American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Another Gongga Shan Tragedy

  • Accident Reports
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983

Another Gongga Shan Tragedy. A horror story comes from another Japanese attempt on Gongga Shan. The five-man, two-woman expedition was led by Hideaki Saito. They reached Base Camp at 11,500 feet on the Hailoko Glacier on March 19, hoping to complete the new route on the northeast ridge, so disastrously attempted by other Japanese in 1981. (See A.A J1982, pages 284-5.) After skirting the icefalls, they established Temporary Camp I, Camps I, II, III (on the northeast ridge col) and IV on March 28, April 4, 9, 21 and 26 at 13,450, 16,075, 17,050, 19,000 and 20,350 feet respectively. The entire route from Camps II to IV was fixed with rope. S. Suzuki slipped and having damaged his back, had to return. Hironari Matsuda and Makoto Sugawara established Camp V at 22,300 feet on April 28. On the 29th their summit attempt took them to a bivouac close to the summit, but bad weather on the 30th precluded going higher. In their last radio transmission, they reported difficulty in finding the descent route. Leader Saito had had to return to Japan for personal reasons and Deputy Leader Yoshio Takeda and the two women moved up to Camp II on May 2. On the 4th they made a half-hearted attempt to climb up the fixed ropes from Camp II but were technically incapable of doing so! They assumed the others were dead and on May 6 descended to Base Camp, which they evacuated on May 9. It is difficult to know what progress Matsuda and Sugawara made, but eventually they reached Camp I. Sugawara could descend no farther but Matsuda kept on going down. He was found at 9500 feet on May 21 by local herb gatherers. A massive rescue was carried out, involving 200 Chinese, but Matsuda could be saved only with the loss of both frozen feet above the ankles and all ten fingers. (More details appear in Iwa To Yuki, N° 90, pages 99-100.) In September Japanese returned and unsuccessfully tried to retrieve Sugawara’s body. On September 27 Takeshi Nakatani died from cerebral and pulmonary edema during the attempt and the effort was called off.

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