THE pointed summit of Makalu was bathed in the morning sunshine. A lens-shaped cloud was in the sky - a beautiful Himalayan dawn like picture.
We ail with unshaven faces, got out of the tent of Camp III (6,850 m.) and made preparation for climbing. "Let's go." We left the Sherpas alone in the tent. To the summit of Lhotse (8,511 metres) we began route finding - a hard every-day task.
It was a month since we had given up the direct climb of the South Wall and rechallenged the South-west ridge route. We passed over the steep, knife-edged ridge and the many huge ice- blocks like tall buildings. Snow avalanches, falling stones and crevasses menaced us with death but now we had got to the altitude of 7,000 meters.
In the day time when the weather was good it was very comfortable. The sun shone heavily on ice and snow and made us sweat. Though the air was very thin, some of us searched for a route and others did a carry.
We managed to stand on small stances, and on both sides the ridges led one thousand meters down to the glacier.
But that was the easy part of the experiences that we had in the Himalaya. The weather began to deteriorate when we saw a lens-shaped cloud cover the top of Makalu. From the glacier below black clouds like giant-devils arose and soon filled the valley. The mist did everything. Nothing could be seen. The mercury stood at nearly - 10° C. The wind roared and shook the mountain.
This morning it was fine but before noon the dense fog arose and soon strong wind began to blow. At last it snowed heavily. But at night we saw the stars in the heavens.
In those altitudes, headache, earache and tiredness kept us from climbing up at all times.
When we were on the snow slope, I decided to abandon the attempt on Lhotse. Because there were many hidden crevasses these and the snow did not consolidate. We did not succeed in passing over the slope in spite of our struggles. It was an altitude of 7,300 meters.
The road to Lhotse began in Kathmandu. When we left Japan on 10 February in 1973, it was a very cold day in winter. But in Bangkok where we stayed one night, it was sultry. The next morning we reached Kathmandu via Calcutta. Fresh wind welcomed us when we got out of the airplane. This city has an altitude of 1,300 meters. It was as if we were in autumn of Japan.
During a week's stay in Kathmandu, we prepared for the start to the mountain. We paid 8,000 rupees to the Government of Nepal as royalty for our expedition and got our expedition permit. We also employed Sherpas and porters. In the yard of Hotel Lali Guras we divided the baggages which had been transported from Japan. We had these pieces carried to Lukla by air.
On 22 February we started for Namche. Our chartered bus travelled on the "Chinese Road". You can go to Lhasa in Tibet by this asphalted road.
About three hours later, we got to Lamosangu. It was a village of some twenty houses, surrounded by the green wheat field. It was about 130 kilometers from here to the mountains. And we had six big passes and five valleys to cross over. It would take about 18 days on the caravan. This was the main street to Everest and Lhotse.
After leaving Lamosangu, it was not long before we went across the suspension bridge of Bhote Kosi. After crossing the bridge and walking down the dry river bed of the opposite bank, I found Sherpas pitching their tent. They said they were going to sleep there. In the sky the sun was shining brightly and they could go on walking for more hours. But I gave up, remembering "when in Rome do as the Romans do."
At five in the morning the kitchen-boy called at our tent. "Good morning, sir." He served us the morning tea. English expeditions have trained them to do that, I hear.
After breakfast, we started and went up a steep mountain path to Pakha (1850 m.). One of the Sherpas told me that this "Main Street" to Mt. Everest is a way with "Tara, Tara, Tara and Matie, Matie." "Tara" meant "going down" and "Matie" "going up." We had to pass over many ups and downs to get to the foot of Lhotse.
This "street" seemed to be hard even for Himalayans. Every three hours porters dropped in "Batty", a kind of tea shop and bought a cup of milk tea (25 paisas) or "Chhang" (50 paisas). Chhang, a kind of unrefined alcohol, was made from rice, corn, millet or barn millet. But Chhang made from rice tasted best. We camped in the school ground, in the premises of temples, in the dry river bed or in the field.
We stayed in Namche for three days, during which time we bought bamboos for guideposts and logs for building bridges.
After that we went trekking to Gokyo in order to acclimatize ourselves. With us were five Sherpas and twenty porters.
When we came up to a hill from Namche, Lhotse was before us, rising into the sky. We looked at the our route, the South Wall, without a word. On the left was Mt. Everest, and before it was Ama Dab lam as an avant-garde. Kangtega and Tamserku were seen in their beautiful forms, glittering in the sunset. It took four days from Namche to walk to the Base Camp on the Lhotse glacier.
We crossed over the wooden bridge of Imja Khola. The road branched off into two. The left was to Mt. Everest and the right was to Lhotse, our destination.
When we got to the Lhotse glacier, it was as if we were on the moon. Rugged rocks, ice blocks and small ponds like creaters of the moon were all found there. I set our Base Camp at the bottom of the west side of the glacier. It had the altitude of 5300 m. The great Wall, over 3,000 meters long, towered before our eyes.
I wake up at the calling voice of the kitchen boy. Getting out of the tent, I looked up at the South Wall of Lhotse. It was still in the darkness. But the summit was red in the morning sun. On this glacier everything was still. And the glacier seemed as if it had been sleeping for thousands of years, not seen by human eyes. As soon as the South Wall got the morning sunshine it began to hove like a living thing. One after another, snow avalanches were seen to fail down slowly like a white lace-worked curtain. All these constant snowslides stopped our South Wall route plan.
According to our experience in the Japanese mountains, avalanches were apt to occur in the afternoon. But here on the South Wall of Lhotse, not only in the afternoon but in the morning they rushed down from the upper slopes without causing any sound, like a slow-motion picture. They came down as wide as waterfalls and crashed at the big overhung rock, spreading out like white fireworks.
Even at night when no wind blew, avalanches did not stop and prevented us from falling to sleep. We started climbing at last. One pair went down to the glacier to look for a possible route. The other pair climbed the mountain on the west side in order to find out where avalanches did not occur, and possible sites for higher camps.
Our first plan was to climb the straight ridge which stretched halfway up the mountain and to reach the summit through the Wall and the steep ridge on the right side. Both pairs told me l hat it was impossible. At the lower part of the South Wall there were constant avalanches from the upper part. The route turned out to be a place showered by avalanches. They also reported that with the avalanches a lot of stones were also falling. I announced my decision to abandon the attempt of this "directis- sima" route.
My next plan was to reach the summit through the west ridge. Of course the route was possible through the south-west ridge which was tried by the Waseda University Expedition, the Austrian Expedition and the Korean Expedition when they made an attempt on Lhotse Shar. I did not want to follow them. My ambition was through a new route. It was worth trying to climb for no other expedition had tried it yet.
In changing our plan I asked Mr. Kusu Ukyab, liaison officer, if we would be able to get the permission to climb Lhotse through the west ridge. His answer was positive if only we readier the west ridge through the south ridge. He understood that the new plan was within the permission of climbing the South Wall.
Of course our new route was as difficult as the abandoned plan. We were going to climb the steep south ridge and to get to the west ridge at the altitude of 7780 m. From there we would have to pass over some more peaks and cols to the summit of Lhotse. It would be a long and hard climbing. So if we got to the west ridge, we would have to be content with it.
The Camp I was set at the altitude of 5800 m. To Camp I we went up through a steep slope. Then we climbed up an iced precipice. It was about thirty meters high. Going up through another frozen steep slope I managed to get to Camp I. The site was flat and ten meters square. The weather was unsettled on the first day when we did a carry. We didn't see any cloud in the early morning, but the cloud rose in the valley and covered our route in the afternoon. The strong wind roared around us.
Two days were enough for us to finish carrying all the baggages to the Camp I. They weighed about five hundred kilograms. We went down to the Base Camp, leaving Hiroshima and Sunagawa who were going to find a route to Camp II. The heavy mist changed into a snowstorm. The thermometer showed -10° C. The snowstorm blew our newly-built tent. But we had a quiet night. The stars seemed to be larger at this altitude.
Our route to the Camp II was through a snow ridge and snow precipice. Then passing under the large blocks of snow we got to the first rock peak which had the altitude of 6000 m. It was two hundred meters higher than the Camp I. We climbed up the small peak using Jumar. It had an inclination of 70 degrees and one hundred meters high. The little rocks were easy to displace. They were three centimeters to five centimeters thick, lying one after another. We set up ten-meter-long rope ladder at one point.
At the second small peak we climbed up the left snow ridge. The ridge was 150 m. high. We traversed the rock precipice to the right. The third rock peak was fifty meters high. The long snow- ridge stretching from the Lhotse glacier met the peak. After the third peak we went up the ridge and iced precipice. At the altitude of 6400 m. we set up Camp II on a flat area. It took thirteen days. Thirty-two were the total number of persons required for the work. We succeed in setting the Camp on 17 April.
We found it easy to climb up to the Camp III. But doing a carry was a hard work. We could carry only a twenty-kilogram- baggage. First we went up a snow dome and then a ridge. Climbing up two steep stretches thirty meters high, we build a bridge with logs across a three-meter-wide crevasse. We went on under a huge snow block and along a ridge which overlooked the Lhotse glacier. We set the Camp III on another snow dome, at the altitude of 6850 m. on 2 May. It took us fifteen days to set up this Camp. But the west ridge was not far off.
We could not make the route to Camp IV successfully because of the changeable weather. At the altitude which we reached the day before, the heavy mist covered us and interrupted our climbing for we could not see anything through the mist. We gave up on that day. The next day we left the Camp with a new hope. But at the same altitude the mist covered us all. Day after day we repeated the same thing. Moreover the snowfall began even in the morning. It had usually snowed in the afternoon. I thought the monsoon season was getting near. We would have advanced our route one hundred meters higher on a day in a good weather. But at this altitude, on the snow slope with hidden crevices, we closely caught the sight of the west ridge. There was only a rocky wall between the west ridge and our position.
Being afraid of the coming of the monsoon, I announced my decision to abandan the attempt.
On 8 May, our three members reached the point which had the altitude of 7300 m. That was the highest altitude our expedition team reached.
My experience had increased from this climb, but at the same time I knew our team's weaknesses, mountaineering techniques, equipment, food, acclimatization, building of high-altitude camp etc. My next plan is this. I need fifteen members and thirty Sherpas and lots of oxygen. We shall be able to traverse the long ridge at 8,000 m. altitude to Lhotse, if backed up by all the climbers of Kanagawa Prefecture.
Our small plane flew off from Lukla airport to Kathmandu. When I turned to look at the mountains, they were now in the rainsy dark clouds of the monsoon.
(Photo: R. Uchida) Ascending Lhotse between Camps II and III