January 23, 2000


Trekking on sacred trails

By Judy Cook


At 28,208 feet, Kanchenjunga is the third-highest mountain on Earth, surpassed only by Everest at 29,028 feet and K2 at 28,250 feet. Our plan was not to climb this Himalayan mountain, but rather to view its north face from a base camp at Pangpema (17,127 feet) and then cross the Mirgin La (14,982 feet) to explore the towering southern face of Kanchenjunga. This is why, a month before my 50th birthday, my husband, David, and I traveled to Katmandu with two large duffel bags packed with camping and trekking gear.

The 11 trekkers in our group met our crew at the airport in Taplejung and began the trek on rocky, uneven trails that climbed through terraced fields, farming villages and jungle-like forests. The humid, damp conditions of the jungle were perfect for leeches. Not until we attained higher elevations would we rid ourselves of these bloodsuckers.

It took about 11 days to reach the base camp of Pangpema. Our campsites were often pastures where we shared space with yaks. Finally, after a slow walk, lots of deep breaths and many stops along the way, we attained our goal. The entirety of Kanchenjunga spread out before us.

The people of Sikkim regard this mountain as sacred, and mountaineers have respected this by leaving its summit snows untouched. Its Tibetan name means Five Treasures of the Great Snow. The camp at Pangpema is one of the highest on any trek, and because of the altitude, we spent only one night there.

We retraced our steps down steep terrain and then began another ascent to cross Mirgin La and then another pass. After I staggered over that last pass, I placed prayer stones upon a stack for our daughters, Rebecca and Laura. A person traversing the pass can place a stone on the pile, and the wind will carry prayers for them up to heaven. I needed all the prayers I could get because the path back to Taplejung was not an easy one. It was even difficult to enjoy the scenery because it was important to watch every step. My eyes wandered once toward a glorious waterfall, and I paid for it by tumbling off the path and deep into the bushes.

So after 23 days of rigorous hiking, sleeping in tents and fighting off leeches, what did I learn? That the satisfaction of knowing "I did it!" is not as pleasurable for me as it is for my husband. What I will treasure most is the knowledge I gained of this ancient Nepalese culture.

Now I've seen things most people will only read about: nomadic yak herders tending their flocks, Sherpa wives swaddling their infants, Tibetan and Nepalese schoolchildren performing traditional dances. That's what I'll remember.

Judy Cook lives in Monkton.


Ancestral castle

By Katherine F. Jones, Bel Air

In October, my sister, nephew and I visited Scotland. What a thrill we experienced to visit Caerlaverock Castle, the home of our maternal ancestors, the Maxwell clan. The castle dates from the 11th century and stands now as restored ruins. It has a unique triangular shape with a tower at each corner and is encircled by a moat.



Anthony J. Frezza, Ellicott City

"Bruges is very old and beautiful with canals, churches and museums. The only Michelangelo 'Madonna and Child' outside Italy is there. It would be difficult to find a bad restaurant. It is impossible to go there and return without lace, tapestry and candy, specialties of the area."


Ken and Kay Keetly, Havre de Grace

"While on Maui, we had a fascinating day of exploration at Mount Haleakala (House of the Sun). The now-sleeping volcano gave birth to the island of Maui. We went to the summit and gazed down into the mile-deep volcano and across its seven-mile crater. It was truly a majestic and awesome sight."

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