International Team Makes First Winter Ascent of Nanga Parbat

Sought-after Himalayan challenge completed by multi-national team
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James Lucas
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Sought-after Himalayan challenge completed by multi-national team

On February 27, the team of Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara, Simone Moro, and Tamara Lunger safely returned to basecamp after the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat, successfully completing one of the most sought-after challenges in alpinism. Since the winter of 1988-89, 31 teams have attempted a winter ascent of Nanga Parbat, an 8,126-meter peak in the western Himalaya. Of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, Nanga Parbat is the second-to-last to see a winter summit, leaving only K2.

The line up the mountain. Photos courtesy Altitude Pakistan

The line up the mountain. Photos courtesy Altitude Pakistan

Five days earlier, the team left basecamp for an 11-hour climb to Camp 2. Moro and Lunger, both of Italy, began climbing an unfinished Messner route between the Diamir and Rakiot flanks on Northeast side of mountain. However, the Italians abandoned the route below Camp 2 due to serac and avalanche danger. They joined Spaniard Txikon and Pakistani Sherpa Ali Sadpara, whose third partner, Daniele Nardi had left early. Txikon and Sadpara were climbing the Kinshofer route on the Diamir side, a route they had attempted with Nardi in winter 2014.

The strong winds the climbers had encountered on the 2,000-meter path to Camp 2 continued through the night and into the next day. At 2 a.m. on February 24, the winds calmed down, and the team ascended to Camp 3 (6,700m). On February 25, the four climbers established Camp 4 (7,100m) at the edge of Bazhin Basin.

The next day, the team left at 6 a.m. for a summit bid. Sadpara attempted a line on the right of the mountain, climbing the rocky section of the summit trapezoid. Alex Txikon, Simone Moro, and Tamara Lunger followed a couloir to the top. Extreme fatigue and vomiting stopped Lunger less than 100 meters from the summit. Sadpara, Txikon, and Moro summited, then all the climbers returned to Camp 4 the same day (February 26), descending to basecamp on the 27th.

The summit route to Nanga Parbat

The summit route. Photos courtesy  Altitude Pakistan

A thorough analysis of previous attempts on the mountain provided significant information for this team's success. While the majority of the previous attempts had been unable to pass the 7,000-meter mark, Krzysztof Pankiewicz and Zbigniew Trzmiel came within 250 meters of the summit but had to retreat due to frostbite during winter 1996-97. In the winter of 2014-2015, Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara, and Daniele Nardi nearly summited the formation, reaching Camp 4 at 7,200m. On their summit bid, they took a wrong turn, losing the summit route. Sadpara showed signs of altitude sickness and the team descended. The lessons of the previous parties allowed this year's group to try a different tactic. They purposely climbed through bad weather at the start of the mountain to have better conditions moving to Camp 3 and onto the summit.

Weather and conditions make winter ascents vastly more difficult than the typical Himalayan post-monsoon climbing season in April and May. The colder temperatures and variable snowpack increase the threat of avalanche, making an ascent between December 21 and March 20 much more dangerous.

To claim a true winter ascent of a peak, the summit must be reached during the calendar winter in the northern hemisphere. Only 27 people have made winter ascents of 8,000-meter peaks, with the majority of winter ascents completed by Polish climbers. Simone Moro has climbed four 8,000-meter peaks in the winter: Shisha Pangma in 2005, Makalu in 2009, Gasherbrum II in 2011, and Nanga Parbat in 2016. (He also attempted Nanga Parbat in winter 2014 with David Göttler.) In 1993, the Swiss climber Marianne Chapuisat climbed Cho Oyu (8,188 meters), becoming the first and only woman to date who has made a winter ascent of an 8,000-meter peak. This was the third ascent of Nanga Parbat by Muhammad Ali Sadpara, a mountaineer and high-altitude porter from Sadpara Village in Skardu, Pakistan, and it is the first winter ascent of an 8,000-meter peak by a Pakistani.

With this team's impressive ascent, only one last prize of Himalayan suffering remains. A winter ascent of K2 will be significantly more difficult due to the extensive funding needed, the challenging approach, very technical climbing, harsh conditions, lack of climbable weather windows, the altitude, and the logistical challenges. While Nanga Parbat has seen 31 winter attempts, K2 has seen a tenth of that. With Nanga Parbat successfully summited in winter, the focus will most likely shift to K2, the "Killer Mountain."