Narrow Escape Ends Winter Season on Pakistan's Killer Mountain

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Emilio Previtali (far right) snaps a photo of Polish climbers Tomek Mackiewicz, Pawel Dunaj, and Jacek Teler (left to right) before leaving Nanga Parbat base camp last Monday. The Poles stayed on for one more attempt. Photo by Emilio Previtali.

3/11/14 - Preparing for a last-ditch effort to complete the first winter ascent of 8,126-meter Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, two Polish climbers were avalanched and swept about 400 meters down the mountain. Both were injured but were rescued. The accident ends an epic season on Nanga Parbat, during which four separate expeditions attempted the first winter ascent on two different sides of the mountain.

Pawel Dunaj and Michal Obrycki had set out on Saturday to prepare the route and a high camp for a possible summit bid by two teammates, slated to start up the mountain on Sunday. On Saturday evening they called Poland by satellite phone and reported they had been avalanched at around 5,000 meters, just below Camp 1, and that one of the climbers had a broken arm and ribs, and the other had a broken nose and an injured leg. The two were carried down by their teammates, two Pakistani cooks, and a crew of helpers from a nearby village, not reaching base camp, at 3,500 meters, until 4 a.m. on Sunday. Bad weather prevented a helicopter evacuation, and the injured climbers now reportedly have been carried out to the road instead.

The Polish "Justice for All" expedition had shown extraordinary perseverance on Nanga Parbat this winter. The aborted attempt that began on Saturday was to be their fourth summit bid this year on the Schell Route. A little over a week ago, Mackiewicz and German climber David Gottler reached a high point for the year, climbing to 7,200 meters before high winds and cold turned them back.

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The Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat, attempted this winter by Polish and Italian-German expeditions. Photo by Daniel Martin / Wikipedia.

Gottler had previously been climbing with Italian Simone Moro, the most successful winter climber on 8,000-meter peaks in modern times, but Moro was disabled by stomach ailments. The Italian-German expedition decided to abandon the mountain after this attempt. But the Poles, who have spent nearly 90 days on Nanga Parbat this winter, sent a team member to Islamabad to extend their visas and climbing permit for one more try. The Polish team had attempted Nanga Parbat last winter as well, with Mackiewicz reaching 7,400 meters.

On the Diamir Face, on the other side of Nanga Parbat, two solo efforts, by Daniele Nardi (Italy) and Ralf Dujmovits (Germany) were abandoned low on the mountain because of serious avalanche danger.

Nanga Parbat is one of only two 8,000-meter peaks in the world that have not been climbed in winter. (The other is K2.) The peak, first climbed in 1953, earned the nickname "Killer Mountain" after more than two dozen climbers and support staff died in various attempts before the mountain was ever climbed. This winter, the climbers were luckier.

Sources: Altitudepakistan.blogspot.com, Nangadream.blogspot.com, Facebook.com/emilio.previtali