American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Drangnag-Ri, First Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Drangnag-Ri, First Ascent. Our expedition, the Norwegian 1995 Everest 10th Anniversary Expedition, was comprised of Pema Dorjee and Arne Naess (co-leaders), Stein Aasheim, Chris Bonington, Ola Einang, Odd Eliassen, Torger Fosse, Lhakpa Gyalu, Mingma Gyalzen, Ralph Hoibakk, Bjorn Myrer Lund, Claus Eric Okstad (cameraman), Helge Ringdal, Ang Rinzing, Lhakpa Sonam, Kjell Torgeir Stokke (doctor), Ang Tsering and Vegard Ulvang. The expedition succeeded in making the first ascent of Dranang-Ri (6801 meters). Base Camp was established on April 11 at 5450 meters on the eastern side of the Tram Bau Glacier by Ralph Hoibakk and Odd Eliassen with four Sherpas. Advance Base at 5830 meters was established on April 17 just short of the bend in the glacier, and Camp 1 on the col below the foot of the east ridge of Drangnag-Ri on April 23. Vegard Ulvang, youngest member of the team and a triple Olympic gold medallist, contracted an acute kidney infection which led to severe fever. A helicopter was called in to evacuate him from Base Camp on April 20. Camp 1 (6200 meters) was established on April 22 and the Notch was reached on April 25 by Chris Bonington and Stein Aasheim, supported by Lhakpa Gyalu and Ang Tsering. A line was taken beneath the rocky buttress of the pinnacle on the lower part of the ridge, leading up a steep icy runnel to the notch itself. The ridge above the notch was steep and challenging with a series of ice towers on the crest. The best line was on the north side of the ridge, crossing a series of icy grooves and snow arêtes that provided steep and taxing climbing. Camp 2 at 6400 meters was established on April 27 by Ralph Hoybakk and Bjorn Myrer Lund with Pema Dorjee and Lhakpa Sonam. They ran out one ropelength that day and a further two the following day, on steep and difficult ice broken by rock steps. Bonington, with Mingma Gyalzen and Ang Rinzin, pushed out a further two rope lengths on April 29. The Sherpas said this was the steepest ground they had ever been on. The ice climbing technically was III/IV but at that altitude it was very hard work. Bonington reached a point that seemed about a ropelength short of the main difficulties.

Ten people set out for the summit on the morning of April 30. We were short of time with the lower camps already being evacuated and we had fixed rope in place up to a height of 6600 meters. Bjorn Myrer Lund led the final steep ice pitch which ended in a broad snow scoop stretching up to the crest of the ridge. By this time, however, the weather showed signs of breaking and the difficulties seemed by no means over. It was decided therefore that just five team members should continue toward the summit. These were Bjorn Myrer Lund, Ralph Hoybakk, Chris Bonington, Pema Dorjee and Lhakpa Gyalu. We were in deep snow but, though we had plenty of ice pitons, we only had one snow anchor; at one point Bjorn had to turn himself into a human belay by jamming himself into a small crevasse at the end of the ropelength. Bonington led through to get a rock anchor and then continued through deep but easy angled snow toward a serac wall.

The clouds then rolled in, reducing visibility. Two serac walls eventually took the team to the summit at around 1 p.m., where they were hit by an electric storm — the entire atmosphere seemed saturated with electricity and everyone suffered from mild shocks. A hasty retreat was made.

Chris Bonington, Alpine Climbing Group

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