American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Nanga Parbat, North Face, New Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

Nanga Parbat, North Face, New Route. Since Herman Buhl climbed Nanga Parbat (8125 m) for the first time in 1953, only one party (Czechoslovakia, 1971) has succeeded via the original route. Five other routes have been established elsewhere on the mountain, but none from the north. After a 1992 reconnaissance to the north and a subsequent study of aerial photos, I was convinced we could climb a new route via the ridge derived from the East Peak of Silver Crag. Our team consisted of 10 members who graduated from the same university (Chiba Institute of Technology), though only three members had adequate experience at high altitude. Of these three, two would not be able to participate for the whole expedition.

On June 5, 1995, after a three-day march from Tatoo with 100 porters and three tons of gear, we arrived at Temporary Base Camp (3900 m), normally regarded as base camp for other expeditions. Our Base Camp was established at 4500 meters on top of the so-called Great Moraine where other parties normally put up Camp I. We kept 20 porters to transfer loads up from TBC to Base Camp because of deep snow. Spending five days for logistics assignments was perfect for acclimatization. Camp I was established on June 11 at 5300 meters on the Rakiot Glacier. Up to this point we followed the original 1953 route.

The route from Camp I to Camp II is divided into two stages. The first stage was a steep snow and granite rock wall up to 5700 meters. After following an obvious 45-degree snow ridge, the climbing started with a rock crack (IV+) and followed a steep rock and icy snow band/gully. Six pitches above the crack, there appeared one pitch of 50 meters (IV+) where a 10-meter wire ladder was fixed for load transfer. To the left of our route, a big snow gully leads up to the skyline of the ridge where we wanted to climb. However, it is raked with rockfall after 10 a.m. As we climbed higher, we felt more and more rockfall flying down toward us, as our route was directed toward the upper parts of this snow gully. After gaining about 500 meters, which corresponds to two-thirds of the first part, we came up against a massive rock overhang. To the right, no feasible route was found. We were obliged to take a route to the left into the snow gully for 20 meters to come out above the overhang. Putting ourselves into this gully required everybody’s courage. Before setting off one member confessed he would rather ask for forgiveness than be punished by the rockfall of this gully—hence, the “Confessional Pitch.” (Two expedition members, Tamura and Kousaka, were later injured in separate incidents by rockfall in the Confessional Pitch.)

After overcoming this point, the route led diagonally to the right up until we came out on the skyline ridge at 5900 meters. The second stage was a sharp, intricate and narrow snow ridge that jags almost horizontally up to Camp II. It was technically not as difficult as the first stage, but it took us five days to fix 600 meters of rope. Camp II was established at 5900 meters just below an massive ice tower on June 25, 14 days after having left Camp 1.

Above Camp II, the ice tower rose 300 meters straight up into the blue sky. This ice tower is actually the bottom end of the glacier that falls down the ridge from Silver Crag. How we could overcome this vertical ice tower had been one of the issues since the planning stage. Fortunately, we discovered a vertical slit in the center amidst the overhanging ice. After four pitches of 70- degree hard ice, we overcame the difficult section and reached the point where the ice tower produced the slit. In the slit, the exposed ice surface was replaced with hard snow and a lower angle. After exiting the ice tower at roughly 6300 meters, the route became easier and followed along a vast ridge in knee-deep snow to Camp III (6700 m), which was established on July 4 where the slope becomes steeper as it heads for the East Peak of Silver Crag.

The route from Camp III traversed on the flanks of Silver Crag toward the mouth of the Silver Plateau. After climbing two snow and rock pitches, we faced a sheer 50-meter, 80-degree crack. “Yabe’s Crack” (V) was named for Yabe, who led the crack with bare hands. After this, we traversed 400 meters further along the northwest flank of Silver Crag, then continued another 400 meters on a steep snow slope that led us to the mouth of the Silver Plateau. We completed the route up to Camp IV at 7350 meters on July 18.

On July 21, after two days of bad weather at Camp III, all six members loaded up the necessary equipment and food for one last-chance push to Camp IV. I had selected Yukio Yabe (29), Takeshi Akiyama (26) and myself (38) to go for the summit. The remaining three members devoted themselves to support, and climbed down to Camp III the same day. On July 22, the three of us woke up at 12:30 a.m. and left Camp IV at 3:10 a.m. with head lamps. However, we returned to Camp IV a short while later because Akiyama felt a pain in his chest and Yabe’s fingers and toes had gone numb with cold. During the night, we took oxygen while sleeping to gain back strength. The next morning we left Camp IV at 3:10 a.m. in windy but clear conditions. By good luck, the Silver Plateau snow field was in perfect condition with less than ankle-deep snow, and we successfully reached the opposite end of the Plateau before 8 a.m.

From the Diamir Notch, the whole profile of the summit massif can be seen. Before going down 150 meters to the Bazhin Notch, I engraved the route we should take on the summit wall into my memory. Also, I checked and confirmed with a compass the location of Camp IV in case of whiteout. Calculating that we could manage to come back to Camp IV the same day after reaching the summit, we left equipment and food in Bazhin Notch so that we could climb as lightly and as quickly as possible.

Soon after setting off into the snow gully, which rises up in the summit’s massive wall toward the north end shoulder of the summit ridge at 8070 meters, I realized that this massive wall was much bigger than I had calculated. After we had climbed almost half of this snow gully we were obstructed by a steep rock section. Leaving my climbing sack behind to lessen the weight, I led out to the left of this rock almost 100 meters to see if there was any feasible route beyond this rock section. Above, there was a feasible route which led us to the north-end shoulder in a 120- meter rope length. It was already close to sunset and becoming windy. Along the summit ridge, we repeatedly climbed up and down around small projections of rock. Suddenly, the ridge ahead of me fell away and nothing higher was left. I had reached the summit of Nanga Parbat; it was 5:13 p.m. Twenty minutes later, Yabe and Akiyama also reached the top.

We began our descent at 6:10 p.m. and continued until 10 p.m. but couldn’t reach the Bazhin Notch and were obliged to bivouac at 7700 meters with poor equipment. The next morning, July 24, it was snowing and nothing was visible, especially on the Silver Plateau snow field. However, we managed to return safely to Camp IV, 39 hours after we had left. The bad weather continued until we returned to Base Camp on July 28. It was a narrow success—thank the gods of Nanga Parbat for a lot of good luck.

Hiroshi Sakai, Japan [Translated by Masayoshi Fujii)

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