MANASLU WEST WALL, 1971
(Japanese Alpine Club)
(Translated by Ichiro Yoshizawa)
Manaslu (8,156 m.) was the first eight-thousander in the Himalaya climbed by the Japanese Alpine Club under the leadership of Mr. Yuko Maki in 1956 after two previous attempts (1953 and 1954), from the east side.
Then Japanese mountaineers climbed Himal Chuli (1960), Peak 29, Dakura (1970) and Baudha (1970 and 1971) one by one and once at least they brought the era of the first ascents of the so-called 'Three Manaslu Giants' to a close.
But the west side of Manaslu has been considered impossible without wings by H. W. Tilman who saw it from afar and the Manaslu Reconnaissance Party of the Japanese Alpine Club (1952) led by Dr. Kinji Imanishi.
This year we had planned to find a route on the West Wall and make the second ascent of the peak, descending the East Face which was climbed by the Japanese Expedition in 1956.
The West Face, the North-west Wall to be more exact, is a 4,000 m. high precipitous and dangerous wall of ice and rock with inclination of about 40° on the average. We had no definite idea of finding either our possible routes or suitable camping places.
Accordingly, we sent a two-man recce party in the autumn of 1970. They were expected to find a way to our Base Camp and further a route to the Advance Base Camp, to collect possible information about Sama village which is situated on the eastern foot of the mountain and is said to have inhabitants especially hostile to foreign mountaineers. They accomplished these tasks satisfactorily in 60 days.
Our team was made up of 11 selected climbers (mostly members of the J.A.C.) joined from seven Alpine Clubs each of which belonged to the Tokyo Metropolitan Mountaineering Federation.
All the expenses were shared by the members and they were each allotted $1,500 at the beginning, But when the recce party returned, they found that a lot more material (equipment and provisions) would be needed and their share increased to $2,500 each. The total foreign currency Spent by US in Nepal was just $10,000.
We packed the old and familiar equipment which had previously been used in mountains several times by us, except the latest and first-class climbing gear.
We purchased 13,000 m. of rope for fixing, 200 snow-bars, wire and duralumin ladders as well. After our successful climb, we found that only two rolls of 200 m. rope remained and snow bars were completely exhausted.
Ice pitons were useless and we used only screw pitons. As the rocks were flaky, among the pitons driven in were 20 per cent rock pitons and 80 per cent expansion bolts
Our caravan left Pokhara on 5 March accompanied by 300 porters and with 12 tonnes of packages. This was 15 days later than we expected because it took one full month to transport our packages by land through India.
Accordingly, we changed our plans. We would not be able to use 80 days for our activities on the mountain. We would run into the monsoon if we did not shorten that period. The distances between camps must be lengthened and we must cut down the number of camps as far as possible. So the differences m the altitudes of each camp became 1,000 m.
We expected seven or eight camps to be established on the mountain but with the change of plan we kept the camps down to five, so we could climb to the summit just before the oncoming monsoon. In the end, that was very lucky for us all
It took 11 days for our caravan to reach the Base Camp site previously chosen. We walked up along Domen Khola which flows into Dudh Khola at a point from where it was a day's trip to Bimthang Base Camp was established on the upper limit of the forest line at the height of 3,500 m.
At the beginning, our Base Camp was to be set up on the upper plateau with a tiny pokhari some 2 hours distance from here, but as the snow was so deep and porters couldn’t carry their packages through them, we had to put it up here on the moraine densely covered with coniferous trees. It was, however, very convenient for we had a lot of firewood nearby and timber for crevasse bridging.
Camp I was established on a plateau (4,500 m.) after climbing up through an 800 m. icefall with numerous crevasses. This was finished on 21 March one week after Base Camp was establi shed.
At first we arranged beforehand our Advance Base Camp site on the plateau at the end of the West ridge and so we dispatched three route-making parties for reconnaissance. But any way we couldn't find out a suitable transport route for it because they pushed on among the seracs or icefall areas.
Three days later, on 24 March when we heard the radio news that the Base Camps were erected by the IHE and French expeditions respectively, one of our recce parties found a long but good and easily negotiable transport route which runs directly under the North Peak of Manaslu.
But when we saw the West ridge on the way up, we found that the lower half of the ridge was really an unnegotiable vertical ice wall and not suitable for bringing up packages on the shoulders of the Sherpas.
Then after some discussion, we decided our route should be made on the North-west Wall in the middle of which a great traversing terrace ran to the middle step of the West ridge.
One week after establishing Camp I, we could set up Camp II (Advance Base Camp, 5,500 m.) on a broad basin-like snow-field which was to be known as the West-side Sanctuary of Manaslu. Camp II site was an ideal safe place protected from the avalanches which continuously fell from the upper wall, having many enormous step-like crevasses in between.
From here, on the western skyline we could command a wonderful view of the Himalayan ranges: from left to right- Annapurna Himal, Dhaulagiri peaks, Kang Guru, Himlung Himal, Cheo Himal, etc.
Now, our climbing activities began from this splendid stronghold. The inclination of the North-west Wall is 45° on the average on which our traversing route lies and frequent avalanches break off from the ice-blocks on the upper slopes. Moreover, once new snow falls, we are always frightend by the ceaseless surface avalanches.
At times, we must plough through waist or chest deep snow and consequently the relaying of packages was delayed. This year we had generally extremely bad weather and once snow fell, they reached even to one metre in a day.
While the Sherpas and ourselves have been climbing up and down this great slope on which handrails over 2,500 m. are fixed and jumars used ; we are all safe from avalances and even when they sweep past us, the devices prevent us from the final danger.
But when block avalanches occurred, our fixed ropes were cut to pieces-at a time between 200 and 300 m. snow-bars were twisted and knocked off-we were at our wit's end to refit and repair.
On 8 April, 11 days after establishing the Advance Base Camp (Camp II), we succeeded in putting up Camp III (6,500 m.) in the middle step of the West ridge.
Kasa-iwa (Kasa means ‘umbrellaand Iwa means ‘rock' in Japanese) which is confronting us on the West ridge at an altitude of about 7,000 m. seems to us the most difficult part of climbing in the whole expedition.
To break through this disagreeable obstacle, we had to strengthen Camp III and pile up indispensable material there. All members took part in the lifting tasks on this traversing route, but when we met frequent avalanches, it was impossible to move despite the fine weather.
It took 7-8 hours for climbing from Camp II to Camp III and 3 hours to descend.
Meanwhile, the route-making parties of Camp III were working hard in waves on the ice ridge under the Kasa-iwa since the day after establishing their Camp III.
They reached the foot of Kasa-iwa in three days and completed the fixing of ropes.
From 11 April, Kasa-iwa, 250 m. high overhanging wall which resembles so much the half-open Japanese paper umbrella, was continuously attacked by two-man route-preparing parties.
Though the route between Camp III and the foot of Kasa-iwa was satisfactorily made with fixed ropes, it took 3 or 4 hours to cover. So they had only 4-5 hours a day to do work on this rock face. Accordingly it was not surprising that they needed a full 20 days to get through this critical point.
We didn't climb directly to the top of Kasa-iwa but we sought a route in the re-entrant (diedres) which was overhanging from the left. After 20 m. high vertical ice wall, we could reach the next rock wall. Taking off the crampons and overshoes, they managed to make a route on this reverse-formed smooth rock slab with expansion bolts and hanging on etriers.
Later we set a wire ladder on this wall and succeeded in sending four selected Sherpas above Kasa-iwa. Most of the 100 expansion bolts which we had in our stock were spent here. The grade of Kasa-iwa wall is 6 in places but generally speaking it was 5AII.
But the upper part of this diedres was a reverse-formed slab covered with new snow under which a thin layer of verglas was plastered. As it was very dangerous here, we made a depot on a slope 20 m. above with comparatively thick snow on it, driving in some snow-bars around. Now we had two depots, the other one was in a bergschrund at the foot of Kasa-iwa.
On 6 May by 8 o'clock in the evening, 8 days after breaking through Kasa-iwa and 28 days after establishing Camp III, we at last succeeded in putting up Camp IV (7,100 m.) on the snow cornice above Kasa-iwa.
Here, such a tremendous snow cornice had formed that it was a kind of window through which wind blew incessantly. Even when the other camps were windless, this high eagle's nest was always exposed to the strong wind.
The height of this site was a little higher than or equal to that of the so-called North Col and we estimated its altitude as roughly 7,100 m.
Lifting of packages on Kasa-iwa was done co-operatively by members of Camp III and Camp IV. The Camp III party carried them up to the depot at the foot of Kasa-iwa, while four Sherpas of Camp IV descended the upper part of Kasa-iwa and lifted the packages up by cables hung in the air. Then they were carried to the upper depot.
When it was fine, lifting work continued for some hours but if it was very windy, they could do nothing except sleep in their tiny tents. Though the work was very severe, they succeeded in bringing up about 1,000 kg. of necessary material.
Meanwhile, the two-man route-making party in Camp IV has been searching continuously a route on the West ridge without rest. But the rock ridge between Camp IV and the summit plateau proved to be a series of little overhanging and reverse- formed walls with which we could do nothing.
If we took this rock ridge route, it was clear that we would have to invest more days in it than was needed even for Kasa- iwa climbing and we couldn't let the Sherpas climb on it. In the earlier stages, we were thinking of a possible route on the hanging glacier by the South-west Wall, and we made the final decision to try this glacier.
To begin with, we descended to the south side about 100 m. of the 60° hard ice wall and stood on the edge of the hanging glacier. From here the airy fall of 3,500 m. to the moraine of Domen Khola could be seen.
The ice here was extremely hard owing to the strong wind blowing up from under. We couldn't cut even one step without swinging more than thirty times. Then we climbed the bottom of the bergschrund between the West ridge and the hanging glacier -some time, on the Wall or ribs of the West ridge side and at other on the ice wall of the hanging glacier by using ice pitons and etriers.
On 12 May, 6 days later, we got through to the top of the hanging glacier and prepared a cable line for lifting up the packages by fixing ropes to two screw pitons. We think the grade of the rock here is about 4, but it was a very difficult climb owing to its high altitude.
But as the hanging glacier was very steep, and there was extreme danger of avalanches, we fixed ropes along the West ridge side and climbed up an ice couloir which emerged out to the summit plateau.
On 16 May at 4 p.m., 10 days after establishing Camp IV, we put up Camp V (final camp 7,360 m.) on the plateau. Here stood nine climbers, three route-making members, two sum- miteers and four Sherpas after 2 days' laborious load-carrying. Now they had here six oxygen bottles and 4 days' food for two members. So only two summiteers could remain and the other seven descended to Camp IV praying for the two climbers' luck.
The forecast of the All India Radio was: N-W wind, velocity 60 km., temperature minus 22 °C at 7,500 m. and W-S-W wind, velocity 90 km., temperature minus 40 °C', weather thundershower at 9,000 m.
It was 2,500 m. distance from Camp V to the summit and the difference of altitudes was 800 m. We wanted one more advance camp if possible but we had no more material.
We decided to make a dash and set the starting time for 3 a.m. But it was an almost impossible enterprise without any support at such a tremendous height.
In spite of these unfavourable circumstances, the two climbers left Camp V at 5 a.m. and ascended the great sloped plateau of ice and snow, sinking at times to their knees.
On 17 May at 12.15 p.m., with little oxygen remaining, the two- man summit party could at last stand on top of Manaslu.
Just under the summit they found the ice piton which was driven in by Mr. Toshio Imanishi of the Japanese Alpine Club and Gyalzen Norbu when they climbed Manaslu for the first time fifteen years ago.
They drew out this precious piton and brought it back to Tokyo just as a French party fetched back a Japanese rising sun flag from the top of Makalu this year.
This memorial piton was later presented to Mr. Yuko Maki who led the third J.A.C. Manaslu Expedition in 1956.
- Akira Takahashi (Leader, 57)
- Noboru Endo (Deputy leader, 40)
- Dr. Sokichi Tanaka (Medical, 30)
- Satoshi Aoki (Climbing leader, 27)
- Yoshikaza Takahashi (25)
- Takashi Amamiya (34)
- Kazuharu Kohara (30) ... Summiteer
- Takahiro Atarashi (26)
- Tetsuya Matsuzaki (27)
- Motoyoshi Tanaka (21) ... Summiteer
- Seiji Shimizu (25).
1971 -March 5 - Pokhara-Sisuwa
8 - Nalma-Khudi
9- Khudi-Bahun Danda
12- Tal-Tonje (Thonche)
15 - Hanbu-Base Camp (3,500 m.)
21 - Camp I (4,500 m.)
28 - Camp II (A.B.C., 5,500 m.)
April 8 - Camp III (6,500 m.)
28 - Reached the top of ‘
Umbrella Rock' (6,900 m.)
May 6- Camp IV (7,100 m.)
16-Camp V (Plateau Camp, 7,360 m.)
17-Two-man summit party reached the top of Manaslu
25 - Left Base Camp
June 4- Reached Pokhara
SKETCH MAP OF MANASLU
Lifting up the packages on Kasa-Iwa
Manaslu from Bimthang
Traversing under the snow-cornice between camp III and Kasa-Iwa
Camp II (A.B.C.) and a part of the N-W wall of Manaslu
Route on west ridge
Camp III and Kasa-Iwa
Abonded route to camp III
Route from camp II to camp IV (Khana=lunch or meal)