Steve House has sent an email from Pakistan describing his and Vince Anderson’s alpine-style ascent of the central pillar on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat, sure to go down as one of the great climbs in modern Himalayan history. The two men summited after six days of climbing on September 6.
House and Bruce Miller nearly climbed the Rupal Face in 2004, turning back at around 24,500 feet when House got ill. This year, Anderson and House chose to climb late in the Karakoram season, arriving in basecamp just as Tomaž Humar was about to launch his attempt on the same line—a climb eventually aborted with a helicopter rescue at 19,400 feet. After acclimatizing in late August on the Schell Route, Anderson and House started up the main face on September 1 in excellent weather. The “highlight” of that day was being forced to race across deep channels in a large snow couloir that was regularly running with avalanches. The technical crux of the route came on the second day, as the two men took turns leading a snow-filled, ice-glazed rock corner with very poor protection. This pitch took several hours to lead, with insecure drytooling on loose 5.9 holds and rock fall occasionally pounding the belayer.
On the third day, the two diverged from House’s 2004 line, as the heavy snowfall this year had loaded up snowfields that House and Miller climbed last year. In any case, House wrote, the “direct pillar is a more aesthetic and difficult line. The excitement of trying a new line that had some serious question marks about it won out.” The two climbed a long stretch of ice runnels and then traversed right to reach a hanging glacier in the middle of the face after 18 hours of climbing. They bivied here at about 20,300 feet.
Worried about the exit from this glacier, the two were delighted to discover a moderate ice ramp the next day that led to snow slopes above a huge rock buttress. After a precarious bivy, their fourth on the wall, they climbed slowly to a high camp at around 24,250 feet, very near House and Miller’s high point last year.
On September 6, they headed for the top in perfect weather. Two pitches of mixed climbing and some deep, unconsolidated snow made for a slow and discouraging start, but soon the snow strengthened, and at midday they joined the upper Messner Route at nearly 26,000 feet. They were carrying only five liters of fluid, a bit of food and 50 meters of 5mm rope. In late afternoon, they reached Nanga Parbat’s foresummit and took a short break while House dried his socks in the warm sun and Anderson took a quick nap. They summited at 5:45 p.m. in warm, clear weather. Darkness caught them as they descended the summit snowfields, and it was 3 a.m., 24 hours after starting, before they returned to their tent.
It took another day and a half to descend the rest of the face via the Messner Route. At their last bivy, at around 18,000 feet, they could see bonfires below and hear the celebratory drumming of villagers who had watched their progress through binoculars. House wrote: “Exhausted from eight days on the go and precious little sleep, we arrived in camp around 2:00 in the afternoon [on September 8] to the great excitement of our LO and other locals.” The two are now in Islamabad, ready to head home.