In The Beginning

By John Gill - Nov 03, 2018

I've lost track of how many times people have asked me "why Kanchenjunga?". And I've also lost track of how many different reasons I've given for an answer. The truth is, I struggle myself to understand exactly why I’m drawn to Kanchenjunga.

Since my late teens, I’ve been obsessed with Nepal and the Himalaya. The country is filled with the biggest, most spectacular, most powerful mountains in the world. Being among them is a truly magical and mind-blowing experience. Pair that with the incredible kindness, hospitality and warmth of the Nepali people and you’ve got - in my mind - the best place on Earth.

As I got more and more into climbing, the peaks in Nepal became more attractive as climbing objectives, and the dream of climbing an 8,000er was born. In 2013, My dad and I went to climb Mera Peak and, although technically very easy, this 6,500m peak gave me a good taste of a high altitude Himalayan expedition.

In 2016 I organized an expedition to climb Ama Dablam which was when I met my good friend (and now colleague), Namgya Sherpa. He is a family friend but this was my first time meeting him. Ama Dablam was a big step up from Mera Peak, but after a lot of training in the Canadian mountains we were able to have an enjoyable climb and successful summit. From the top I was able to see Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Makalu and… Kanchenjunga.

Trekking to the North Base Camp of Kanchenjunga
Trekking through the Yalung Glacier to Kanchenjunga South Base Camp
The Yalung Glacier from Selele Pass

I knew a fair bit about all the 8,000m peaks in the area, but Kanchenjunga was quite unknown to me. So I did some searching around when I got home and found that the area is very remote, rarely visited, and incredibly beautiful. It ticked all my boxes in terms of trekking and exploring, but what about the mountain itself? I then found this post about why NOT to climb Kanchenjunga. For some reason, that made me want to climb it more, and after doing a lot of research about the mountain and its history, it became my top choice.

The main reasons for choosing Kanchenjunga are:

Claire Andrew and John Gill at Oktang with Kanchenjunga behind
Trekking across the Yalung glacier
Hiking across Selele pass in the Kanchenjunga region

In the Fall of 2017, my girlfriend and I went to the Kanchenjunga region to explore the area and photograph both the North and the South side of the mountain. We were able to get to the base camps on both sides, but were not able to get good photos of the North Face route. I was blown away by the beauty of the area, and by how huge and complicated Kanchenjunga looked. It definitely looked like an interesting objective, but it wouldn't be easy.

Namgya's brother, Pasang, has climbed Kanchenjunga 5 times already, and had lots of useful information. Namgya agreed to help organize an expedition to climb the peak in 2020. I contacted my Ama Dablam team mates and they were keen to join. So now I had a mountain, the makings of a team, an experienced climbing Sherpa and expedition organizer. Now all we needed was a route.

I spent weeks looking into the North side route, knowing this was the least climbed route on the mountain. All the signs pointed to the route being very difficult, very exposed, and very dangerous. Even the pros had nothing good to say about it. After going to see Doug Scott (first ascent from the North side) talk in Vancouver, who explained his horrible experience on the route, I decided the South West Face route would be best for us.

So there it is, the full explanation of why I chose Kanchenjunga and how we’ve got the ball rolling on the first Canadian expedition to attempt Kanchenjunga.

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