We were looking for a less traveled location to go on about a two week trek/climb with some 5 or 6 km peak as a culmination. Usually we prefer to be as self-sufficient as possible and stay away from all-inclusive packages. Sikkim caught our attention in Internet searches returning information that there are several peaks available as "trekking peaks" In general searches for Sikkim return plenty of trekking information but any climbing information is very scarce. Official Sikkim Travel site made references that for a reasonable price it was possible.
We narrowed our list to 3 peaks : Frey Peak 5830 m in Chaunrikiang valley, Tinchenkang 6010m in Thansing valley and Jopuno 5936m also in Thansing valley. Jopono got dropped because in Josh Smith report I read that upper part is very unstable shale. Tinchenkang got removed since it was the highest since initially we thought to do it all on own.
We had no idea about Frey Peak other than it was rated about 5.6 US scale, mostly a rocky route which would fit our skill level.
First attempts to contact trekking companies returned quotes at $5k per person for full service.
That was too much for us so we looked for other contacts. Started exchanging emails with SMA (Sikkim Mountaineering Association) Kunzang Gyatso Bhutia who gave approximate prices for porters,
guide and liaison officer in Indian rupees:
Porter @500/per day
Liaison Officer @15000/ per expedition.
Guide @1000/per day
Permit India 15000/
KNP fee @ 300 per seven days per person extra charge per day 50/
Environment fee 3000 per group
Tent fee 200 for seven days
Kunzang put me in contact with D.B. Chettri with whom he had previously climbed and who owns a trekking companyDesire Earth Trek and Expedition in Yuksam. After bargaining with DB we agreed to $80/per day per person for a full service package. It included climbing sherpa, guide/liaison officer, cook and porters. Also included was initial transfer from Bagdogra airport to Yuksom, hotels and meals in Yuksom and all gear for local team. We provided tent for our team, 4 long ropes, quick-draws, nuts and cams. The permitting process is convoluted but actual permits get processed only one month before the climb. The trekking company has to get permission from Interior, Tourism and Military ministries. One thing which was hard to grasp before arriving is that Yoksom although the old capital of Sikkim is really a small town at the edge of Internet There is no wired internet - only 3G mobile and not always stable. One more thing we did not think about before - satellite phones are outlawed. It is possible to bring a sat phone but only Defense ministry permit. Such permit has to be requested along with climbing permit. I am not sure if you get to come with your own phone or military would rent you one. As a result we did not have any contact with world past 2nd trekking camp. There is a radio relay from base camp but that is to be used only for emergencies.
Liasion officer is required to monitor that group climbs the correct peak at correct time and observes all religious restrictions.
Sunday Oct 15 2017. flights and airports
We fly into Delhi first. Bags are not lost and there are 2 spa/hotels which we use to sleep part of the night waiting for domestic flight to Bagdogra. They only allow passengers in Domestic terminal 6 hrs before flight. There are some guys with guns watching entrance doors but overall everything is looking clean and peaceful.
Monday Oct 16.
We were put in a large room with 3 beds and slept well. We woke up with windows covered in condensation so that it looked like rain in outside garden. But opening window we saw that it will be a sunny day and these are just single pane glass windows which we remember from our childhood. Our breakfast is served in garden and consists of masala tea and pancakes. We finish everything and ask for seconds. After we are done DB Chettri shows up with another guy.
Today is the first trekking day. We need to finish breakfast by 8:00 am as it is agreed that porters will arrive afterwards. They show up on time but it turns out we still need to complete lots of formal paperwork. At DB's office we are surprised and excited by the huge banner which has been produced. It proudly announces international expedition to Mt. Frey with flags of three countries - India, Latvia, USA and of course proudly displays DB Chettri company name so that everyone knows who can pull off such international eterprise :) After that we take a ride in car to the other end of street which is the Kanchenjugnga park entrance. There we sign some more paperwork and finally around 10:00 AM we start trekking.
Wednesday 18. oct.
Climb to Tshoka can be split in two parts : before the bridge and after. According to locals you only have to worry about poisonous snakes before the bridge. The trail does steep climb up the wooded slope after bridge till it finally reaches Tshoka camp. Total distance from the park entrance is about 15.5 km, elevation 2985 m. Guncha completes this in one day while Juris and I took 2 days.
Thursday, 19. oct.
We had pitched tent in the main plaza and around 6:30 AM get served morning coffee. We slept good and not feeling any altitude sickness. Today we will do 7.5 km and reach the altitude of 4000 m which is 1100 m gain. The trail meanders through rhododendron and hemlock forest which reminds me of North Carolina. At some point this trail had a decently constructed wooden catwalk to go over muddy sections. In about 3.5 hrs we reach the next camp Dzongri with huts, toilets, yaks and horses. We pitch our tent and start feeling the effects of altitude and decide to nap them off . There is a little shop here where you can buy a beer and I end up buying a fleece jacket for 2200Rs or about 30$. Evening gets chilly and I previously lost my Patagonia fleece jacket at rest-stop.
Friday, 20. oct.
Today from Dzongri camp at 4000 m we need to reach an army base camp (BC) at 4500 m elevation. We leave around 9:00 am and after about 1 hr climb we leave the forested zone. Weather is perfect and we get to enjoy a panorama filled with snowy peaks. First we need to reach Dzongri-La pass at 4300 m then get down into river valley at 4000 m and cross a bridge.
Saturday, 22 oct.
A lazy relaxation day. Sanjay asks us to sort out our equipment. At around 2:00 pm we go to the nearest slope and practice belaying, cam placement and other basic climbing techniques.
Sunday, 22. oct.
Today we go to the advanced base camp (ABC). There is a vague trail following side moraine towards Mt. Frey which is clearly visible from BC. ABC location is also visible from BC if you know where to look. Climb is around 3 hrs and notably water is available only in one creek crossing at the beginning. There is a tiny trickle on the bluffs directly below ABC but water for cooking at ABC comes from a questionable puddle. The ABC is located on a glacially carved ledge . There is one rock hut/shelter and several tent spots.
Monday, 23. oct.
Today is another relaxation day which we spend doing a climb up a neighboring 4800 m peak. It has a faint trail going to it as is often used for this purpose by other BC residents.
Tuesday, 24. oct.
Today we go to ABC with only the minimum necessary for our summit push.
Our group is (list later used to calculate tips):
Sanjay – guide un Liasion officer representing the government. also DB Chettri's cousin, 27 yo, 50$;
Guru Lakhpa – climbing sherpa, recently summited Mt Everest, 38 yo, 50$;
"KGB guy" – in reality Mongol, he is Dzongri hut supervisor and also works for government. Climbing is his hobby and for us he is as “assistant sherpa”;
Cool - tiny man, who creates magic in pressure cooker, 50$;
Pem – one of porters, also cook's helper stolen by Guncha, 20$
Darjelings – kitchen boy, around 30 yo; 20$ (comes from Darjeling)
"The quiet one" – kitchen boy, youngest, 18 yp, often walks with mouth cover, also DB cousin and brother of Sanjay. 20$
P.s. 210 $ in tips +20$ 20$ more 2 yak drivers. Total 15 000 RS or 250 $ We reach the ABC and pitch our tent. It starts to snow and as the darkness falls our team setting up ropes returns (Sanjay, Guru and "KGB guy"). They are confident and we plan to get up at 4:00 AM tomorrow.
Wednesday, 25. oct
Today is the summit day. We wake at 4:00AM and at 5:00AM should start towards Mt. Frey Peak. Summit team is Juris, Santis, Guru, Sandjay un "KGB guy". After breakfast there is ritual puja with offerings of rice and burning of tree branches . We start walking around 5. Intially we continue up the glacier carved shelf which is strewn with boulders. These fields at night we barely notice but they seem to last forever on the way back. Weather is cooperating, sky is clear but the valley below us is full of clouds. After boulder fields we reach snowy glacier end where we put on crampons and pull out our ice tools. Crossing glacier we reach the wall which leads to summit . It is roughly 400 m. Some of the sections in the boulder field were somewhat steep but it is nothing compared to the main wall. We leave our snow poles down here and climb up steep glacier to the spot where a grey shale band joins the glacier. Moving with Nomics. We traverse towards right along the grey band using fixed ropes which team installed yesterday. Wall is incredibly unstable and prone to rock falls. At least in this section any rocks we launch do not fall on top of teammates. I think we went about two rope lengths till the zag back to left. The attachment point was very questionable and seemed that rocks to which were tied were held together mostly by ice. This was an ongoing issue were ropes were mostly relied on for the emotional support. Guru and KGB guy go first. Then Santis, Sanjay and Juris
Thursday 26. oct.
Morning arrived with sunshine. Neither of us slept well at night due to excitement. We enjoy fancy breakfast and warm in the rising sun while drying our snow covered tent . We start to go down around 8:00 AM and make it to BC in 3 hrs.
Friday 27. oct.
Today we leave BC and plan to reach Tchoka camp. This has been amazing stay in the BC which is military/climber training camp. Our entire stay we did not see another group in entire valley. Colors have turned and valley looks more like a fall as we are leaving. In about 2.5 hrs we reach Dzongri-La pass and start dreaming what we will do down in civilization. Once we get to Dzongri camp we get invited in the KBG guy's (Mongol's) house, fed and served tea.. Heat is provided by a wood burning stove and he shows of khukris which Juris appreaciates.. As we leave a large group of Lithuanian trekkers show up which we greet with "Namastē, Hello , Laba Diena"
Saturday 28. oct.
In the morning we enjoy the last day of in bed breakfast service and 9:00 AM leave camp for Yoksom. We chat with Sanjay and Guru and find out that what we call yaks are really a mix of yak and cow. Real yaks do not like to get below 4000m. At around 3:00PM we are down in Yoksom – in civilization and warm heat.
Thank you Sikkim and our team for a great adventure !
All images from trip can be seen here