Although Gangapurna was climbed by a German expedition in 1965 pre-monsoon from the south side via the col between Gangapurna and Annapurna III, we planned to climb this mountain from its North-west ridge after we had seen its pictures in an Alpine magazine. That ridge looked to be easy to climb. But the pictures were taken so far from the mountain that we could have no details of the upper part of the route. Our members were as follows:
Mitsuo Hiroshima (28)—(Dy. Leader), Hideki Maniwa (31), Takeo Omata (27), Koichi Taguchi (27)—(Cameraman), Terumi Yatsuhashi (25)—(Doctor), Homei Ishii (25) and Katuhiko Miyoshi (27)—(Leader).
Amongst us, Maniwa and Yatsuhashi had been to the Himalaya before. Maniwa had been to Chongra Peak of Nanga Parbat massif, Yatsuhashi had taken part in the Waseda University's expedition to Tukche Peak as a doctor. They had enough experience of Himalayan climbing and could advise the other members about climbing at high altitudes. Here let me introduce especially Taguchi. He was the only one married amongst us. During this expedition he became father of his first baby and we celebrated the occasion in a suitable fashion. On 21 February 1971, we arrived at Kathmandu. The expedition's cargo was brought by the same plane. Next day our Liaison Officer came to see us. As he had been Liaison Officer twice before, he knew very well about the expedition's official procedures. We employed four Sherpas, a mail-runner and a kitchen boy from the Himalayan Society.
On 27 February we moved to Pokhara with all the luggage carried by a chartered plane.
On 5 March, while Maniwa and a Sherpa stayed at Pokhara to wait for Hiroshima who was to come later, we started the caravan with 78 porters. At 6 o'clock in the morning the porters were handed over the luggage and given five days' wages in advance. It was a noisy and exciting time.
North face of Gangapurna from camp III (6,750 m.)
The ridge between camps III and IV
The ridge between camp IV and the summit
Api west peak and west ridge from the west Api saddle (5,500 m.)
Rokapi (right), an unclimbed peak, and the lower glacier from camp I (5,000 m.)
The south face of Api from 3,700 m.
The south-west face and west peak of Api from B.C. (4,100 m.); west ridge on left
Unnamed peak of Nampa east valley from about 4,100 m.
We had very fine weather every day and the porters walked very well, and we were able to overtake the Japanese Manaslu Expedition's big caravan which had left Pokhara one day before us. Next day both the parties marched together.
On 15 March, we arrived at Manang (3,500 m.) the last village without meeting with any accidents, rain or deep snow. From this village, it would take only two days to the Base Camp, but we stayed here for a week to find the route to the Base Camp and to acclimatize ourselves.
Manang's houses were constructed with wooden frame covered by stones and mud. The roof was made of only stones and mud, no cover to keep the rain out. Outside every house stood the prayer flags. The natural environments around the village was that of waste land and of poor fertility! After we had left to establish our Base Camp, the village congress was held by 12 of their ‘elders' and, in spite of other people and the Liaison Officer's opposition, they decided to extort Rs.4,000 from us for the permission to climb ‘their holy mountain' Gangapurna in case of our refusal they would destroy the Base Camp. We didn't have any other option but to accept their illegal and cunning demand. On 22 March we left for the Base Camp with our new women porters of Manang. They walked only three hours, then stopped by a small pond and demanded twice their wages. They didn't go any further and at last stayed there the night. Next day the porters carried the luggage up to the height of 4,700 m. through the steep and dangerous slopes of the big glacier between the previous dump and the starting point of exposed climbing.
Carrying the luggage to Base Camp by ourselves was really hard for all of us and we suffered from breathing difficulties and headaches. By 1 April, all the luggage of 2-3 tonnes was carried to the Base Camp situated in the middle of the glacier at 5,000 m
On 5 April, Camp I was set up on the flat part of the glacier at 5,300 m. close to the climbing ridge. This camp became the Advance Base Camp. From Camp I, we soon reached the steep slope of deep snow. After going up this slope for 200 m we came out on the wide and easy ridge. The views of Gangapurna north wall and the Grand Barrier were splendid from this ridge. We had especially fine views of the avalanches coming down the slopes of Glacier Dome. The ridge led very easily for about 200 m., then changed gradually to a narrow ice ridge, requiring fixed rope and step cutting. The ropes for fixing were 8 and 6 mm. nylon. 3,600 m. of rope were brought for the expedition. We tried to fix rope all the way up our route. It took a long time to fix and delayed the progress of climbing.
On the 12th, Camp II was set up at 6,000 m. on a steep slope. From Camp II the route was taken through the crevasse and serac area and then through an icefall. This icefall was negotiated by Maniwa and myself at the easiest point of about 10 m. I thought of fixing rope-ladders on the icefall the following day. But unfortunately the weather that was very fine uptil now changed for the worse. It began to snow and didn't stop for more than a week, which necessitated our descent to Camp I. We had more than a metre of snowfall on one night alone.
The climbing was begun again this time to attack the second icefall. This was about 30 m. and very difficult. We took five days to climb it with the fixing of continuous screw pitons, and rope-ladder. The route from this icefall went up a steep but an easy snow slope for about 300 m.
On 29 April, Camp III was established by Hiroshima and Ishii at 6,750 m. on the ridge about 150 m. below a minor peak which we called 'snow dome'. Between Camp III and Gangapurna was the most interesting and important part of the ridge and our success depended on the conditions on this ridge. The ridge looked narrower than we had expected. The way to Camp IV led gradually up and over the 6 snow dome' at just about 7,000 m. and was fixed with rope every 10 m. by ice pitons and light metal bars.
On 10 May at last the Camp IV was established on a knife- edge ridge at 6,900 m. Maniwa, Omata and Taguchi moved to this camp on that day.
The following two days Maniwa and Omata tried to open the route further. In spite of their hard work the route was made for only 60 m. from the camp due to extreme difficulty. On the evening of 12th the high camp members and those at Camp I discussed the situation on the walkie-talkie and agreed that the possibility of success was slight and decided to abandon further attempts. Not having experienced the monsoon in the Himalaya before, we considered the continuous spell of bad weather warning enough. The ridge was difficult enough to tackle in fine weather but another 300 m. of razor sharp ice would have taken many more days of good weather work which we did not think would materialize. Ironically enough the 13th dawned fine as we returned to Camp II, but the next day's descent to Base Camp was in sleet and foul weather—a minor blizzard blowing away at the heights.