A new breed of Japanese alpinists is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with: the second major ascent by young Japanese climbers in the Indian Himalaya this autumn was a new route on the much coveted North Face of Kalanka (6,931m), the higher easterly neighbour to Changabang in Eastern Garhwal.
The Central Spur on the North Face has become one of the most sought-after lines in the Garhwal. Back in 1977 a Czechoslovakia team climbed the right side of the North Face to gain the col between Changabang and Kalanka, then up the West Ridge of the latter to the summit. Despite the use of fixed ropes, taken in the context of the era this route remains one of the most underrated achievements in the Himalaya.
Fast-forward more than 20 years. In 2001 top Americans, Carlos Buhler and Jack Roberts made the first unsuccessful attempt on the elegant Central (North) Spur. Two years later another American team, Sue Nott and John Varco, climbed the lower part of the spur, then used a portaledge to fix ropes through the vertical to overhanging central barrier (M6), completing all the technical difficulties and bivouacking at 6,550m before forced down by storm. Buhler returned in 2004 with Sandy Allan and John Lyall but the attempt failed at around 6,000m. In 2007 Nick Bullock and Kenton Cool tried another tact, climbing the big snow and ice slopes of the North East Face left of the Spur, only to be defeated on the crest of the East Ridge at over 6,300m.
Thirty-one years old Kazuaki Amano, Fumitaka Ichimura (30) and Yusuke Sato (27) arrived at their 4,500m Bagini Glacier base camp on the 1st September and for the next eight days acclimatized to 5,800m. During this period they established an advanced base below the wall at 5,100m.
On the 14th they regained advanced base and the following day set off up the North East Face, taking a very similar line to the Bullock-Cool attempt. They bivouacked the first night at 6,000m and the following day made a long, almost horizontal traverse right below the upper rock walls to reach the crest of the Central Spur, where they bivouacked at c6,150m. On the 18th the three climbed most of the way through the steep section above (M5+) and bivouacked at 6,550m. They continued a short distance the following day to another bivouac at 6,600m, where they were pinned down for three long days by bad weather.
On the 22nd the weather cleared and Amano, Ichimura and Sato emerged with enough strength to go for the summit. This they reached in a 13-hour round trip from camp, and on the following day continued their descent, opting to follow the much safer line of the Central Spur directly to the glacier. After one more bivouac perched on the crest of the spur at around 6,000m, and a second on the glacier at c5,200m, they returned to base on the 24th, no doubt a trifle peckish having completed a hard 10-day alpine style ascent and descent on just five days food.
Not surprisingly, three days complete rest was necessary before they could even think about bringing down advanced base. The 1,800m route has been name Bushido.
Ichimura and Sato are currently two of the best alpinists in Japan. They belong to a loosely formed group of young climbers that call themselves the Giri-Giri Boys and practice hard modern alpinism, putting up bold new routes with a high level of technical difficulty in fine alpine-style. In the last few years they've made significant first ascents in Bolivia, Nepal, and notably in Alaska.
Bushido was one of six strong nominations for the Third Piolet d'Or Asia. At the award ceremony in Seoul over the weekend of the 8th-9th November, Amano, Ichimura and Sato stepped up to receive the Golden Ice Axe. More about this event will be published shortly.
Thanks to Tsunemichi Ikeda and Reiko Terasawa for help in preparing this report