Lashar I, first ascent of peak via south face; Janak, south face, attempt. I first saw the south face of Janak (7,041m) in autumn 2000, when leading an expedition to Jongsang, Pathibara, and Kiratchuli. From the upper Broken Glacier the southwest pillar looked like an excellent objective for a small expedition. The time for fulfilling this dream arrived in autumn 2005. The Slovenian Janak 2005 expedition comprised only the young climber Miha Habjan and I, though we were joined in Kathmandu by Padam Tamang, the expedition Sirdar and cook, Guirme Sherpa as his assistant, and our liaison officer, Gopi Lal Nepal.
After using local buses for the three-day drive to eastern Nepal, travel not only uncomfortable but also risky, we arrived in Taplejung. Surrounded by barbed wire and with a strong military presence, this village now seems like a fortress and was the last place on our journey toward the mountains that had any government power. After a seven-day approach we reached Lhonak, where we established base camp on September 29. In Chirwa, on the second day of our trek, we encountered Maoists. They didn’t make any real trouble for us; we just paid them 2,000 Nepali Rupees per person.
On October 6, after short acclimatization trips around base camp, we went to our advanced base camp at the end of the lateral moraine on the upper Broken Glacier. After more than 9km of walking from base camp, we camped at 5,710m and the next day climbed the 6,096m [6,095m HGM Finn map] mountain above camp. [This was probably the third ascent of the peak, which was first climbed by a Anglo-Nepalese party in 1998—Ed.] We later continued to the south Tsisima peaks and after climbing Tsisima III, descended to base camp because of bad weather.
On October 10 we went for the next stage in our acclimatization program. Our goal was the nice pyramid of Lashar I, which is visible from Lhonak. [There is some confusion surrounding the names of Tibetan border peaks west of Janak. The old Swiss map, which appears to be relatively accurate in depicting the topography of this region and has been generally used as a benchmark for subsequent Japanese maps and the Kangchenjunga trekking map by Nepa Publications, places three border peaks at the head of the northerly branch of the Tsisima Glacier: from west to east, Dzanye (6,710m), Lashar I (6,930m), and Lashar II (6,860m). The new HGM Finn map, Janak Himal, does not name any of these peaks but gives them altitudes of, again from west to east, 6,581m, 6,842m, and 6,803m. On the Ministry of Tourism list of permitted peaks 6,842m and 6,803m are Lashar I and II, but Dzanye is quoted as 6,719m. This elevation is clearly marked on the Finn map as a border peak immediately northeast of Lashar II. Dzanye, as climbed by the Swiss Dittert, Lohner, Partgaetzi-Almer, Sutter, and Wyss-Dunant in 1949, via the northwest ridge, is definitely the peak marked 6,581m on the new map. Confused? So were the Slovenians, who for a long time after their ascent thought they had climbed Dzanye but now realize they climbed Lashar I—Ed.] After walking 11km in eight hours from base camp, we put our first camp at 5,610m (GPS) close to the start of the Tsisima North Glacier (Chijima on the HGM Finn map). The next day we climbed the glacier almost to its head and made a second camp at 6,200m, near the col on our expected descent route, the northwest ridge.
On our summit day, October 12, we descended to below the prominent snow couloir on the south face. The first part of the couloir is blocked by a big serac barrier, which we avoided on the left by ice slopes and a long traverse over loose rock. At daybreak we started to climb the main gully. Conditions were good and the angle from 50-60°, so we climbed unroped to the northwest ridge, not far below the summit. We reached the top after a climb of nine hours. The panorama was fantastic, but a strong and bitterly cold wind prevented us from enjoying it for long. We descended the northwest ridge until it became steep, then started to cut down the south face. We made five rappels to reach the glacier and were quickly at our tent. The same day we descended to the site of our first camp and made the long walk back to base on the 13th.
Since starting out from Taplejung, Miha had not felt well. Problems with his throat wouldn’t disappear, so before attempting Janak we took five days rest. It didn’t help but our time was short, so on October 18 we regained our advanced base on the Broken Glacier. We rested most of the next day, making only a short reconnaissance of the approach to the southwest pillar. Late that evening we made a decision: with Miha still not well and the weather looking more dubious, we abandoned the pillar and attempted a shorter and somewhat easier route towards the right side of the south face, left of the obvious big serac. This was the line we had initially planned to use for descent.
The night was cloudy, forcing us to postpone our departure. Finally, at 4 a.m., we left the tent and two hours later were at the foot of the face. We climbed the lower section unroped, but began to belay ca. 50m below the serac. Seven pitches later we were on the plateau that forms a 6,650m shoulder on the east ridge. There had been two difficult sections: hard water ice around the left flank of the serac and mixed ground above. As we approached the ridge the wind became steadily fiercer, so strong that it broke ice from the rock walls to our left and bombarded the slope below.
We arrived on the plateau at nightfall. Crawling on all fours due to the wind, we were tired after climbing all day. The weather was cloudy, and with no moonlight we were unable to find the route to the summit. Without tents and sleeping bags, we had to find shelter immediately. Working hard for three hours, we dug a hole that gave us semi-protection from the wind. We sat and froze until 1 a.m. To keep warm we worked at enlarging the hole for the next three hours.
Next morning the weather deteriorated fast. A brief ray of sun was like a reminder from God that we needed to hurry. The wind on the edge of the plateau was even stronger than during the night, and we couldn’t hear each other. We started to rappel, and soon it began to snow. In five minutes the whole face was being swept by avalanches. It was like a river. Often the rope would be pinned by avalanches, and we couldn’t rappel. At 2 p.m, after 15 rappels, we reached the glacier, now covered with 40cm of fresh snow. The mist was so dense that we couldn’t locate our ski sticks and had a difficult job finding our advanced base.
Guirme was waiting for us, and in the evening we all started our descent towards base camp. It was snowing so hard that route finding would have been more or less impossible without a GPS. We arrived in base at 7 a.m. and the same day packed our gear and walked out to Ghunsa. Two further days were needed to reach Taplejung, and on October 27 we flew to Kathmandu via Biratnagar.
Andrej Stremfelj, Slovenia