FIRST ULTAR ll ASCENT AND TRAGEDY, 1996

Noboru ONOE

 

Summary of Expedition

 Akito Yamazaki (28) and Kiyoshi Matsuoka (24)the Ultar ll climbing team from Tokai Branch of the Japanese Alpine Club, stood on top of Ultar ll(7,388 m) at 645 A.M. on July 11.

 Leaving Japan on June 3, and arriving in Islamabad on the same day, they started making preparations for their expedition. On June 10 and 11, they traveled by land from Islamabad to Aliabad, Hunza, the starting point of their expedition. From June 14 until June 21, they stayed in the Hassanabad Glacier area, which is located to the west of Ultar I and from where the sharp ridge of Shispare (7,611 m) can also be seen. From this location, Yamazaki and Matsuoka intended to physically prepare themselves for the high altitude climb. Bad weather, however, kept them from doing as much training as they had hoped.

 On June 22, they climbed down to Aliabad in order to make a reconnaissance of the southeast pillar through Nagar Hill, which commands a good view of Ultar ll. They also reconnoitered Mr. Hasegawa's Ultar Glacier route. Studying these two routes carefully, they decided to take the latter route, even though they had planned on taking the former, since they thought they would have a better chance of successful ascent to the summit.

 On June 25, they left Karimabad and set up Base Camp at Ultar Glacier (3,100 m), and on the following day, Advance Base Camp at 4,500 m. On June 29, they ascended, fixing eight 50-meter ropes at dangerous spots, while reconnoitering the route on the way.

 On July 2, they moved up to Advance Base Camp and their Ultar ll climb started.

 On July 3, Yamazaki and Matsuoka left Advance Base at 200 a.m. Taking advantage of the early morning hours, there was hardly any danger of falling rocks or avalanches as they passed a big valley runse. At 800 P.M., they stopped and camped at 5,200 m. There, they deposited food for one day and a can of gas to be used on their way back. They had fixed eight 50-meter ropes before they reached this point, and they had only one 50-meter rope left for the rest of the climb. At 1100 P.M., in the moonlight, they started on their climb on the rocks and ice. They safely passed the 5,350 m point, where an avalanche had hit Mr. Hasegawa 5 years before. At 900 a.m. on the following day, they reached the 5,500 meter point, and being afraid of causing avalanches and falling rocks by moving during the day, they stayed there.

 At 8:00 p.m., starting again in the moonlight, they got to the edge of a hanging glacier which continued for 300 meters. Crossing one crevasse after another, crawling beneath overhanging rocks, they gradually moved up the glacier However, unable to go through the dangerous area by 4:00 p.m., they decided to set up a tent inside a safe crevasse at the altitude of 5,800 meters.

 On July 7, at 4:00 a.m., they left this spot and managed to get over the hanging glacier. They stayed on the snow on Snow Peak (6,000 m) that night.

 Starting at 400 a.m. on July 8, they advanced on the ridge of ice and rocks, sometimes losing their way, sometimes thinking of retreating. They came to a spot where they feared it impossible to climb as they had already used up all of their ropes. Luckily at that point, however, they happened to find a find a fixed rope left there by previous climbers. Using it, they got down to the runse, and at 8:00 p.m., they again climbed up to the ridge, which was the rocky base (6,300 m) in the foreground of Head Wall leading to the summit. They had proceeded staccato all the way up there. They stayed overnight in the tent.

 On July 9, at 4:00 a.m., they began to climb on the rocks of Head Wall. On the lower slope, they managed to go up on the snow walls, but they came to a deadlock at 6,600 meters. At 8:00 p.m., they decided to bivouac there.

 On July 10, at 4:00 a.m., they started, though without any climbing equipment to be used to attack the sharp slabs and cracks. Then they finally went through the wall at around 8:00 p.m., it got dark and they were forced to bivouac again at the altitude of 7,000 meters. At this point, they had only a small amount of food and fuel left, but both Yamazaki and Matsuoka were quite sure that summit of Ultar ll was not far beyond this point.

 On July 11, at 4:00 a.m., they started their ascent. Since they had decided to retreat if they failed to reach the summit on this day, they carried nothing with them. They advanced with continuous steps along the 30 degree ridge up to the foot of a big peak, which was likely the one called Junction Peak by Mr. Hasegawa. After taking a short rest and exchanging words of encouragement to one another, they went on, finally reaching the summit of Ultar ll(7,388 m). There they stood at 6:45 a.m. on July 11. It was a lucky mistake for them to have taken the left-side route of Head Wall.

 From the top of Ultar ll, where they stayed for less than 10 minutes due to the strong wind and piercing cold, Akito Yamazaki and Kiyoshi Matsuoka witnessed the beautiful peaks of Rakaposhi (7,788 m) and Dilan (7,257 m) to the south ; snowy Ultar I (7,329 m) and Shispare to the north ; and the rock tower of Lady's Finger far below their eyes. Yamazaki and Matsuoka got down as far as the 6,300 m point on the same day.

 On July 12, at 400 a.m., in the favorable weather condition of the early morning, they started descending. By afternoon, though, the blinding snowstorm made it very difficult for them to find their way down. They persevered, but by 8:00 p.m., they were compelled to bivouac on Snow Peak (6,000 m), with scarce food and fuel.

 From July 13 through 16, the severe snowstorm kept them from going out of the tent. During this period, they ate nothing since they wanted to keep their small supply of food for the long descent ahead of them. They had only a little water which they got by melting snow a cigarette lighter. On the 15, a strong wind made a 5-centimeter tear in the tent, through which snow was blown in, wetting their sleeping bags.

 

 On July 17, the weather finally improved. In spite of their wish to move early in the morning while the weather was good, they felt too cold to go out. Then, finally, with their gear all on, they ate three cookies each, drank some water, and started from the tent at 10:00 a.m., hoping to get to the 5,200 m spot where they had deposited their food and fuel. Though they climbed down to the 5,500-meter spot through the ice and snow wall, they could not go any farther. At 8:00 p.m., they had to stay there overnight.

 On July 18, they walked through the very unstable and dangerous area with greatest care from 4:00 a.m. through to 8:00 p.m., when they got down to the 5,200 m spot where they had expected to find the deposited food and fuel.

 Devastatingly, they could not find the food and fuel they so desperately needed. They were beneath the layer of fallen serac.

 On July 19, they started out at 4:00 a.m. At around 10:00 a.m. they managed to get to the place with fixed ropes. Shortly after noon, a little above Advance Base, Yamazaki, who was walking ahead of Matsuoka, was met by one of the porters who came up with some food. Each of them was delighted to get a one-liter bottle of orange juice and two bars of chocolate. In the evening, they modestly celebrated their successful ascent with some porridge and Chinese noodle soup.

 On the morning of July 20, Yamazaki began to feel very sick. He complained of a violent stomachache. On the following day, his condition worsened. Matsuoka requested the liaison officer to get helicopter evacuation for Yamazaki. However, at 11:00 p.m. at Advance Base Camp, Yamazaki breathed his last breath, before the arrival of the helicopter. His body was carried down to Islamabad to be met by his family and friends, and then, on July 30, cremated in thee open air.

 The cause of his death cannot be specified. Most probably it is not high altitude sickness, but rather may be a result of stress caused by a sudden worsening condition of the digestive organ, or acute appendicitis. May his soul rest in peace.