Isolation (Part 14)

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Apr 29, 2020

Over the next few months we'll all be spending a lot more time indoors trying to limit the spread of COVID-19. We've been in touch with members of the mountain medicine community to ask them for suggestions on how to manage. Here's Andy Knight, highly experienced GP and DiMM holder, with some very good book recommendations...

In the autumn of ’86 I was lucky enough to spend 2 months in eastern Nepal on a medical student elective. Jon and I crossed the Milke Danda from the Arun east to Taplejung where most of our medical clinics took place. Our attention was drawn north however to Kangchenjunga and eventually the pull was too strong. Locals tipped us off as to how to avoid the one checkpoint at Gunsha - the whole area was restricted - and the two of us went light to Pangpemba - the northern base camp where we were rewarded by spectacular views of the north face - (Incidentally I was wearing a pair of Joe Tasker’s salopettes up high, handed down as part of a pile of gear to our medical school climbing club after his sad death on Everest in ’82. His expedition with Doug Scott in ’79 would have travelled the same way north to Pangpemba as us).

Kangchenjunga (8586m) is the most easterly of the 8000m peaks and runs approximately north to south along the Nepali border with Sikkim. The long summit ridge consists of a series of tops above 8000m - from left to right - Yalung Kang, Main, Central and South

The mountain has held a special place for me ever since as chance meetings and events have drawn me back to different sides of the mountain.

In ’88 I was back in the Himalayas climbing with Chuck Evans on the first British ascent of Jaonli in the Garhwal. Chuck’s father Sir Charles Evans was the deputy leader of the first successful Everest expedition in '53. His delightful book of sketches from that expedition is my first recommendation. “Eye on Everest” - few words, lots of pictures, a different perspective. I met him several times at his home in Capel Curig and was shown some of his original sketches. The book is no longer in print I’m afraid but copies can be found and the libraries will be open again one day!

Sir Charles Evans, author of "Eye on Everest" and leader of the successful 1955 British Kanchenjunga Expedition. Fascinating film footage of their first ascent can be found here.

After the Jaonli expedition, Andy Pollard and I travelled to Srinagar in Kashmir where Charles Evans had encouraged us to meet Colonel Kumar of the Indian army. He had made the first Indian ascent of Kangchenjunga by the difficult NE spur in ’77. Srinagar was under curfew when we arrived due to unrest over Pakistani leader General Zia's death in a plane crash. A week of nights on the roof of a sandalwood houseboat on the lotus flowered Lake Dal surrounded by mountains and with a case of beer and the Colonel’s climbing memories ... ah ... different times!

I went back to see Charles Evans with Andy Pollard in 1990 when he agreed to be the patron of our expedition to Chamlang (first British ascent). Although I didn't get to the top I did get fabulous views high on the south east ridge looking east to Kangchenjunga far off and standing all on it’s own.

The North West Face of Kangchenjunga. The route climbed by Kumar's team emerges at the col in the centre of the image and follows the skyline ridge to the sunlit triangular summit.

Many years later in 2016 my wife Carolyn and I trekked with friends in Sikkim and up to a col within “touching distance” of the south east face. Carolyn and I then travelled north in Sikkim up the Tista river almost to the Tibetan border and all the time with tantalising views of the east side of the mountain.

Apart from a small section north and south I have travelled all around Kangchenjunga - which brings me to my second recommendation - “Round Kanchenjunga; a narrative of mountain travel and exploration” by Douglas Freshfield. First published 1903 but more accessible this time as available on Kindle. Proper adventure!  Will transport you far far away from COVID-19! After all this is over if anyone thinks we could repeat the whole Freshfield circumnavigation then let me know!!!

A final quick suggestion for the here and now is “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff and also available on Kindle. I would hope it will leave you with a sunnier disposition and some new insights into the human condition.

Take care.

Thanks Andy!

Part 15 of "Isolation" can be found here.

Please get in touch if you'd like to take part in other "Isolation" posts! 

Stay safe.

Have something to say? Comment on this post