American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Western Nepal, Janak Himal, Danga II, First Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Danga II, First Ascent. We set out from the airstrip at Suketar, some 60 kilometers southwest of Danga, on April 18. There were seven of us: my son Daniel, my brother Gerald and my nephew James; Daniel’s wife Jude; her brother David; our local doctor, Rupert Bennett; and myself. The original plan was for Gerald, Daniel, Rupert, and me to tackle the climb while Jude, Dave, and James trekked. We had a string of cook boys and kitchen porters as well as 16 porters to carry in all our gear up the Ghunsa Khola to the north side of Kangchenjunga.

It took us ten days to reach our base camp at Lhonak (4750m). I had chosen Danga from a photograph loaned to me by Julian Freeman-Atwood. Doug Scott also gave me a great deal of help with photographs and maps, but we weren’t sure how accurate our maps were or of the best approach to our mountain. Early in the morning of April 28,I climbed the hill behind base to get a distant view of our mountain. I was disturbed by what I saw. I wasn’t at all sure that the valley leading up from Lhonak reached our mountain, and the ice fall at its head looked dangerous. Even more disturbing, I realized that the mountain we had chosen as our objective was not Danga at all but was a nameless 6194-meter peak, while Danga was a sharp pointed peak to its immediate west.

That same day, Furtenjee Sherpa had walked up the Danga Glacier to check out a site for advance base. He reported that it was hard going over broken moraines but that it led all the way to the foot of the Danga Icefall and that from close up it looked reasonably safe. The following day, Gerald, Daniel, James, and I went up to the site of Advance Base and agreed with Furtenjee’s assessment.

The climb was on but we were now confronted by another problem. I had packed some lightweight assault tents in a mule bag, but when I looked for them after reaching Base Camp, I could find no sign of them and realized with horror that we must have left them behind.

We set out from BC on May 3. Unfortunately, Rupert had gone down with pleurisy, but James was going so well I was able to ask him to take Rupert’s place. We not only used our porters to carry some of our base tents but had Pemba and Himal, our kitchen boys, with us as well to cook supper and breakfast.

We set out for the climb at 3:30 a.m., May 4. The first 300 meters were up a dry glacier with a dusting of snow. There was the odd steep little step and narrow crevasse, but we could see them and therefore climbed unroped to where the glacier opened up into a wide snow- covered basin. Time to rope up on a single rope. I led off up firm névé, picking my way around some big crevasses. This led us onto the upper part of the icefall, where a series of snow-clad ice shelves led out onto an easy slope leading up toward the col between the true Danga and our own peak. It was only 7 a.m. and we had reached the col. It was easy going, but I was very aware of just how hard it would be to find our way down in a white out.

Furtenjee and I took turns breaking trail and we steadily gained height, crossing a dodgy snow bridge over a huge, very deep crevasse and heading for what appeared to be the summit, a huge fin of ice jutting out of the rounded ridge. Unfortunately, we had been so confident we had left our spare rope and all the ice screws by the col and now it looked as if we were going to need them. I tried a direct ascent but, without protection, chickened out. A narrow ice canyon led under a snow bridge to a steep ramp reaching up toward the top. I pulled up over a cornice to find myself on a knife-edge, unstable snow ridge with no room for the rest of our team. It was with some relief that I realized we were on a false summit and the true top was a rounded mound about half a mile away.

I retreated, and we resumed our plod to the top of Danga II, which we reached at around 1 p.m. It was an emotional moment: four Boningtons and our good friend Furtenjee on top of an unclimbed peak with a magnificent vista of peaks around us. In the immediate foreground to the west was the shapely spire of Danga, an exciting but feasible prospect. To the north was the steep dome of Pandra (6796m); to the east was the complex summits of Dromo climbed by Doug Scott and Roger Mear by a new route the previous year, while farther to the southeast was the huge sprawling mass of Kangchenjunga and the shapely summit of Jannu with its huge north face. In the distance to the west were Makalu and Everest.

We had been incredibly lucky, having the best and clearest day of the entire expedition for our summit bid. We set off down in the afternoon, still with perfect visibility, to get back to ABC at around 4:30 p.m.

Chris Bonington, United Kingdom

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