American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Everest, Southwest Face in Winter

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994

Everest, Southwest Face in Winter. The southwest face of Everest, very seldom successfully scaled in any season, saw its first ascent in wintertime by a small but highly experienced team of seven Japanese aided by 28 strong Sherpas in the unusually short climbing period of only three weeks. In the Japanese leadership were three Himalayan veterans: Kuniaki Yagihara, leader, who stayed at Base Camp throughout the climb (Everest teams on the Nepalese side are now allowed only seven foreign members, so he was at Base Camp with just a trekking permit), plus deputy leader Yoshio Ogata and climbing leader Hideji Nazuka. The seven Everest climbing members, plus Yagihara, five more compatriots and five of their Sherpa, climbed Cho Oyu in the autumn, which gave them good acclimatization. Their use of artificial oxygen when they went to the summit minimized the likelihood of frostbite. They then spent three weeks resting in Kathmandu and lowland Nepal before returning to the high mountains. When the Japanese arrived at Base Camp on November 21, two of their Cho Oyu teammates had already established the camp and supervised the arrival of 13 tons of food, tents and clothing. Their equipment included a special light platform for their highest camp, 6000 meters of rope for fixing the route in the Khumbu Icefall and up much of the face and 96 bottles of oxygen, of which they used 65. Having struggled in the winter of 1991–2 in their first attempt to climb the face, they knew the route, which was the same line taken in the autumn of 1975 in the first successful ascent of the face by the British led by Chris Bonington and the one they had tried two years before. In the last half of November, the Sherpa’s had made the route through the Khumbu Icefall with 50 ladders and 2000 meters of fixed rope. They had carried loads to the top of it to the site of Camp I. The Japanese made a quick climb of Pokalde (5806 meters, 19,049 feet). Well acclimatized and fit, on December 1, the first official day of the winter season, seven re-acclimatized members and a number of Sherpas moved through the icefall. By that afternoon, six Japanese were established at Camp II at 6500 meters at the foot of the face. Little snow falls in the winter and there was only one day when new snow fell all day long. However, on the face there was falling rock, blown loose by strong winds, and several climbers’ headlamps and goggles were damaged, but no one was hurt. The problems were the wind and cold. At Base Camp, the temperature fell to -16° C. One day at the highest camp, Camp IV at 8350 meters, it was -36° C. The wind above the south summit was so fierce that the summiters could not see Makalu, not far away to the east. Between Camp II and the south summit, they fixed 3635 meters of rope. After joining the normal southeast-ridge route, on the Hillary Step they had no need for fixed rope as plenty had been left there by previous expeditions. The successful summiters were Hideji Nazuka and Fumiaki Goto on December 18, Osamu Tanabe and Sinsuke Exuka on the 20th and Yoshio Ogata and Ryushi Hoshino on the 22nd. The seventh climbing member had developed chest pains on arriving at Camp IV on December 13 and was forced to abandon the climb. With the use of bottled oxygen while sleeping and climbing at and above their two highest camps, they suffered no serious frostbite.

Elizabeth Hawley

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