The Goecha La Trek to Kangchendzonga
Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
58Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Where I stayed
Lodges and tent
Recommended? Yes, very highly.
The trekkers: Nickie, Phil (UK) & Barry McBride (Ireland), also Ravi & Kelly ( UK, different group but in sync with us)
Our local team: Guide - Pema Lepcha; Cook - Deependra; Porter - Prem Rai; Porter - Chewang Tashi; Yakman - Pusna Subba.
Dates: 23rd Sept - 30th Sept 2010 (thankfully just after the monsoon, but before the crowds)
Length: 8 days (7 nights)
Lowest altitude: Yuksom, 1,780m
Highest altitude: The Goecha La, 4,950m
The route: Yuksom; Tshoka (overnight 1 - lodge); Phedang (rest); Dzongri (overnight 2 & 3 - tent, inc acclimatisation); Dzongri view point (sunrise); Lakshmi Lake (brief visit); Kokchurong (rest); Thangsing (overnight 4 - tent); Lamune (overnight 5 - tent); Goecha La (via Semite Lake and three view points for sunrise); Lamune (lunch); Kokchurong (overnight 6 - lodge); Tshoka (overnight 7 - tent); Yuksom
Trail origin: Transhumance farming, moving the Yak/dry (pure breed), dzo/dzomo (cow-yak cross), goats/sheep from low altitude Yuksom in the winter to the high altitude grazing meadows in the summer. The route was designated a trekking trail in the 1960’s (TBC)
Hours walked: Day 1: 7hrs; Day 2: 7hrs; Day 3: 0hrs (acclimatisation); Day 4: 4hrs; Day 5: 2hrs; Day 6: 10hrs; Day 7: 5hrs; Day 8: 4.5hrs. Total: 29.5hrs.
Accommodation: Overnight lodge accommodation was available at Tshoka, Dzongri and Kokchurong, but buildings at Thansing and Lamune are not in a fit state to stay inside and a tent is a must. At peak season all lodges are overflowing and camping might be necessary along the whole trail.
Restrictions: Permit required for Sikkim (applied for with Indian Visa at London Embassy) and trekking permit required for the Khangchendzonga National Park, arranged through an agency. The NP permit allows groups to trek as far as Dzongri, but of course many groups, including ours, trekked right up to the Goecha La.
Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve: Designated 7th February 2000, area 1784sq km, comprising 37% of Sikkim state (Source: Forests, Environment and Wildlife Management Department). Home to Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep and Red Panda
Weather & temperatures: We watched the rain come down for four days in Yuksom, but the day we started trekking the monsoon broke and the clouds lifted to brilliant, hot sunshine. The next eight days, bar one wet day acclimatising in Dzongri, were clear in the mornings with high clouds gathering to obscure the mountain views in the afternoons. We had two nights with rain, thankfully no more as our hire tent leaked. Night-time temperatures inside our tent reached 2'C at Lamune. Frosts and iced tent for three mornings and on the early morning hike to the Goecha La we walked over frozen ground and crossed frozen streams.
Trek costs:1500 IRP or 20 GBP per person (some groups paid up to $50), see annoyances below
Agent: Amigos Treks & Tours, Darjeeling
Manager: Lamdik Treks & Tours, Yuksom
Highlights (in no particular order): Deependra’s food (esp the apple pie, celebration cake and aubergine fritters!), chatting to our guide Peema and hearing how he was a beneiciary of the Children’s Foundation of Sikkim www.sikkimchildren.net, drinking tongba with fellow trekkers at Tshoka on the first and last nights, meeting Barry, Kelly and Ravi our fellow trekkers, Phil making a swift recovery from mild altitude sickness, seeing the sunrise over Khangchendzonga at Dzongri view point, reaching the Goecha La (after starting walking at 3:00am!) and walking back to camp across the glacial sands and around Lake Semite in the early morning sun, the pristine flora and fauna and the incredible, dramatic landscapes of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve/National Park, the porter’s and yakman’s smiles, seeing and hearing an avalanche thunder down the side of Pan Dim
Annoyances: The fast-talking, office-based middlemen, the agents, who you have to book through in order to get your trekking permit and who, we discovered latterly, will even undercut their locally-based manager and ultimately the guide-cook-porter-yakman team to preserve their commission. They are a world away from the guys that heave the huge basket loads up mountainsides wearing flip-flops, that cook up all the drinks and meals over a kerosene stove without fail every day, that sleep on dusty floors under thin blankets in ripped cook tents, that load, herd and off-load the unpredictable, sharp-horned yaks, and that always have a smile for their clients. Credited as a forward-thinking department, Sikkim Tourism has introduced recommended daily rates for trek teams but currently this isn’t regulated, which means that undercutting on wages is rife. This is further compounded by the sheer number of local people who are literally desperate for work and who will take on work at heavily reduced rates (below the minimum wage). A similar situation existed in Nepal for decades, but it is being addressed. The Union of Trekking, Travel, Rafting Airline and Cargo Workers (UNITRAV) is working to achieve higher standards of welfare, employee rights and social respect for those working in the trekking industry www.unitrav.org. Many trekking agencies are moving to become 'fairtrade' and charities exist, such as as Porters Progress Nepal www.portersprogress.org which aims support these hard working, often vulnerable people with equipment and training in English and First Aid. We tried redress the balance, for our team at least, by tipping. There are big debates over whether you should tip or not, but we were simply pleased to be able to give money directly to the people who had worked so very hard to ensure our trip was a success.