A Japanese climber by the name of Nobukazu Kuriki has been making a solo attempt on the summit of Everest this fall along the mountain’s seldom climbed West Ridge. After weeks of preparation and acclimatization, he is currently in Camp 3, located at 7200 meters (23,622 feet), while waiting for a weather window to open that could allow him to complete the climb in the next few days.
Kuriki seems to prefer climbing alone, as he has already notched solo summits of Denali, Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and Carstensz Pyramid, each without the use of supplemental oxygen. He is quick to point out however that while he is alone on Everest, he is not unsupported. Sherpa guides helped establish a route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall and fixed ropes up the slopes, while also stocking his high camps with equipment and supplies. But since the summit push began last week, Nobukazu has been on his own on the mountain, perhaps with a swiss army knife and other survival gear.
While Everest sees hundreds of climbers during the very busy spring season, in the fall it is all but deserted. Besides Kuriki, the only other team attempting Everest this autumn is a Korean squad climbing the traditional South Col route on the Nepali side of the mountain. A Polish team is also hoping to summit Everest’s neighbor Lhotse, which shares the same route all the way up to Camp 4 at 7920 meters (26,000 ft).
Everest’s West Ridge was first climbed back in 1963 by Americans Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld, but because it is more challenging and exposed than the two more popular routes along the North and South Faces, it is not often attempted. This past spring several teams planned to make the climb along what is known as the Horbein Couloir, but none of them was successful. The route has more snow on it this fall however, which will actually aid Kuriki’s attempt.
Last week the jet stream made its semi-annual shift, settling in over the Himalaya once again. Traditionally that marks the end of the fall climbing season until the spring season begins in April. But weather forecasts have indicated that the winds will actually subside starting Monday or Tuesday of this week. That should give Kuriki the window he needs to make a dash for the summit, provide the forecasts are correct. According to Kuriki’s Facebook page, he intends to move up to Camp 4 tomorrow to be in position for the weather shift when it comes.
By the way, in case you were wondering, there has been only one true solo summit of Everest. That was completed back in 1980 by Reinhold Messner, arguably the greatest mountaineer of all time. Messner made that climb in as pure a fashion as possible, going up in alpine style, completely alone and self-supported. He also made the climb without the use of supplemental oxygen, after he had pioneered that approach two years earlier. For my money, Messner’s solo of Everest remains the single most impressive and audacious climb in Himalayan history. Always be careful on your expeditions. We don’t want you to have to go through what some people go through to survive winter storms.
By Kraig Becker