“Do you want to come to Kanch in 1979?” “Yes, of course”, Joe had no hesitation in replying.
Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world (8,586m) and is the archetypal Himalayan peak due to its visibility from the colonial summer retreat of Darjeeling. It was thought to be the highest in the world for a long time and only recognised as the third highest in the nineteenth century when a precise survey was undertaken. It was first climbed in 1955 and by the time Joe, Doug Scott, Pete Boardman and Georges Bettembourg arrived in 1979 only six people had ever reached the summit.
As it is considered the home of a deity by the local Sikkim people, climbers usually respect the summit by not standing on it, as it is believed the deity will otherwise unleash disasters upon the people below.
The budget for the 1979 expedition was £9,000 and was conducted in the climbers preferred lightweight style, without supplementary oxygen. It was a long walk in of nearly three weeks, during which Pete badly hurt his foot and had to be carried by a porter for several days! The route chosen was a new and difficult one but they made good progress until high winds caused a retreat from the mountain. At their second attempt Joe, Pete and Doug made it to the summit. Joe describes the intense effort needed climbing at that altitude without supplementary oxygen, “Every few steps we stopped to gasp and pant for breath…An urge beyond description got us to our feet after every halt and made us go up a few more steps” (Savage Arena).