American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Mount Everest, Northeast Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Mount Everest, Northeast Ridge. The Nihon University Mountaineering Club and Alumni Association determined to mount an all-out effort to climb this long route, one of the two last remaining major unclimbed routes on Mount Everest, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the club's founding. In addition to the climb of the northeast ridge, the expedition planned scientific studies around the north side of Mount Everest. Architecture Prof. Zenkichi Hirayama was the expedition's general leader. The expedition under him included 13 climbers, six scientists, two Chinese liaison officers, an interpreter and 31 Sherpas. On March 25 we established Base Camp at 5150 meters on the Rongbuk Glacier. By April 29, we had completed the extension of the route through the crux section of the northeast ridge. At this point the Japanese expedition members descended to Base Camp, and the Sherpas to ABC, to rest. The original plan was to have two summit parties assault the summit on separate days, but with the weather stabilizing and with the forecast sent to us from Japan calling for continued good weather, we decided to combine the two parties into one consisting of Furuno, Imoto, Lhakpa Nuru and Dawa Theri. Another eight Sherpas were sent to establish Camp 6, and the last camp, Camp 7, above 8500 meters.

May 7, the summit party climbed up to Camp 4, and May 8 to Camp 5. Furuno, Imoto and 10 Sherpas hooked up to oxygen, departed at 8 a.m., advancing to where the 1992 Japan-Kazakhstan Joint Expedition had bivouacked, and only five meters from the spot where the corpses from the 1982 British expedition were found buried in snow.

The route up the third pinnacle was complicated, involving a series of ascents and descents. The climbers descended about 50 meters, contouring to avoid the col in front of the gigantic fourth pinnacle (Junction Peak) which loomed up ahead. At 8350 meters on the upper part of the north ridge they cut a platform out of the snow surface and established Camp 6. It was decided, with the approval of ABC, to add Nima Dorje and Pasang Kami to the summit party.

May 10 dawned clear. From Camp 6 to the point of confluence with the north ridge, the route was unknown territory. The 12 people in Camp 6 departed at 8 a.m., and fixed three pitches of rope, traversing along the slope, before discovering leftover rope from the north ridge route. They gained the top of the ridge, then contoured along the northern slope again, and established Camp 7 at 8560 meters at the base of the First Step. As soon as the tents were pitched, six Sherpas descended to ABC. They extended the route to the Second Step (8650 meters), and found that the Chinese ladder that had supposedly disappeared was still there, although it was lying on the ground. Instead of using the special aluminum collapsible ladder that they had brought, they reinstalled the Chinese ladder, then extended the route upward. Since there was room for only four people in Camp 7, it was decided that two Sherpas would have to start their summit assault from Camp 6.

On May 11 the climbers got up at 2 a.m., and started up at 4 a.m. by the light of headlamps. The two Sherpas in Camp 6 had started up at 3:30. They climbed the First Step in the darkness and continued toward the Second Step. The step has two parts, the lower 10 meters and the upper 10 meters. Having reinstalled the Chinese ladder up the upper part, they passed the Second Step easily. Dawn broke just before the triangular snowfield. The snowfield started as a hard snow wall but eventually the climbers had to break trail through softer snow. They rounded some rocks on the north face side, then, following rope left from the fall 1991 Japanese expedition, which looked like it was ready to break, traversed for two pitches. Then they climbed two 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 they had been climbing on, brought them to the summit. The summit was relatively broad, like a cornice; a surveying device with optics, which had been carried up the year before for survey work, was still standing. The time was 7:15 a.m.

After one hour on the summit, the group started down, raced back through the pinnacles, and descended all the way to ABC that day, arriving at 6:16 p.m. just before the sun set.

NIHON UNIVERSITY MOUNTAINEERING CLUB (translated from the Japanese by Harold Solomon)

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