Japanese Climber Nobukazu Kuriki Pushes on in Attempt to Summit Everest


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Red line represents the West Ridge route, Spring 2012. Illustration: Grayson Schaffer

On Wednesday morning around 10:00 EST, Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki made it clear that he plans to push on toward the summit of Mount Everest. “Then left towards the Summit of Mount Everest,” said an update on his Facebook page. “Bitter cold, and stars but out of sight, in the dark, is really like a space station. I'll see you at the top. So, I'm going! Please everyone pray.”

It is not entirely clear from his Facebook page where he was on the mountain when that announcement was posted, but updates suggest that he is at 7,500 meters or higher along the West Ridge route. “The West Ridge is one of the more difficult routes on
Everest, no question,” said Conrad Anker.

Before embedding this past spring at Everest Base Camp, Outside's Grayson Schaffer summed up the history of the West Ridge:

That’s the route first climbed by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld in
1963, just three weeks after their teammate Jim Whittaker—along with
Sherpa Nawang Gombu—claimed the first American ascent via the South Col

Back then, the West Ridge was the hardest route up the mountain, and
Hornbein and Unsoeld's climb, in alpine style, remains one of the
greatest feats in American mountaineering. According to the Himalayan
Database, only 27 people from 44 expeditions have summited via that
original West Ridge/Hornbein Couloir route or the more difficult West
Ridge Direct. Meanwhile, it has killed 20 climbers—a summit-to-fatality
ratio that makes Everest’s West Ridge comparably dangerous to the
notorious K2.

Kuriki has added degrees of difficulty to his ascent by climbing
alone and without oxygen canisters. He'll have no one to switch off with
for breaking trail, and no one to lean on for advice. “Climbing Everest
without oxygen is so debilitating,” said Anker. “It’s a
real game changer.”

Teams led by Anker and Jake Norton attempted the West Ridge this past spring, but both turned back without reaching the summit. “Post-monsoon might be the time of year to climb
that route—or a year that has more
snowfall,” said Anker. “The challenge of that is there are two to four rock climbing pitches that
are 5.7—or pretty difficult.”

Kuriki will encounter the section of the mountain with those technical pitches as he pushes toward the summit. If they are covered in snow and ice, they may be easier to ascend. When Anker and his team looked at the pitches this spring, the ice had melted and they required technical climbing. “I think that’s the result of the high-altitude
cryosphere really melting out from 8,000 meters up on Everest,” said Anker. “There’s just not
as much ice on the mountain as there was 60 years ago.”

For more on Kuriki's quest, check out “Expedition Watch: Climbing Everest's West Ridge Without Supplemental Oxygen” and follow his updates on Facebook. His posts are in Japanese, but you can click on the translation button beneath the text.

H/T: Alan Arnette/Twitter

—Joe Spring