KANGCHENJUNGA TRAVERSE, 1984

K. KANO and M. KAJI

IN MAY 1983 a Kangchenjunga committee was formed by volunteers from members of the Japanese Alpine Club. Permission for climbing four peaks of Kangchenjunga i.e. the South, Central, Main and West peaks from the Yalung glacier was obtained without any difficulty. Although South and Central peaks had already been climbed by Polish and Spanish expeditions respectively, the Nepalese Government had treated these peaks as unclimbed because neither the Polish or the Spanish had obtained climbing permits. Therefore the obtaining of a permit was conditional on our expedition being a joint one with Nepal. We finally agreed to accept 3 members from the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

Caravan to Base Camp
The first caravan of 300 porters led by Maruo and Lakpa Tenzing left Hille on 19 February. The second caravan with 300 porters led by Isono and Ang Tsering left Hille 3 days after the first caravan had started. Our progress was assisted by stable weather conditions between late February and early March. Although it was a major task to replace porters in Yangpodin, which is the last village en-route, we crossed the Rastum Pass without too much difficulty. Previous parties had been hampered by snow in the crossing of this pass. Our first caravan arrived in Ramzee, at 4400 m on 4 March. Ramzee is an open grass field which is located at the end of the Yalung glacier. From Ramzee our route was through the glacier. Ramzee was therefore an ideal place for the first stage of our acclimatization to the altitude.

On 7 March, the reconnaissance party led by Shigehiro located the site of the base camp on top of a hill at 5500 m located on the Yalung glacier. It was a three day march from Ramzee to base camp. Although each section was rather short, the route was through unstable moraine which did not provide comfortable camp sites. Fortunately the weather continued to remain stable. Transport to base camp had progressed smoothly using the 130 porters who were mainly from Kathmandu and also included some who had joined from Ghunsa and Yangpodin. It was almost the end of March by the time all of the members had arrived in base camp, and at the same time transport of stores between Ramzee and base camp was completed. Tadano, a hang glider nier, who had been with the final party, joined up with Teramoto, Ang Tsering and 5 high altitude porters in Ramzee at the end of March. Their prime function was to arrange the support for the hang gliding which engaged them in training and also the assembling and test flights of the hang glider in Ramzee. The final party to reach base camp arrived on 3 April.

Photos 1-2
Establishing Advance Base Camp (Ascent to Camp 3)
On 15 March we started towards Camp 1. The route to Camp 1 initially requires climbing through a snow wall on the side of Hump Ridge which can be seen from base camp. This route is steep but short compared to the alternative route which takes one through the ice-wall. Although our route looked unstable because of the especially steep snow wall it was made much easier by the use of fixed ropes and ice-pitons on hard ice. On 17 March the team led by Shigehiro reached Camp 1 (6150 m) on Hump Ridge. Camp 1 was established on 20 March.

From Camp 1, the route descended down to the snowfield which is the upper part of the Yalung glacier. We then climbed through a 1300 m higher snow wall to the Great Shelf. Descent to the glacier was a difficult task for us, as it had been for all previous expeditions which had followed the ridge to a height of 6300 m and climbed down through the steep gully. We, however, climbed to 6200 m from Camp 1 and then followed a rock band at the base of a wall down to the glacier. The glacier in shape resembles the bottom of a pan, there are no hidden crevasses and no technical difficulties involved in walking through it. The heat was intolerable when the weather was fine. On 23 March, we reached Camp 2 (6650 m) which was located half way up the large snow wall between the glacier and the Great Shelf. There were some problems on this camp site due to the danger of avalanches. Both climbers and high altitude porters had difficulty in reaching Camp 2 due to the long distance from Camp 1. There was however no alternative to this route through the wall.

On 26 March we started route-making through the upper half of the wall towards the Great Shelf. Although the snowfall increased in the afternoon, the weather was still stable. There was not a single day on which we were unable to climb until 9 April. It was however severely cold and dry and this caused most of the members and high altitude porters to suffer from throat and chest complaints. On 29 March, Shigehiro, Wada and Mitani who did most of the route opening above base camp reached the Great Shelf and completed the route to Camp 3. They then went down to Ramzee for a rest period of one week. Other members who were engaged in a carry to Camp 3 and who had become well acclimatized also went down to Ramzee.

Camp 3 was the most important camp as the advance base camp for our high altitude activities. We had planned to split our team at Camp 3 into 4 groups heading for the South, Central, Main and West peaks. Since the size of the camp was large and the period of stay there longer, it was imperative that great care should be taken in choosing of the camp site. After great consideration given to both avalanches and wind, Camp 3 was established on a snowfield just below the Great Shelf at 7200 m. (Photo 1)
Most of the younger members and high altitude porters because of their inexperience were not well acclimatized at this stage. Thus route making and porterage was the responsibility of experienced members and high altitude porters. During the period when these members and porters were away resting there was very slow progrtss.

Route-making and Hang Gliding
On 10 April it snowed heavily, for the first time since base camp was established. Due to the very real danger of avalanches members at Camp 2 had to descend to Camp 1. Camp 3 was finally established on 13 April. It had taken us 2 weeks to establish Camp 3 since the initial rdute was made there. Any savings in time from the early establishment of base camp had therefore now been utilised.

On 14 April the climbing above Camp 3 was started. The route for South Peak crossed the snowfield of the Great Shelf to the south of Camp 3. The couloir which runs up the west side of the South Peak was then climbed before climbing through the snow-terraces. The couloir and terraces accounted for 1000 m of climbing on the west wall of the South Peak. We were almost following the route of the Polish expedition1 in 1978 which made the first ascent of the South Peak. The South Peak team Shigehiro, Wada, Mitani and Nima Temba had worked everyday till 18 April and reached the site of S4 (Camp 4 on the South Peak route) at 7800 m and thereafter returned to base camp for rest. The Central Peak team commenced route-making through the snow-gully between Central and Main peaks on 15 April. Gashu, Sasaki, Kataoka, N. Otani and Nawang Yonden reached the site of Camp 4 on the Central Peak route at 7800 m.

The route-making to South Peak from S4 was started from 20 April. The gangway was followed which is located above the rock wall on the so-called Sickle, (because of its shape) toward the col between West and Main peaks. This is the route which was taken by the British expedition2 in 1955 which accomplished the first ascent of Kangchenjunga. The proposed site M4 (Camp 4 on Main Peak route) was just below the shaft of the Sickle at 7800 m. It was not too much of a problem to reach M4 from the Great Shelf. In the beginning we followed the Central Peak route in order to conserve our ropes and then crossed the snow-gully towards the M4 site. However, crossing the snow-gully was made dangerous by stone-falls. We therefore altered the route to climb direct towards the shaft of the {Sickle from the Great Shelf. Matsuzawa, Teramoto, Hirano, Isono, R. Otani, Kitamura, Yamamoto and Ang Tsering reached M4 on 25 April.

1.H.J. Vol. 36, p. 6.

2.H.J. Vol. XIX, p. 33.--Ed.

After mid-April the weather showed a clear pattern of springlike periodical changes. We had forecast our weather using a facsimile from the end of March. Troughs and crests of atmospheric pressure appeared clearly on it and we were able to ascertain to a certain extent, the relation between the actual weather and our facsimile weather charts. The weather had been generally good. We were however forced to stop all activities on 22 and 23 April due to snowfalls which occurred for the second time since we had established base camp. On 26 April ferrys to camps JS4, C4 and M4 were started. Load-carrying between 7200 and 7850 m without using oxygen was the most difficult physical task so far encountered during this expedition. Only half of the high altitude porters were reliable above Camp 3. There were many members who could not reach Camp 4 and left their loads on the way, returning to Camp 3.

On 29 April S4 was established at 7800 m. It had been expected that the route to South Peak would be the most difficult one and take a much longer time to reach the summit than any of the other routes. Yamamoto and Dawa Norbu joined the South Peak team and started the route-making above S4 on 30 April. On 7 May they managed to climb the rock wall located at about 8200 m which was the most difficult section on the route. They reached a snow-terrace and were now able to secure a route to S5 and bring us within reach of the summit.

C4 was established on 1 May two days after S4 had been established. The Central Peak team assisted by Pasang Tsering and Indre made easy work of the altitude and reached C5 site on 4 May which was located just below the col running between Central and Main peaks.

M4 was established on 5 May. This delay was mainly due to the high altitude porters on the Main Peak route who were busy carrying the hang glider from base camp. However, the route making progressed smoothly and on 7 May, Matsuzawa, Isono and R. Otani reached M5 at 8250 m.

The weather which should have been stable since the end of April had started to deteriorate from 8 May. On 9 May, Camp 2 was caught by a surface avalanche and all the tents w.ere buried under the snow. 7 members and high altitude porters escaped unhurt. However after this incident we decided to use Camp 2 only as a depot and take loads from Camp 2 by descending from Camp 3.

On 11 May as the weather improved, Tadano, the hang glider pilot, climbed up to M4 with Teramoto, Kitamura, Ang Tsering and Nakamura. The original plan was to fly from a point exceeding 8000 m. However after considering the difficulty of transporting and assembling the hang glider at this altitude along with the take off and weather conditions it was decided not to proceed past M4 with the hang glider. The morning of 12 May was fine and there was no wind. Consequently Tadano took off from M4 at 7100 III and landed safely on the Yalung glacier at 5100 m after a II minute flight. This flight made by Tadano, therefore set a reeord for hang gliding.

Traverse of South and Central Peaks and Ascent of Main Peak
Following the completion of hang gliding, we were now able to concentrate on the traverse. It was already more than 2 months since we had started climbing. It was obvious that members were feeling the physical fatigue. Although we had some time until the monsoon we observed clouds accumulating through the valley and becoming thicker earlier in the day. Assessing our food and fuel stores we decided that we could only climb for one more week.

The Central Peak route was strategical and the team had to await the traverse party coming from the South Peak and then had to start the Main Peak climb. We realised that the Central Peak team led by Gashu was tired. On completion of the hang gliding on 14 May, Isono and R. Otani joined the Central Peak team. However on the same day, Gashu and Sasaki were caught by an avalanche on the way to C5 and lost their climbing gear, forcing them to descend. Teramoto and Kitamura were then sent to the Central Peak team.

On 16 May the long awaited C5 was established by Isono, R. Otani and Nawang Yonden. Shigehiro and 6 other climbers carried loads to S5 on this day.

On 17 May, Isono, R. Otani and Nawang Yonden started from C5 at 8a.m. for the summit of Central Peak. The purpose was twofold; a. to secure the descent route from Central Peak for the traverse party and b. the reconnaissance of the route from South Peak to Main Peak. Thus their duty was to support the traverse party rather than scaling the summit of Central Peak. The route they took was almost the same which the Spanish climbed for the first ascent of Central Peak. From C5 they climbed up towards the right through intermittent snow-bands. They fixed ropes for a total of 8 pitches and also left marking flags; Although it was fine in the morning the weather deteriorated in the afternoon. (Photo 2) They however continued to climb and reached the summit ridge at 2 p.m. They reached the highest point of Central Peak at 3.40 p.m. which is the second peak from the south. Isono observed the conditions on the ridges of South Peak and Main Peak. This report had a major influence on the activities of the traverse party at a later stage. On the same day, Shigehiro, Wada, Mitani and Nima Temba receiving support from 3 high altitude porters managed to reach j55 which was situated on a snow-traverse at 8300 m. Wada and Mitani made a route upto just below the summit of South Peak. Meanwhile on Main Peak route, Matsuzawa, Tamamoto, Ozaki and Ang Tsering reached M4 along with with 4 high altitude porters.

Kangchenjunga Traverse

Kangchenjunga Traverse





Camp 3 (7200 m) on Kangchenjunga. Article 2

Camp 3 (7200 m) on Kangchenjunga. Article 2



Approaching the Central summit of kangchenjunga. Article 2

Approaching the Central summit of kangchenjunga. Article 2



Now the support infrastructure for the final assault was almost complete. We were however concerned in respect of Nawang Yonden's snow-blindness which he had suffered after he scaled the summit of Central Peak. This problem made it impossible for the Isono party to reconnoitre the ridge to Main Peak from C5. Also Teramoto and Kitanura along with 2 high altitude porters were busy with ferrys to C5, and could not actually remain at C5. On 18 May, although the weather was fine, it was particularly Windy and severely cold. During the preparations for the final assault at S5 the party was surprised to find that two of the 4 oxygen Cylinders had only 100 and 40 atmospheres respectively. They should have had 270 atmospheres. Since S5 had been established IJIfc the minimum supplies there were no spare oxygen cylinders there. Nima Temba was supposed to return from South Peak, howevere one out of the 3 members of the traverse party had to be prepared for Climbing without oxygen from the half-way stage. The 4 members of the final assault party left S5 before 7 a.m. and reached the peak at 8.30 a.m. Nima Temba safely returned to Camp 3 via 35 and S4 on the same day. Shigehiro and 2 other members started to descend from South Peak without spending much time on the summit. The ridge between South and Central Peaks was not mapped and it consequently took 2 hours for them, including abseiling, to reach the col at 11.00 a.m. The ridge was a mixture of rocks and snow and the oxygen cylinder which Shigehiro was carrying was already empty. There was therefore no possibility that they would be able to return to South Peak, and the only alternative was to advance to Central Peak.

Just above the col, there was a steep rock wall, which accounted for a major portion of the route to be taken. At first Mitani tried on the Sikkim (east) side to bypass the wall but failed. Then Wada tackled a corner on the wall. Almost 2 hours were spent on this one corner pitch. After climbing through the wall they followed the unstable snow ridge and reached the summit ridge at 3.00 p.m. They were suffering from severe exposure, particularly Shigehiro, who had no oxygen. They finally all managed to complete the critical portion of the first half of the traverse. The party of 3 had reached the summit of Central Peak at 4.30 p.m. where they found red flags left by the Isono party on the previous day. They followed the red flags and fixed ropes and arrived at C5 after 7.00 p.m. Just before sunset. On this day, Isono, R. Otani and Nawang Yonden descended to Camp 3, after they confirmed that the Shigehiro party had reached the summit ridge. On the Main Peak route, Ozaki and Ang Tsering reached M5 with the aim of receiving the traverse party at the top of Main Peak and also to secure the descent route from Main Peak. After they arrived at M5 they fixed ropes for 5 pitches to 8400 m. Matsuzawa and Yamamoto together with 4 high altitude porters supported the establishment of M5. On the evening of 18 May, 3 members of the traverse party and 2 support members discussed the team formation and routes for the following day. It was decided that Teramoto would replace Shigehiro who had climbed without oxygen during the day and consequently needed rest. The ridge between Central and Main Peaks is primarily a rock ridge and looked technically challenging. Since there was little time for route-making on the ridge it would not be possible to climb the ridge in a short time. We therefore had to give up the idea to traverse the ridge but take one of the snow-gullies which lead to Main Peak.

On 19 May, the weather was much better than the previous day. Wada, Mitani and Teramoto left C5 at 7.30 a.m. to head for the gully on the west side of Main Peak. However being overpowered by the scale of the mountain they made a mistake in their route-finding and wasted some time. Finally on instructions from Kano and Shigehiro, they changed their plans to descend to C4 and attempted Main Peak from M5. They therefore descended to C4 and climbed to M5 via M4. Teramoto was not fit and was unable to reach M5 by the evening. He descended to M4 escorted by Yamamoto. Yamamoto then climbed to M5 with the purpose of route-making to the West Peak accompanied by Matsuzawa.

Ozaki and Ang Tsering left M5 at 8 a.m. and reached the summit before 1 p.m. and thereafter returned to Camp 3. Their action was rather unsatisfactory as the support party, however we had atleast scaled 3 peaks of Kangchenjunga. As a result the only support member staying at M5 on this particular day was Matsuzawa. This therefore resulted in the fact that it was impossible for us to do any route-making on West Peak for the traverse party.

On 20 May, Wada and Mitani left M5 at 8.00 a.m. for Main Peak. The weather was still fine with less wind. They followed the fixed ropes left by the Ozaki party on the previous day and reached the summit at 20 minutes past noon. We congratulated Wada and Mitani for scaling 3 peaks. It also meant that this summit was the final one to be scaled and not just a stage in the traverse to West Peak. At this point we felt a great relief in the knowledge that the prolonged activities to accomplish the scaling of the peaks was now over, and that the strain and tension would be reduced. During their ascent to Main Peak, Wada and Mitani looked back many times and observed the ridge running to West Peak. It was obvious that they could not reach West Peak within one day, without support and without an open route. They had already been 4 days at an altitude above 8000 m and had spent 3 nights above 8200 m. They still stayed however a 4th night at M5. Yamamoto climbed back to M5 on this day and R. Otani came to M4. Kano had now decided that there were definitely to be no further assaults. Through a radio communication broadcast at 6 p.m. he announced the termination of climbing and the withdrawal on 21 May.

Return to Kathmandu
On 22 May, all members and high altitude porters came off the mountain and returned to base camp. This was our 69th day out as from 15 March when we had started the route-making to Camp 1. There was little food or fuel remaining. Some of our members had already descended to Ramzee to arrange porters for the return caravan. The monsoon was imminent and it was particularly difficult to gather porters since it was their season for doing farm work. We therefore had to divide our caravan into separate parties. On 24 May the first caravan set out from Ramzee. During the early morning of 26 May one of the porters died at base camp. Although the exact reason was not known since all of our doctors were in Ramzee, we suspect the reason was due to acute heart failure. Although one cannot prevent these occurrences it nevertheless is a sad incident since we had managed all of our climbing activities without any major mishap. We split the caravan into 4 parties in Yampodin and took a different route from the walk-in route, heading for Ham. Due to the heavy rains and shortage of porters the last party was delayed. On 17 June all members and their loads finally returned to Kathmandu.

Leader: K. Kano. Deputy leaders: T. Shigehiro, R. Hirano, J. Matsuzawa. Hang-leader: N. Tadano. With 21 members, 2 managers, 5 scientists, 10 press-reporters and 70 high altitude porters.