First Attempt

IN 1991-1992 WINTER, we tried tenaciously to climb Sagarmatha by the Southwest Face for 71 days, but could only reach the 8350 m line, the highest point reached in the middle of December. It was impossible for us to climb another step inspite of reaching the final camp three times. Violent winds and other problems made it more difficult for us to attain our goal. Our energy was depleted due to delays at high altitudes. Our morale and fighting powers were low because of long climbing under the worst conditions like violent wind and intense cold. In February nobody acknowledged our defeat openly, but I felt all the members were deeply depressed by the defeat.

It was impossible for us to climb any further because not only the members but the Sherpas also were exhausted due to the long stints of difficult climbing. Certainly, it meant complete defeat.

We returned to Japan mentally distressed because the unfinished assignment weighed heavily in our hearts.

We were doubtful we would get the chance to challenge Everest again. We only hoped to collect enough money to return.

But our desires were realized earlier than expected. On 23 March in 1993, when we visited Setsuo Makiuchi, President of The Sports Nippon Newspapers Tokyo Office, to give our climbing report and to pay our respects to Hikaru Hoshino, President of the Gunma Mountaineering Association, Setsuo Makiuchi promised to support us again. We were deeply touched to hear that. Thus in less than one month of returning to Japan dejected, we were given hope again.

Reflections on our Last Expedition

It was a great pleasure to get another chance, but on the other hand we felt a heavy mental pressure for the second time. We felt uncomfortable because this time we were in a 'no fail' situation with no excuses possible like last time.

There are some points of difference between winter and other seasons like spring and autumn in the Himalaya. One of them is the extremely violent wind called the 'jet stream' and another is — 50°C temperatures, and the fact that the days are shorter in winter.

Of these problems, the extreme cold does not keep us away from action because we can put up with it due to adequate protection.

The biggest problem is the wind. We realized the last time that we were powerless once the jet stream began to rage.

Last time, our climbing schedule lasted 71 days but most of the time we did nothing but wait for the violent wind to stop. From my last experience, calm days like in early December did not hold. The wind stopped for only two or three days and raged again. So we were forced to climb down the next day in spite of our moving to the upper camp with much trouble.

We knew from experience that we should attack and scale the summit by the Southwest Face in winter before the winter storms, or else it would be very difficult. We expected, optimistically, to have good weather again for a longer duration than the last time.

However it was not certain when the winter storms begin. It was said vaguely that they begin around Christmas day, but it could not be predicted with any accuracy.

For this reason, we planned basic tactics of speedy climbing in order to settle and scale the summit by 15 December.

It seemed quite an extreme basic plan to scale the highest peak in the world, 8848 m high, in 15 days.

Incidentally, it took 33 days even for the British Everest expedition led by Chris Bonington which had made the first ascent by the same Southwest Face in autumn 1975. That was the shortest time taken by any expedition on any route to Sagarmatha. Though it sounded crazy we would try to climb in less than half the number of days. But our only chance of success was our plan of 'speedy movement' based on our last experience. In our opinion, it was possible to scale faster in winter, though people were sceptical about another winter attempt.

We found on our last experience that we could climb about 50 pitches (1 pitch = 50 m) along ice or snow walls from the bergschrund near the foot of the Southwest Face to the Rock Band, one of the most difficult points. We did not have to climb slab, like in spring, no danger of avalanches like in autumn, and not so many stone falls. So, it seemed that the condition of the face was best in winter. Due to the good condition of the face, on the last expedition we took only 16 days from the base camp to 8300 m line, above the Rock Band.

Hence, we were confident of our tactics of 'speedy movement'. The only hurdle then was how to build up our constitutions to prepare for a sustained burst of climbing.

The first time we had scaled Kangchenjunga (8586 m) the 3rd highest peak in the world, in spring 1991 as pre-expedition training for the Everest Southwest Face in winter. But it had little effect on acclimatisation due to the long time lapse of six months between the main object and the training. So this time, we planned to scale Cho Oyu (8201 m) as pre-expedition training just before climbing the Everest.

Some people expressed their misgivings about our plan. It made us also wonder whether we would get more fatigued than acclimatized climbing an 8000 m peak just before the main object. However, we had one inspiring good precedent. The Kamoshika Dojin team which had scaled Everest 10 years ago after scaling Lhotse (8516 m), in winter 1983-84. Following their example we started for Tibet in autumn.

Pre-expedition Training on Cho Oyu

Our team was divided into three and we entered from Kathmandu in Nepal into Tibet through the Kodari highway. We drove through the China-Nepal Friendship Way from Zhangmu, a town on the border, to Tingri. From there, we continued our drive to the Chinese base camp, roadhead, through a desolate wilderness.

Meeting at the Chinese base camp (4750 m) from between the 14 and 29 of September, the three teams trained for acclimatization to the height of 5400 m.

We went up by turn to the base camp for acclimatization. We took two days to move to base camp because a temporary camp was established on the way in order to get acclimatised to the high altitude.

However, Tanabe and Ezuka, the third team, who had scaled Broad Peak (8047 m) in Pakistan last summer went up to base camp directly. It may be said that a pre-expedition is quite effective because it is possible to go up from Kathmandu, 1340 m high, to base camp, 5650 m high, directly in only three days.

Nawang Yonden, the Sirdar, 6 high altitude porters (Sherpas), and 3 cooks accompanied us from Nepal.

Many expedition teams gathered at base camp from all over the world because it is said that Cho Oyu, the 6th highest mountain in the world, is one of the most popular 8000 m peaks.

Sherpas carried up our luggage while members gathered at base camp. So, Camp 1, 6400m, was established on 25 September and Camp 2, 7000 m, was established on the 27th.

After that, we completed the arrangement for climbing the summit after establishing Camp 3, 7600 m, on 4 October.

At 9.56 a.m. on 8 October, Ogata, Nazuka, Sato, Goto, Hoshino and Akiyama were the first team to scale the summit. On 11 October, Tanabe and Ezuka, summitters of Broad Peak, scaled it with Pasang Tshering as the second team. At 9.50 a.m. on the same day, Lopsang Sangbu also scaled it directly from Camp 2.

The third team, Yagihara, Miyazaki, (Mrs.) Yoshida and Terada, accompanied by Nawang Syakya and Dawa Tshering scaled it on 12 October. Nima Dorje and Mingma Norbu also scaled it directly from Camp 2 at 10.30 a.m. on the same day.

In all, 18 persons, all 12 members and 6 Sherpas, scaled the summit.

We took oxygen for climbing Cho Oyu to avoid any fatigue. We had decided to try it on the pre-Everest expedition because we would be taking oxygen at heights exceeding 7600 m on Sagarmatha for both sleeping and climbing.

Due to speedy movement and climbing with oxygen, we could finish the pre-Everest expedition and apparently recover from our fatigue in a short while. The result would be seen on the main expedition; how acclimatised we could get during this short pre-Everest expedition climb and how much rest we could take during an interval of three weeks before Sagarmatha. The greatest benefit was to the young members who felt a sense of self-assurance having climbed Cho Oyu (8201m).

Complete Relaxation before the main Expedition

Early in the morning on 17 October, we returned to Kathmandu. Between 17 and 24 October, we checked the equipment and gear used on Cho Oyu and packed for Sagarmatha.

After the work was done, we left for western Nepal by reserved deluxe coach on 25 October when the Dusshera festival started.

We discussed the optimal mode of rest after the pre-Everest expedition. The Kamoshika Dojin Team in 1983 had stayed at Hotel Everest View situated near Syangboche, (3770 m) about 3 weeks after scaling Lhotse, and had returned to the base camp of Everest again. There was another idea that we could rest better at Pokhara or Terai, (200 m above sea level), than at Kathmandu because of the short rest period. Considering everything, we chose western Nepal, which is unusual and not frequently visited.

During one week from 25 to 31 October, we passed through the suspension bridge just built over the Karnali river and saw the Kumaon and Garhwal mountain ranges in India from a great distance. The Api-Nampa range also could be seen from Baitadi, the end of western Nepal.

We enjoyed an elephant safari and rafting by canoe at Chitwan National Park on our return.

After staying at Terai for about one week, we returned to Kathmandu, and started to send our luggage for the Everest expedition.

Again for Sagarmatha

His Majesty's Government of Nepal provided and enforced a new mountaineering regulation from autumn 1993. Two of the problems after revision were the exorbitant price hike for royalty and the restriction on the number of members in an expedition team.

Though the exorbitant royalty only made it difficult to raise funds for the expedition, the restriction on the number of members was the biggest problem. It was impossible to increase the number of members in any way. So we could not help but climb with only seven members.

The total weight of our luggage was about 12 tons. All dangerous luggage like LPG gas cylinders was carried by air from Kathmandu to Lukla, or carried by truck to Jiri and carried by local porters from Jiri to Lukla.

All the luggage was gathered at Lukla and was carried to Namche Bazar on the shoulders of local porters and deposited at Lakpa Tenzing's house in Namche Bazar.

At last we started for the mountain after finishing our preparations in Kathmandu.

On 9 November, Sato and Goto flew to Syangboche by regular flight a little before us. On the 10th, Yagihara, Sumiyoshi, Ogata, Nazuka, Tanabe, Ezuka and Hoshino flew in from Kathmandu. On that day the first team started from Namche Bazar for our base camp. Animals like the yak and dzo, bred for carrying, were used to carry our luggage to base camp.

As soon as we reached Namche Bazar, we used the 'pulse oxymeter' by which we can measure the percentage of haemoglobin combined with oxygen in the arterial blood. It is a convenient machine that functions only by clipping the finger tip to a sensor. It shows clearly the level of acclimatization at high altitudes as a numerical value.

I had no anxiety because all the members showed 90-92% levels. It had showed 98% in Tokyo. It seemed to us that acclimatization for high altitude gained on the Cho Oyu expedition still remained with us.

Tramp through the Foot of Mountains

On 12 November, after resting one day in Namche Bazar, we started our approach march accompanied with yaks as the second team. The approach march through the mountainside was unchanged compared with two years ago. We had a bird's eye view of Dudh Kosi valley and tramped through with yaks, before and behind.

We had lunch at a small tea shop called Batti situated on the foot of the long slope on the way to Syangboche. Then we went up the long slope to the temple with sweat on our faces.

The next morning, we were allowed to enter the main hall of the temple in order to perform a puja, a prayer for safety.

Thyangboche temple had burnt down due to a short circuit in 1989 and was rebuilt by the funds collected from all over the world under the auspices of Sir Edmund .Hillary and others. Two years ago when I visited the area it had been rebuilt only from outside, but it was nearing completion this time.

The next day, base camp was established by Akiyama and others, the first team to reach there.

On the next day, the 24th, we shifted from Pheriche to Lobuche. We stayed at Lobuche for 6 days in order to acclimatize to the high altitude. It was our plan that Camp 2 should be established at the same time on 1 December when winter expeditions are allowed to act.

We were a little anxious about our plan; to go up 1100 m and to stay overnight at 6500 m on the first climbing day. We thought that we should be accustomed to staying overnight as high as possible, so we decided to train on Pokalde peak (5806 m).

We established Camp 2, (5770m), just under the summit of Pokalde peak after crossing Khumbu glacier from Lobuche, going over the Kongma la, (5535 m), establishing Camp 1, (5460 m), near a glacier lake. We tried to stay two nights at Camp 2 in order to acclimatize. We were quite confident because the result of pulse oxymeter showed 80% at 5800 m.vWe completed our acclimatization training on Pokalde peak and returned to Lobuche, and then started for our base camp.

On the 21st, we started for our base camp under a sky covered with cirrus clouds.

We reached Gorak Shep after crossing over the junction of Changri Nup glacier through heaps of huge boulders. After resting at Gorak Shep, we went up the glacier.

Soon after going up, we found a Canadian trekker running about in confusion due to a mistake about the route. It is quite hard to find the route on that glacier, so you had better go up looking for yak droppings as markers. We heard that a good many trekkers do not reach base camp due to losing their way.

I remembered our trip of two years ago because we hardly found any change at base camp. The rest of the members reached base camp in two days and almost all the luggage was also gathered there.

After reaching base camp, the first team started route making in the icefall from the 16th to 19th. The last time we made a route through the icefall with two Korean expedition teams one of which tried the normal route and the other the south ridge and this halved the equipment and gear needed for route making.

This time, however, we had to prepare the route all by ourselves because we were the only team. 60 ladders and about 3000 m of fixed rope were prepared for route making in the icefall and Sherpas made the route as the last time. We decided to cross over the icefall only once due to its difficulties and dangers, and go down to Camp 1 often as training for acclimatisation, like last time.

After opening the route in the icefall, from the next day we started ferrying loads from base camp to Camp 1, the 25th. On the same day, we discussed with the Sirdar about the organisation of Sherpas. As the actual climbing members were only 7 and we had to scale in 15 days only so We could not help asking for Sherpas to ferry all the loads. We employed two Sirdars, 28 high altitude porters, 8 cooks and 3 mail runners, a total of 41 persons.

Dhaula Himal from Camp 1.

5. Dhaula Himal from Camp 1. Article 5. (Bart Vos)

Nanda Devi Peaks from near Longstaff col.

6. Nanda Devi Peaks from near Longstaff col. Article 7 (J-A. Clyma)

East face of Nanda Devi East from Pachu gad.East face of Nanda Devi East from Pachu gad.East face of Nanda Devi East from Pachu gad.

7. East face of Nanda Devi East from Pachu gad. Article 7 (R.Payne)

Even then this was only half the number, compared to 81 employed by the British team in autumn 1975. The ratio of Sherpas to members was as high as four to one.

However, they were the requisite and indispensable number to shift loads weighing 160 kg or more to the final camp established at 8350m.

28 high altitude porters were divided into four categories according to their abilities.

Start of climb on the Southwest Face in Winter

1 December 1993, at last the long-awaited start of the winter season dawned. But we were anxious about the weather because the sky above base camp was covered with alto-stratus from early in the day.

Going up on moraine along the red flags for about fifteen minutes, we reached the foot of the icefall where one can see ice-towers and ice-buildings. After putting on crampons and overshoes, we went towards the sea of ice, at the corner of the icefall from the same point as last time.

The icefall, the gateway to Sagarmatha, is one of the most dangerous sections of this route. There are no safe ways in the huge icefall, 700 m in height and 1 km in width, blocking our way. It felt like the Devil was waiting for us everywhere with his mouth open. So, with the Sherpas we also felt like chanting Om Mani Padme Hum.

I remembered the route in the icefall as it was almost the same as last time, but it was hard to recognize it due to changes in the middle-upper sections.

There were many fixed ropes in the icefall and ladders were thrown over some large and small crevasses. A long ladder, joined with 6 ladders, was thrown on a high ice precipice near Camp 1. Climbing over it, we could reach above the icefall sooner.

Our Camp 1 (6020 m) was on the ice-precipice, which is at the tip of the icefall, and a very large crevasse almost a deep moat in front of Camp 1 blocking the route to the Cwm.

When we reached Camp 1, 6 tents were already pitched by the Sherpas. From the upper side of Camp 1, we had to go round many huge crevasses like a maze. When we turned to the Nuptse side, we could see the entire Southwest Face on a large scale.

But it was only for a moment we caught sight of the Southwest Face because the sky became covered with alto-stratus and upper side of Southwest Face above the Yellow Band was hidden in clouds. But, we felt confident because it seemed that there was more snow on the Snow Band under the Yellow Band than last time.

Camp 2, (6500m), was pitched on a glacier covered with moraine which flanked off the West Ridge, a little higher than the Western Cwm, and was very comfortable as a camp site. We established it a little nearer to the West Ridge than last time.

At 6.00 a.m. on the 2nd, the temperature at Camp 2 was -19°C and not as cold as we had thought it would be. On the same day, Hoshino, Dawa Tashi and I went up for making a route to a temporary camp. This time we pitched only one tent as temporary camp, and planned to withdraw after making the route to Camp 3 (the last Camp 4). We would shift from Camp 2 to Camp 3 directly.

Tracing the icy-snowfield from Camp 2 for an hour, the route to the South Ridge separates just under the Southwest Face. Going up towards the Southwest Face from this point, one encounters a big open bergschrund. Three ropes were fixed on this side of the bergschrund. We passed smoothly over it without ladders like the last time.

We went up towards 'Warship Rock' situated above our heads from the bergschrund. Hoshino went up and fixed ropes on the ice and snow wall, an incline of about 40°. Snow bars were not as useful as the last time because of hard ice under the snow.

We reached the base of Warship Rock by climbing 8 pitches from the bergschrund. I thought the reason why I felt my body heavy when climbing down was that I had gone up to 6900 m in two days. On that day, 11 fixed ropes were extended.

On the 3rd, we felt concerned about the day's action due to the wind that had been raging since midnight. Nazuka and Goto made the route in two pitches by traversing to the left side on the hard, shining ice wall, from the end of the last ten pitches partly shifting to the temporary camp. Moreover, they extended two pitches on the snow wall. On the other hand, Tanabe, Sato and 5 high altitude porters went up and extended one pitch by going up the right side from the end of the last ten pitches, and then reached the last Camp 3 site, (6900m), placed under the Warship Rock. They extended the place by cutting and at last pitched one tent there.

Nazuka and Gyalbu (a Sherpa) stayed overnight at this camp for route making the next day. On the 4th, Nazuka's team extended 12 fixed ropes from the highest point reached the day before. We could luckily use snow bars in spite of the ice and snow wall of an incline of about 40° from the White Rock, where the rest had reached the day before. In the Large Central GuDy on the left side, five fixed ropes were extended till they reached the old Camp 4 site of the British team of 1975. The remains of their box tent hung shabbily on the snow wall.

They made the route two pitches to the left through the old Camp 4 and entered the Large Central Gully in which the route changed to a mixed wall of ice, rock and snow and with an incline of about 40°. They extended five pitches more till 16.00 hrs. and returned to the temporary camp later that day.

At 7.00 a.m. on the 5th, the temperature at Camp 2 was —14°C and warm. Cirrus clouds looking like they had been painted on with a brush filled the sky.

At 10.40 a.m. that day, Nazuka's team reached the highest point of the day before and started to make the route.

Extending their route 2.5 pitches on the mixed wall still further, they reached the old Camp 4 site of the Japan Alpine Club team of 1970. They had claimed that Camp 4 was placed at 7550 m in those days, but I think it was lower than 7550 m.

The old camp was littered with much rubbish, from the artificial foundations for the camp, to frames of box tents, sleeping bags, ropes, oxygen cylinders and so many other things.

Going up over 7500 m, they moved one pitch per hour, at snail's pace. Finally that day, they extended route by four pitches and they went down at 15.15 hrs.

At 5.30 a.m. on the 6th, the temperature at Camp 2 was —15°C and the whole sky was covered with cloud. On that day, two teams went up from the temporary camp and from Camp 2 at the same time in order to establish Camp 3.

Tanabe's team started from the temporary camp at 6.20 a.m. and were at the highest point reached by Nazuka's team on the day before. From there they extended the route by 5.5 pitches to the intended site of Camp 4, taking oxygen, and reaching there at about 13.00 hrs. Sherpas started from Camp 2 in the morning and reaching Camp 3 started to construct a camp platform quickly. However, when we wanted to pitch a tent, there was no tent! It seemed that the Sherpas had left the tent at the temporary camp on their way. We could not help abandoning Camp 3 for this reason.

My team, shifted from Camp 2 to Camp 3 in order to make the route to Camp 4 from the next day, and went down to temporary camp reluctantly.

At 5.30 a.m. on the 7th, I woke up and looked outside. It was snowing and the range of vision was about 100 m. Our tent was attacked by a blizzard.

We had nothing to do in the temporary camp due to the stormy weather, so we decided to go down to Camp 2 immediately.

On the 8th, a strong wind began to rage from midnight. It raged the whole of the day, sweeping the snow clouds away.

On that day, Nazuka's team went up with 12 Sherpas in order to establish Camp 3, but gave up due to the blizzard, hardly reaching the wall.

On the 9th, we got splendidly calm and clear weather as if no storm had been raging till the day before. On that day, Nazuka's team and 12 Sherpas went up in order to establish Camp 3.

Camp 3 would be established at the same place as the last Camp 4, (7600m). The place was safe from falling stones from the Rock Band because of its distance from the Large Central Gully and protected by a remarkable grey rock wall in the background.

Camp 3 was established on the box tent of the Korean team of spring 1993, which was broken by us.

A vertical wall of about 300 m soars up from the 8000 m point on the Southwest Face. The British called this the 'Rock Band'. To climb the Rock Band is the crux of the Southwest Face climb. We can see a couloir extending on both sides under the Rock Band. On the right the couloir extends upto the South Ridge and on the left side upto the West Ridge. Both of them have been used as routes by different teams in the past and the formidable vertical wall has never been tried.

We followed the same route as last time, first scaled by the British team in 1975. That is, we would try to climb up along the left couloir cutting into the left edge of the Rock Band. At 7.00 a.m. on the 10th, the temperature at Camp 2 was -17°C, a calm and clear day like the day before. Nazuka, Goto and Gyalbu went up from Camp 3 in order to make the route to Camp 4. They entered the Large Central Gully after traversing the ice wall which was one pitch away from Camp 3. We would try to make the route on the snow wall, anchored by snow-bars because the last time we had taken too much time trying to make the route using anchors on the rock.

The party entered the left couloir after extending the route two pitches along on the snow wall from the gully like a gutter. The route was made along the steep snow wall, 20 m in width and continued upto the foot of the couloir. Indeed, oxygen had an instant effect, all the 14 ropes carried up on that day were fixed before 14.00 hrs.

On the 11th, it was cold because the temperature at Camp 2 was —22°C. They made the route quite quickly because the calm and clear weather continued for three days. Nazuka's team started from Camp 3 at about 7.00 a.m. as the route making team and quickly reached the highest point of the previous day at 9.40 a.m. They extended the route on the steep snow wall and went forward to the dark crack of the couloir. They reached the foot of the couloir and cut deeply into it after extending five pitches of rope on the snow wall which had an inclination of about 50°. The couloir was only 3-4 m wide with a rock wall on both sides. It seemed that we could not escape from either side.

There was lots of snow in the couloir like the last time, and the slope of the route was still about 50°. We could climb without difficulty because the chock-stones on the way were covered with snow.

When we extended our route two pitches from the foot of the couloir, we reached the place where we felt as if we were at the bottom of a well, surrounded by the rock wall. That place was one of most difficult sections because of the vertical rock wall, about 25 m high standing in our way.

To our delight, our ropes of the last year and of the Koreans in spring 1993 were found in place. We climbed up to the Ramp smoothly with the help of the ropes. The news of our having climbed the Rock Band was announced by walkie-talkie at 14.15.

After climbing over the Rock Band we went up along the Ramp going up on the right hand slope covered with chips of rock. We extended our route by one pitch obliquely along some old decayed ropes and reached a small snowfield. From there, we climbed over a vertical wall, about 3 m high, and entered a gully. We reached the intended site of Camp 4 (8350m) after extending one more pitch in the gully.

At any rate, we traversed the Rock Band and reached Camp 4 in five days less than the last time, in spite of two days wasted due to bad weather.

On the 12th, we heard the roar of the violent winter wind from South Col to the Lhotse side when we woke up in the morning. Our team shifted to Camp 3 as per schedule though we felt slightly uneasy. On the same day, both teams, Nazuka's and Tanabe's, struggled hard to establish Camp 3 and pitched two more tents there. On the morning of the 13th, an accident happened at Camp 3. Leaking gas caught fire while a gas cylinder was being changed. Our tent was almost burnt. Our start was delayed till 8.45 a.m. due to the accident. On that day, Tanabe and I went up with our teams and 4 Sherpas in order to establish Camp 4.

It was natural that the Sherpas were slow and could not catch up with us over the height of 8000 m without oxygen. The South Summit was seen when we went up towards the intended place of Camp 4. When I stood up on the highest point of our last expedition, I remembered the mortification and regret I had felt then.

Camp 4 was established after making a camp stage on the Korean's box tent. It was made very well with an immense amount of labour. The tent was anchored solidly by fixed ropes with great care.

Hoshino and I stayed overnight at the camp for the first time perched in the air.

On the 14th, Hoshino and I spent one night at the height of 8350m and then proceeded on the virgin route. The route became quite steep after traversing one pitch on a slab from Camp 4. We went up one pitch straight, then traversed about 4 m to the right along the Snow Band and then the first barrier waited us. A vertical wall, about 4 m high, blocked our way. It was hard to climb (with lots of equipment including oxygen cylinders) in spite of an incline of only grade IV. We climbed over on ropes left by the Korean team.

We reached the tip of the long-expected Snow Band after climbing over the vertical wall and extended about 20 m more of rope on the slab. We passed the Snow Band smoothly.

We felt confident to find that the Snow Band continued till the South Summit Gully. In spite of its being called the Snow Band there was not much snow on it and rock appeared just under the snow. This is why I was concerned about traversing it in the spring season.

We extended the route along the Snow Band from the 3rd Pitch, but it was mixed snow and rock so we had difficulty in finding points to anchor on rock.

On that day, we went up to make the route, carrying up all ropes from Camp 4, and in all 9 ropes were fixed till 15.40.

But then, it was still a long way to the South Summit Gully. How many ropes would be required... I was more and more anxious about whether our ropes would be enough or not.

On the 15th, Hoshino and I having spent two nights at Camp 4 extended the route smoothly because of calm and clear weather. However, we could not reach the point, one of the most difficult sections, on the South Summit Gully due to the lack of ropes.

At 6.50 a.m. we started from Camp 4 carrying 8 ropes shifted the day before. It took us only one hour and 25 minutes to reach the highest point of the previous day. We extended the route again along the Snow Band 5.5 pitches ahead and reached a snow wall pushing out from the South Summit Gully.

All 8 ropes carried that day were fixed on our way when we climbed 2.5 pitches on the steep snow wall leading to the foot of the South Summit Gully. We could not help going down from near the foot of the South Summit Gully due to a lack of ropes though it was still only 13.00 hrs.

I felt no despair seeing the South Summit Gully from the highest point though the view from Camp 4 had discouraged me. It seemed that somehow it would come out all right.

On the 16th, Nazuka's team, stayed overnight at Camp 3, shifted and reached Camp 4 at 14.10 hrs. They told us that it was incredibly calm around Camp 4. The calm and clear weather continued for four days. I worried unnecessarily about whether the weather would turn stormy or not when we attacked the summit, because of the continuous good weather just before the attack!

That day, Sato told me that his rib might be broken because his chest pained when he coughed. So, Sato had to be left out of climbing team. Tanabe and Ezuka were sent as the second team the next day. On the 16th, it grew colder at night and the temperature was —23°C on the morning of the 17th.

On this day, Nazuka and Goto started from Camp 4 and after reaching the highest point reached by my team, made the route till the South Summit Gully from 11.30 onwards.

At first, we extended the route along the snow wall, shaped like a gully and traversed to the greatest depth to a 'running water gutter' under the reddish brown slab-zone called the 'Rock Step' by the British team. P.P. rope and nylon rope were fixed at this place. The brittle red-brown gully continued from there. We made the route for two pitches of the gully of grade I0L And we reached the snow wall after the gully. We started to go down at 16.10 and reached Camp 4 at 17.30.

Anyway, to scale the Southwest Face is quite difficult. The Southwest Face did not allow us to enter the last gate though we were close enough to be able to recognize each rock of the South Summit Col.

We expected Nazuka's team the next day. The second team of Tanabe and Ezuka shifted to Camp 3 partly to support the first team on the day. On the 18th, the strong wind of the night before stopped and it was a calm morning. However, I was anxious because of the alto-stratus clouds banked above Pumori and because the temperature was a little high. It was the pattern that in winter the temperature became high when alto-stratus banked. I could not help praying that they would scale by any means on that very day because I was anxious that the weather might deteriorate the next day.

Nazuka's team carried our expectations on their shoulders and told us that it was calm around Camp 4 at 7.00 a.m. and that Goto had already started at 6.45 a.m.

Both reached the highest point of the previous day at 10 a.m. They started to make the route from there. They mixed four pitches of rope from the South Summit Gully to the snow wall on the Southeast Ridge and threaded through big boulders. At last they reached the South Summit Col. The time was 13.05. There was an unbearable gale raging on the ridge. The summit of Sagarmatha was engulfed in hail, snow and mist beyond the Hillary Step.

Nazuka waited for Goto and then they went towards the summit tying ropes together. From there the route was well known to Nazuka. They carefully went up step by step through the gale. At 15.20, they stood on the summit of the highest peak in the world in winter, having conquered it by its most difficult route!

They stayed on the summit about 20 minutes to perform a little ceremony. They started to climb down at 15.40. To reach Camp 4 safely was another ordeal. The other members could not contact them. One hour passed, then two, but the walkie-talkie was silent for a long time. We could not help remembering the stories of glory and tragedy in the Himalaya. I thought that we should not imagine such unlucky things. But I was more and more anxious as time passed. The anxiety threw me into a maelstrom of uneasiness. My only desire was to hear from the tent at Camp 4. It was a long, long, night for me.

At 18.58, at last I established contact with Nazuka. He told me that he had reached Camp 4 just then and Goto would also reach soon.

Oh they had done it! I felt relieved with all my heart. Now, I could feel happy without any twinges of doubt. It had been my first impression that we would be able to return to Japan happily. Finally, we were free from the mental pressure. The first ascent of Sagarmatha by the Southwest Face in winter on 18 December 1993 was made by the first team without mishap.

On the 19th, there was a raging gale at Camp 2 all through the night and our tent flapped in the wind. At 5.15 a.m. on the 20th, Tanabe and Ezuka as the second team, started from Camp 4 and reached the South Summit Gully at 7.00 a.m. Between 9.00 and 9.30 a.m., all three reached the South Summit Col. At 11.20 a.m. they succeeded in reaching the summit. They made the ascent with sheer tenacity in spite of the raging gale. However, later Ezuka had to be operated and a part of his little finger was removed due to frostbite as compensation for his glory.

On the 22nd, Hoshino and I the third team, started from Camp 4 at 6.10 a.m. Both of us carried three oxygen cylinders, made in the former USSR and with a capacity of three litres each. We climbed up smoothly because of the oxygen. We had already reached the 8th pitch when we had to contact camp at 7.00 a.m. I felt a biting pain on my hands and feet because there was no sunshine in the South Summit Gully. In addition a strong wind blew up from the lower part and removed the lost traces of heat from my body.

At 9 25 a.m. we reached the South Summit Col. Indeed, it felt as if I would be blown off with the gale. I changed my oxygen cylinder while I was waiting for Hoshino.

From the Col, huge snow eaves hung over the Kangshung glacier side. It seemed that the whole of the Hillary Step, about which I had heard so much, was covered with snow in autumn. It was not easy to go round from the left side because some rocks cropped out blocking the way in winter. We climbed over gripping the many ropes left there.

After passing over the Hillary Step, I felt that wind was gaining in ferocity. I went forward almost crawling. Soon, I found a red satellite board, wrecks of antennae, empty oxygen cylinders and other refuse in front of me. It seemed like the summit was near at hand. It took me just one hour from the South Summit Col, and at last I reached the summit at 10.40 a.m. There was still a terrible raging gale on the summit. It was so strong that I could not see Makalu due to the snow mist blown up by the gale.

I stayed on the summit for one hour having much trouble taking photos and making video recordings. At 11.42 a.m. we started to climb down and reached Camp 4 safely at 13.50. As soon as we reached, we wound up Camp 4 and went down to Camp 3.

From the next day after the success of the third team we started to wind up all camps except the base camp.

On the 23rd, 6 Sherpas went up from Camp 2 to Camp 3 and carried the Camp down. On the 24th, we took leave of the Southwest Face of Sagarmatha, and climbed down to the Western Cwm.

We cut our way safely through the Icefall, the last barrier, and returned to the base camp after a 24-day absence. Yagihara, Dr. Sumiyoshi, the Sirdar, the Sherpas and others received us. It was a great joy for me, as the deputy leader of the team, not only because we were successful but also because all members were back to the base camp safely again.


Japan Gunma Sagarmatha South West Face Expedition in Winter 1993/94.

The summit of Everest (8848 m) was climbed by the Southwest Face in winter for the first time. Three parties of Japanese mountaineers reached the top on 18, 20 and 22 December 1993.

*The leader and medical doctor stayed at the base camp as they had only a trekking permit.

Team Leader: Kuniaki Yagihara, Deputy leader: Yoshio Ogata, Climbing leader: Hideji Nazuka, Members: Osamu Tanabe, Shinsuke Ezuka, Mitsuyoshi Sato, Fumiaki Goto, and Ryushi Hoshino. Medical doctor: Senya Sumiyoshi.


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