Nepali Times
Kanchenjunga and Makalu


Chomolungma has hogged all the headlines. The first ascent of Mt Everest was top news and so was its celebrity-packed golden jubilee celebration in Kathmandu in May 2003.

The ascents of Makalu and Kanchenjunga were no mean feat and some would argue those ascents in the spring of 1955 were even more difficult than the South Col route up to the top of Everest.

Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of a French expedition led by Jean Franco were the first to summit Makalu on 15 May 1955 after they had to turn back a year earlier. Franco and the other members of the expedition conquered it the next day along the north ridge.

Ten days later, a British expedition led by Charles Evans reached the summit of Kanchenjunga. But having promised to respect the religious belief of the Sikkimese, they stopped a few metres short of the top. These mountains, the people who climbed them and their achievement has been overshadowed by the ascent of more glamorous mountains.

Not any more, there are a slew of events to mark the climbs and the government has even slashed the climbing fee of $10,000 to $5,000 for expeditions trying to climb Makalu and Kangchenjunga during the anniversary year. Currently, there are two Spanish expeditions on Makalu and a Swiss team on Kanchenjunga.

Kanchenjunga (8,586 m) is the third highest mountain the world and the second highest in Nepal. Its name means 'five treasures of snow', referring to its five summits, all over 8,000 m. The Sikkimese believe that the deity of the mountain is throned at the peak and therefore, it is consecrated ground. The Sikkim government has banned expeditions to Kanchenjunga main peak and all climbs have to be carried out from the north face on the Nepal side of the border.

The fifth highest mountain is Makalu (8,463 m) a monolithic peak of pink granite with sheer unclimbed faces on all sides. Located on the Nepal-Tibet border, all ascents have been carried out through the easier southeast and north ridges. The two mountains are separated by the Arun gorge in eastern Nepal.

George Band and Norman Hardie of Charles Evans' and members of Jean Franco's expedition team are in Kathmandu to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations. Other famous climbers and mountain experts will also be in town as the city comes alive next week.

On 15 May and 25 May, Kathmandu will host a civic felicitation at Tundikhel for the summitteers. All gathered people will then proceed to Darbar Square for the chariot procession.

The famous chariot procession at Hanuman Dhoka during the Chomolungma celebration in 2003 was such a hit that an encore was planned. "We did it for Everest, Cho Oyu and since it has become a norm we'll also do it for Makalu and Kanchenjunga," says Janita Gurung of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). All this will be followed by a seminar, formal felicitation of summiteers by the government and a dinner reception.

The NMA's President, Ang Tsering Sherpa says: "Makalu and Kanchenjunga are special mountains plus right now we need to promote Nepal and tell people that expedition teams don't face problems."

Nepal Tourism Board is also all geared up to use the anniversary to highlight Nepal. "We will do all we can to promote Makalu and Kanchenjunga," says Aditya Baral of NTB, "these mountains are, after all, two of Nepal's biggest icons."

Purna Tandukar of the Mountaineering Section at the Ministry of Tourism believes slashing fees by half for the two mountains will help boost tourism. "It's part of our effort to make climbing in Nepal more attractive," he says, "we regard mountaineering and trekking as important elements in injecting income to remote areas."

Since 1955, the areas surrounding both mountains have prospered although not as much as Khumbu. "The impact is obvious, the villages have developed because of the tourism multiplier effect," says Ang Rita Sherpa who worked for the Makalu Barun National Park. Lakpa Sherpa from the foothills of Makalu used to be a goatherd but went on to become the second Nepali woman to have climbed Mt Everest after Pasang Lhamu Sherpa.

If only the conflict could be resolved, the Makalu Barun National Park and the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area would be major draws for trekkers since they are relatively unspoilt and more isolated. But even with the conflict, there are plenty of mountaineers and trekkers visiting these areas. The Maoists leave climbers alone as long as they pay a Rs 5,000 tax.

"The base camp areas are perfectly safe," says Ang Tsering Sherpa, "and the increased frequency of domestic flights have made things better for tourists." The garbage problem of the Himalayas is now a thing of the past as expeditions are required to bring back their trash.

Hinkes' last eight thousander

Alan Hinkes began his Challenge 8,000 mission of the Big 14 mountains in 1989. One by one, he has conquered 13 of the mountains: Chomolungma, K2, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Nanga Parabat, Annapurna, Gasherbrum, Broad Peak, Shisha Pangma and Gasherbrum II. Though he attempted Kanchenjunga last year, health problems made him turn back from the summit.

Last week he set out again to conquer the peak and spoke to us before departure from Kathmandu.

Kanchenjunga is a tough one but I hope to succeed this time," he said. Hinkes climbed Makalu in 1999 and saw a lot of oxygen cylinders with 1955 printed on them in tiny letters along the way. They were leftovers of the first French expedition 50 years ago. Says Hinkes: "I wanted to take one as a souvenir but they were too heavy. They are not garbage just landmarks of time on the mountain."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)