THE NORTHEAST RIDGE OF EVEREST
(Translated from the Japanese by Harold Solomon)
THERE HAVE BEEN 8 failed attempts on the Northeast Ridge of Everest, starting with the British expedition led by Chris Bonington in 1982. Although the topography and climbing routes on the group of pinnacles around the 8000 m level, which are the principal difficulty on this route, have recently become well-known, until our expedition no one had succeeded in climbing the route all the way to the top.
Our Nihon University Mountaineering Club and the club's alumni association determined to mount an all-out effort to climb this long route, the last remaining major unclimbed route on Everest, in 1995, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the club's founding.
The plan, including preparatory climbs, was as follows.
First, in May, 1994, we sent an expedition, consisting mainly of current students without previous overseas climbing experience, to climb McKinley (6194 m) in Alaska. That climb was successful.
Second, in the fall of that year, we sent an expedition to Cho Oyu (8216 m), one of the Everest group, to attempt an oxygenless ascent of that peak which would be used as the basis of selection of climbers for the main Everest expedition.The Cho Oyu climb was successful although 3 expedition members were frost-bitten.
The Northeast Ridge expedition in spring of this year was organised based on the successes of the preparatory expeditions. In addition to the climb of the Northeast Ridge, the expedition planned scientific studies around the north side of Everest. With these dual objectives in mind Prof, of architecture Zenkichi Hirayama was named the expedition's General Leader. The expedition under him included 13 climbers, 6 scientists, a Chinese liaison officer, 3 interpreters and 31 Sherpas.
21 February, an advance party received our supplies in Katlunandu and made local food purchases, and then departed for high altitude training on the south side of Everest. 11 March the main group departed from Japan split into two groups, one to travel via Beijing and the other via Katlunandu. Just before this departure all of Tibet was hit by a heavy snowstorm; Lhasa airport was closed; the road between Kodari and Zangmu was blocked by avalanches. Nevertheless, after a delay of one week, the expedition members with 20 tons of supplies were able to travel by way of Xegar and establish base camp at 5150 m, on the bank of a frozen river extending from the terminus of the Rongbuk glacier. While supplies were organised at base camp, the weather remained clear for several days, but the temperature was low (-20 degrees C) and a strong wind blew, so the living was not comfortable.
We needed 200 yaks to transport 10 tons of climbing supplies to our Advance Base Camp (Camp 3) at 6350 m, but we could only obtain 51 at the village of Chozom below Rongbuk monastery, so we would have to make 4 round-trips to ABC over a 5-day period to ferry the supplies up. The yaks were emaciated after the hard winter and we worried about whether they would have the strength for 4 round-trips.
After more delay because of snow, on 28 March, the first load of supplies was sent up on the yaks, 10 days behind schedule. Because of deep snow, low temperature and strong wind, the yaks only reached 6000 m and then descended. Supplies remaining in Camp 2 had to be carried up to the planned site of ABC by expedition members and Sherpas. When this was completed everybody descended to base camp.
8 April, in somewhat stabilised weather we carried the second set of loads up to the site of ABC, and established the camp there on the moraine of the East Rongbuk glacier. This made it possible to start the real climbing. The next day a party under team leader Kiyoshi Furuno departed from ABC to start establishing the route. They traversed the headwall of the glacier just short of the Raphu la, started up a steep snow slope called Bill's Buttress, passed a snow cave left by a previous expedition and fixed the rope to directly below the planned site of Camp 4 before returning.
14 April, Furuno, 2 other Japanese climbers and 6 Sherpas established Camp 4 on a rocky ridge at 7100 m. 15 April, Furuno, Shigeki Imoto and 4 Sherpas left Camp 4 to extend the route. That day they fixed the rope to the bottom of the 1st Buttress at 7560 m. 16 April, they climbed a steep snow- choked gully up the 1st buttress and extended the route to 7620 m. 17 April, they climbed a shallow gully up the 2nd Buttress. Near the top, where the slope became a bit less steep, they contoured around the north side on a talus slope mixed with snow, arriving at a flat snowy ridge just short of the 1st Pinnacle. They decided that this spot, at 7850 m, was where Camp 5 should be established, and descended to ABC.
NORTH EAST RIDGE OF EVEREST
25 April, with the carrying of loads up to the site of Camp 5 completed, Takeshi Osliida, Yukihide Tamura and 3 Sherpas climbed back up to the snowy ridge and established Camp 5. 26 April, this same group extended the route about 1/3 of the way up the 1st Pinnacle, and descended to Camp 4. The same day Furuno entered Camp 5 with another 3 Sherpas. 27 April, it was impossible to move in early morning because of strong wind, but from 9 a.m. the climbers started up in severe cold and strong wind, climbed straight up a shallow 60-degree gully on mixed rock and snow up the 1st Pinnacle, then faithfully followed the crest of a snowy ridge, reaching the summit of the 1st Pinnacle (8170 m) at 3 p.m. 28 April, they were again unable to move in early morning because of strong wind, and again had to start at 9 a.m. By 12:30 p.m. they passed the 1st Pinnacle, followed a route along the boundary between a knife-edged snow ridge and a dangerous rocky slope, and finally climbed an 80 degree hard snow wall to the summit of the 2nd Pinnacle at 8250 m before descending.
29 April, a group under Imoto entered Camp 5 to take over from Furuno's group. Imoto and 3 Sherpas passed the 1st Pinnacle and the 2nd Pinnacle, and headed for the 8400 m high 3rd Pinnacle. They passed the col between the 2nd and 3rd Pinnacles, rounded the rocky 3rd Pinnacle on the north side, traversed a band directly below it, entered an inclined gully and climbed straight up it, arriving at a snow peak above the 3rd Pinnacle. From here the ridge line became somewhat indistinct. The group decided to locate Camp 6 in a col just before Junction Peak, and descended to ABC.
This completed the extension of the route through the crux section of the Northeast Ridge. What remained was to carry supplies up to the camps and prepare for the summit assault. The establishment of the route up to this point was carried out by 3 small climbing parties climbing in rotation and using oxygen effectively, and was completed faster than expected.
At this point the Japanese expedition members descended to base camp, and the Sherpas to ABC, to rest. Supporting climbers and Sherpas then took over the job of stocking the camps with supplies and checking to make sure that they were adequately supplied. In addition, to prepare for a possible emergency on the upper part of the route, we set tents up on the North Col on the North Ridge route, and stationed climbers, Sherpas and a doctor there.
6 May, after adequate rest Furuno and Imoto entered ABC. The original plan was to have 2 summit parties assault the summit on separate days, but with the weather stabilising and with the forecast sent to us from Japan forecasting continued good weather, we decided to combine the 2 parties into one consisting of Furuno, Imoto and the 2 Sherpas Lhakpa Nuru and Dawa Theri. Another 8 Sherpas were sent to establish Camp 6, and the last camp. Camp 7, above 8500 m.
The Summit Assault by Kiyoshi Furuno
7 May, we of the summit assault party, having joined up with our Sherpas at ABC, climbed up to Camp 4. 8 May, we climbed up to Camp 5.
All through April, strong wind had raged around Camp 5, but 9 May, was warm with weak wind. The two of us with our 10 Sherpas hooked up to our oxygen, departed at 8 a.m. and advanced up a broad snow ridge, keeping a careful eye out for cornices and hidden crevasses, and started up the 1st Pinnacle. We avoided the snow ridge on the 1st Pinnacle, instead contouring around a rock face on the ABC side and entered a snow gully. We reached the summit of the 1st Pinnacle after 16 pitches, during which we had to avoid a spiderweb - like tangle of ropes left from previous expeditions. We advanced 2 pitches along the north slope of a delicate snow ridge between the 1st Pinnacle and the 2nd Pinnacle, then climbed 30 m up the hard 80 degree snow wall of the 2nd Pinnacle. This was where the 1992 Japan - Kazakhstan Joint Expedition had bivouacked, and only 5 meters from the spot where the corpses from the 1982 British expedition were found buried in snow.
The route up the 3rd Pinnacle was complicated, involving a series of ascents and descents. Then we descended about 50 m, contouring to avoid the col in front of the gigantic Final Pinnacle (Junction Peak) which loomed up ahead. At 8350 m on the upper part of the North Ridge we cut a platform out of the snow surface and established Camp 6. We had planned to send all the supporting Sherpas back at camp 4, but since we still had ample oxygen, and there was a rumour that the year before somebody had cut the ladder up the upper part of the 2nd Step, installed by the 1975 Chinese expedition we decided, with the approval of ABC, to add 2 more Sherpas, Nima Doije and Pasang Kami, to the assault party.
10 May, dawned clear. It appeared that we would be the first to climb to the summit from the north that year. This meant that we would have to establish the entire route all the way to the summit. From Camp 6 to the point of confluence with the North Ridge route was unknown territory. The 12 people in Camp 6 departed at 8 a.m., and fixed 3 pitches of rope, traversing along the slope, before discovering leftover rope from the North Ridge route. We gained the top of the ridge, then contoured along the northern slope again, and established Camp 7 at 8560 m, at the base of the 1st Step, cutting platforms out of the snow surface and pitching two 2-man tents. As soon as the tents were pitched, 6 supporting Sherpas descended to ABC. Since we had some time left, we extended the route to the 2nd Step (8650 m), and found that the ladder that had supposedly disappeared was still there although it was lying on the ground. Instead of using the special aluminium collapsible ladder that we had brought, we reinstalled the Chinese ladder. Then we continued to extend the route upward. Since there was room for only 4 people in Camp 7, we decided that 2 Sherpas would have to start their summit assault from Camp 6.
The alpenglow that day was unusually beautiful. Even in the afternoon there were no clouds, which is unusual. We had a good distant view, including Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang, until the sun set.
11 May, again dawned clear and calm but the early clear weather was followed by a light snowfall. We got up at 2 a.m., feeling as though we had not had any sleep, perhaps because of the tension. The Sherpas said that they couldn't sleep either. Each Japanese climber carried 1 oxygen bottle; each Sherpa carried 2. We started up at 4 a.m. by the light of headlamps. The 2 Sherpas in Camp 6 had started up at 3.30 a.m. We climbed the 1st Step in the darkness and emerged on the ridge above. Shortly we passed the site of the 1988 Japanese Alpine Club's Camp 7, and continued toward the 2nd Step. The step has 2 parts, the lower 10 m and the upper 10 m. Having reinstalled the Chinese ladder up the upper part, we passed the 2nd Step easily.
As we climbed up the ridge, dawn broke just before we reached the triangular snowfield. We fixed 1 pitch of rope up a 20 m rocky pinnacle, then entered the triangular snowfield. Since this snowfield has a slope of 40 to 60 degrees, we fixed 1 pitch of rope to use on the descent. The snowfield started as a hard snow wall but eventually we had to break trail through softer snow. At this point Lhakpa Nuru, in the lead, increased his oxygen flow rate from 2 to 3 litres per minute and gave out a yell. We rounded some rocks on the North Face side, then, following rope left from the 1991 fall Japanese expedition that looked like it was ready to break, traversed for 2 pitches. Then we climbed 2 pitches up a rock slab gully, and, fixing rope, climbed straight up onto the summit ridge. A 15 minute climb up the snow ridge, less steep than what we had been climbing on brought us to the summit. The summit was relatively broad, like a cornice; a surveying device with optics, that had been carried up the year before for survey work, was still standing. The time was 7.15 a.m.
Shortly we received a congratulatory message on the radio from the manager of the Everest View Hotel, followed by congratulations from BC and ABC which we were happy to receive. Then we started taking pictures with our own cameras, the camera loaned to us by Kyodo News Service and the video camera loaned to us by NHK, and before we knew it, we had been on the summit 1 hour, and we hurried to start our descent. We raced back through the Pinnacles, and descended all the way to ABC that day, arriving at 6.15 p.m. just before the sun set. We had reached the summit on the 80th day after leaving Tokyo.
Thus, we completed our climb of the Northeast Ridge without any accidents. Of course, this success demanded both strong teamwork and strong individual efforts and determination to reach the summit on part of our climbers over a 2-year period.
Looking back at the reasons for our success, I would first of all like to quote John Hunt, leader of the 1953 British expedition that made the first ascent of Everest, where he credited "what, in my mind, is the one reason transcending all others.... I wish... to pay tribute to the work of earlier expeditions." The same is true of our climb. Our success was based on the huge volumes of information provided by the 8 previous expeditions which failed. Second, I have to credit the fact that we were able to hire a number of experienced Sherpas from Nepal, who were with us on this expedition from the beginning to the end; and our small, light-weight, easy-to-use Russian-made oxygen bottles.
Third, credit must also go to the weather forecasts sent to us every day by the Japan Weather Association via INMARSAT, supplemented by Nepali weather information received via our Sirdars and reports from the climbers at the upper camps, which permitted us to make fairly accurate weather forecasts which served as the basis for judgements concerning daily activities on the Northeast Ridge.
Fourth, our expedition consisted largely of relatively inexperienced young climbers, including students, some of whom experienced difficulty in acclimatising during the early phase of the expedition in Nepal: but all came on strong in the latter part of the expedition.
Fifth a large expedition such as this cannot succeed only by the efforts of its members, and considerable credit must go to the financial and moral support of numerous backers.
Several expeditions were on the North Face and the North Ridge during the time of our expedition, carrying out their own interesting climbs. One has the strong impression that climbing Everest is no longer reserved for a few special expeditions and individuals, but has become more of a mainstream climbers' activity than lias been generally realised.
Nevertheless, I must conclude by saying that, although having just finished a climb it is perhaps too soon for me to judge, I believe that Everest still has a future as a mountain to be climbed; the allure of the world's highest mountain to climbers is likely to continue indefinitely.
Area : Everest (Qomolungma) (8848 m) from the Tibetan Side
Attempt Route : Everest via the Northeast Ridge
Members : Prof. Zenkiclii Hirayama (61), expedition general leader and leader of Scientific research party.
Tadao Kanzaki (55), leader, Kaneshige Ikeda (56), deputy leader, Kiyoshi Furuno (33), Climbing team leader, Takeshi Oshida (33), Shigeki Imoto (32) Hiroshi Leguchi (26), Osamu Nomoto (25), Hiroyoslii Tabata (25), Hideyuki Tamura (23), Tomonori Harada (21), Yoshitaka Harada (59), Manager, Takeki Suzuki (39), Medical doctor, Yoshitaka Ohomae (28), Medical doctor.
Lhakhpa Nuru's climb with our expedition was his 6th ascent of Everest. In the fall, he joined a post-monsoon attempt on the Northeast ridge with a South Korean expedition. On 11 September he was caught in an avalanche approaching Bill's Buttress and died. We pray for the peace of his soul.
First Pinnacle on the Northeast ridge of Everest at 8170 m, seen from Camp 5 (7850 m.) (K. Furuno)
Northeast ridge of Everest seen from ABC (6350 m.) (K, Furuno)
Snow ridge between 1st and 2nd Pinnacles. (K. Furuno)