You don’t have to be a professional athlete or mountaineer to complete the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that the Kanchenjunga trek difficulty level is as simple as walking or running in the park! A certain level of fitness and training needs to be maintained if you wish to complete the Kanchenjunga Trek without any issue. Therefore, we are here with a piece of exclusive advice and information you should consider in order to prepare for taking up the Kanchenjunga Trek. Reading this article will let you know how difficult is to trek Kanchenjunga Base Camp in Nepal. Then ask yourself is your fitness and experience fit for the Kanchenjunga Trek? How can you prepare for this trek?
In this article, I would like to highlight my experience with Kanchenjunga Trek’s difficulties and the necessary preparations you may need before embarking on this great trail. I suggest you read this article until the end so that you can put yourself on the list of successful Kanchenjunga trekkers!
Hiking Distance For Kanchenjunga Trek
A lot of hikers don’t even know where Mount Kanchenjunga really is? It is located in eastern Nepal, approximately 200 km (125miles) from Taplejung where this trek begins. As to the distance of the Kanchenjunga trek, including 2 acclimatization days and side trips to Ghunsa and Kambachen, it is around 100km (75 miles) to reach the North to South Base camp in 15 or 16 days. Then add on 4 or 5 days to walk out. The total is then roughly 9-11km (7-8 miles) of walking per day. Of course, distance really doesn’t mean anything in the Himalayas! There are many ups and downs and some days 5km can take 2 hours whereas the next it might take 6 hours. Best to look at the map here. With regard to distance, the Kanchenjunga trek has less distance compared to the Everest Base Camp Trek.
Elevation and acclimatization
For those who take the domestic flight to Bhadrapur, the trek will start from Taplejung, a small mountain village located at 1,400m (4,700ft) with an effective oxygen level of about 17.3% (20.9% oxygen level will remain in the air at sea level). The higher the altitude the lower the oxygen level in the atmosphere. People who are coming to the Himalayas from lowlands should always remember that, irrespective of your fitness or muscular capacity. That means you shouldn’t assume 10km a day is as easy as running in the park. You should prepare yourself by walking at least 6-8 hours a day. If possible at 500m of elevation gain every day in a state where your body will be denied its normal oxygen demand.
Throughout the trek, you will gain 500m to 700m (in 6 to 8 hours) of elevation per day. If you have not experienced any high altitude trek in your life, it could be difficult to reach certain heights in just a couple of days. For example, the trail to Everest Base Camp requires a change of 1,500m in one day alone! The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla takes you from 1,300m to 2,860m just in 30 minutes! For someone who is not used to this kind of change, your body may not adapt quickly.
But the good thing about the Kanchenjunga Trek is that the elevation increased gradually before reaching high altitude. This makes it easy for acclimatization. In terms of altitude safety, Kanchenjunga is relatively safer than the EBC trek in Nepal.
Weather and temperature
According to the weather report by MFD Kathmandu, the temperature at the North Base Camp or in the high passes can drop to -12°C (10°F) in mid-November (according to 2018 weather report). The temperatures at BaseCamp was measured at a maximum of 15°C (59°F) and a minimum -12°C (10°F), with wind speed around 8 to 10 mph. However, during the same time of the year at Taplejung from where this trek begins, the temperature was a minimum of 8°C (46°F) a maximum 20 °C (68°F). In Kanchenjunga, the weather might be one of the most challenging parts after the North BaseCamp. If you are planning to complete the whole circuit including the Sele Le pass, South and North Base Camps, please take extra caution and check the weather forecast. Weather-wise the Kanchenjunga Trek is probably the second most arduous trek after the Dhaulagiri Circuit Trek.
Death and casualty
Accidents and deaths in the Himalayas become internationally newsworthy. However, most of those incidents happen on climbing expeditions and not on trekking routes. A lot of climbers die in the Everest Region of Nepal. For example, an avalanche claimed the lives of 19 climbers in Camp II in 2015. The cause of most deaths is an avalanche. There is no actual static available online about how many people have died on the Kanchenjunga trek. A rough estimate we hear from the news is that about 3-5 out of 30,000 trekkers die each year on the Everest Base Camp Trek. This is a death rate of about 0.01% mainly due to the high altitude sickness. This high risk of altitude sickness does not apply to Kanchenjunga due to the long days of acclimatization. The weather might be challenging in Kanchenjunga, but with extra cautious, good fitness, and regular weather conditions, you will make it through this trek!
How to deal with difficulties
Kanchenjunga Base Camp is a strenuous trek but for those of good fitness, it is not difficult. By following good advice you can improve your chances of successfully, and enjoyably completing this trek.
Acute mountain sickness due to high altitude and bad weather are the main problem when trekking in the Kanchenjunga area. Acclimatization and hydration are the keys to avoiding altitude sickness. And for real emergencies, helicopter rescue services are available. But a helicopter is the last resort! We don’t want you to get to the point where you need that. There are precautions to take first.
If you follow certain steps it will definitely help you to complete this trek with no issues. In fact, trekkers who have done this trek with NEST Adventure have a 99% success rate. Our expert guides will be monitoring your health twice a day. Our guides are equipped with a Pulse Oximeter. This is a small medical device that helps keep track of our clients SPO2 (running oxygen level in their blood) and BPM (blood pressure). This tells us, whether clients are acclimatizing well or not. If not, they will need extra time for acclimatization. If still no improvement our guide is equipped to make the decision whether to call for a helicopter or not. (At this point I should say it is important your insurance covers trekking at altitudes above 3,000m and you should ensure to give us a copy of your insurance policy (hard copy) before setting off on the trek.)
Choose the right gear
As every sport is played with the right gear. Trekking is no different. It is very important that multi-day trekking should not be compromised by bringing the wrong gear! A lot of my customers planning to trek the Kanchenjunga Base Camp for the first time think that trekking in Nepal is like climbing a high mountain. Well, that makes sense because you know you are ascending to 5,100m. But, in Nepal, you are not climbing a mountain from the bottom. Instead, it is a gradual gain of altitude and distance while hiking day to day through valleys, small hills, and passes, etc. So there is some gear you definitely don’t need for this trek. And some you do. Here is a list:-
- No climbing ropes needed
- No ice ax needed
- No expedition Goretex needed
- No climbing shoes or crampon needed
What you need are:
- Hiking boot (high ankle boot recommended and wear them before coming to Nepal)
- Sleeping bag and sleeping mat (it is highly recommended to have this for your own comfort)
- Tent (not compulsory as there are basic teahouses on this route but we know some clients like to have their own tent which they can place next to the teahouses)
- Down jacket
- Pair of inner thermal underwear to keep you warm
- Pair of easy dry hiking pants and spare ones
- Hiking socks
- Hiking bag (minimum 50l+10)
Additionally, you could consider bringing a warm hat/ head cover, scarf, sunglass, lip guard, sun cream, trekking pole, headlamp, windproof gloves, water bottle, water purification drop, camera accessory, first aid kit, etc.
Acclimatization and itinerary
Acclimatizing should be top of your list when you consider the Kanchenjunga trek. Depending on where you come from plan an itinerary with enough days of acclimatization in between. The Kanchenjunga classical route can be done between 18 – 22 days. Please don’t be confused if you see 26-30 days itineraries online they are old itineraries and have not been updated with the recent trail changes.
Based on experts’ research from Princeton University, altitude sickness and acclimatization may affect people at High 8,000 – 12,000 feet/ 2,438 – 3,658 meters. Very High 12,000 – 18,000 feet/ 3,658 – 5,487 metres, and Extremely High 18,000+ feet/ 5,500+ metres
When reaching an elevation of 3,048 m (10,000 ft.), you should only increase your altitude by 305m (1,000 ft) per day and for every 915 m (3,000 ft) of elevation gained, you should take a rest day. This is a standard guideline and it may depend on personal health and physical fitness as well. There is no specific factor such as age, gender or fitness that affects altitude sickness. We have no way of knowing who is more likely to get sick until they do so!
I have much experience in dealing with customers who are attempting Kanchenjunga as their first high altitude trek with98% success. It is very important to identify the right company that can advise you and suggests the best Kanchenjunga trek itinerary according to your experience and level of fitness.
A certain degree of physical fitness is required for any trek, but that does not mean you need a professional trainer or special mountain experience. From my experience let me break down some of the basic training you can do at home or at the park nearby as part of the preparation.
- Running in the park: At least one month before the date of departure runs a minimum of 5-8 km a day. This will help cardio fitness and blood circulation in addition to building up your thigh and torso muscles.
- Swimming: Holding your breath and swimming helps to store oxygen that will ease breathlessness at high altitude.
- Yoga or aerobics: Spend some time doing yoga, stretching your body, jogging to tone up your body and muscles, etc.
- Gym: If you plan hiking with a loaded backpack, we suggest extra exercise especially squats, leg press, deadlift, leg extension, wall sit, leg curl, etc.
Test your gears
It is quite common that some trekkers cannot complete their trek due to blisters on their feet. This happens if you just bought a new pair of trekking boots and haven’t worn them in before your trek. Size is also important – your hiking boots should have enough room to get your fingers inside. Generally hiking boots for mountain trails should be not too big or not too small in size. It is recommended your hiking boots should be least 0.5 or 1 size bigger than your regular size. Remember you will want to put thick warm socks on the inside!
Equally important is proper hiking socks. Hiking socks should be thick and able to regulate temperature to keep your feet from getting sweaty. When you purchase trekking socks, you should consider buying woolen ones. Wool is naturally antimicrobial, so it tends to retain smells less than synthetic fabrics.
- Don’t be nervous, feel confident and feel like an experienced hiker.
- Drink enough fluids and always remain hydrated, urine output should be clear.
- Always give enough space for oncoming Yaks, Nyak, Ghokpe, Mule son the way and make sure you always stand on the wall side to let them pass.
- Always drink purified water and bring some water purification drop/tablets with you.
- Be aware of uncooked food. Be vegetarian for the duration of the trek unless fresh meat is available. Normally meat storage in the mountain is not hygienic.
- Carry some extra calorie light food like energy bars or chocolate.
- Always make sure you pack the right gear that’s fit for the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek
- Stay away from alcohol, smoking or any kind of drugs at high altitude.
- Bring your own basic first aid box. Do not use any medicine if you are not sure about the brand.
- Do not sleep during the day at high altitude. It is recommended to move around and keep yourself active.
- Don’t be scared or think that you might have symptoms of altitude sickness if you have a little headache or slight fever. It is normal to get these symptoms while adjusting to the varying altitude.
- Make sure you get two permits for the Kanchenjunga Trek. One for the National Park and the other for the restricted area zone.
- Did you research the trek you have chosen in accordance with your fitness?
- Are you prepared physically and psychologically?
- Did you select a trekking company that is specialized and has a good track record or rating in every aspect of your safety?
- Did you plan the right itinerary that fits your level of fitness and desire?
- Did you book your trip for the best time of the year?
- Did you find an insurance company that includes emergency and medical or other associated expenses in case of evacuation on the trail?
This is probably one of the best off the beaten trails in the world. Additionally, the cost of the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek is not as expensive as you think. Since the number of tea houses is increasing every season on the trail, the Kanchenjunga Trek has all the logistics and communication facilities available at designated places. Almost every settlement the teahouse offers a telephone to communicate with your family or friends. A little preparation before you start will raise your confidence and make your trek enjoyable. Over 50 adventure travelers every year books trip with us to this area of Nepal. If you want to join them feel free to contact us.
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