In the Footsteps of John Claude White and Photography of Unclimbed Peaks

India, Sikkim
Climb Year: N/A. Publication Year: 2012.

From March 9 to 22 Indians Anindya Mukherjee and Thendup Sherpa made the first upstream trek along the Ronggyaong and Rukel River systems, leaving the Teesta River at Sanklang, reaching the lower Talung Glacier southeast of Kangchenjunga, and crossing the higher Guicha La to Yoksum. This journey was completed in reverse during 1890 by John Claude White, the official in administrative charge of Sikkim. In 1920 the Scottish mountaineer Harold Raeburn, with Lt. Col. H.W. Tobin, appears to have made a similar journey, examining the Talung and neighboring Tongshiong Glaciers before retracing White’s steps. Both parties traveled during the monsoon, and neither described much of the terrain nor the surrounding mountains. More importantly, apparently no photographs were taken, though White wrote, “I do not think this journey could be equalled throughout the world for its beauty and variety of scene, the magnificent gorges, with wonderful waterfalls tumbling down on all sides.” Since that time permission to repeat this trek has not been granted.

In respect for the pioneers, Mukherjee and Thendup eschewed modern technology and navigated using only standard contour maps and a compass. They followed the Ronggyaong Valley to Sakyong, after which they took a faint poachers’ trail, finding ample evidence of illegal hunting of Himalayan blue sheep and tahr (goat). Beyond there were no paths, and they made slow progress through dense forest and undergrowth. Higher they photographed the unexplored northern and eastern sides of Tingchingkang, Jopuno, Lama Lamani, and Narsing, all except the latter Alpine Peaks now open to climbers (AAJ 2008), and Zemu Peak, one of the highest unclimbed summits in the world. Judging by White’s description, the Talung Glacier has much receded, and the 2011 pair had no problem crossing it. Heading southwest toward the watershed, they stumbled upon a faint cairned track, which they followed to a col. This turned out not to be 4,940m Guicha La but a ca 5,100m pass to the southeast, closer to Pandim, and also inadvertently crossed by Tilman in 1938. From here it took only a day and a half to descend the Onglakthang Valley south to the roadhead at Yoksum.

Mukherjee hopes that if a trail can be established through the Ronggyaong and Rukel Valleys, the journey would appeal to adventurous trekkers, and as a by-product could put an end to illegal hunting.

Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO, from information provided by Anindya Mukherjee

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