Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Winter Climbs 2014: Settling Into Base Camp And Close Call On Nanga Parbat

The focus of the winter climbing season in the Himalaya remains squarely on Nanga Parbat this year, with several teams attempting to complete the first winter ascent of that mountain. While conditions were less than favorable around the start of the New Year, things have improved somewhat now and acclimatization rotations have begun. The mountaineers have a considerable amount of work ahead of them in the weeks ahead, although one team narrowly averted disaster already and have had their decision to leave the mountain reaffirmed.

Last week I reported that German climber Ralf Dujmovits had decided to abandon his attempt at a solo summit on Nanga. While surveying the route, he noticed that there were two ice towers hanging over his intended path and he realized he would spend more than a day and a half climbing in their shadow. The two towers looked very precarious, as if they could collapse at any time, so Ralf decided he risk just wasn't worth the effort and decided to pack up his things and go home. Just a day after making that decision, Dujmovits and Polish climber Darek Zaluski narroly avoided an avalanche on the Diamir Face. Ralf wrote to Stefan Nestler about the incident saying that the duo were "very lucky" to have escaped unharmed. The two men descended to BC safely and are now presumably on their way back home.

Over on the Rupal Face, the team of Simone Moro, Emilio Previtali and David Gottler have been in BC for a bit over a week now. Simone and David have both spent a night at Camp 1 as they begin their acclimatization process, while also shuttling gear up the slope. In a recent update to their blog, they reported on the journey to BC, where they indicated that security on the road leading to the mountain is quite high. Following a high profile attack by terrorists in the Nanga Parbat Base Camp this past summer – during which 3 Pakistani soldiers and 10 foreign climbers were killed – officials in Pakistan are keen to make sure everyone is safe moving forward. To that end, the climbers received a military escort to the mountain, and a guard station with ten soldiers now sits along the road that leads to the peak. That level of security will hopefully allow the teams to climb without fear of another attack and simply concentrate on the mountain itself.


There have been few updates from the Polish "Justice For All" team in the past week. In the last report, they were preparing to fix ropes up to 6000 meters (19,685 ft), with several team members already acclimatizing above 5000 meters (16,404 ft). Whether or not those rope fixing efforts have been successful has yet to be determined, but it seems likely that they would have completed the task by now, provided the weather has been cooperative.

Finally, Italian climber Daniele Nardi is preparing to arrive on Nanga Parbat soon. He'll attempt a solo summit along the Diamir Face starting in late January. After properly acclimatizing, he intends to climb in alpine style, while avoiding any sense of competition with any of the other teams.

It interesting to see so much attention focused on a single mountain this winter. With all of the other 8000 meter peaks now climbed in winter – save K2 – it seems Nanga is the prize that most are interested in. Considering the number of fatalities during the winter season in recent years, it would appear that unless there is a potential first ascent to be had, most climbers have decided the risks just aren't worth the rewards. If Nanga Parbat is finally climbed in the winter, the same level of attention could then be focused on K2, a mountain that is far more treacherous to climb at any time of the year.

Stay tuned for more updates as warranted.

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