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The third-highest Himalayan peak, and therefore the third-highest mountain in the world (behind Everest and K2), Kangchenjunga in the country of Nepal rises 8,586 metres above sea level (an alternative figure of 8,597 m is given by some sources, but the lower figure is the official one). It was actually thought to be the highest mountain in the world until 1852, when analysis of measurements made by the Great Trigonometric Society forced a reassessment.

Its name translates to something like "The Five Treasures of Snows" or "The Five Great Snow Treasures", a reference to the fact that the mountain consists of five peaks, four of which are above 8,450 metres. It has various alternative English spellings, including the extremely common Kanchenjunga; the chosen "official" spelling is said to reflect the Tibetan pronunciation. However, the fragment "junga" does not appear to mean anything in Tibetan, and should really be spelled "Zod-nga", an amalgamation of the words for "treasure" and "five". This objection was raised, according to Wikipedia, by the Maharaja of Sikkim, a district bordering 3 of the 5 peaks of Kangchenjunga. The Maharaja's objections were noted by the British powers-that-be at the time, and "following consultations" with a lieutenant colonel of the British army he "agreed it was best to leave it as Kangchenjunga". The details of that consultation are, unfortunately, unavailable, leaving the imagination free to construct a scene of ancient Indian dignity being met head-on by practical British disdain.

The five peaks are known as Kangchenjunga Main (8,586 m), Kangchenjunga West (8,505 m), Kangchenjunga Central (8,482 metres), Kangchenjunga South (8,494 m) and Kangbachen (7,903 m). The Kangchenjunga massif, a huge geological formation of east-west and north-south ridges, contains a great many other gigantic mountains, including Siniolchu (6,888 m), Jannu (7,710 m), Kabru North and South (7,388 m and 7,316 m respectively) and Rathong (6,678 m).

For such a well-known mountain, Kangchenjunga is surprisingly little-climbed, probably because of the two possible approaches (through Nepal and India), the first is extremely remote and the second is subject to great restriction by the Indian government due to the sacredness of the peak to the Sikkimese people (the tradition when scaling Kangchenjunga is to stop a few feet short of the actual highest point for this reason). The summit was not successfully reached until May 25, 1955, when an expedition led by Joe Brown and George Band followed a route established fifty years earlier by Aleister Crowley. This route begins on the Yalung glacier to the southwest, and climbs the 3000 metres of the Yalung Face, which contains the Great Shelf, a plateau covered by a hanging glacier. The vast majority of this route is across snow and ice.

Aleister Crowley's original expedition in 1905 was the first recorded attempt (by Westerners) to scale the mountain, and he writes in great detail about the trip in his autobiography, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. He co-led the team with Dr. Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. The team hit a maximum height of 6,500 metres before being forced to turn back after four members were killed in an avalanche. It was Crowley's second high-profile failure as a mountaineer (he and Oscar Eckenstein attempted the first ascent of K2 3 years previously) and he was bitterly scathing about the conduct of Guillarmod in his autobiography, blaming the doctor's poor leadership and failure of nerve for the disaster. They had been attempting to take one of the sole remaining moutaineering records that Crowley did not already possess, and the most prestigious: simply, the highest climb ever. Crowley also discussed the delusions that can come over climbers at high altitudes on great mountains, stating that Kangchenjunga itself seemed to take on an overwhelming personality and presence in their minds, and that many of the crew who he described as "weak-minded" began to display symptoms of temporary insanity. We may speculate with the benefit of hindsight that equipment and technical climbing knowledge was simply not advanced enough in 1905 for Crowley's climb to have much chance of success.

Since 1955 Kanchenjunga has been scaled many times, though nowhere near as many as more accessible or famous peaks such as Everest. The first ascent without oxygen was in 1979, the first solo ascent in 1983 (also without oxygen), and the first ascent by a woman as late as 1998.

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