OverviewLying amongst the superb Himalayan peaks of the secluded Indian state of Sikkim, the Goecha Là trail allows to get the Goecha Là - a col 4940 meters high (some sources quote it at 5002 m.) - taking an outstanding view over the mysterious South-East face of Kangchenjunga m. 8585, the third highest peak on earth and the less climbed amongst all the 8000s, situated on the boundary ridge between Sikkim and Nepal.
Kangchenjunga, which name means “Five Treasures of Snow” and also “The Dwelling of the Five Treasures”, in reason of its five summits, was first climbed in 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, members of a British expedition; since the first ascent, the mountaineers use to stop the climb a few meters below the summit, following the tradition of the first summiters, as Kangchenjunga is considered to be holy. It has been my third himalayan trail, after Baltoro-Concordia-K2 Base Camp in Karakoram and Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh.
Bagdogra (West Bengala) to Gangtok, the capital of SikkimSikkim is divided in four districts: East Sikkim, West Sikkim, North Sikkim and South Sikkim. The Goecha Là trail is situated in the Western district. Sikkim currently doesn’t have an airport, although the Pakyong airport (30 km. from Gangtok) is expected to be completed in 2013; the nearest airport is situated in Bagdogra, West Bengala (124 km. from Gangtok). Regular flights connect Bagdogra with Calcutta and New Delhi. The two closest railway stations are Siliguri (114 km.) and New Jalpaiguri (125 km), having direct connections with Calcutta and New Delhi.
After a good trip by mini-bus via Siliguri, we get to Gangtok in late evening, feeling the final shiver by meeting several vehicles with lights out! It’s quite recommended to end the trip with the daylight, as some persons use to drive in such a manner!!!
Gangtok to Yoksum, the ancient capital of Sikkim
Yoksum m. 1781 – 40 km from Pemayangtse – is the starting point for all the treks in West Sikkim. The trip is pleasant, but an apparently insignificant accident – a huge black snake crossing the road just in front of our 4WD - creates some concerns in the guides, explaining the fact as a signal of bad luck for our trek. Anyhow, we get without other problems to the historical hamlet of Yoksum or Yuksam m. 1781, the ancient capital of Sikkim, a nice village with a peaceful atmosphere and spend the night inside a Trekker’s Hut.
1st day: Yoksum m. 1781 to Tsokha m. 2900
Difference in height: 1119 m. - Kilometers: 16 - Time required: 5 to 6 hours
We wake up at dawn and after a fight with a cloud of small leechs having covered our packs during the night , we are ready to start walking. As for all the treks in Western Sikkim, we start to walk from Yoksum; we head towards North, entering soon the luxuriant sub-tropical forest, lying on the orographical left bank of the Preig Chu River, and crossing two tributary streams by two suspended bridges, then we continue up and down and finally descent 250 m. to the main river bank. We cross the river by another exciting suspended bridge, getting to the orographical right bank. After some steep slopes inside the very dense covered forest, we get to the Bakhim Rest House at about 2800 m. We’re not tired, so decide to walk again inside the magnificent forest, becoming now more thinly planted, on a characteristic path lined with sky embracing trees, to get the small hamlet of Tsokha m. 2900,
consisting in a few houses and a monastery. Overnight stay inside the trekker’s lodge.
2nd day: Tsokha m. 2900 to Dzongri m. 3900
Difference in height: 1000 m. - Kilometers: 10 - Time required: 4 hours
A superb day of walking. From the mountain lodge we head to the monastery on the shore of a small lake. A steep trail leads us again inside the forest of high trees and magnificent huge rhododendrons, showing flowers of many colours during the pre-monsoon (April and May); unfortunately now it’s October , the post-monsoon period, and we can’t see this beauty , quite renown; the path comes out of the forest in a wide glade dominated by a high watching tower. After a steep ascent we gain a col with nice prayer flats and can see the first high iced peaks, appearing and soon disappearing inside the fog . The trail continues amongst meadows and rhododendrons to the cold basin of Dzongri m. 3900 – 4 hours from Tsokha - Overnight stay inside the trekker’s hut.
3rd day: Dzongri m. 3900 to Samiti Lake m. 4200Difference in height: 300 m. + 400 m. + 400 down walk - Kilometers: 8 - Time required: 5 hours
In Dzongri the path bifurcates itself in two ones; the shorter left trail leads to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Base Camp. We follow the right path, the way towards Goecha Là via Thangsing, Samiti Lake and Chematang; we soon begin rising steeply to the Dzongri Là col m. 4100 and once getting the col we take a superb view to Pandim m. 6691, Kabur Dome and Simvo m. 6811. It’s also possible to see Kangchenjunga and its accompanying peaks in clean days, if watching towards North, but it’s not the case today, because of many clouds are hiding them. After a short digression, walking on the ridge above the col and visiting the four chortens, we downclimb on a steep trail in the opposite side of the col; some strenuous up and down lead us to a group of prayer flats.
From here a very steep descent (400 meters downclimb) gets to the Preig Chu River bank. We cross the river on a wood bridge, then we walk up to the wide plane of Thangsing m. 3700, dominated by the beautiful Pandim m. 6691, appearing at intervals in the midst of the fog. After about 3 km crossing the plane, we climb up on a steep trail to the smaller basin and the fine lake of Samiti m. 4200. Overnight stay inside a lodge, not a good night, due to the very low temperatures inside the lodge.
4th day : Samiti Lake m. 4200 to Goecha Là m. 4940 – Back to Thangsing m. 3700
Difference in height: 800 m. walk up and 1300 m. walk down - Kilometers: 5 walk up and 7 walk down Time required: 4 hours walk up and 5 hours walk down
Quite a long day, but a superb climb up! An alpine start is required to get without problems to the magnificent snowy saddle named Goecha Là at the height of 4940 m., an outstanding balcony to the South-East face of Kangchenjunga. When we wake up at 3 o’clock, unfortunately our guide is quite drunk and he isn’t at all inclined to leave his bed, so we manage to find the trail by ourselves. Other people belonging to our group seems to give up the scheduled ascent and only three people, a friend of mine, me and the cook-man are enthusiastically ready to climb up to our ultimate destination in the end: the Goecha Là. We start skirting the orographical right shore of Samiti Lake, finding some difficulties in finding the trail, not at all obvious. We cross two small notches, then rise to the wide magnificent white sandy basin of Chematang m. 4500. We start crossing the basin: the atmosphere is truly magic in early morning, surrounded by magnificent iced and high peaks at sunrise. Our faithful and gentle cook-man, professing Buddhism, falls on his knees seeing such a beauty!
At the bottom of Chematang basin we start climbing up the moraine, where Kangchenjunga is appearing. We head to right, climbing to a rocky saddle with huge cairns, taking a gorgeous look on Kangchenjunga, Talung m. 7349, Jannu m. 7720, the rocky triangle of Kabru m. 7338 and on the snowy Goecha Là, just in front. A snowy ridge amongst huge granite blocks, then a steep descent lead to a first small notch; finally another climb up allows to get to the ultimate destination: the Goecha Là m. 4940, overhung close up by Goecha Là Peak m. 6120. The view is quite superb on Kangchenjunga m. 8585 with its accompanying peaks, the Zemu Glacier and Siniolchu m. 6864. Back to Thangsing. Overnight in the same trekkers’ hut.
5th day: Thangsing m. 3700 to Bakhim m. 2800 via PhidongDifference in height: 900 m. - Kilometers: 18 Time required: 5 to 6 hours
From Thangsing we start to come back to Tsokha on the same path of the ascent , enjoying beautiful views over Pandim we haven’t see walking up because of the fog. We cross the Preigh Chu River on the wood bridge and getting to the fork inside the forest we manage here to do a nice variant: instead of climb up to Dzongri with a difference in level of 400 meters, we take the path to Phidong, walking up and down inside a magnificent forest of huge rhododendrons and getting to this nice village. From here we reach the same wide glade of walking up and descent to Tsokha m. 2900 and to Bakhim m. 2800. Overnight stay in the Bakhim Rest House.
6th day: Bakhim m. 2800 to Yoksum m. 1780Difference in height: 920 m. - Kilometers: 14 Time required: 3 hours
From Bakhim we follow the same trail inside the forest to Yoksum.
7th day: Yoksum m. 1780 to Dubdi Monastery
Difference in height: 250 m. – Kilometers: 3 Time required: 1 hour
After having spent the night in the Guest House of Yoksum and before starting towards Darjeeling in West Bengala, we really have a good idea: to take a look to the ancient Dubdi Monastery. This quite short walk up to the superb Dubdi Monastery, also called Yoksum Monastery an lying on the top of a hill, can be missed. It was the first monastery established in Sikkim in 1701, and it’s part of a Buddhist pilgrimage circuit.