Two high-altitude treks are currently allowed in Sikkim. The first, from Yoksum to Dzongri, in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, passes through huge tracts of forest and provides incredible mountain vistas; all-inclusive rates from a decent agency are from around US$50 per head per day including permits. The second, the Singalila Ridge, explores the remote high pastures of the Singalila frontier range with breathtaking views of the massif. Trekkers for either route must have special permits, travel in groups of at least two and organize the trip with an authorized agency. General advice on trekking equipment and health issues is given in Essentials.
The Dzongri Trail
Although Dzongri is the junction of several trails, the prescribed route onwards leads to Goecha La via Zemanthang and Samiti Lake. Well-marked and dotted with basic accommodation, the trail, also used by yak herders, is at its best in May when the rhododendrons bloom.
DAY 1 It takes approximately six hours to climb the 16km from Yoksum (1780m) to Tsokha (3048m). The forested trail begins gently before arriving at the Prek River above its confluence with the Rathong. The next 4.5km involve a knee-grinding ascent, entering the lichen zone and cloud forests, past the Forest Rest House at Bakhim (2684m) to the Tibetan yak herders’ settlement of Tsokha where there are a couple of trekkers huts.
DAY 2 This day can be spent acclimatizing to the altitude at Tsokha, perhaps with a 5km trek towards Dzongri, to a watchtower with superb views of Kanchenjunga and Pandim.
DAY 3 The 11km section from Tsokha to Dzongri (4030m) takes at least five hours, rising through beautiful pine and rhododendron forests to Phedang Meadows (3450m), before continuing to the hut at Dzongri.
DAY 4 Once again, it’s worth staying around Dzongri for further acclimatization. This gives you the opportunity to climb Dzongri Hill above the hut for views of Kanchenjunga’s craggy south summit and the black rocky tooth of Kabur, a holy mountain towering above Dzongri La (4400m), a pass that leads to the HMI base camp, 12km away at Chaurikhang, and the Rathong Glacier (a recommended variation).
DAY 5 The 8km trek from Dzongri to Thangsing (3841m) takes around four hours, descending against an incredible backdrop of peaks to a rhododendron forest, crossing a bridge and continuing through woods to Trekkers Hut at Thangsing at the end of a glacial valley.
DAY 6 The 10km short, sharp shock up to Samiti Lake (4303m) takes around three hours, through alpine meadows traversing glacial moraine before arriving at the emerald-green Samiti Lake (local name Sungmoteng Tso). If you are still going strong, you could continue to Zemanthang (4453m), where there’s a trekkers hut.
DAY 7 This is the climax of the trek and its most difficult section by far, due to the high altitude. From Samiti Lake, the 14km round-trip climb takes around four hours up to Goecha La and two to three hours back down again. The trail follows glacial moraine to Zemanthang, before a final grinding rise following cairns and the occasional prayer flag to the narrow defile at Goeche La (5000m), where Kanchenjunga South is visible on a clear day.
DAY 8 Most of the long 24km hike from Samiti Lake back to Tsokha is downhill and takes around eight hours, involving a short-cut after the bridge to avoid Dzongri. There are several variations to this finish.
The Singalila Ridge
Itineraries for Singalila Ridge treks range between ten and nineteen days, and though more expensive due to the area’s remoteness, they prove exceptionally rewarding, with views from Everest to the huge Kanchenjunga massif ahead. It’s best done from south to north, facing the views as the trail rises towards the snows through remote alpine pastures and past hidden lakes. The most common variation starts from the road-head at Uttarey (1965m), 28km to the west of Pelling, and ascends to Chewabhanjang (3170m) on the Sikkim–Nepal frontier. Thereafter, the trail rarely descends below 3500m, high above the tree line; the highest point of the trail is the Danfeybhir Tar, a pass at 4400m. The route descends to Gomathang (3725m), a yak-herders’ shelter on the banks of the Boktochu, then passes through delightful forests of silver fir and rhododendron before arriving at the welcome sight of the bungalow at Dzongri which connects with the main trekking trails.