Bhutan is Forbidden but Sikkim is Open

When it comes to the Himalayas, you probably think solely about Nepal and Pakistan. Well, India and China have some big peaks too, and so does the country of Bhutan. In fact, the mountains to the east of Nepal are rather interesting as I was recently reminded.

The highest unclimbed mountain may never be topped out and may remain the highest unclimbed mountain indefinitely. It seems the only way anyone will climb Gankhar Puensum (7,570 m.) on the China-Bhutan border is to cheat; it’s a sacred peak to the Bhutanese, like all Bhutanese mountains, and climbing it is forbidden by law.

Interestingly, China has helped enforce that edict once. However, that may have more to do with spiting the Japanese who were seeking approval to climb the mountain. It’s just a guess since things are not always friendly between them.

The region between Nepal and Bhutan, east of the third highest mountain in the world, Kangchenjunga, is Sikkim. For all practical purposes it was shutdown to mountaineering and travel in general because it was disputed by Nepal, China and India. In 2004 China released its claim and things settled down. While there are sacred peaks in Sikkim, there are several that are designated as “alpine peaks,” which are available to be climbed with a permit.

At my last American Alpine Club section meeting (Blue Ridge Section), I was introduced to a member of the 2010 Expedition to Sikkim. Their primary aim was Jopuno (5,936 m.) for a second ascent by a new route. Anyway, I’ll tell you more about Sikkim, the expedition and the opportunities later… There is a lot to tell.

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