tinchenkang again, I took a hike up valley to Lake Samati with Dawa and Suraj. Josh still wasn't feeling great. Moonset in the morning.
Mount Pandim and Lake Samati
Meanwhile on Tinchenkang, (these photos are from Sam and Sarah) Sam and Sarah were making good progress up the mountain and reached a higher point on Tinchenkang then Josh and I had reached in our attempt earlier in the trip.
Had we known the glacier on the northern side of the NW ridge was this friendly, we would have headed there intially. Live and learn. Sam and Sarah did not reach the summit of Tinchenkang but got in a good recon of it.
It snowed yet again that night. Josh and I decided to head around to the northern side of the NW ridge to join Sam and Sarah.
But first, breakfast with Suraj and Josh!
We got around to the northern side of the NW ridge and got this great view of Tinchenkang but neither of us was feeling very spunky. We radioed to Sam and Sarah and they informed us they planned to head down too. So Josh and I headed back to basecamp and awaited Sam and Sarah's return.
Wow, a nice day! Wouldn't you know it, as we reached the end of our time up the valley, the weather got better.
I made a trip down to the Thangsing hut with Suraj to hang out at the “watchman's” hut. The watchman apparently lived here and kept watch for illegal activity? They lovingly referred to the watchman as “sexy toro”. At the hut I met Sanjeev (rainbow hat) and his client, Simon, from New Zealand. We drank a few chang beers and enjoyed the afternoon.
Pretty smokey in the hut...my eyes were burning at times but it was a fun afternoon in the hut.
The day came when we had to break down basecamp and descend to Thangsing to begin our trek out.
Back down in the valley by the Thangsing hut Josh and I went to climb on a decent looking black slab we had eyed.
Josh got up a ways only to find the cracks filled with vegetation and few and far between. It could make for some fun bolted slab climbing but otherwise, our cimbing was short lived.
We instead did some bouldering traversing the wall.
We had one day left before we had to start hiking out back to Yuksom so we tool the traditional trekking route up to the head of the valley to Goecha La Pass. We started hiking under the bright moonlight at about 3:15am. We caught a cool sunrise.
Snow leopard prints! They were pretty fresh, it appeared, so we kept our eyes peeled for the snow leopard but never did see it.
Looking back down the Thangsing Valley towards Yuksom
That's Goecha La Pass with Kangchenjunga looming in the background
Looking back down valley a bit with Tinchenkang in the background. The NW ridge we had tried to climb is the ridge on the right
Closeup of Tinchenkang. Jopuno's summit can be seen behind it with snow blowing off it's summit. The west ridge we climbed is in profile on the right.
Huge potential for a big rock route for some determined alpinists
We saw two of these ice caves amongst the jungle vegetation on our descent. Pretty bitchin, really.
On our hike in the landscape was pretty stark but on the hike out the Rhododendron flowers were blooming. It was awesome to see the difference.
Back at Tshoka! No snow this time.
That night at our hut in Tshoka, we were suprised with a cake from Bomba. (Bomba is in the back using the headlamp we gave him!)
For the success of Mt. Jopuno. Awesome!
The next morning we packed up and hiked out to Yuksom.
Looking back at the peaks we had tried to climb. Pandim is the left most, then Tinchenkang, then Jopuno, then Lama Lamani and some other cool looking peaks
TarzSam of the jungle!
Sam hid inside this tree next to the trail and waited for the group trekking behind us. He pooped out and said “boo!”. They were not amused.
On our way out we each carried a ziploc bag and picked up as much trash as we could. We hope it makes an impression on the locals that were littering but I'm doubtful it will. It's just a different mentality there.
Cold beers back in civilization with our new friend, Simon from New Zealand, who we had met up at Thangsing. He was on a solo trip trekking with the same company we had.
I needed a shave and a haircut so Suraj took me to the barbershop. This was the real deal...shaving cream, a flat blade and some crazy massaging....
This is all a part of the shave and haircut experience. Seriously.
In Yuksom we met up with Barap again who showed us this newspaper article about our expedition. The photo is apparently stock photography and I was identified as “Andrew S. Phillips” and have no idea where they got that from.
We were told we needed to attend a press conference where a reporter from a newspaper and a television station would be. Here, Sam lays it down for 'em.
And now began the true tourist leg of the trip... typing these captions 18 months late, I've forgotten what this was all about. I believe the ruins of the first capitol of Sikkim near Pelling.
We had a hitchhiker on our jeep and he was riding on the roof. Sam said, “hey, can I ride on the roof too?” Yes you can.
From our hotel room window in Pelling. A major concrete job was taking place. It was amazing to see this procedure taking place. Guys shoveling the dry concrete, people mixing it, scooping it up and transporting it over to where it was being laid down.
Near the border of Sikkim and West Bengal we stopped to have our passports checked. These school girls really enjoyed the cookies Josh was doling out.
And they loved having their photo taken! After I took the photo they immediately wanted to see it on the digital camera's LCD screen all the while laughing up a storm.
Darjeeling tea in the super raw form
We had a couple days in Darjeeling
Naturally, we had to go to the tea store to learn about tea and stock up
Our Lonely Planet guide stated that Sonam's Kitchen was the only place in Darjeeling that served real, drip coffee. We were excited after drinking instant coffee for weeks on end.
Spices in a market shop
We had read about the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center in Darjeeling. A place for Tibetan refugees to earn a living making Tibetan rugs.
We went to the show room and saw a number of beautiful rugs on display. When we inquired about the rugs for purchase the woman said they cost $350 USD and we wouldn't get them for nearly a year due to demand. We pretty much blew off the idea but then took a walking tour to see the rugs being made...
Making the yarn from raw material...
Weaving the rugs. After we saw the faces of the women making the rugs and saw how beautiful the work was, we all went back and each bought a rug. Sure enough, a year later, they arrived.
Back at the hotel in Darjeeling I told Suraj that this day, April 1st, was Allison's birthday. He got some potoato chips and beer so we could celebrate and insisted on taking this photo of a toast to Allison on her birthday.
This just made me laugh
We also visted the HMI Everest musuem in Darjeeling
Pretty impressive the clothing Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were wearing on Everest in the early 50s
This is the only rock climbing in the area. It's the HMI's training rock called Gombu Rock. Really makes me appreciate Jemez choss on a deeper level.
More kids that loved having their photo taken. :-)
Their excitement about seeing themselves on the camera was awesome.
I let this guy hold my camera and he took a self portrait
Just walking around in Delhi we were hit for some reason. This group of guys wanted their photo taken with Josh and Sarah.
And when we went to tour Humayun's Tomb there was a huge group of army personnel there too. Sarah was a big hit!
Sarah couldn't walk 50 yards without being asked to be in a photo with these guys. Just awesome.
Even more awesome.
For our last night in Delhi we took a ride in a taxi Tuk-Tuk
Driving in the Tuk-Tuk was a wild experience for sure.
The rough total for our expedition. Certainly there was more spending cash involved but this was a very inexpensive trip, overall.