American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Ganesh Himal, Drohmo and Janak

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Drohmo and Janak. On April 13, a small Anglo-American-Nepalese expedition established Base Camp on the summer yak pastures of Lhonak (4650m), the site normally used for the penultimate overnight camp on the trek in to Kangchenjunga’s North Side Base Camp at Pangpema. The main objective of this team was Janak (7035m), the unclimbed west summit of Jongsang, which lies on the border with Tibet. However, as a prelude the climbers wanted to make the first ascent of Drohmo (6850m), a complex mountain that stands opposite Wedge Peak overlooking the Kangchenjunga Glacier. As Jongsang is still unclimbed from Nepal, the expedition was required to have joint membership, so three climbing Sherpas made up part of the seven-man team.

After an initial period of reconnaissance and acclimatization, Julian Freeman-Attwood, Skip Novak and Doug Scott (who had initially contemplated Drohmo in 1979 while making the first ascent of the North Ridge of Kangchenjunga) established a camp on April 22 at ca. 5180 meters below the south side of Drohmo. The fourth member, Lindsay Griffin, was at this stage still at Base Camp attempting to recover from a stomach illness that had troubled him throughout the approach trek. On the 23rd, the three climbers made an inspection of the glacier below Drohmo and found that the steep south face of the mountain sported extensive serac structures, making any line leading to the main summit seriously threatened.

East of a deep notch, a sharp and corniced crest continued over a lower summit before eventually falling toward the Ginsang Glacier. With no safe route to the main (west) summit, the three decided on the central spur of the south face, which led to a point on the corniced crest well to the right of the lower (east) summit. Although just about any approach to the south face was not out of the firing line from a major avalanche or serac fall, the crest of the spur, once attained, appeared more or less safe.

On April 27, unforeseen circumstances forced Freeman-Attwood to leave the expedition. The 28th and 29th saw Griffin, Novak and Scott move up to camp on the upper glacier at ca. 5600 meters and on the next day ascend the glacier and climb five pitches of steep terrain in less than perfect condition to reach the crest of the central spur. Equipment was cached at a height of ca. 6000 meters before rappelling and descending to the glacier camp. The weather remained unsettled, and the combined effect of night-time snow fall, a reoccurrence of Griffin’s illness and a general insufficient quantity of food left at the camp to await an improvement in both weather and Griffin sent the climbers down to Base. At this point, Scott decided to leave for home with his family, who had accompanied him to Base Camp, and Novak decided to go with him.

On May 4, Griffin, Novak and the three Sherpas removed all the equipment from the mountain, after which Griffin decided to remain with the Nepalese members, Nawang Karsang Sherpa, Norbu Zangbu Sherpa and Shera Zangbu Sherpa, in order to attempt the main objective. Unsettled weather kept the climbers at Base Camp till the 12th, when all four were able to move though the spectacular gorge that gives access to the lower Broken Glacier southwest of Jongsang. On the following day they established a camp at ca. 5800 meters below the upper south face of Janak. With the weather now good and everyone fit, May 14 was spent making a reconnaissance of possible lines free from objective danger. In the process of this, all four climbers made a traverse of a 6050-meter summit on the west ridge of Jongsang, which they christened The Wave. Snow conditions were found to be depressingly poor and the traverse along the unstable corniced crest more difficult than anticipated (AD+).

It snowed all day on May 15, but on the 16th the return of good weather, which marked the start of a relatively long settled spell, allowed Griffin, Nawang Karsang and Shera Zangbu to climb to a point at ca. 6250 meters on a south spur of Jongsang very close to the Long Ridge Pass. They were almost certainly the first climbers to visit both this and the upper Broken Glacier since the only previous visit by Dr. Alexander Kellas in 1910. The 1998 group, though not choosing the best route up the headwall to the Pass, climbed a short pitch of Scottish 3 (mixed). After this trial period on the hill with new companions, Griffin felt that it would be most unwise of him to continue without at least one other British climber on the team. No attempt was made on the proposed route, a committing but relatively safe mixed line of at least TD standard that led to the summit ridge of Janak, and on the 17th the climbers descended to Base Camp.

Lindsay Griffin, Alpine Climbing Group

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