The Antarctic veteran who made a pioneering winter ascent of Mt Fuji
Thomas Orde-Lees (1877 – 1958) was probably not familiar with the term ‘adrenalin junkie’. But it might well have been invented for him. As a Royal Marine, he first visited the Far East during the Boxer Rebellion. Then he signed up for Shackleton’s disastrous Trans-Antarctic Expedition, in which he served as the storekeeper.
Having survived the forced sojourn on Elephant Island, he joined the Balloon Corps on the Western Front. By the end of the first world war, he was an officer in the Royal Flying Corps, where he became an enthusiastic advocate for the use of parachutes. To prove their effectiveness, he once jumped from Tower Bridge into the River Thames.
After the war, he came to Japan to teach parachuting techniques to the nascent Imperial air arm at Kasumi-ga-ura. It was during this assignment that he conceived the idea of a winter ascent of Mt Fuji. A first attempt on January 28, 1922, failed after a “hurricane” caused Orde-Lees and a companion to run out of time. On February 10, they came back, dragging a home-made sledge made from the wreckage of a crashed aeroplane.
Overnighting at the Tarobo hut on the Gotemba trail, they climbed the mountain on snowshoes as far as the sixth station and thereafter on home-made crampons screwed to the soles of their boots. The ice-axes came from a shop called Mimatsu at 8 yen a piece. The climb to the summit took a full twelve hours: “Only a brief halt was made,” records Orde-Lees, “sufficient to tie to a rock close to the hut in that place a quite unique identification mark. This consists of an aluminium foot-rest from the rudder-bar of an AVRO aeroplane …”
The descent was more perilous than the ascent. The men lost their way in thick mist and “Great difficulty was experienced in keeping any direction at all.” Worse still, “The compass had been mislaid.” As a result, they did not return to the Tarobo hut until the early hours of February 13. A week later, the airmen came back to Fuji for a third time, to search for the supplies that they had cached during their successful ascent but mislaid on the way down.
Two articles, one including a full report by Orde-Lees himself, were published in the local English-language press in the same month. These were later collected in Volume XVI of Inaka, the newsletter of the Mountain Goats of Kobe under the title, “The Dream of Ages”. Thanks to the assiduous researches of Iain Williams of the Toyohashi Alpine Club , the full text of that report can now be presented below.
The Dream of Ages: From Inaka Volume XVI
An ascent of Mt. Fuji in the middle of winter is reported by Kokusai. Two members of the British Air Mission now engaged in training Japanese naval aviators performed this feat,-Lieutenant-Commander T. Orde Lees, and Mr. H. Crisp. Commander Orde-Lees is a well-known parachute expert, and was a member of the late Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition of 1914-16 when he had charge of the motor sledges.
Their great climb was made on the 11th, 12th and the early morning of the 13th of this month, the journey up and down the mountain, including rests, occupying exactly forty-eight hours. The climbers started from Gotemba without guides, coolies, or horses, but had the assistance of two personal friends, Messrs. Adams and Earwaker, who helped them to haul their equipment packed on a small sledge (made from a crashed aeroplane) as far as a hut, 4,700 feet up, where the first night was spent.
All through that night a violent storm raged, but a start could be made the next day, and the summit was reached at 7 p.m. on the 12th.
At a height of 10,000 feet the climbers "cached" their entire equipment, cameras, spare clothing, thermos flasks, snowshoes, and all their food. They then made the top of the mountain, travelling as light as possible.
Unfortunately the descent was made in a dense fog, and the travellers were unable to locate their "cache," owing to the fog and the darkness, and they had to return without any of their property. In spite, however, of going without food for twelve hours they arrived at Gotemba none the worse. They said the cold on the summit at night was not severe. The snow extended as far down as the 2.500 foot line. The last 4,000 feet of the climb was over solid ice and took them nine hours to accomplish.
A recording barograph was carried throughout the expedition and affords indisputable proof of their feat.
Commander Orde Lees further stated that he and Mr. Crisp are going to repeat the climb almost immediately in order to recover their lost property.
The above item of interest appeared in The Japan Chronicle of Sunday. February 19. 1922, and was followed by a few remarks by The Japan Advertiser of the same date under large head lines :-
SNOW-CLAD SIDES OF FUJI-SAN SCALED BY BRITISH AVIATORS.
At last the dream of ages has been realized. The summit of Mt. Fuji has been reached in the dead of winter, but it fell to the lot of two members of the British aviation instruction corps, veterans of adventure in other parts of the world, to accomplish the feat. The men -Lieutenant Commander T. Orde Lees and Mr. H. Crisp, who are stationed at the naval aviation training school at the Kasumigaura as instructors - left on the trip February 11, reaching the top and returning early February 13.
They started from Gotemba with their equipment on a sledge constructed from a damaged airplane, without guides, horses or coolies. Mr. Adams and Mr. Earwaker of the flying corps helped them haul their supplies to the hut 4,700 feet up the side of the mountain. There they spent the first night.
STORE AND THEN LOSE FOOD.
Throughout the night a severe blizzard raged and on into the next day, but they started early and reached the top at 7 o' clock that evening. When 10,000 feet up they cached all their food and supplies in order to travel as light as possible, but when they descended a dense fog prevented them from recovering their possessions. They arrived at Gotemba none the worse for the trip, although they had been without food for 12 hours.
A recording barograph, which they carried with them, proves the veracity of their story. The last 4,000 feet was up almost a solid wall of ice, being so difficult to climb that the task took nine hours. Snow extended down to within 2,500 feet of the sea level. At the top, they say, the cold was not as severe as they had expected. The two men intend to repeat the climb sometime soon, when they will make an effort to regain their property hidden in the snow on the side of the mountain.
STUDENT'S ATTEMPTS HAVE FAILED.
For many years Japanese mountain climbers, especially students, have each year tried to reach the top of Fuji-san but each time the severe cold and depth of the snow has turned them back either at the seventh or eighth station. A party of eight fought their way to the seventh station last month but were unable to go higher. Lieutenant Commander Orde Lees is a parachute expert of world fame and has a record of 81 drops from airplanes. He was in charge of the motor sledges on the Antarctic expedition made in 1914-16 by the late Sir Ernest Shackleton, and he is said to have attained considerable note with climbing expeditions in the Alps. With Mr. Crisp he was in the London Daily Mail Handley-Page airplane which was wrecked at Carlisle en route to Scotland with copies of the newspaper some time ago.
THE SECOND ASCENT
Climbing to a height of 11,700 feet over a thick crust of snow as " hard as a sidewalk." Lieut-Commander Orde Lees and H. W. Crisp, who climbed Mount Fuji a week ago last Sunday and Monday, found their supplies and equipment cached in a snowbank 9,500 feet above the base of the mountain Monday. The two men, members of the British aviation group at Kasumigaura, made their second, mid-winter ascent of Fuji for the purpose of retrieving their cached supplies, which they had missed while descending from the summit the previous week-end.
The two men left Tarobo, No. 1 Station from Gotemba, at 3 o'clock Sunday morning in perfect weather, ascending the mountainside over a surface of snow "as hard as a sidewalk." They reached the hump known as Hoeizan at 6 o'clock, having completed an ascent of 4,490 feet in three hours. They witnessed a beautiful sunrise, the hope of every climber of Fuji-san, but a few minutes later a blizzard sprang up and obscured the entire view and hindered the search for the lost equipment.
They searched the trail from 11,700 feet (recorded by the barograph) downward to recover their lost property. making no attempt to attain the summit. About 10 o'clock they found the store at a height of 9,500 feet and sat down to a meal of well frozen sandwiches. They descended immediately and arrived at Gotemba on foot at 3.30 o'clock in the afternoon. They passed from the snow storm at 8.000 feet into a dense cloud.
Anyone properly equipped can easily climb Mount Fuji in mid-winter, Lieut-Commander Orde Lees believes, the weather being favorable. This account of the second ascent appeared in The Japan Advertiser, Tokyo of Friday, February 24, 1922.
Here follows Orde Lees' account of the climb which is taken from a duplicate of the original copy sent to The Japan Advertiser and printed in their columns on Saturday, February 25th, 1922.
In nothing is convention more hide-bound than in the matter of mountain climbing.
Fixed dates mark the "yama-biraki " for each and every pilgrim's goal. Fuji finds no favour with the devotee before July 15th nor after September 10th.
Even the guide books give little encouragement to the snow-craftsman other than to make passing reference to the fact that the great symbolic peak has been climbed occasionally at dates without the recognised season and that plucky Mr. Nonaka and his plucky wife attempted to spend the winter on the summit. Unluckily the adventurous couple fell victims to scurvy, (probably through trying to live on tinned meats) and had to be rescued. Fortunately for them and their rescuers the calamity occurred before the snows of December had
rendered rescue almost impossible.
Every year in December the sides of the mighty giant receive a new white mantle of snow which, for the first three or four thousand feet from the top, freezes into solid ice and makes the summit virtually one great uncompromising ice-berg.
That is Fuji as LT. Commander Orde Lees and his climbing companion, Mr. H. W. Crisp, of the British Air Mission under Captain The Master of Semphill, have found it on three separate occasions during the month of February. That IS what anyone, who essays the task of a midwinter's climb up its 12,397 feet, will find they have to contend with before reaching its lofty summit.
There are tales of those who have previously reached the top in midwinter on ski, but as ski will not "bite " on sloping ice the ski climbers must have discarded their treacherous footgear thousands of feet before reaching the summit.
Again the report of fifteen feet of snow which a party of Japanese climbers are alleged to have found on January 24th at the eighth station (10,000 ft.) must be received with caution. In the first place it is difficult to understand how a party of climbers, pressed for time as one always is when undertaking a climb of Fuji's magnitude, could succeed in probing the snow to that depth nor what apparatus they were able to perform that difficult task.
Lt. Commander Orde Lees and Mr. H. S. Crisp were also up at the seventh station on January 28th, their first attempt, and. although the little hut itself was nearly buried by drift snow which had piled up in front of the hut three or four feet deep, the snow all around, and for that matter all over the mountainside, was nowhere more than twenty-four inches deep, and was mostly in the form of solid ice.
Even at that date, however, owing to the effects of the insolation of the sun on black surfaces, the ash-screes and lava outcrop stand out naked in places, especially near the summit.
To some extent these rock outcrops aid the climber but owing to the fact that much of the lava is covered with "ver-glace" (i.e. a thin layer of ice) and that the ash-slopes have combined with the snow they have thawed to form a solid conglomerate of ice and ashes, much of what, from Gotemba appears to offer an adventitious aid to the climber, proves, on closer acquaintance, to be a serious menace offering no foot-hold for the climbers crampons but an adamant resistance to his ice-axe.
The successful climb of Fuji was not made without a great deal of careful preparation, organization, hard work and a preliminary reconnaissance on the mountain itself. On the other hand Lt. Commander Orde Lees, starting from Gotemba, single-handed and with no other equipment than a steel-shod alpenstock succeeded in reaching the summit and returning to Gotemba in a little over twelve hours, on December 18th, 1921 ; but then, as he points out there was very little snow on the mountain, except at the very summit, so that, to use his own word, "It was dead easy."
Miss Fuji received the main part of her winter mantle on January 12th and the three succeeding days. From thence she became an ideal worthy of a climber's respectful homage. In the summer she flirts with the errand boys of Tokyo and offers no serious resistance to even the little schoolgirls. The mountaineer disdains to woo her then.
To attempt to climb Fuji, at present, without ice-axe, crampons and ski or snow-shoes would be mere waste of time, besides being very fool-hardy. Even to reach Hoeizan without these aids would be little short of a miracle.
For the next two months, and, probably, until the end of May, the summit cannot be reached without the equipment above mentioned.
Suitable clothing is merely a matter of personal requirement and modification to suit the weather on the day that the climb is made.
The winter climber's greatest enemy on Fuji is not the cold but the fierce hurricanes and blizzards that frequent these icy slopes licking and swirling in the bowl of Hoeizan like tormenting demons rushing out of hell. These storms which vent their fury on the mountain's sides nine days out of ten burst upon the mountaineer almost without any premonitory symptoms and threaten every minute to dislodge him from the" glacis" on which, with axe and crampon, he has secured a precarious footing.
The cold is only a matter of endurance. Some can, some cannot, withstand the trials of extreme cold; to the latter the joys of high altitudes in winter time must remain unknown.
The two climbers who succeeded in reaching the summit on February 12th were limited to making their attempts on Sundays only for the very good reason that their services are due to the Imperial Japanese Navy during the week. Had they been able to pick and choose their day their successful effort would not have been nearly so long delayed.
The first attempt was made on January 28th. 1922. Arriving at Gotemba at 12.07 a. m. in the early morning of that day it was found to be necessary to walk to Tarobo hut (No. 1 Station) through deep snow. Tarobo was reached at 5.30 a.m. ; here a fire was soon got going, tea made and a rest taken until daylight.
At 7.00 a.m. the climbers set forth. but having neither ski nor snow-shoes the time occupied from from Tarobo to the base of Hoeizan, owing to having to wade through snow knee-deep, and sometimes even waist-deep between No.1 and No.2 Stations prevented them from reaching the top of Hoeizan.
Here a violent hurricane further delayed the travelers forcing them to cling on to the icy surface roped together, afraid to move more than a few yards in a whole hour for fear of being whisked off the mountainside. When the hurricane subsided sufficiently to permit of further ascent, the time was already too far advanced to make it possible for them to reach the summit and again reach Hoeizan before nightfall. The attempt of January 28th was therefore abandoned after reaching the eighth station.
It is of interest to note that on this occasion both climbers wore ordinary knee-high rubber boots ("gum-boots") for the whole distance from Gotemba to the eighth station and back again. Gum-boots can be recommended as by far the best footgear for overcoming soft deep wet snow with impunity. Leather boots fitted with screwed-on "crampons" were carried the whole way but when the climbers needed them the wind gave them no respite to change their boots in safety.
The travellers returned to Gotemba at 3.0 p.m., having been climbing continuously for twenty hours.
During this hard climb, Lt. Commander Orde Lees had three fingers frost-bitten although he was, at the time, wearing a pair of woollen gloves with a pair of seal's hair flying gauntlets over them. The circulation was restored to the fingers only after prolonged friction accompanied by severe pain. He points out that the old idea of rubbing the affected part with snow is a mere fallacy which should never be adopted. How it became so widely current is a mystery.
Although the climb of January 28th. was abortive it was rich in experiences which enabled the climbers to provide the right equipment for the next and successful attempt.
The equipment comprised six main items, as follows:
Crampons screwed on to leather boots.
Each component was an essential without which it is doubtful whether a successful climb could have been accomplished within reasonable limits of time.
The rubber boots were used over the lower slopes where much of the snow was in a thawing condition, owing to the mildness of the day. In one place they enabled the travellers to avail themselves of the snow-free track of a runningwater course and to wade with impunity up the torrent. This would have been impossible with any other form of foot-gear without getting their feet soaking wet. Wet feet always predispose to frostbite.
To prevent the snow from entering the tops of the boots the simple expedient of turning the tops of the stockings over the tops of the boots was adopted. It is attention to just such small matters as this that make the difference between success and failure on difficult climbs.
The snow-shoes were quite home-made, on the Canadian plan. They were constructed from long strips of ash bent round to the requisite racquet shape after immersion for an hour in a hot bath. The centres consisted of cross pieces of ash interwoven with bamboo strips and string. They served for crossing the soft deep snow found between the third and fourth station and exceeded all expectations as to their value for this purpose. They were worn in conjunction with rubber boots being tied to the feet with parachute tape.
The crampons were also home-made from diamond-shaped pieces of 1/3 inch steel turned over at the extremities to form spikes like shark's teeth. They were drilled with five holes through which passed the screws holding them to the soles of the boots. They too served their purpose admirably. They were of an entirely original design and can be recommended.
Excellent ice-axes were purchased at Mimatsu for 8 Yen a piece. Lt. Commander Orde Lees considers them in every way the equal of the best Swiss axes. Although the whole ascent was accomplished almost without the cutting of a single step they were invaluable during the descent by night, preventing fatal glissades more than a score of times.
The sledge was a very necessary adjunct, needed for the transport of sleeping and camping gear over that portion of the route between Gotemba and Tarobo hut which was snow covered. It was made entirely from the remains of an old crashed Avro aeroplane and proved itself quite indispensable. The organization which achieved success could not have been put into effect without it.
The heavy padded flying suits, known as Sidcot suits, made sleeping possible in the chilly air of Tarobo. A blanket each was also taken. A few necessary camping utensils : lantern, candles. paraffin. kindling wood, thermos flasks, water-bottles, cameras, spare socks, warm clothing and provisions comprised the rest of the impedimenta.
Food sufficient for three days was taken, for Fuji, in winter, cannot be climbed in a day.
Violent opposition on the part of the railway officials at Tokyo to allowing the sledge to travel on the train without its having been properly checked nearly prevented the start being made to schedule. It was only equally violent persistence on the part of the members of the expedition that the sledge should accompany them that prevented complete disorganization of the programme.
The train arrived at Gotemba at 12.07 a.m. on February 11th, 1922, this day having been chosen for the commencement of the climb owing to its being a national holiday and therefore adding an extra day to the ordinary week-end.
Reservation had. fortunately. been made at the Fujiya hotel at Gotemba for, otherwise. the hotels were filled to capacity with press photographers taking part in a competition for the best photograph of Fuji.
These gentlemen did not appear to be in need of sleep, for they arrived at all hours of the night and passed the remainder of it talking, laughing and making merry.
In the early morning they were serenaded by the Gotemba and District brass band, before setting off on foot, on horseback and in motorcars for the field of their photographic endeavours.
Incidentally it was rumoured that a party of expert climbers was due to arrive from Kyoto that very morning with a view to reaching Fuji's fugitive summit. The climbers from Kyoto never materialized, however, but the rumour gave just that incentive of wholesome competition which stimulated the aviator climbers to success.
After considerable difficulties a small hand-cart was hired. On this was loaded the entire equipment including the sledge.
One member of the party walked between the shafts whilst the other three hauled by means of straw ropes. In this way, at 11.00 a.m., followed by most of the youth of Gotemba, the party set out for Tarobo hut (No. 1 station) ten and a half miles away at an altitude of 4760 feet.
Nearly forgotten a kettle was purchased at the last moment.
The day was moderately fine to start with, but the barometer was falling fast and at about noon a fresh breeze sprang up which gradually developed into a gale as the day wore on.
The village of Nakabata was reached at 12.30 a.m. It is about four miles from Gotemba. A light luncheon of beer and sandwiches was partaken of and thereafter no soul was seen for two days.
Soon after leaving Nakabata, at a little over 2,500 feet, the first snow was encountered. At Umagaeshi, the snow became so deep that the handcart was left in the hut there and all gear transferred to the sledge.
The stiffening gradient and mild temperature had made the load grow heavier and heavier, and now it seemed to weigh a ton. Water-bottles were frequently resorted to, especially the one which had a little whisky in it to keep the water from freezing. When they ran dry, the trickling thaw-water in last year's wheel ruts was found to be potable and very acceptable.
At 3.30 p.m. Tarobo's welcome hut hove in sight. By 4.00 p.m. the weary travelers had settled down to the cup that cheers.
By this time, the storm had fairly set in with driving rain and wind. It was not until then that it was discovered that one pair of rubber boots and one pair of leather boots had dropped off the sledge between Umagaeshi and Tarobo. One member had, perforce, to go back a mile and a half and find them, which he fortunately did before dusk.
No one lives at Tarobo, unless, may-be, the demon of that name who is there worshipped. If so his winter quarters are singularly cheerless and draughty, for the hut is empty and its walls are none too well jointed. There are, however, plenty of trees in the vicinity for fire wood, for Taroho is on the upper edge of the forest which everywhere surrounds Fuji's base and which gives to the mountain's snow-clad flanks a singularly somber girdle when viewed from any distance.
After a supper of Japanese tinned beef, bread and butter, cakes and tea Lt. Commander Orde Lees and Mr. Crisp turned in their Sidcot suits and blankets whilst Messrs. Adams and Earwaker. who formed the supporting party good-naturedly sat up by turns and kept the fire alight.
The wind increased in violence from a gale to a hurricane. Rain fell in torrents.
At times it seemed that the roof must be blown off the hut as its rafters creaked and groaned with the wind.
The draughts were prodigious.
Outside the saplings could be seen bending to an almost impossible limit.
Till 5.0 a.m. the storm raged furiously; but dawn soon cast a still upon the land quite uncanny by comparison with the atmospheric disturbance of the night.
At 6.0 a.m. the rain stopped.
Although it was misty and overcast it was decided to make a start there and then.
At 7.0 a.m. on February 12th. Lt. Commander Orde Lees and Mr. Crisp bade farewell to their efficient helpers and set off on their eighteen hour climb.
The night's rain had thawed the snow on some of the lower approaches. The thaw-water was rushing down in a lava gully. It was up this torrent that the travellers, with their rubber boots, were able to walk with impunity and to their great advantage.
When it was necessary to cross snow-fieids it was also necessary to have recourse to snow-shoes as the snow was soft and often three feet deep in the drifts. This was the deepest snow found anywhere on the mountain.
The route selected followed the line of huts of the Gotemba ascent as far as No.3 station (7,000 feet) which was reached at 11.00 a.m. after much hard work on snow-shoes. Hoeizan was avoided owing to the boisterous winds almost always present in its vicinity, even when the rest of the mountain is comparatively calm. A line was taken to the right and the other hut touched was No. 7.
Lunch was partaken of at No.3 hut, after which the gradient steepens very considerably. The surface of the snow was not yet too hard for the snow-shoes to bit so they were not yet exchanged for the crampons until the level of No.6 hut was reached at (9,000 feet). Here the surface was icy for the most part.
At No.7 hut (10,200 feet) the whole surface was covered with a thin layer of solid ice, on which no form of footgear other than crampons could possibly hold. Here it was decided to "cache" the snow-shoes, rubber boots, cameras and knapsacks in order to make a dash for the top, lightly equipped.
No.7 hut was left at 3.00 a.m.
The climbing now became steeper and increasingly difficult.
Although the crampons held so well that it was not necessary to actually cut steps, yet the ice-axes had frequently to be resorted to for handholds in crossing ice-covered traverses.
At 10,500 feet the climbers joined themselves together by means of parachute tape which is capable of supporting the weight of two men.
A slip at this point on the part of both the climbers simultaneously would have meant a "glissade" down a 3,000 feet ice-glacis and would have ended in almost certain death.
Only two thousand feet lay between them and the summit, which it was scheduled to reach at 5.30 p.m.; but climbing continuously over treacherous snow for five thousand feet, at a slope of nearly thirty degrees, tires the fittest of climbers. It was for this reason that the estimate of two and a half hours to the top was exceeded by an hour and a half.
THE SUMMIT WAS REACHED AT 7 .00 P.M.
Darkness had set in, but the weary travellers had the unique experience of being the first men ever to witness the moon-rise from the top of Fuji.
The prospect of having to descend some five thousand feet of steep ice slopes by moonlight did not, however, deter the climbers at all, for they had already amply tried out their equipment and proved the trustworthiness of their novel crampons during the ascent.
The summit was gained at a spot a little to the east of the gap by which the summer pilgrims. on the Gotemba ascent, usually enter the crater.
Only a brief halt was made, sufficient to tie to a rock close to the hut in that place a quite unique identification mark. This consists of an aluminium foot-rest from the rudder-bar of an AVRO aeroplane. It bears embossed on its surface in large letters the word "AVRO." It is about six inches long. It is tied by parachute tape to the rock which is in a prominent position, about thirty yards north east of the hut and on the inner edge of the crater lip.
The descent, as descents always are, was much more perilous than the ascent.
Slip after slip ocurred; the climbers alternately saving each other by the parachute tape rope.
Every slip was potentially fatal.
To make matters worse dense mists began to rise up the mountain's sides, shutting out the view and the kindly moon.
At 11,000 feet the climbers were enveloped in a thick fog from which they never wholly emerged for the whole remainder of the way, though the moon was just discernible at intervals and by it they were able to take their bearings from time to time.
All attempts to find the cache were futile in the fog though traversing and retraversing were resorted to.
Very reluctantly the equipment – and The Food – had to be abandoned to be retrieved another day, the ice had been much too hard to leave any definite tracks on the way up, and in any case, it was too dark to see the trail.
Great difficulty was experienced in keeping any direction at all. The compass had been mislaid. The gradient formed the only indication as to whether the course was being maintained except during the increasingly rare intervals that a gibbous moon peeped furtively through the zenith.
The loss of the rubber boots and the snow-shoes was a serious handicap; especially when the snow-fields around the base were reached.
At 11.00 p.m. the travelers were wading through snow a couple of feet deep, sinking in at every step for want of snow-shoes.
Boots and socks were soon wet through and the danger of frost-bite had to be guarded against by keeping continually on the move.
At midnight the climbers passed over a great avalanche (which must be a rarity on Fuji) evidently due to dislodgement by the previous night's rain. This is an unexpected danger on such a mountain but one which future climbers should take into consideration. The one in question was of sufficient magnitude to have overwhelmed the offices of the Japan Advertiser if they had had the temerity to stand in the way!!
A few minutes after midnight a temporary clearing in the fog enabled the climbers to locate their position. They found themselves more than a mile to the east of Tarobo. A new course was set and, after much wading through soft snow, as much as thirty inches deep, the outgoing tracks were picked up just before the fog again descended.
With the greatest care and difficulty these tracks were followed step by step until, within the vicinity of the hut, when a slight lifting of the fog revealed the hut not more than fifty yards away.
At 12.45 a.m. on the 13th. February Tarobo hut was safely reached.
At 12.50 a.m. the fog once more descended thicker than ever. Trees less than ten yards away became completely invisible; nor did the fog lift again until 7.00 a.m. The climbers had reason to congratulate themselves on not getting lost in the fog.
Owing to the loss of their rubber boots and snowshoes their feet were wet through up to their thighs and owing to the loss of their knapsacks no change of socks or other clothing was available, so a fire was lighted and wet things left to dry by it whilst the travellers rolled themselves up in their blankets and flying-suits and lay down to three hours sleep.
A little tea was available, but practically all the rest of the food had been lost in the cache on the mountain, nearly twelve hours beforehand.
It was decided to reserve for breakfast the only remaining packet of sandwiches so half of a four ounce "Katsuteira" cake comprised the menu for a frugal supper.
Slumber soon overcame the pangs of hunger; but the night turned cold as the fire died down and little inclination to prolong it beyond 6.00 a.m. was felt.
At 7.00 a.m. the climbers bade farewell to Tarobo and its demon. The remains of the equipment was placed on the sledge and hauled down to Umagaeshi. Here the sledge was left as a present to anyone who would like to go and get it and the handcart again put into commission.
The gradient made for such easy running that the climbers took turns at alternately pulling and riding in the handcart down the eight mile hill into Gotemba which was reached at 10.30 a.m. - Tokyo at 2.00 p.m.
The climbers made a vow that they would recover their lost property on the following week end or perish in the attempt. This they successfully accomplished, in so far as their property was concerned.
Arriving at Gotemba at 9.45 p.m. on 18th February they were fortunate enough to hire a motor-car which took them on their road about a mile beyond Nakabata. They walked the rest of the way to Tarobo hut where they rested for three hours.
At 3.00 a.m. a start was made up the mountain. The weather was perfect and the moon made travelling almost as easy as by daylight; moreover the surface of the snow was everywhere frozen as hard as a side-walk. The going was so propitious that 4,500 feet were climbed in an hour and the ridge of Hoeizan reached at 6.00 a.m.
The travellers witnessed the glorious spectacle of a winter sunrise from near Fuji's crest. But, alas, with the dawn there sprang up one of those blinding blizzards for which Hoeizan had previously distinguished itself.
A slight mistake in the situation of the rocks of Hoeizan involved the travellers in an exceedingly stiff climb of some two hundred and fifty feet at an angle of about 60 degrees before they were able to surmount the well-known ridge. As a matter of fact this was the only of real climbing indulged in on any of the occasions referred to.
The ridge of Hoeizan was one great snow drift with here and there a dangerous cornice; but nowhere was the snow more than four feet deep as the ice-axes touched bottom on every sounding.
An argument now took place between the climbers as to the most probable position of the cache.
Meanwhile the blizzard increased. The icy particles whisked along by the wind quite blinded the eyes and caused considerable pain. It was only by turning the head sideways and holding both hands over the eyes that the long ridge was successfully negotiated. The wind was just like standing in the backwash of an aeroplane propellor.
Often one could not see from one hut to the next, and a comprehensive view of the mountain side was quite out of the question. There was, therefore, nothing for it but to visit each and every hut in turn. In this quest the climbers had ascended, unknown to themselves, to a height of 11,500 feet before they finally came to the conclusion that, after all, they must have made a mistake and that the cache must be "miles lower down", as Mr. Crisp put it.
Only too willingly, to get out of the awful blizzard, they commenced the descent. Hut after hut was searched, on two different routes, some eight in all. When you long for the shelter of a hut on Fuji none is to be found, when you wish that only one existed on the mountain and that one marked your cache then Fuji seems to be literally covered with huts.
Sure enough it was not until Station No. 6 was reached on the way down that the elusive cache was spotted.
There it was at the back of the hut all caked up with drift snow which had entered the knapsacks and filled up those wonderful rubber boots of which so much has been written. The Thermos flask, owing to some unexplained laws of physics, had gone off pop, but the camera, having been carefully wrapped up in a coat, was intact. Its exposures subsequently developed
beautifully, in spite of their long freezing. The most interesting discovery, however, was the packet of week-old sandwiches which had, so to speak, been preserved in cold storage, and were found to be quite fit for human consumption.
The recovery of their long lost property and the sandwiches put new life into the travellers, and the uninviting climate in the neighbourhood formed no inducement to them to stay a moment longer than necessary.
At the level of No. 5 Station (8.659 feet) a dense layer of cloud was entered.This extended downwards for nearly two thousand feet, to No.3 Station. As their eyes had been rendered very sore by the blizzard, and as the surface was invisible, even under their very feet, so dense was the cloud, the climbers scrambled down with closed eyes practically the whole way, maintaining their direction only by the gradient.
On emerging quite suddenly from the cloud they were surprised to find themselves moving in a bee-line for Tarobo, so uniform is Fuji's slope.
At No.2 Station they came upon young Japan out on skis; not the ski of Scandinavia but an improvised abbreviation made of bamboos, ingenious but far inferior to the original for purposes of enjoyment. though it has the merit of cheapness and ease of manufacture.
At 1.00 p.m. Tarobo hut was reached and, by a forced march, the travellers arrived at Gotemba just in time to miss the 3.16 p.m. train; but they turned up all right late that evening at Kasumi-ga-ura aerodrome having, like true aviators, made what may be fairly described as a flying visit to the 9th Station on Mount Fuji.
Back to top
Nice to see this article seeing the light of day.
With regards to other early winter ascents of Fuji, there was another short write up in the same Inaka vol.
I'd be interested to know if anyone knows any more on Francis Lowe and G Guelta. Any CAI members out there with access to the CAI library to see if there was any write up by Guelta on this ascent?
Chapter VI. Another Dream
An account of another winter ascent of Fuji is given by Mr. Francis H. Lowe in a letter to the N.~C. Daily News, which shows that the recent ascent was not the first in winter by foreigners. He writes:
Leaving Gotemba, after a severe blizzard. I think on February 1st 1901, Mr. G. Guelta, a member of the Italian Alpine Club, and myself accompanied by five Japanese coolies crossed the Gotemba plain with great difficulty owing to the very heavy fall of snow and the fact that neither snowshoes nor ski were carried. The second hut was reached at 4 p.m. when the coolies, who had refused to proceed soon after the start , finally deserted, taking with them part of our stores. A start was made at 3 a.m. next morning in spite of bad weather and intense cold. The summit was reached at 2 p.m. in a thick fog after many hours of weary stepcutting. The descent offered no difficulty, the frozen surface of the mountain assisting us to glissade back to No. 2 Hut which was reached at 4 p.m. After a scanty meal a start was made on the last lap, Gotemba being reached at 1 a.m. During the trip one member of the party suffered from mountain~sickness due to the comparatively rapid rise from sea level to the summit. The other suffered from severe frost bite in both feet and had a narrow escape from amputation. Weather conditions appear to have been very similar on both occasions. We came to the conclusion that the climb would have been easier on the sea~ward side.
Mr. Lowe adds that the "unfortunate" one who was frostbitten was on his way home when the expedition was undertaken, having temporarily booked a passage on the City of Rio de Janeiro, and was still in the Tokyo University Hospital when the news of the sinking of that ship with nearly all hands was published.
This article appeared in The Japan Chronicle of Wednesday, March 8, 1922
Post a Comment