Protected on all sides by Shey Phoksundo National Park, the Kanjiroba massif is wild and rarely visited. No trails or trekking itineraries go near it, but many summits are open for climbers, and currently permits are free. The route from Surket to Jumla, as well as a paved landing strip at Jumla, aid in organizing expeditions to this region, which is far removed from the usual centers of tourism.
The Kanjiroba massif is of particular interest to mountaineers in search of adventure. A visit not only allows you to discover western Nepal but brings the benefits of tourism to the residents of this area, helping to create a tourism balance between Nepal’s various regions.
In November our goal was to establish a high-level route into the heart of the massif, to exit west over a high col, and follow the valley of the Chaudhabise Khola directly back to Jumla. To do this we got a permit for Patrasi (6,450m), even though we knew it would be impossible for us to reach the summit. However, a small unnamed 6,207m peak, at the northeastern head of the glacial cirque between Kanjiroba and Patrasi, offered an elegant goal that we could accomplish alpine style. We envisaged that the panorama from its summit would include a close-up of Bhula Lhasa (6,102m), a peak north of Patrasi climbed in 1961 by John Tyson during a noteworthy exploratory expedition.
The history of alpinism in the Kanjiroba massif involves a colorful cast of characters: Tichy, Tyson, an all-women British expedition to Lha Shamma (6,412m), and the Japanese, who always seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to exploration. More recently the British team of Alison and Tom Wedgewood, by chance and in bad weather, established the first route into the massif that avoids the formidable Jagdula Khola gorge. Theirs is a captivating story, which could have ended badly, but their Honeymoon Trail is the only reasonable route to Kanjiroba base camp and the sanctuary. It is used only by locals during the summer, and the initial path is gradually becoming an established trail, although it remains rocky and exposed.
The Kanjiroba massif is not a trekking destination and has no large established trails. One must be sure-footed to cross Honeymoon Pass and gain access to the Jagdula Khola and Kanjiroba sanctuary. We considered ourselves well prepared, having already been on two expeditions to different sides of the massif, scoping out new routes. But as soon as we gained access to the sanctuary, making base camp at 4,650m, we realized getting back out would be difficult. Glacier retreat had been so dramatic that the col we had gained from the far side just two years earlier was now inaccessible. We abandoned our objective of Peak 6,207m and concentrated on traversing part of the eastern rim, south of Kande Hiunchuli (6,627m), and descending to the upper Chaudhabise Khola, known locally as Bijora Khola Valley.
The weather in late fall was perfect, with hardly a breath of wind. Surrounded by beautiful peaks, we started out slowly on an exciting but only moderately difficult ridge. We named the big col at the start of our route Japanese Pass (5,831m), after the first Japanese team to visit the area back in 1958. We named the first peak on the ridge Sanctuary Peak. It was climbed on November 24, 25, and 26 by Sonia Baillif, Hugues De Varax, Kishor Gurung, Dane Magyar, Yannick Marietti, Marco Meisser, Jean-Louis Perette, Ang Dawa Sherpa, and me. On the 25th Bailiff, Meisser, and I continued south to the main summit on this section of ridge, which we named Hopeless Peak.
Because the cook team was waiting for us on the west side of the range, we ran out of food at base camp, and to add more spice to the adventure, one of our group injured a knee and was having trouble walking. Our sanctuary at the end of the world, so aesthetic and exceptional, had become a trap. An injured person, a long and difficult descent, the lack of food, and the fact that we were running out of time forced a quick decision. We descended to base camp in the sanctuary, and I called a helicopter to evacuate the whole group to Jumla.
It was a brutal and dissatisfying end to our trip, but we now know there is no easy way out from the Jagdula Khola valley. The Kanjiroba high-level route has yet to be established, and it may not be possible. However, this access over Honeymoon Pass to the base camps for Kanjiroba and the sanctuary is now established and mapped. It gives a much easier approach to routes on Kanjiroba, as well as many beautiful unnamed summits. And little Peak 6,207m is still unclimbed. The real exploration of the sanctuary can now begin.
(Translated by Todd Miller)