Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

In death, as in life, Japanese mountaineer Nobukazu Kuriki provoked admiration, grudging respect and incredulity over his risk-taking.

Kuriki, 35, won a legion of fans with his unconventional habit of providing a running commentary online of what he was experiencing while climbing.

His death was confirmed May 21 during his eighth attempt to conquer 8,848-meter-high Mount Everest, the world's highest peak.

Fellow mountaineers felt that Kuriki was foolhardy and rash in trying to reach the summit via the most difficult route, the Southwest Face, which is a sheer wall of rock.

'SHARING ADVENTURE’ ONLINE

He set out May 5, but decided at an elevation of around 7,400 meters to turn back and descend as he felt too sick to go on.

His last radio contact with ground staff was early on May 21. A film crew went searching for him and found his body that morning. Kuriki had apparently taken a tumble, falling 100 or 200 meters.

Kuriki’s trademark was to provide live broadcasts while climbing, even if they showed him weeping at a decision to abandon an attempt.

His motto, “sharing the adventure,” along with his dogged determination to push himself to the limit, made him one of the best-known climbers in Japan. That said, his skill at scaling rock and ice faces was not regarded at particularly exceptional.

Kuriki's goal was to conquer the Seven Summits on the world's seven continents by climbing solo and without oxygen.

Everest, which had defeated him on seven previous attempts and cost him nine fingers due to frostbite on one occasion, was the last summit on his list.

Except for Everest, the other peaks were under 7,000 meters, so there was no need for supplemental oxygen at higher elevations.

He was also accompanied by a film crew, although the members kept a safe distance. Some questioned whether Kuriki was right to publicize the goal under such conditions of “solo, with no oxygen.”

MOST TREACHEROUS ROUTE

Kuriki's decision to attempt the most difficult route prompted fellow climber and good friend, Yasuhiro Hanatani, to question the wisdom of doing so.

“Everyone is free to decide which route to take,” Hanatani, 41, said. “But he would not have been able to make it to the summit (going that way). I don’t think anybody knows a climber alive who could climb it solo without oxygen.”

Mount Everest is no longer the hazardous peak many believe it to be, especially if climbers have oxygen tanks and choose their route upward carefully.

The most popular approach is via the Southeast Ridge, which is lined with fixed ropes for the convenience of the hordes of climbers that go year after year.

But taking that route would have conflicted with Kuriki’s “solo” principle of not wanting outside assistance.

That probably explains his decision to opt for the course that killed him.

In autumn 2012, Kuriki attempted Everest via the West Ridge, another difficult route. Howling gales and low temperatures led to the amputation of nine frostbitten fingers.

“A climber may appear reckless, but in fact has to look at himself objectively in figuring out what needs to be done to reach the top,” said climber Ken Noguchi, 44. “I can’t imagine (Kuriki) truly believed he would be successful attempting the climb via the Southwest Face. It seems to me that at some point, his goal was no longer about stepping foot on the summit but exposing himself to the toughest conditions imaginable and sharing that with people.”

Noguchi said that he and Kuriki passed each other on the mountain in April as Kuriki was heading toward base camp.

“He did not appear to be in high spirits ahead of his ascent,” Noguchi said. “It looked as if he had been in a tight spot and was exhausted.”

AN INSPIRATION TO MANY

Noguchi, lamenting his friend's death, was unhappy about the attitude of Kuriki’s fans.

“Instead of telling him to just ‘hang in there,’ they could have also said something else," he said. "Kuriki was the sort of climber who inspired so many people. I will really miss him.”

Hanatani, like many others, was unstinting in his praise for his late friend, observing that Kuriki through his climbing endeavors "struck a chord with many people."

“It’s not just about whether he climbed difficult peaks,” Hanatani said. “Just consider how many people got encouragement from him through his online broadcasts, writings and lectures.”

Given that Kuriki had previously scaled Broad Peak, which at 8,051 meters is the world’s 12th highest mountain, “he would have had a good chance of ascent without oxygen if only he had taken the (easier) Southeast Ridge ... but that would have meant not doing it solo,” Hanatani added.

(This article was written by Takeo Yoshinaga and Yukio Kondo.)