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Asia, China, Gasherbrum II, Northeast Ridge, Attempt

Gasherbrum II, Northeast Ridge, Attempt. In contrast to the relative ease of access from the west (Pakistan), the east side of the Gasherbrum mountains has been called, for geographical as well as political reasons, the “blank on the map” since the first expedition of Francis Edward Younghusband in 1887. And since the famous 1937 Eric Shipton expedition, highly acclaimed for its surveys of the unknown Aghil mountains and the eventual discovery of the Zug Shaksgam River, the area has been closed to foreigners. Not until the recent decade has the authorization to enter the upper Shaksgam river area (upstream from Durbin Jangal; downstream is relatively frequently trodden by expedition parties to the north face of K2) been issued to foreigners.

Since the successful 1993 first ascent of Mt. Chomo Lönzö (7816m), a satellite peak of Makalu, from the Chinese side, the Rikkyo University Alpine Club had nurtured a good relationship with the Chinese authorities. In 1998, it was granted the authorization to access the east face of the Gasherbrum region. Initially the main target of the expedition was the east ridge of GII, which was partially reconned by the 1989 Miyagi prefecture Federation of Mountaineering Expedition. As the recon progressed, however, the route was concluded to be too difficult mainly because of its distance to the summit via a line of knife-edge ridges liable to cause avalanches.

In 1998, a reconnaissance party reported the north ridge of GII was hopeless due to the heavy concentration of avalanches. Instead, they suggested the northeast ridge.

In 1999, the main party, led by Seisei Ajisaka and comprising seven members (including a medical doctor), five Sherpas and two Chinese staff (a liaison officer and an interpreter), started the mountaineering expedition to GII.

The Japanese members left Japan on June 1, organized the expedition party in Kashgar and started the 50-camel caravan with the assistance of 14 camel herders from Mazar Daraon June 11. It took one week for them to cover the way to the Base Camp. On their way to Aghil Pass, they encountered an international party organized by Daniel Mazur. To their excitement, one of the eight members turned out to be Mr. Kurt Diemberger, who had a respectable climbing record in the Gasherbrum mountains. They exchanged friendship and were provided precious information on the climbing route to the exact northeast ridge of GII. Thanks to the information, the party adopted the East Nakpo Glacier route as the approach route to the Nakpo-Sagan col.

They passed the Aghil Pass (4780m) without any altitude trouble and covered the route on the broad river bed of the Shaksgam River. Although they did experience difficulty wading in the icy water, they at last reached Base Camp (4260m) at the confluence of the North Gasherbrum and the Urdok glaciers. Base Camp was placed on the Urdok Glacier side of the moraine on June 17.

They started climbing on June 18 and established Camp I (4500m) on the side moraine of the North Gasherbrum Glacier on June 20. They transported equipment and provisions to Cl with the assistance of the camel herders. On June 22, they reached CII (4900m) which was located on the East Nakpo Glacier, just beneath the overwhelming great snow wall. After a struggle that included the fixing of 700 meters of rope on the 500-meter icy snow wall, they reached Nakpo-Sagan col and constructed CIII (5900m) on July 5. While advancing the route, they continued the transportation of supplies as well as acclimatization.

At 6400 meters on July 14, one of the three members fixing the route was hit by an slab avalanche and suffered a light bruise on his chest. As from the middle of July, with the change of the weather cycle pattern, heavy snowfall continued and avalanches were frequently observed. On July 24, two Sherpas who were transporting materials on the snow wall between CII to CIII were hit by an avalanche, barely escaping it. Two days after the avalanche (June 26), a second avalanche assaulted the route near CII and severely damaged the route by dislodging almost half of the fixed rope and isolating Camp III. On July 27, three members who had started to construct CIV found the uppermost fixed rope slashed away on the Sagan

Glacier side by an avalanche and were obliged to return to CIII. On July 28, Ajisaka ordered the retreat, and they started the descent, having reached a high point of 6780 meters. On August 2, they completed their climbing activity and gathered at BC.

After a week’s stay at BC (on August 9), two of the camel herders arrived to report the inaccessibility by camel to BC due to the rising of the Shaksgam. (Two of their 35 camels had drowned in the flooded Shaksgam.) On August 10-11, the team transported equipment to the so-called American Base Camp with the assistance of nine camel herders. It was only on August 14 that they were at last able to start their return caravan. They reached the Mazar Dara on August 20.

Takashi Matsuda, Rikkyo University, Japan