New route from the north

[Translated from the Japanese by Masayoshi Fuju)

TODAY, ON 7 JULY, again one more member, Tamura, was seriously injured by stone fall at so called 'Confessional Pitch' between Camp 1 and 2 while he was restoring fixed rope damaged by many stone falls. Such an accident which can occur due to stone falls in this 50 m pitch was well anticipated since the opening of the route. That is why we had decided not to climb this part after 10 o'clock in the morning to avoid this probability . Prior to this, on 26 June, an accident took place where another member , Kousaka , damaged his arm due to falling stone and was forced to retire to Gligit. The route was, as on today, completed along the flanks of the Silver Saddle up to around 7200 m which is quite close to the mouth of the Silver Plateau at 7350 m where the final Camp 4 was planned to be pitched.

After spending 3 days for the rescue activities to bring Tamura down on member's shoulders to the temporary base camp, I as a leader of this expedition party, settled myself in an insecure mood at base camp, contemplating a lot about another possible accident. 'We should stop climbing here as there is a chance of a death if the third accident takes place.' However, it was agreed among ourselves that we should try to complete this new route with one more push in a rush tactics which could allow us to climb this part, the 'Confessional Pitch ' only one time. It was obvious that our original plan which was to traverse Nanga Parbat from the north to west after reaching the summit, had to be given up because now we had insufficient number of climbers for the necessary camp deployments for the traverse. As on 9 July, only 6 member remained with no high altitude porter employed. For the final push to be commenced, we have decided to take rest at base camp for 4 days until 12 July.

The Plan

The idea of this expedition, to climb Nanga Parbat (8125 m) by a new route, came to my mind in 1992 when I completed a reconnaissance trek to the north of this mountain. Since Hermann Buhl climbed this mountain for the first time in 1953, only one party (Czechoslovakia in 1971) has succeeded to reach the peak by the original route on the north side. And yet, nobody had succeeded to open a new route from the north. There were 3 routes established on the other side than the north since the first climb. After the reconnaissance and studying photos taken from air, we were convinced that it was worth a try to climb this new route along the ridge descending from the east peak of the Silver Saddle. It was well anticipated that a key factor for success was how to climb a bottom part of this ridge which sharply drops into the Rakhiot glacier in a shape of steep rock wall, standing 600 m high from the glacier. Also, it might be troublesome for us to overcome hanging glacier present on the ridge, at 6300 m, above this rock wall. Our team consisted of 10 members who graduated the same University of C.I.T.(Chibe Institute of Technology) but only 3 member had an adequate experience of high altitude climbing. It was known from the beginning that 2 members out of those 3 cannot participate for the whole period of this expedition. In this respect, it was important for me to find members who could be eligible climbers for the final attack by rush tactics while we progressed as a prelude to climbing up to 7000 m by means of the conventional polar method.

Base Camp to Camp 1

On 5 June, our caravan set off from Tatoo for a three-day march with 100 porters with a total weight of approx. 3 tons. We arrived at the temporary base camp at 3900 m, which is normally considered to be a site for the base camp in case of other parties. Our base camp was established at 4500 m at the site on top of so called 'Great Moraine' where normally other parties put up Camp 1, considering the long distance to the summit. We kept 20 porters for ferrying up from T.B.S. to our Base Camp because of much snow left between T.B.C. and BC. Spending 5 days for logistics was a perfect assignment for acclimatisation. Probing some crevasses. Camp 1 was established on 11 June at 5300 m on the Rakhiot glacier. Till here we had followed the same route as the original route in 1953.

Camp 1 to Camp 2

The route from Camp 1 Camp 2 can be explained by dividing it into two stages. The first stage was a steep wall with a mixture of snow and granite rock, rising up to 5700 m. After following an obvious snow ridge having an angle of 45 degrees, climbing started by a rock crack of grade IV+ and was followed by a steep section with a mixture of rock and icy snow band. After 6 pitches from the crack, there appeared one pitch of 50 m of grade IV+, where a 10 m long wire ladder was fixed for the future load ferries. To the left side of our route, there was a big snow gully leading up to the sky line of the ridge where we wanted to climb up. However, stones were falling in this gully, without a break after 10 O'clock. As we climbed higher, we nervously saw more stones flying down towards us, producing terrible sound like a high velocity gun-bullets in air. Our route was directed towards the upper part of this snow gully. After gaining a height of about 500 m, which corresponded to 2/3 s of the first part, we were stopped by a massive overhang on a solid rock. To the right, no feasible route was found. We were obliged to take a route to the left into this snow gully for 20 m so that we can come out to the point above the overhang. Putting ourselves into this gully everybody needed much courage for a risk due to stone fall. Before setting off into this gully one guy confessed himself to be guilty and asked for forgiveness instead of having a punishment with stone. That is why this part was named as 'Confessional Pitch'. After overcoming this point, again, the route led diagonally upward to right until we came out on to the sky line ridge. The second stage, after reaching the skyline was a sharp and thin snow ridge which was intricate and jagged running almost horizontally and continued up to Camp 2. Technically it was not so difficult to climb as the first stage, but it took us 5 days to fix a rope for the length of 600 m. For such a route, a delicate and balanced climbing was required and this resulted in slow progress. Therefore 14 days were spent from Camp 1. Camp 2, which was established at 5900 m , little below the overhanging ice tower , on 25 June.

Camp 2 to Camp 3

Above Camp 2, a massive ice-tower , 300 m high , rose straight up into the blue sky. This ice-tower is actually at the bottom end of the glacier lying on the ridge which starts from the Silver Saddle. How we could overcome this vertical ice- tower was also one of the issues since the planning stage. Fortunately, the upper end of this ice building, which was more or less overhanging, was exposing to us a weak point in the form of a vertical slit in the centre. Having double axes against the hard glassy ice for the length of 4 pitches at an average angle of 70 degree, we overcame the difficult section and reached to the point where the ice-tower produced the slit. In the slit, exposed ice surface was replaced with hard snow and declined in angle. After reaching the way out of this ice- tower at roughly 6300 m, the route became easier and followed along with a vast ridge in a knee-deep snow which continued to the site of Camp 3 at 6700 m, which was established on 4 July . From this place the slope was increasing in inclination and was heading for the east peak of the Silver Saddle.

Camp 3 to Camp 4

The route from Camp 3 progressed in a traverse on the flanks of the Silver Saddle towards the mouth of the Silver Plateau. After climbing 2 pitches in a mixture of snow and rock, we were faced with quite difficult part which was a sheer crack vertically rising up for 50 m at almost 80 degrees angle. The climbing grade of this section was regarded to be V, and named as 'Yabe's Crack' associated with our member, Yabe, who led the climb on this crack with bare hands. Overcoming 'Yabe's Crack', we further developed the traversing route for 400 m along the northwest flank of the Silver Saddle, then continued for another 400 m on a steep angled snow slope which led us to the mouth of the Silver Plateau. It was already 18 July when we completed the route up to Camp 4 at 7350 m after leaving base camp on the 13th for the final push with remaining 6 members.

The Summit attack

The sun rose in a windy condition on the morning of 21 July, after having bad weather for two days, on the 19th and 20th at Camp 3. This fine weather seemed to be a final chance for us to attack the summit, with consideration of negative factors such as limited food supply, an increasing chances of bad weather under the influence of monsoon and the long distance of route we had in front of us. Ultimately , a decision had to be made. It came to decide who should go for the summit. The criteria for selecting a summit-member was focused on how much an individual could be capable of enduring the long distance as well as the dozen pitches we would encounter on the summit massif at this high attitude without aid of artificial oxygen.. Finally, I selected Yukio Yabe (30), Takeshi Akiyama (26) and myself, Hiroshi Sakai (38 ) as the summit team. Remaining 3 member were convinced to devote themselves to necessary supporting jobs for the summit team. With all 6 members, we loaded necessary equipment and food for one chance for attempt at Camp 4 on the 21st. Support team climbed down to Camp 3 on the same day.

On 22nd, waking up at 02:30 a.m., we left Camp 4 at 03:10 with a headlamp. However, after a short while, we went back to Camp 4 because Akiyama felt a pain in his chest and Yabe felt fingers and toes becoming numb due to cold. In the night, we took oxygen for sleeping so that we can geophysical strength back.

Next morning, on the 23rd, we left Camp 4 at 03:10 a.m. again in windy conditions, but under clear sky. By good luck, the snow field of the Silver Plateau was in perfect condition, less than ankle-deep. Before 8 o'clock we successfully reached the opposite end of the Silver Plateau. What a difference compared to the struggle Hermann Buhl who had suffered due to the deep snow on this snowfield. From Diamir-gap, whole profile of summit massif can be seen. Before going down 150 m to the Bazhin-gap, I had printed into my memory what route we should take on the summit wall. I checked and confirmed with compass what direction our Camp 4 was located, providing for white-out conditions . Calculating that we could manage to come back here today after reaching the summit, we put down some equipment and food in the Bazhin-gap as a deposit so that we could climb lightly and as much speedy as possible. Soon after setting off ourselves into the snow gully. Which rise up in the summit's massive wall toward north shoulder of the summit ridge at 8070 m, I realised that this massive wall was much bigger than what scale I had calculated. Or, it may be, caused by high altitude. Climbing at slow speed I might have felt it to be much bigger scale than what I had expected. When we climbed almost half of this snow gully we were faced with steep rock section. No mistakes were allowed for a route finding at this altitude. Leaving climbing-sack behind myself to get rid of any weight, I led to the left side of this rock for almost 100 m and tried to see if there was any feasible route beyond this rock section. Above, there was a feasible route which led us to the north shoulder after 120 m rope . Even though we had reached the point higher than 8000 m , it was really long, long way to go for the final summit. By now it was closer to sunset and weather became windy with clouds moving fast. Along the summit ridge, we repeated relentlessly up and down climbing for numerous times around small projecting rock peaks. Suddenly, the ridge ahead of me fell down sharply and no higher point was seen beyond .1 actually reached the summit of Nanga Parbat at 17:13 p.m. in the evening, where many flags of other expedition parties remained attached with the piton left in the rock. 20 minutes later, Yabe and Akiyama also reached the top. We scarcely could communicate with base camp over walkie- talkie. What a dramatic scene it was on the top of Nanga Parbat !

We descended by 18:10 p.m. and we climbed down until 10 o'clock in the night. But, we could not return to Bazhin-gap and were obliged to make a bivouac at 7700 m with poor equipment. Next morning on 24 July, it was snowing and nothing was visible in a white-out condition especially on the snowfield of the Silver Plateau. However, we could manage to return safely to Camp 4, 39 hours after we had left. The bad weather continued further until we returned to base camp on the 28th. It was a narrow success. Thanks God and Nanga Parbat for a lot of a good luck.


An ascent of Nanga Parbat (8125 m) by the Japanese expedition on 23 July 1995 by a new route on the north face.