American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India–Sikkim, Kangchenjunga from the East, Ascent and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1992

Kangchenjunga from the East, Ascent and Tragedy. Our expedition was jointly sponsored by the Himalayan Association of Japan and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police under the auspices of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Hukam Singh was the overall leader and I was co-leader. The rest of the team was composed of Japanese Hideji Nazuka, Hideki Yoshida, Hirotaka Imamura, Osamu Tanabe, Shinsuke Ezuka, Mitsuyoshi Sato, Nobuhiro Shingo, Ryuzo Oda, Fumiaki Goto, Ryushi Hoshino, Tsuyoshi Akiyama, Ms. Miharu Kitagawa and Ms. Tamaki Kaizuka and Indians S.D. Sharma, Kanhaiya Lal, T. Smanla, Ms. Santosh Yadev, Chholden Sherpa, Ms. Pema Sherpa, Khem Raj, Pasang Sherpa, Sunder Singh Martolia, Govind Singh, Jor Singh, Sharki Bhutia, Phurba Lepcha, Lopsang Tshering and Ms. Suman Kutiyal. On March 14, we left Gangtok in four minibuses and seven autotracks with members and high-altitude porters. We drove 120 kilometers to Lachen and the next day to Tanggu along the Tista River. There are two routes to approach Base Camp on Green Lake on the Zemu Glacier. One is up the Zemu Chu (river) from Lachen and the other is a roundabout way in the northern area from Tanggu with three high passes: Lungnak La (5035 meters), Theu La (5212 meters) and Tangchung La (5150 meters). We took the latter despite snow conditions on the high passes for yaks in the middle of March. It took 44 days to transport all loads from the roadhead to Base Camp at Green Lake at 4935 meters. Without snow on the passes we would have reached Base Camp from the roadhead in four days! The advance party arrived at Base Camp on March 31 and the last group on April 26. A site for Advance Base was selected on April 1 and carrying supplies there began on April 10. It lay up the Zemu Glacier where the Twins Glacier joins the Zemu at 5200 meters. The first obstacle on the way to Camp I was an icefall an hour from Advance Base. The icefall was dangerous due to ice avalanches and rockfall. On April 16 we fixed 13 pitches of rope across crevasses and ice walls and the next day nine more to reach an ice plateau on the upper Zemu Glacier, where we established Camp I. On April 19, after both leaders and some members had reached the camp, we had a good view of the east face of Kangchenjunga. It was very steep with mixed rock and ice, constantly threatened by big avalanches. We judged that there was no feasible route up from the top of the upper Zemu Glacier. That same day, a huge part of the icefall just below the snow plateau broke up and our route was cut to pieces. We changed to attempt a repeat of the northeast spur route. A new Camp I was set up on the south face of the northeast spur at 5700 meters on April 20. We had to gain 300 meters up the steep ice-fluted, avalanche-swept face. On April 21, we fixed 20 pitches of rope across ice gullies and broken rock to 6150 meters. The next day, we climbed two more pitches up an ice wall to the crest of the northeast spur. From there, towers piled on towers, cliff on cliff, and columns tapered like spires and shining curtains of icicles hung down from the cornices. We found old fixed rope on the ridge from the 1977 and 1987 Indian expeditions. We fixed 34 pitches of rope from Camp I to Camp II, which was placed at 6300 meters on April 27. From there, the spur continued to have monstrous mushrooms, cornices, crevasses and cliffs. Route fixing went arduously on. Camp III was placed at 6800 meters on May 4. At that point, the spur became a wide snow ridge with no technical difficulty. On May 6, we reached a huge ice cliff at 7250 meters, having strung 14 pitches of rope for two days. On May 9, we established Camp IV at 7450 meters. The route above the camp was a very steep arete which culminated in the highest point on the northeast spur. After four days’ work, on May 14 four Indian climbers placed Camp V at 7850 meters. On May 15, Pasang Sherpa, Khem Raj, Sharki Bhutia and Lopsang Tshering reconnoitered to find a final camp. They reached the site of the 1977 and 1987 expeditions at 8000 meters. The way to the summit seemed clear. The same morning, Sato and I started a laborious carry to Camp V, where at noon we met the Indian climbers. On May 16, the four Indians started from Camp V at four A.M. They reached the old camp-site, deposited their loads and continued toward the summit, on their own, each with one oxygen cylinder. When Pasang Sherpa was about 100 meters below the summit, he radioed to Hukam Singh that he could not see his partners below him. Hukam Singh asked him to return immediately. As he turned to descend, he slipped and fell to his death thousands of feet down the north side. Hukam Singh heard his sharp cry. We went into mourning for Pasang Sherpa at each camp. We then entered the final stage of our expedition with heavy hearts. On May 23, seven Japanese reached 7950 meters, where they established Camp VI. Two climbers fixed seven pitches above the camp while the support party returned, leaving Nazuka, Imamura and Oda at Camp VI. Because there were only two oxygen regulators, Nazuka had to make his attack without oxygen. On May 24, they started at four A.M. in biting cold. Imamura’s oxygen mask gave trouble and he too climbed without oxygen. They slogged on in deep snow and high winds. At 10:57 A.M. Nazuka reached the west col between the main peak and Yalung Kang. Traversing the summit ridge on the Yalung Glacier side, he partly escaped the fierce wind. At 11:50 A.M., he stood beside the summit. He left the last two meters untrodden, remembering the promise the team had given the people of Sikkim. He returned to the west col at one P.M., where he met Oda. Imamura was not yet there. Nazuka was safely back in Camp VI at three P.M. Imamura and Oda finally stood on the summit at 3:23 P.M. and returned to Camp VI in darkness at 10:30 P.M. Early the next morning S.D. Sharma, Kanhaiya Lal and T. Smanla left Camp VI for the summit. They reached the top at 2:30 P.M. and were back in Camp VI at 7:48 PM. Time and weather prevented further summit attempts.

Yoshio Ogata, Himalayan Association of Japan

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