Mt. Sagarmatha South-West Face in Winter, 1993-94

by Gunma Mountaineering Association


Summary of Expedition


At 3:20 p.m. to on 18th December 1993, we succeeded for the first ascent of Mt. Sagarmatha by South-West Face in winter. Moreover, both of the second and the third team also succeeded. So, six members in seven stood on the summit.

 It was the grand project that was made by Gunma Mountaineering Association (G.M.A.) after the second attempt to scale Mt. Everest called The Third Pole, called Sagarmatha in Nepal and Qomolangma in China, by South-West Face in winter.

It was the third record of the first ascent" coming after Dhaulagiri l (8,167 m) by South East Ridge in autumn 1978 and Annapurna l (8,091 m) by South Face in winter 1987-88 made by G.M.A.

 G.M.A. had sent three reconnaissance teams and seven expedition teams to Himalaya.

 Various difficult subjects in Himalaya are worked up one by one by the superior climbers. Now, 7,000 m class virgin peaks are in only those areas where nobody are allowed to enter due to political reason, and no 8,000 m class virgin peaks after the first ascent of Mt. Shisha Pangma (8,012 m) in 1964. So, the superior climbers are paying attention to only the climbing by difficult route.

Even climbing from variation route in that period called The Iron Age" became common sense, by traverse, by without artificial oxygen, by small number of climbers, by solo, by speedy movement, and by alpine style including all of the preceding conditions also had been made, we meet the demands of the times that develops for climbing in winter season as the following theme".


Climbing Himalaya by Gunma Mountaineering Association

 In this sense, the first action by G.M.A. in Himalaya was the reconnaissance for Mt. Dhaulagiri (7,661 m) in spring 1971.

 In spring 1970, some 8,000 m class peaks were climbed by variation route like Mt. Makalu (8,463 m) by South East Ridge, Mt. Annapurna l by South Face and Mt. Nanga Parbat by Rupar Face. Of course we had no relation with such superior climbing in the world, Gunma Prefecture was newly developing in mountaineering world in Japan who aimed to Himalaya.

 In spite of first visiting in Nepal and being perplexed, three members went up Konabon Khola, Branch of Myadge Khola, and stayed at one Japanese team's camp named GHMJ who was climbing Mt. Dhaulagiri on that time, and climbed up to Camp 2, 5,100 m high. From Camp 2, rocky ridge, one of the most difficult section, was seen close by hand and on that time they felt confident that they would climb sure" though it seemed difficult and returned to Japan.

 In spring next year, 1972, Nepal Government did not issue the formal climbing permission due to Indo-Pakistani Strife, so we examined postponement of climbing and changing peak out of Nepal at one time. We received the news that climbing permission was unofficially arranged the end of January because Indo-Pakistani Strife condition took a turn for the better, so we could start the end of February.

 Climbed up South East Ridge of Mt. Gurja Himal, already reconnoitered south side, and Mr. Myagde Matha (6,273 m), and from there we were descending in order to make the route to scheduled place as Camp 5 situated at great snow plateau on Konabon Glacier. But we gave up our climbing because one member died at Camp 4 due to high altitude sickness.

 In autumn 1975, Mt. Dhaulagiri l was scaled by eleven members of Japanese Kamoshika Dojin Team. One of eleven was , Yagihara, who was the member of G.M.A team in 1971 and 1972. Also South-West Face on Mt. Everest was scaled by British team in the same autumn for the first time.

 In autumn 1978, we aimed at South East Ridge on Mt. Dhaulagiri l. We climbed up to South East Ridge from East Dhaulagiri Glacier and struggled on the huge and difficult ridge.

 On 23 rd September, one month passed since climbing started, three members fell down to South Face side and were missing. All our searching in some days were in vain, we could not only remove their bodies but also find them. We concluded that it was impossible to search any more and started to climb.

 Three members scaled on 18 the October and three more scaled on 21st. But on 20th, the deputy leader fell down and died on his carrying way to Camp 5 (6,950 m). Though we succeeded the first ascent of Mt. Dhaulagiri l by South East Ridge, four members were sacrificed as costs.

 We lost members in both of twice expedition in Himalaya. We thought that needed in a little time to come back again next. But we joined to large expedition teams which were not sponsored by G.M.A and tried to climb continue in order to keep the ray of hope for Himalaya.

 On that time, we were shown off the first ascent of Mt. Sagarmatha in winter made by Polish team.

 Kamoshika Dojin team planed to scale Mt. Dhaulagiri l (8,167 m) by Pear Route on North Face and 10 members in 18 joined from G.M.A. Three members succeeded the first ascent by Pear Route in 26 days and made the step future.

 On the first day of our return way, we tried to select our next peak and the route while we climbed down on Myadge Khola Glacier. All of our objects were huge games like Mt. Sagarmatha by South-West Face, Mt. Lhotse by South Face, Mt. Makalu by North West Face and Mt. Dhaulagiri by South Face.


Mt. Annapurna I South Face in winter

 In winter 1984-85, we tried to climb British route on South Face, but Mt. Annapurna l did not allow for us to stand the top.

 Some of members had experience climbing Mt. Everest and Mt. Manaslu in winter season, still more, submitter of Mt. Everest in winter also. But it was quite different winter on Mt. Annapurna" from winter in Himalaya" experienced by them.

 Against our forecast, heavy snowfall attacked us many times. We had too less experience to forecast and judge about winter in Himalaya".

 It may be the discrepancy between Mt. Himalaya, border China and Nepal, and Mt. Annapurna l situated on south side distant from main mountain range.

 In autumn 1985, after returned to Japan, I took the arrangement of filming Story of Naomi Uemura" in my hands and organized the team taking film on the top of Mt. Everest. 11 members include 8 from G.M.A were gathered. It was the first operation on restoration to climb Mt. Annapurna l by South Face.

 Indian Army team was climbing before us. Unfortunate Indian team gave up by South-West Face and changed to stake by South East Ridge. In spite of some attaching, they gave up to scale. Their climbing ended tragically; one member died due to falling and four were frozen to death at South Col (about 8,000 m high). I and one more member threw down their bodies at South Col to Western Cwm due to request by Indian team.

On 30th October, seven members of our team scaled the summit under the calm and clear, and our schedule was done. Probably, it came up to my view and my wants. Now, we got the chance to rechallenge for Mt. Annapurna l by South Face.

 On December 1987, We G.M.A started to make the first ascent for South Face on Mt. Annapurna l.

 Our object was by British route and scaling in 15 days. There were no sufferers in members and sherpas though six tents were damaged and almost foods, equipments and gears just carried up for upper camps were lost at Camp 1 due to avalanche. We prepared equipments, gears and foods about double of necessity at our Base Camp by way of perfection.

On 20th December, four members started from Camp 4, 7,400 m high, and scaled the summit after hard struggle in 12 hours, though our schedule was delayed because of hurts of members due to falling stones and snowfall after that. They did not use artificial oxygen.

 However, after descended the rock face near the summit, one member fell down when they were descending on snow field where inclination became gentle slightly.

 Moreover, one more step on traversing to Camp 4 along the fixed rope, one member fell down. Only his voice oh!" and flashing spark in the dark" due to striking crampon on rock remained. He was gone and no returned.


Got over the Tragedy

 The of the first ascent" for 8 000 m class peak" in winter" by rock face route" changed in dark in a moment.

 It was the origin that the plan for Mt. Sagarmatha, Mt. Everest, by South-West Face was recognized by the board of directors of G.M.A in March 1984, when the plan for Mt. Annapurna l by South Face was driving, as possibility to climb ten years after from now by junior and senior high school students in the present".

 The period was changed due to concern with the plan for Mt. Annapurna l. In addition to, the period had to be delayed one more year and postponed in 1991-92 because of the tragedy on Mt. McKinley in February 1989, severe winter ; the late Yamada and his two members had gone. Expedition for Mt. Sagarmatha in winter was the 50th anniversary of foundation of G.M.A.

 The late Yamada was one of the world figure climbers and scaled nine peaks and twelfth of 8,000 m class including three times (in winter, in autumn and traverse from north side to south in spring) on Mt. Everest. There were no members who made the first ascent of Mt. Annapurna l by South Face in winter due to their tragedy.

 It is not too much to say that to scale Mt. Sagarmatha, the highest peak in the world and situated in exceeding altitude, by South-West Face in winter when natural condition is the most severe means to get all kinds of difficulties in climbing in Himalaya.

 We would try to do such a big climbing as one local organization in Japan named G.M.A. Moreover, we decided try to climb only by South-West Face for our target with no idea about escape route like South East Ridge, normal route, in the least. We started to arrange after concentrated all members' mind thoroughly. We resolved that even though we would fail through the misdirection of our power, we do not hesitate even to die in honor.

 How should we climb Mt. Sagarmatha by South-West Face in winter? Though we also have experience of climbing in Himalaya suitably, we would check up on the result, success and failure, of former climbing to Mt. Sagarmatha by South-West Face and winter-climbing again. I thought that we would be able to draw the answer possibility to climb" when we made the best use of our experience in the climb to Mt. Annapurna l by South Face.

 The most requisite one for success" is speedy movement. I was no anxious about their technique. We scaled Mt. Annapurna l in 20 days. Considering wind in winter and the cases of former expeditions, I would like to finish our climbing in 20 days or before Christmas Day.

 However, we were caught by violent Jet Stream in winter, in spite of reaching Final Camp height of 8,350 m twice or three times, and attacked raging gale whenever reached at Final Camp, and obstructed by cold wind blowing up and down along South-West Face.

On 9th February 1992, we could not help giving up our climbing after tried in 71 days.

Though we could give experience of climbing in Himalaya for young members, we could not only holding the acclimatization till main climbing in winter but also making the most use of it because climbing Mt. Kangchenjunga as Pre-Mt. Sagarmatha expedition was in spring season. I knew that climbing in autumn season was more advantageous than in spring for climbing in winter. I determined when we would rechallenge to Mt. Sagarmatha by South-West Face, we should improve equipments and gears in light weight, try to climb 8,000 m class peak just before main climbing in order to get acclimatization and take complete rest after the climbing.



The First Ascent in winter


 I thought that we would use artificial oxygen for climbing Mt. Cho Oyu in autumn 1993 in order to get only advantage point like acclimatization without leaving our fatigue. All of 12 members include only for climb Mt. Cho Oyu and 6 sherpas scaled the summit as the result. We could achieve the desired end purpose.

 We dared to climb with artificial oxygen and by West-North-West Ridge, normal route. Moreover, we scaled on 8th October, 11 and 12th when monsoon was over. It was all of our impression that we had never experienced such a strainless climbing in our much experience of climbing in Himalaya. Our tactics to scale without leaving our fatigue and hurtless was complete success. And it was certainly great effect for young members who got self-assurance because of being on the summit by themselves.

 His Majesty's Government of Nepal provided new Mountaineering Regulation in autumn 1992, and announced that Expedition team for Mt. Sagarmatha will be permitted five members for each team from autumn season in 1993. In case of increase, maximum two members will be permitted. Royalty for Mt. Sagarmatha costs US $50,000 per each team even if only one member, and increase of member's fee costs US $10,000 per each person. We could not help climbing only seven members because 10 members were not permitted in spite of negotiation.

Actual climbing members were seven. I as the leader and our doctor Senya Sumiyoshi joined and stayed at Base Camp by Trekking Permission. All of seven members were the members of the last winter Mt. Sagarmatha South-West Face Expedition.


Start to climb on South-West Face in Winter

1st December, at last it broke long-waited turn of winter season. But we were anxious about the weather because the sky above Base Camp were covered with alto-stratus from the early morning.

 Ice Fall, gateway to Mt. Sagarmatha, is one of the most dangerous sections of this route. There are no safe ways in the huge ice fall, 700 m distance of height by 1 km in width and blocking in our way. Devil is waiting for us everywhere with keep his mouth opening. So, not only sherpas but also we feel like to chant ONMANI PEMFUM".

 Our Camp 1 placed 6,020 m high was getting on the ice precipice.

 When we turned to Mt. Nuptse side after traversing sometimes, we could see whole South-West Face on large scale.

 Camp 2, 6,500 m high, was pitched on glacier covered with moraine and flanks of West Ridge, higher than Western Cwm a little bit, where was very comfortable as a camp site. We established it a little nearer to West Ridge side than last time.

 At 600 a.m. on 2nd, temperature at Camp 2 was -19C and not so cold as we thought.

 On the same day, Ogata, Hoshino and Dawa Tashi went up for making route to Temporary Camp on their schedule.

 In this time we pitched only one tent as Temporary Camp at the last Camp 3, and would with drew after making the route to Camp 3 (the last Camp 4). We would shift from Camp 2 to Camp 3 directly.

 At 5:30 a.m. on 7th, I got up and looked outside. What It was snowing and the range of vision became narrow about 100 m far only. Sometimes our tent was attacked by blizzard.

 We had no work in Temporary Camp due to the stormy weather, so we decided to go down to Camp 2 immediately.

On 8th, the strong wind began to rage from midnight. It raged whole day, though snow could were swept away.

 Camp 3 would be established at the same place of the last Camp 4, 7, 600 m high, in that time. That place was safe from falling stones coming from Rock Band because of distance from Large Central Gully and protected by the grey, remarkable rock wall in the back ground.

 The vertical wall about 300 m distance of height soars in black at the height of 8 000 m on South-West Face. The British called that place Rock Band". To pass that overwhelming Rock Band is the key point to attack for South-West Face. We can see couloir extending both sides under that Rock Band. Right side couloir extends for South Ridge and left side for West Ridge severally. Both of them were taken as the route by each past teams and the hopeless confronting vertical wall has never been tried.

 We alternatived the same route as the last time, first scaled by British team in 1975. That is to say we would try to climb up along the left side couloir cutting into the left edge of Rock Band.

 Nazuka's team reached the foot of the couloir cut deeply after extending five pitches on the snow wall which inclination about 50. The couloir was only 3-4 m wide and the rock wall on both side completely. It seemed that we could not escape to the both side.

 There was full of snow in the couloir as last time, and the slope of the route continued riging up in inclination of about 50. We could climb up without difficulty because the checkstone on the way was almost covered with snow in winter.

 When we extended our route two pitches from the foot of the couloir, we reached the place where we felt as if we were in the bottom of a well because of surrounded by rock wall. The place was one of the most difficult section because of the vertical rock wall about 25 m high standing in our way to Lampe.

 The good news of having passed up Rock Band was announced by walkie talkie at 14:15.

 We could reach the intended place height of 8,350 m as Camp 4 after extending one more pitch in the gully.

On 12th, we heard the roar of the violent winter wind from South Col to Mt. Lhotse side when we got up in the morning. Ogata's team shifted to Camp 3 following to our schedule though we left slightly uneasy.

On 14th, Ogata and Hoshino, passed one night at the height of 8,350 m, started to take a step onward on the virgin route. The route became quite steep snow wall after traversing one pitch on the slab from Camp 4. We went up one pitch straight, then traversed about 4 m to the right side along Snow Band and after then the first barrier waited us. The vertical wall, about 4 m high, blocked in our way. It was hard to climb with being equipped whole include oxygen cylinders in spite of only grade W+ in technical. We climbed over depended on left ropes by Korean team.

On 15th, Ogata and Hoshino having spent two night at Camp 4 could extend the route smoothly because of almost calm and clear weather, too. However, we could not reach the point, one of the most difficult section, on South Summit Gully due to lack of ropes.

On 16th, Sato told me that his rib might be broken because his chest was paining when he caught. So, Sato had to be out of climbing, Tanabe and Ezuka were sent as the second team from the next day.

On 17th, it grew colder from last night and the temperature was -23C in the morning.

 On the day, the pair of Nazuka and Goto started from Camp 4 and after reached the highest point by Ogata's team made the route on South Summit Gully from 1130.

 At first, we extended the route on the snow wall, shaped like Gully and traversed to the greatest depth like running water gutter through under the reddish brown slab zone called Rock Step by British team. Each of ropes was fixed up to the place.

 The brittle red-brown gully continued from there. We made the route two pitches of the gully on grade V+. And we reached snow wall after the gully.

 Making route on the day was finished up to there and we started to go down at 1610 and reached at Camp 4 at 17:30.

 Anyway, to scale South-West Face is quite hard. South-West Face did not allow us to enter the last gate though we were close to be able to recognize each rock of South Summit Col.

 We expected Nazuka's team on next day again.

On 18th, strong wind from last night stopped and calm morning came.

 Nazuka's team, carried our expectation on their shoulders, told us that it was calm around Camp 4 at 7:00 a.m. by walkie talkie. It was said that already Goto started at 6:45 a.m.

 Both of two reached the highest point of last day at 10:33 a.m. They started to make the route from there. At last they reached on South Summit Col. It was the time at 13:05. The summit of Mt. Sagarmatha was within hail in snow mist beyond Hillary Step from there.

 From there the route was known well by Nazuka. They went up step by step carefully in unbearable roaring gale. At 15:20 at last, they stood on the summit of the highest peak in the world in winter .

 They stayed on the summit about 20 minutes to perform the ceremony. Goto also would reach soon.

 Oh they did it. I felt relieved with all my heart. Now, I could feel without grief of tragedy. I was deeply impressed with the result of success for scale coming to my heart. It was my first impression that we would be able to return Japan sure. Finally, we were free from the feeling compressed mental pressure.

In that way, the first ascent by South-West Face in winter on 18th December was made by the first team without mishap.

On 20th, at 515 a.m. on the day, Tanabe and Ezuka, second team, started from Camp 4. At 1120 a.m. they succeeded in reaching the summit. They made the first ascent with their tenacity in spite of raging gale and attained Hat Trick. However, Ezuka was operated and removed part of his little finger due to frostbite later in compensation for his glory.

On 22nd, Ogata and Hoshino, the third team, started from Camp 4 at 6:10 a.m. Both of us carried three oxygen cylinders, made in the former USSR and capacity of three litter, on your shoulders. They climbed up smoothly without suffer of weight because of taking oxygen. Already we reached the 8th pitch when we had to contact at 700 a.m.

 At 9:25 a.m. they reached hoped-for South Summit Col. Indeed, it was raging gale as if I would be blown off. Ogata changed his oxygen cylinder while Ogata was waiting for Hoshino.

 Ogata found red gadget, wreck of antenna, empty oxygen cylinder and others in front of me. It seemed that it was the summit over there soon. It took just one hour for me from South Summit Col, and at last Ogata reached the summit at 10:40 a.m.