In footsteps of giants: Everest summit push special UPDATE

Posted: Oct 18, 2012 12:31 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren/update Oct 18, 2012 08:49 pm EDT) The summit push has been aborted. Please check comments section for details. Big thanks to all involved in this story, and safe descent to Kuriki.

Posted Oct 17, 2012 08:31 pm EDT

A Japanese climber is attempting to climb Mount Everest alone, and via one of its steepest routes.

Details are sketchy (some pictures on the mountaineer's website seem to be archive shots) but it appears clear that Kuriki Nobukazu on Wednesday climbed to 7500 meters where he placed his final attack camp.

This altitude is around 500 meters lower that last camp on standard routes and leaves Kuriki with a very long 1300 altitude meter summit push. He scheduled to leave camp at 10.15 pm Japan time (7 pm local) and according to latest is well on his way to the top.

An online channel has been setup with live video expected and over 200 000 visits already.


This climb is much different from the standard routes on Mount Everest: it is steeper and the mountaineer is left to fend for himself on a very exposed line. It's one of the boldest and most dangerous high altitude climbs of the last decade.

The only solo climb on Everest to date was achieved by Reinhold Messner in 1980. Messner did the standard North Col route but crossed out on the North Face to the Norton Couloir direct up to the summit.

(Other Mount Everest solo claims are incorrect, such as Swedish climber Goran Kropp who climbed Everest normal route with his Sherpa Ang Rita - at that time 10 times Everest summiteer).

Kuriki seems to have been alone from above the icefall but it's not clear if he has shared infrastructure with the other climbers through the icefall.


Kuriki follows in the footsteps of Japanese Everest legends. The first full ascent of Everest North Wall was achieved in 1980 by Japanese Tsuneoh Shigehiro and Takashi Ozaki. Starting from the Rongbuk glacier, Takashi and his friend took a direct line up a gully leading right into the Hornbein couloir. That gully is now known as the Japanese couloir.

Mike Roberts from AdventureConsultants wrote a great piece about Takashi who helped guide some of the outfit's climbs. It came as a shock to the community when the popular mountaineer, a.k.a. "the Japanese butterfly collector" died on Everest normal route last year.


Since Takashi and Tsuneoh Shigehiro pioneered the first full ascent of the North Face along this route in 1980, only five other people have climbed it.

Tragically, many have died trying along the way, including a climber from the 1980 Japanese expedition who was caught in an avalanche at 7900m; French (corrected Oct 17) Marco Siffredi who died while attempting his second descent from Everest’s summit via the Hornbein Couloir; and Swedish Thomas Olsson who attempted a ski descent via the nearby Norton route (ed note: corr from earlier stated Hornbein) with his Norwegian mate (who managed to safely reach the north side normal route after the accident).

A notable ascent via the Hornbein route was that of Swedish Lars Kronlund, who was alone and lost several toes on his 1991 summit. Part of the route, especially the beginning is very steep (70-80 degrees), Lars told ExplorersWeb, with a mid-section at 40-45 degrees.

Hornbein narrows in the end and some parts are quite jammed, Lars said: “The Couloir narrows considerably at the end, leading to a 400 m wide, 150 m high 30 degree snow field. I crossed over a little to the left and then went straight for the summit.”

Fall season

Four of the five successful ascents along the full direct route have taken place during the pre-monsoon season in May; all parties using oxygen and ropes. Spring makes the route icy and rocky while summer and fall makes it prone to avalanche.

Lars told ExplorersWeb an unsuccessful 1986 Swiss expedition that climbed the line during the monsoon (fall) had to turn back at the end of the ridge as it was pretty narrow and hard to scale without ropes.

A huge avalanche took almost the whole face a few days after they came down.

Find more such as the "night-nakedness" tale in this Everest Direct Story from a 2003 American snowboard attempt.

(Ed note: some details in this story have been clarified following comments from the community. Thanks guys.)

The Japanese climber is Kuriki Nobukazu climbing Everest via the West Ridge/Hornbein Couloir route, first climbed in 1963 by Tom Hornbein and Willy Unsoeld (USA) via the Western Cwm to the West Shoulder, and then traversed across the North Face to the Hornbein Couloir. With a 180% summit/fatality rate it's the deadliest line on Everest.

Check this link for a unique, interactive map compiled by American researcher Pete Poston and AdventureStats with details on the various lines on Mount Everest.

Eric has been giving updates in the comments section, checking Kuriki's tweets (in Japanese). Latest is that Kuriki reached the base of the Hornbein couloir.

The current line has been tried by single climbers before, without success, and latest this summer by two teams, also unsuccessfully.

Kuriki climbs solo and without bottled oxygen. He posted a video clip at C3 (7200m) on September 27, the highest point he had made until then, showing him in a pretty wild climb to the spot which usually marks the last acclimatization round before final summit push.


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Hornbein: Everest from space showing the steep North Face. The 2500 high wall starts at 6300 meters (the equivalent of 100 meter above the summit of Denali). From the West ridge at app. 7300 meter, Kuriki traversed out on the North Face and hooked onto the Hornbein Couloir. There are no fixed ropes, sherpa or oxygen support.
courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
Tsuneoh Shigehiro and Takashi Ozaki (Japan) did the first full ascent of Everest North Wall in 1980. That same year, Reinhold Messner achieved the only solo climb on Everest to date. He did the standard North Col route but crossed out on the North Face to the Norton Couloir direct up to the summit.
courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
The historic risk has been tremendous. Adventurestats list 5 summiteers and 9 fatalities on the West Ridge to Hornbein route. Including variations (Japanese/Hornbein and West Ridge Direct) Adv Stats list 23 summits and 24 climbers killed. It's among the most difficult routes on all the 8000ers and by far the deadliest route on Everest.
Image by courtesy, SOURCE
It came as a shock to the community when the popular Ozaki, a.k.a. "Japanese butterfly collector" recently died on Everest normal route.
This is Kuriki's fourth attempt in four years on the difficult challenge. 8000 meters is his top altitude so far.
Image by Kuriki Nobukazu courtesy Kuriki Nobukazu, SOURCE
Kuriki's line.
Image by Kuriki Nobukazu courtesy Kuriki Nobukazu, SOURCE

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