The Tokyo University Ski Alpine Club Expedition


In 1970 spring, the Tokyo University Ski Alpine Club applied for the climbing permission to Nepal Government to send an expedition party to Churen Himal (7,371 m.) in 1971 pre- monsoon period. Churen Himal is a very attractive mountain with twin peaks of the same altitude located around the westernmost part of Dhaulagiri Himal. Recently it had become one of the targets for Himalayan climbers. While we were waiting for our permit, the Shizuoka University Alpine Club party succeeded in climbing the West and Central peaks of Churen Himal in 1970 autumn for the first time. Hearing this news, we were disappointed in some sense, but we realized at the same time that the present situation in Nepal Himalaya had not left many un- climbed peaks of over 7,000 m. and that there was no possibility to change our climbing application to another peak.

So we decided to modify our plan by choosing to climb Churen Himal by a more difficult route. Shizuoka University Alpine Club climbed West Peak, taking the route on the east face of the mountain. On the other hand, in 1969 post- monsoon, an Italian party tried unsuccessfully to attack the West Peak from the west ridge of Churen Himal. The details of written report of this climbing were not available, but it was reported that they reached the height of about 6,560 m. and retreated due to shortage of time and strong wind. Our modified plan was to climb the West Peak from the west ridge and to traverse all the way to the East Peak.

The climbing permission was granted late in November from the Nepal Government, and we started all necessary preparations for the expedition. The Tokyo team members were: Makoto Takahasi (52, leader), Katsuhiko Kano (28, climbing leader), Shoji Seki (34, medical doctor), Osamu Matsuda (27), Yoshihiko Yoshioka (27), Kosei Ideta (26), Makoto Aruji (24), Takane Watanabe (23), Yoshio Ishizuka (23), Motoo Kishi (22) and Hiroshi Ishii (27).

Nepal Government appointed Mr. Ram Bahadur Thapa (police inspector) as liaison officer. We had excellent Sherpas. They were: Ang Norbu (29, Sirdar), Pasang Tenzing (32), Nima Ptiter (35), Gyaltzen (27), Ang Tengri (22), Pemba Gyaltzen (34, cook), Lhakpa Tsering (37), Pemba Norbu (24), Dawa Norbu (30), Chiling Norbu (20), Pemba Dorji (18, kitchen boy), Nima Norbu (23, kitchen boy) and Ang Nima (30, mail runner).

The Journey to the Base Camp

Our serious trouble started, after three members of our party left Japan in January and February. We sent all our luggage from Tokyo to Kathmandu by plane on 25 February. It was expected that these equipment and food should arrive at Kathmandu early in March. Unexpectedly, political tension was raised in East Pakistan early in March, and we were informed that the Dacca Airport was closed and that all our luggage was kept in a warehouse of the Dacca Airport. Unless the luggage was brought out to Kathmandu in early time, we would be forced to give up our expedition plan. Kano and Matsuda flew to Dacca on 5 March to make every effort to transport our luggage from Dacca to Kathmandu. Fortunately, the luggage moved to Karachi on 15 March, and finally it arrived in Kathmandu on 21 March. The rest of the party waiting uneasily in Japan left Tokyo on 21 March and came to Kathmandu next day. Now all members of the party had gathered at Kathmandu except Matsuda who was still kept in Dacca. On 23 and 24 March all members, Sherpas and luggage were transported to Pokhara by air. We stayed at the Himalayan Hotel for three days, enjoying the magnificent view of Machhapuchhare.

On 27 March, we started our journey to Base Camp with 134 porters. After a mess to distribute carton boxes and other luggage to porters, we marched through Pokhara Bazar and Hyanga village. It was a very hot day, and as we arrived at the camp site on the river bed at Suikhet, a heavy shower of hail with thunder greeted us. Next day we trekked uphill for about one hour to Naudanda and stayed the night at the playground of Bhadaure Primary School. From Bhadaure we marched three days through Kusma to Beni along the Modi Khola and then along the Kali Gandaki valley in the semi- tropical weather. It was a rather boring and hot trip on the river bed except for the fascinating view of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges which revealed their shapes at times. At Beni we left the Kali Gandaki and proceeded north-west through Tato- pani (hot spring), Dharbang, along the Myagdi Khola. On 3 April, we left Dharbang early in the morning, and climbed the hills of Dharapani and traced the trail through Takum to Muna (1980 m.). At Muna we intended to change all porters from Pokhara, as they were very poorly equipped and presumably were not used to hard work at relatively high altitudes. From Muna we had to pass over Budsunge Bara at 4,400 m. height, but many of the porters insisted on carrying the luggage up to Base Camp. After a long and patient persuasion by the liaison officer and Sirdar, about 50 porters from Pokhara were selected and 85 new porters were hired here. On 7 April, we left Gurja- khani, the final village in our caravan course, and climbed up to Darsinge Karka (2,970 m.). Next day, early in the morning we started to cross over Budsunge Bara. Fortunately, no snow remained on the south side of the ridge, and all members and porters passed over the col without any trouble. The camp site was a comfortable place close to the Ghustang Khola. Next morning, when we got out of the tent, the magnificent view of Churen Himal greeted us in the clear blue sky. After about two hours' walk, we passed the Base Camp of Zao Alpine Club of Japan, and we finally reached our Base Camp site close by. It was 8 April, and it had been thirteen days' journey from Pokhara.

The First Period of Climbing Activity (9-16 April)

Taking two days' rest, we set up a kitchen tent and a weather observation box, unpacked our luggage and classified it for west ridge use, east face use and Base Camp use. Although we could not see the lower part of west ridge of Churen Himal from Base Camp, we investigated the ridge and discussed the operation plan. The altitude of Base Camp was 4,100 m. according to our altimeter. On 11 April, thirteen members including Sherpas and some selected local porters headed for the point, where we were going to set up West Camp I. At this place the Zao party had already set up a tent about a week before, heading for Putha Hiunchuli. Eight members went on to the east route up to 4,700 m. height, where East Camp I was to be established. The routes up to West Camp I and East Camp I went on side moraines and glaciers, with no technical difficulty. On 12 April, both West and East Camps I were established. The altitudes of both camps were about 4,700 m. Kano and Ishizuka stayed the first night at West Camp I, and Ideta and Ang Tengri at East Camp I. Next morning, Kano and Ishizuka headed to Camp II of the Zao party and returned back. The route from Camp I passed over a very steep rock face and reached a large snow plateau below the west ridge. The height of Camp II was 5,250 m. From 14 April, Yoshioka, Ang Norbu, Pasang Tenzing, Nima Puter and Gyaltzen started the laborious work to carry up the luggage to this place. The East party proceeded on their schedule steadily. On 13 April, Ideta's party reached the point predetermined to be East Camp II (5,300 m.), and all members of the East party began to carry up loads up to this point. By the end of the first period, all equipment and food necessary for climbing had been collected at West and East Camps I. During this period, all members had gradually acclimatized and returned back to Base Camp on 16 April.

The Second and Third Period (17 April-30 May)

In the beginning of the second phase, we were seriously affected by bad weather. Snow began to fall on the 18th and continued during the whole of the next day, the fresh snow being 50 cm. deep at Base Camp. On 20 April, the weather improved but frequent avalanches roared from both the cliffs of the valley. Next day, the main party members started towards West and East Camps I. The snow was very deep, and it took more than twice the usual time to get to the camps. Next day again, snow began to fall, and it continued until the 22nd morning. It was a pity that on 23 April the Zao party decided to give up their plan to climb Putha Hiunchuli due to the delay in their schedule caused by this heavy snow. From 24 April, we began our climbing activity again. We decided to shift our temporary West Camp II to a place closer to the col on the west ridge, and we established West Camp II at the height of 5,500 m. on 26 April. The next problem for us was to find the route to the west ridge. We investigated carefully the route which was supposed to have been taken by the Italian party in 1969 post- monsoon, but no possible route was found this time. Finally, we decided to take a detour route on an ice ridge which extended from the main ridge of Putha Hiunchuli, in spite of the disadvantages. From the 27th, we started on the route on the ice ridge. The slope of the ridge was about 40 degrees, and ropes were fixed all the way. After six days' work to complete this route, Aruji and Ishizuka reached the west ridge on 2 May, and the first load of 60 kg. was carried up to the west ridge by the other members on the same day.

During this period, the East party gradually extended their route. Three members (Ideta, Watanabe and Kishi) and three Sherpas (Ang Tengri, Pemba Norbu and Dawa Norbu) worked strenuously. East Camp II (5,300 m.) on the 24th and East Camp III (5,700 m.) on 30th were established. The route was the same as the one taken by the Shizuoka University Alpine Club.

Late in the evening of 23 April, Matsuda and Ang Nima arrived at Base Camp unexpectedly. Matsuda's arrival was a big surprise and pleasure to all members. He escaped from Dacca to Karachi on 5 April by plane and arrived at Kathmandu on 8 April. He travelled the same route as ours to Base Camp, but the crossing of Budsunge Bara was really hard due to the heavy fresh snow. Next morning his arrival was immediately communicated to all camps by the transciever. We were now quite happy, as all members could join in our climbing activities. After a day's rest he started for West Camp I.

On 5 May, West Camp III was established on the west ridge at the height of 6,150 m. At Base Camp, we celebrated the Japanese traditional Boy's Festival of 6 Tango', putting up paper carp streamers. From 6 to 9 May, Yoshioka, Ishizuka, Kano and Gyaltzen were engaged in making the route on the west ridge up to the height of 6,500 m. The route was on the knife ridge covered with snow and ice, and fixed ropes were necessary to carry up the loads. No suitable place for Camp IV was found around 6,500 m., so West Camp IV was established on a terrace of snow at the height of 6,350 m., on 16 May. From 8 May, the weather had deteriorated again, and we could not move until the 13th. The fresh snow was 50 cm. deep at West Camp II, and the moist air filled the south side of Churen Himal. The weather recovered on 13 May, but snow fell again the whole of 14 May. This bad weather beat the East party too. Ideta and Ang Tengri set up East Camp V at 6,600 m. on 13 May, but all members including Sherpas were completely exhausted after the long walk of eleven hours in heavy deep snow. Originally they intended to attack the East Peak on 15 or 16 May, but they were forced to come down to lower camps to take rest.

For the west ridge party, the first difficult spot to be overcome is a yellow band which lies between 6,500 m. and 6,650 m. From 16 May, route-making operations were started by Yoshioka and Aruji. The work was very hard, and it took three days to pass over the yellow band, 20 pitons being used on a stretch of 100 m. Now everyone realized that not much time was left before the arrival of the monsoon, although the weather forecast by All India Radio had not announced its onset yet. On 23 May, West Camp V was established at a height of 6,600 m. No flat place was found at this site, and an artificial terrace was made after three hours' work on a snow slope in the middle of the yellow band, and a small red two-man tent was set up. On 24 May, the AIR announced the first special monsoon report that it was moving to the north in a line between Colombo and Rangoon with the speed of one hundred nautical miles. On the same day, Yoshioka and Aruji began the route-making work on the upper part of the yellow band, which was more difficult than the lower part. On 26 May, Ishizuka and Gyaltzen took over route-making and succeeded in passing over the upper yellow band. Further advances on the upper snow ridge were made and the final highest point they arrived at was 6,700 m. according to their altimeter. Next day, the weather became bad again, and the members returned back to West Camp IV. Climbing leader Kano decided on a final time limit of 29 May, considering the monsoon, amount of available food and the members' physical condition. On 28 May, Yoshioka and Aruji at West Camp V, Ishizuka at West Camp IV, Matsuda at West Camp III and Kano at West Camp II waited for the last chance of attack, but the next morning was wet and foggy, and members at West Camps V and IV immediately came down to West Camp III. On 30 May, all members of west party returned.

On 23 May, all members of east party gathered at East Camp III after a week's rest at lower heights. In our original plan the east party was supposed to support the west party who would come down to the east side after the attack of West Peak from west ridge. But now the traverse plan turned out to be unrealistic, and Kano gave the direction to the east party to attack the East Peak alone. On 25 May, Ideta and Kishi entered East Camp V for an attack of the East Peak. After the bad weather of next day, the clear sky appeared on the 27th. They climbed up to the so-called Triangular Peak of 7,000 m. height, but turned back being hampered by very strong wind. On 28 May, they got up at 4 o'clock and left the tent at 6 o'clock. Ideta gave directions to Watanabe and Ang Tengri to come up to East Camp V to support them and to prepare for the second attack the next day. Ideta and Kishi took the same route as the day before. The snow was hard and their crampons caught the snow firmly. At 8 o'clock they arrived at the Triangular Peak. The distance from this point to East Peak was estimated to be about 1,500 m. Passing over five small peaks, they arrived at the starting point of the east ridge. The height of this place was 7,150 m. After twenty minutes climbing, they reached the direct ridge to the East Peak. The view was splendid. Many mountains on the Tibet side stretched up to the horizontal line. The ridge was very thin, and it appeared almost hopeless to get to the summit during the day. The first thirty metres they could hardly walk, but the ridge got thinner, and they could proceed forward only by sitting astride on the snow ridge. The slope became steeper, and they had to cut steps on the Tibetan side. The snow became soft, and it took twenty minutes to advance the next thirty metres. Eight humps were seen from the spot up to the summit of East Peak, and they decided to continue their climbing until the first peak was reached. The final highest point reached was 7,250 m. according to their altimeter. It would be necessary to set up Camp VI, and they decided to give up the next day's attack. On 30 May all members of east party returned safely back to Base Camp.

Now all the members of west and east parties met together for the first time since they had left Japan. Although we could not get at the summit, we were completely satisfied and relaxed after having made ail efforts.

We appreciated very much that Mr. Thapa and all the Sherpas had co-operated with us throughout the expedition period. Ang Norbu is an excellent Sirdar, in climbing and negotiating with the porters. Monsoon clouds already covered Base Camp, and green grass was growing everywhere. We could see the red tent of West Camp V on the west ridge with our binoculars.

Return Journey

On 5 June, we evacuated the Base Camp. The weather was fine, and we paid our final tribute of praise to the splendid view of Churen Himal covered with fresh snow.

During our return, the party was divided into three, the mam party took the same outgoing route. Some members returned to Pokhara via Dhorpatan and Tansen, and others trekked the way through Muri, Tatopani and Sikha. On 15 June, the mam party came back to Pokhara and the other two parties joined them the next day. At Pokhara, we were told that the flight to Kathmandu had been interrupted for more than a week by bad weather, but fortunately it reopened on 16 June, and we were in Kathmandu the next day.

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