Update: Nobukazu Kuriki decided to turn around on his attempt to summit Mount Everest. He has now returned to base camp. Learn more here.
Japanese mountaineer Nobukazu Kuriki could become the only person to summit Mount Everest this year. The 33-year-old prefers to climb alone, without supplemental oxygen, and in the off-season of autumn—and he has lost nine fingers to frostbite. He is now on his fifth attempt of Mount Everest.
With this style, Kuriki is somewhat of a hero in Japan. Today, he is nearing the South Col on his self-described “dream climb.”
The Nepal Ministry of Tourism and Aviation was very happy when the climber applied for his permit. They needed to prove to the world that climbing and trekking in Nepal was safe after the devastating earthquake and aftershocks this past spring.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 9,000 Nepalis, erased villages from landscape, and wreaked havoc on Mount Everest. More than 170 climbers became stranded in the Western Cwm after the route in the Khumbu Icefall collapsed, while 19 were killed at Everest Base Camp from an avalanche off nearby Pumori.
In a sign of support for Kuriki, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism held an unheard of news conference for an individual climber. They announced the Icefall Doctors, a special team of Sherpas, would establish the route from Base Bamp through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 2 as part of his $5,500 permit fee. The permit is half price in autumn as compared to the more popular spring climbing season.
He had planned to climb from Tibet but the Chinese closed all mountains this autumn after the earthquake. According to the Himalayan Database, the success rate on Everest in autumn is 33 percent compared to 66 percent in spring. There have only been three successful autumn expeditions over the past 15 years.
Kuriki, a savvy media pro, said “I am climbing the mountain to stand by Nepal during this difficult time, and to spread the message that it is safe for tourism.”
Kuriki is an experienced climber with summits on Denali, Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, and Carstensz Pyramid, plus three of the 14 8,000-meter mountains—Cho Oyu, Manaslu, and Dhaulagiri.
No stranger to Everest, Kuriki has made attempts each autumn from 2009 to 2012. His last attempt in 2012 via the seldom climbed West Ridge ended with a rescue as he attempted to summit.
He was climbing alone with no supplemental oxygen when he was hit by strong winds as he reached the base of the Hornbein Couloir. Developing severe frostbite, he couldn’t move his fingers. He radioed for help and a team of Sherpas from his base camp performed an urgent rescue as he descended from the West Ridge. He lost nine finger tips to frostbite in that experience.
Kuriki is following a very aggressive schedule this year. He climbed the trekking peak Lobuche at 20,075 feet for acclimatization before meeting his advance team at Everest Base Camp. He has made only two climbs to Camp 1, at 19,500 feet, both with his photographer. This is unusual in that most Everest climbers not using supplemental oxygen make multiple acclimatization rotations eventually reaching 8000 meters (26,250’) or the South Col on the Southeast Ridge route before making a summit attempt.
Knowing winter is approaching, Kuriki is pushing hard this weekend to summit. He is climbing alone above Camp 2. His last position was reported at 7000 meters, near Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face, with plans to continue to the South Col where he will take a rest day Saturday before attempting the summit on Sunday, September 27. He plans to do a live video broadcast from the summit.