Taliban Massacres Climbers on Nanga Parbat

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A northern Pakistan affiliate of the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the murder of 11 people at or near base camp on Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest mountain. A group of militants dressed in police uniforms reportedly entered the base camp area in the middle of the night on June 22, bound the Pakistani staff, and shot and killed 10 climbers and one expedition staffer. The dead were from China, Lithuania, Nepal, Pakistan, Slovakia, and Ukraine; one of the dead was a Chinese-American.

The massacre took place at the foot of the Diamir, or west, face of Nanga Parbat, the most popular route up the mountain. At least seven expeditions were in position to start their climbs or were working their way up to higher camps. The Nanga Parbat base camps are unusually close to towns for an 8,000-meter peak in Pakistan—the Diamir camp is only about two day’s walk from the road, compared with more than a week for the Baltoro Glacier base camps.

The base camp area has been sealed by Pakistani solidiers, and a manhunt is under way for the killers. A local branch of the Taliban said the killings were intended to avenge the death of one of their leaders, killed in a U.S. drone strike.

The climbing season in Pakistan’s high mountains has just got under way, and many expeditions were en route to base camps in the Karakoram and other ranges. Although most peaks targeted by climbers, including giants like K2 and Broad Peak, are not in the same area as Nanga Parbat, climbers must travel through the region to start their treks to base camp. (Weather permitting, it’s possible to fly to Skardu and bypass the Nanga Parbat area of the Karakoram Highway.) At least some teams have now been turned back, including the Canadian-American expedition of Jesse Huey, Raphael Slawinski, and Ian Welsted, who were traveling toward the Charakusa Valley by mini-bus but were turned around and now have returned to Islamabad. (Update: Huey has decided to return home, while Slawinski and Welsted have flown to Skardu and are assessing whether to continue into the mountains.) It is not clear what expeditions already in the mountains will do, and whether Pakistani authorities will encourage or discourage travel in the region. All expeditions on the Diamir side of Nanga Parbat are leaving the mountain.

Veteran travelers to the northern Pakistan expressed dismay that such a terrible incident has taken place, in part because until recently this area was considered relatively safe for climbers, trekkers, and other tourists. A handful of Western tourists were killed in the mountains in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but these attacks were not belived to be politically motivated. Many people in the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, in which most of Pakistan’s most famous peaks are located, depend on climbers and trekkers for their livelihood.

Date of attack: June 23, 2013