Legendary Japanese mountaineer missing

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 04/10/2010
Osamu Tanabe in 2007. Hiro Hagiwara

One of Japan's greatest mountaineers, Osamu Tanabe, is missing, presumed dead in the high mountains of Nepal.

Tanabe was attempting the Normal Route on Dhaulagiri with a team of young climbers from a mountain guides association. The plan was for two of the younger members to ski from the summit.

Tanabe had not been on Dhaulagiri before, but if successful, he would have brought his total of 8,000m peaks to 10.

On the 28th September Tanabe and six other mountaineers left base camp at 4,700m and started up the mountain. By 1:00pm, Tanabe, Daisuke Honda, Kazuaki Shimada, Toshio Yamamoto and Pasang Gyelu Sherpa, who were ahead of the remaining two members of the team, had reached 5,400m when they were struck by a huge avalanche emanating from c6,600m.

Shimada was last man of the party and was able to extract himself from the debris. He quickly began searching for the others. More members were able to join the search but were unable to locate the stricken climbers.

Shimada reported that the avalanche was the biggest he'd seen and the accident site covered with hard packed snow and huge blocks.

The search, which included the use of a Nepalese helicopter, continued, but by the 3rd October no bodies had been located.

Born on the 4th January 1961, Tanabe made first ascents of Nepalese peaks Gyaji Kang (7,038m) and Ratna Chuli (7,035m), as well as Labuche Kang (7,367m) in Tibet.

He'd climbed to 8,000m summits by regular routes on eight occasions:
Gasherbrum II (in 1990), Broad Peak (1993), Cho Oyu (1993 and 2001), Gasherbrum I (2002), Xixabangma Central (2003), Nanga Parbat (2005) and Xixabangma Main (2006). He also made two attempts on Kangchenjunga.

Apart from these, he scored a notable coup for a non-Soviet climber in the summer of 1991 by reaching the summits of Piks Korzenevshoi (7,105m), Lenin (7,134m) and Kommunizma (7,482m) in one season - three out of the four 7,000m peaks in the CIS.

However, it was on the world's biggest peaks that he really left his mark.

In 1993 he made the first Nepalese-winter ascent of the South West Face of Everest, reaching the summit on the 20th December, one day before the start of the true calendar winter [the official Nepalese winter season runs from the 1st December - 15th February]

In 1995 he made the first ascent of the huge and complex East Ridge of Makalu, which rises from c4,000m in Tibet to the 8,463m summit.

Two years later he completed a partial new route up the West Ridge -West Face of K2. Oxygen was used on this ascent, which proved to be the last of the mountain that century.

One of his finest achievements took place in 2006, when after two attempts in previous years he climbed the South Face of Lhotse (8,516m) in winter. He reached the summit ridge on the 27th December, but it was too late in the day to continue the remaining 200m to the highest point.

Tanabe's latest success was the first ascent of the West Ridge of Nemjung, an elusive 7,140m mountain in Nepal that had only seen one previous ascent (in 1983).

Despite his impressive achievements throughout the Himalaya and Karakoram, Nemjung was the first, and sadly the last, major peak that Tanabe would climb in alpine style.

Thanks to Hiro Hagiwara for help with this report


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