View of Nanga Parbat Rakhiot Face. With the North summit in the centre, East Peak and the Silver saddle/plateau on the left and the Bahzin hollow on the right.
- Elevation : 8126 meters (ranked 9th)
- Location : Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan (Karakoram)
- Coordinates : 35° 14′ 15″ N, 74° 35′ 21″ E
- First Ascent : July 3rd 1953 (ranked 2nd)
- First Ascent Expedition : Herman Buhl
- First Winter Ascent : None (as of 2012)
- First Winter Ascent Expedition : None (as of 2012)
- Death Rate : 22.30 % (ranked 3rd)
- Ascents : At least 276 (2007), assumed ranking : 9th
- Deaths : At least 68 (2012), assumed ranking : 3rd
- Standard Route : West-Face (Diamir): ‘Kinshofer‘ Route
- Unclimbed Route(s) : Rakhiot Face – Pilar Val Fiemme, Diamir Face – Mummery Rib,
Nanga Parbat is the westernmost eight-thousand meter peak. It is often referred to as the western anchor of the Himalayas. It is located in the political entity of Gilgit-Baltistan within Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Nanga Parbat is famous for its tremendous vertical relief over local terrain in all directions. To its North flows the Indus river. From the Indus valley tremendous shots can be taken of Nanga Parbat. To the North-East of the mountain lies ‘Fairy Meadows’, described as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. From there you can view the ‘Rakhiot’ face of Nanga Parbat. To the south lie the village of Rupal and the glacial lake of Latbo, also locations with a pristine view on the mountain. The Rupal face rises 4600 meters above its base and is considered the highest mountain face on Earth.
Nanga Parbat is one of our favourite mountains for several reasons: the dramatic rise above terrain, the massive bulk of rock and ice (especially on the Mazeno Ridge), its relatively secluded location and the fact no other 8000 meter peaks are really nearby.
It is known also as the German mountain, because (Nazi) Germany put a lot of effort into becoming the first nation to ascend it.
Nanga Parbat has a rather complex layout, which I’ve tried to recreate using this simple drawing. This is of course a very rough sketch but it gives you an idea of the location of the summit and the different faces. The black lines represent the main ridges.
The Mazeno ridge, starting in the West and heading North-East, forms the core of the mountain range. The Western part of the Mazeno Ridge up to the Mazeno col (just West of the summit ridge) is known as the Mazeno Wall. The wall has 8 subsidiary peaks over 7000 metres. It is roughly 10 kilometres long and is considered the longest ridge on any 8000 meter peak. It was climbed in its entirety in 2004 by Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson. Five expeditions before them had failed. But after accomplishing this remarkable feat, the duo had no energy left to continue up the summit ridge. In 2012, the ridge and summit were finally mastered by Brits Rick & Sandy Allen (after the other half of the expedition descended a new route after Mazeno Peak). Therefore, all attempted routes on Nanga Parbat to this day have been climbed at least once.
To the North of the actual summit, between the ‘East’ and ‘North’ peaks, the North face of the mountain is divided in half by a second ridge (sometimes referred to as the Diama ridge or simply North ridge). The Western side of this divide (West face) is known as the Diamir face. The other face is known as the North face or Rakhiot face. This Rakhiot face is also home to a number of subsidiary peaks, such as East Peak (“Silberzacken”, 7597m), Rakhiot Peak (7070m) and to the far East, South Chongra Peak (6448m).
In pictures, especially those taken of the Rakhiot face, people often confuse North Peak I or II with the actual summit, which isn’t visible from the North. The Rupal face offers the clearest shot of the summit. The Rakhiot face is the gentlest to climb, but has a long approaching route. The Rupal face is the steepest and most technical but presents the shortest way to the top. The Diamir face is in between as far as steepness goes but is the least technical. But it also has the most glaciers and seracs, making it avalanche prone.
There are nine different routes on Nanga Parbat. We’ll try and briefly explain them here. We’ve divided the routes according to the face the climbers used to top the mountain.
Rakhiot Face Routes
1 : Buhl Route / Rakhiot Glacier and East Ridge (1953)
The Buhl route is the route used by Herman Buhl in 1953 for the first ascent of Nanga Parbat. He was the first and only person to solo a first ascent on any eight-thousander. In 1971 Ivan Fiala and Michael Orolin repeated the route and the rest of that expedition ticked off the subsidiary peaks on the Rakhiot Face (East) ridge.
The route starts at the Rakhiot glacier and follows the big moraine staying East of the North/Diama ridge that divides the North face. It then bends Eastbound (roughly start of the dotted line) a cross the Rakthiot fern ascending the Face just North-East of Rakhiot Peak. The route then traverses below Rakhiot peak on the north face side, before reaching the crest of the ridge. Then it follows a path in between the East Peak and the ridge proper (slightly erroneous in the drawing, we do not actually cross over to the south face). This narrow section, a bottleneck if you will, is called the silver saddle. The saddle leads to The Silver Plateau, a basin between The North and East peaks and the main ridge. This plateau is a whopping 3 kilometres long and is a particular drainer of strength at that altitude with often deep snow and exposure to the sun.
At 7800 metres, the route reaches the col between the North ridge and the North Peak. The final part consists of climbing the rocky North ridge up to the shoulder and the summit. This is technically the most difficult part. It is not ideal to have technical climbing above 8000 metres, perhaps that’s why this route is no longer in use. We will go into the details of this first ascent a little later in the ‘Climbing History‘ section.
2 : Japanese Route (1995)
The 1995 Japanese route follows the Buhl route approach up to the point where that bends East towards the Rakhiot peak. Rather than avoiding the North/Diama ridge, the Japanese route follows a direct line through the Easternmost reaches of the North ridge.
This first section is a 600 meter steep rock wall, part of the North ridge, and forms the first formidable challenge. The route then goes up the Rakhiot face almost directly below East Peak, meaning one has to manoeuvre the 300 meter hanging glacier below it. Because the route stays below the East peak a lot of the time, it is prone to rockfall from both the main ridge as well as the North ridge. In one particular section which the Japanese dubbed the ‘Confessional Pitch‘, two Japanese expedition members were seriously injured by rockfall.
Before entering the mouth of the glacier with access to the Silver Plateau, they had to pitch another challenging 50 meters of rock (level V) dubbed ‘Yabe’s Crack‘.
They could then finally traverse the glacier below the Silver plateau diagonally from East to West (indicated in picture).
The Route then became similar to 1953 also crossing the Silver Plateau behind North Peak just a little bit more to the North.
Rather than following the technical North ridge up to the shoulder, the Japanese used the Bahzin gap to the West of col (part of the Diamir face). Perhaps Buhl never considered this because it first meant descending 150 meters on the Diamir face. Because of a very technical rock section in the final part of the summit wall, the Japanese climbed back onto the North Ridge for the last 100 meters or so and then onto the shoulder. They reached the summit very late at 17.15 pm after an intensive and difficult climb. During their return, they survived a bivouac above the Bahzin gap. This route turned out more technical than 1953, especially in the earlier sections. It makes good use of the Bahzin gap but has not been repeated since.
Rakhiot Face – Pilar Val Fiemme (ITA 1988, see climbing history)
Diamir Face Routes
3 : Kinshofer Route / Diamir Flank Route (1962)
The ‘Kinshofer’ route was opened up by German climbers Toni Kinshofer, A. Mannhardt & S. Low in 1962 (red line in picture above). It was the first route to make use of the Diamir face and has since become the standard route for climbing Nanga Parbat. The crux of the route lies in the section indicated with number 1. There and in the section above, the climbers have to pass through rocky gullies which requires some technical skill.
Higher on the mountain, the route mainly consists of crossing ice fields which makes avalanches the highest objective danger. The route is generally less technically challenging and less physically demanding than both of the longer Rakhiot routes. The long traverse over the sun-exposed Kinshofer ice field is nevertheless very demanding.
Kinshofer used the Bahzin gap (the Japanese would follow his example in 1995) to avoid going onto the rocky Northern ridge too soon (like Buhl had done). The final section of the route is similar to that of the Japanese described above.
Because there is a lot of ice and snow and less technical rock, this has become the standard route. The biggest dangers are the massive seracs and overhanging glaciers that make the face prone to avalanches. The Mummery rib that runs through the middle of the Diamir face, provides some shelter and it has also been used as an escape route in the past. More on that below.
4 : Messner solo Route / Diamir Face (1978)
The Reinhold Messner solo route follows the brown line in the picture above (indicated with number 2). The route starts in the same Base camp as the Kinshofer route. Obviously the line is named after the worlds best climber Reinhold Messner, who soloed it in 1978. In doing so he was the first mountaineer to completely climb an 8000m mountain alone starting from base camp.
Messner’s route stays South of the Mummery Rib until the final kilometre and is generally more prone to avalanches because of the presence of the steeper Mazeno Wall to the right. It has two particularly steep sections, one at 5500 meters and at 6800 meters. The point where it crosses the Mummery rib is also tricky but from there it takes a direct line to the to summit wall, avoiding the North Ridge all together!
Mummery Rib – (GBR, 1895)
Unique Routes :
Czech Route – (CZE, 1978 only North Summit)
North-East Face – (ITA, 2000, variation of Czech Route)
Tom and Martina Route – (FRA, 2003, variation of Kinshofer)
Rupal Face Routes
5 : Schell Route / Upper South West Ridge (1976)
The Schell Route, named after Austrian Hanns Schell who with his team pioneered it in 1976, is the second route to make use of the massive Rupal face. It is often considered the fastest way to the summit and was considered an alternative for becoming the standard route to the summit in the late seventies and eighties. However, due to the effects of global warming in the Himalayas, this has completely changed.
The route has become dangerously prone to rockfall because of lack of ice and snow keeping the rocks in place. And this poses a real danger all the way up to camp 2 at 6000 meters. It is no surprise that the last attempt at this route happened in the winter (more snow and ice keeping the rocks in place) of 2007. But a strong Polish expedition was repelled then by horrible weather conditions and Nanga Parbat remains unclimbed in winter.
The route starts at the bottom of the rocky ridge East of the Shaigiri Glacier, which flows down from the Mazeno Ridge. From camp 2, the route takes a direct line to the Mazeno Col between Mazeno Peak and the summit ridge.
The route then crests the summit ridge over to the Diamir face for the final section but in order to avoid the steep summit wall there, it traverses back to the Rupal face for the final metres. An alternative was to stay on the Diamir and link up with the Messner’s Solo route.
Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson used the Schell route to descend after climbing the entire Mazeno Ridge but described it as a harrowing experience with old ropes, steep descends and a constant barrage of rockfall.
6 : Messner Brothers Route / South South East Spur (1970)
Before soloing the Diamir face, Messner had reached the top before with his younger Brother Günther using the first (direct) line up the Rupal face. This expedition was steeped in drama but more about that in the Climbing History section below.
The route starts with a base camp at the Rupal Gah river. It makes use of a small ice fall / glacier before heading into steep rocky territory almost all the way up to the summit ridge to the South-West of the actual summit. For the final part, the climb follows the summit ridge from the West onto the shoulder and to the summit (similar to the Schell route). The brothers Messner found the route impossible to descend and chose to do so via the Diamir face where they followed the Mummery Rib. The brothers got separated in the final section however and Günther perished in an avalanche.
7 : House-Anderson / Direct South East Face – Central Pillar (2007)
Though very similar to the Messner Brothers route, this to date still is the most direct line up the Rupal Face. It follows a rocky rib around the small Messner Ice wall and then goes directly to the summit. It is perhaps the most dangerous route on Nanga Parbat. No wonder two of the worlds best Alpinists, House and Anderson are still the only ones ever to accomplish it. They progressed from ice buttress to steep rock faces to avalanche and serac prone gullies pretty much all the way to the top. Just below the summit the route intersects the Messner Brothers because House and Andersen stayed closer to the Schell route during the final stages.
8 : Polish – Mexican Route / South East Pillar (1985)
The Polish Mexican route is another direct line up the Rupal Face. Compared to House and Anderson, the ascended even more to the East. They stayed longer on the glacier ice before heading into rocky territory. Their final approach to the summit was a lot different though, but unfortunately details on this expedition are scarce. All I know is some of the greatest names in mountaineering participated: Carlos Carsolio (14 eight-thousanders), Jerzy Kukuczka (also 14 and the best climber ever together with Messner) and Pawel Mularz.
Routes 6-7-8 are generally quite similar in challenge and also in ethic, taking direct paths up the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat.
9 : Mazeno Ridge Route
Accomplished on July 14th 2012 by Rick & Sandy Allen (UK) after completing the entire Mazeno Ridge only for the second time in history. Other climbers of the team, Cathy O’Dowd, Lhakpa Rangdu, Lakpa Sherpa and Nuru Sherpa descended a new unknown route down the Rupal face after their energy and resources were drained from the Mazeno Ridge climb. Also, bad snow conditions meant that the climb to the summit was not without risk. Still, all expedition members made it back safely to solid ground. The Allens descended via a new variation on the Diamir Face and so, the Allan’s ticked off one of the final great unclimbed ridges in the Himalayas.
Direct South –East Face (USA, 2004 – Variation of House-Anderson)
South Face Direct (SVK, 2005 – Variation Messner Brothers)
Early Expeditions to Nanga Parbat
Englishman Albert F. Mummery was the first person to reconnoitre Nanga Parbat back in 1895, making it one of the first eight-thousanders to see activity. He approached the mountain from the South (India) but found the entire Rupal face too dangerous: there were far too many loose rocks and tricky moraines . A quote :
“The astounding difficulties of the southern face may be realized by the fact that the gigantic rock-ridges, the dangers of the hanging glacier and the steep ice of the north-west face—one of the most terrifying faces of a mountain I have ever seen—are preferable to the south face.”
The team moved through the lower Western reaches of the Mazeno Wall and onto the Diamirai glacier. Mummery and one Ghurka called Raghobir tackled the mountain via what is now called The Mummery Rib (that Messner also used after his ascent from the Rupal face). Together they ascended roughly 6400 metres up the Diamir face in snowy conditions (not 7000m as is claimed on most websites). On the third day of the climb, Raghobir collapsed, probably because he hadn’t eaten enough (it was suggested that he ate all his food on the first day rather than rationing it). They had reached as far up as the ice field to the left of the rib (see picture Diamir Face routes) but could continue no farther.
The men concluded that the Diamir face was too extreme with patches of technical rock climbing in the lower and middle sections that they had barely managed. But the thing that had really made them change their mind about the face, had been the relentless barrage of avalanches.The plan was then to head further to the North-East and tackle the mountain from the Rakhiot face where there was more snow and ice and a gentler approach to the face.
Mummery and the two Ghurkas Raghobir and Guman Singh decided against swerving around the North/Diama Ridge and devised a route through it. The men set out but were never seen again and they probably perished somewhere on that ridge. The rest of the expedition, who had swerved around the Diama Ridge, organised a search party but massive snowfall prevented any remote chance of still recovering the bodies. Nanga Parbat had claimed its first lives.
Between 1932 and 1938, Germany launched three expeditions to Nanga Parbat. Willy Merkl lead the first expedition (also referred to as the ‘German-American expedition’ because of two American participants, one being famous Fritz Wiessner who would lead the failed 1939 expedition to K2). This expedition was the first to try what would later become the Buhl route. Unfortunately, none of the climbers had any experience in high altitude climbing. This, combined with bad weather and lack of climbing support (gear/porters), meant that the expedition was repelled at Rakhiot Peak to the East of the summit after they had managed to set up their highest camp (VII) nearly at the Silver Saddle.
Merkl returned in 1934 with more finances issued by the Nazi government. The team consisted of nine climbers: Peter Aschenbrenner, Fritz Bechtold, Willi Bernard the doctor of the expedition, Alfred Drexel, Willy Merkl, Peter Miillritter, Erwin Schneider, Willi Welzenbach and Uli Wieland. They decided to use sherpa porters this time instead of the inexperienced Ghurkas. They enlisted 35 of them in Darjeeling, trained by the Brits at Kangchenjunga. The expedition approached Nanga Parbat from the famous ‘Fairy Meadows’ thus again attempting the Rakhiot Face.
Sticking to the exact same route as the 1932 expedition, the group made quick progress this time and in a few days of good weather, had established four camps in quick succession. But that’s when the first setback occurred: On the 7th of June, one of the strongest climbers, Alfred Drexel, stumbled into camp 2 feeling sick and suffering from tremendous headache. He collapsed in his tent. It took doctor Willi Bernard a full day to climb up to camp 2 where he administered oxygen but it was all in vain. Drexel clearly died from the consequences of HAPE and/or HACE (high altitude pulmonary oedema/ cerebral oedema).
After the burial for their fallen compatriot, the expedition members continued the assault. The first dilemma presented itself when they approached the crest of the Rakhiot ridge. There were doubts whether the expedition was strong enough to climb over Rakhiot peak. Aschenbrenner decided they should go for it and camp 5 was established on the ridge at the foot of the peak. The men worked in two teams for two days and managed to get ladders up the steep ice wall of Rakhiot peak. From its summit they could finally see the Silver Saddle in Western direction where the previous expedition had been thwarted. The men were confident that with Rakhiot Peak the most technical part of the climb was behind them.
By July 6th four porters had fallen ill from the high altitude and exhaustion. Despite those setbacks Aschenbrenner, Schneider, Welzenbach, Merkl, and Wieland, together with eleven porters, reached the ‘Silver Saddle’ (7,451m) on that day. Aschenbrenner and Schneider, the strongest climbers, pushed as far as they could up the sloping Silver Plateau with the rest of the expedition following behind. Ideally, they had wanted camp 8 to be as close to the summit as possible. With that in mind, the lead climbers reached a high point of 7700 meters but by nightfall they were repelled by a sudden hurricane. The expedition had been blessed with exceptionally good weather up to that point.
The men were subsequently confined to their tents for two days straight on the Silver plateau as the hurricane continued to rage around them. Merkl realised the first summit push had failed and they were going to have to retreat: the weather didn’t look like it was going to improve and after two dreadful days and nights at 7700 meters in battered tents, everyone was exhausted. They needed to go down to camp 4 and hope for a second weather window.
On July 8th, Aschenbrenner and Schneider lead the retreat breaking trail along with three Sherpas. Merkl, Welzenbach, and Wieland were to follow in their tracks with the other porters. The lead climbers retreated with great care though they got a scare when one of the porters almost flew off the mountain when a sleeping back unfolded and lifted him up like a parachute. The loss of that sleeping also meant they had only one left for 4 climbers.
Below camp 7 the climb gradually became easier up to the Rakhiot Peak so Aschenbrenner and Schneider unroped from the Sherpas: they had trouble establishing the route in the blizzard which lead to constant backtracking. By unroping and marking, they wanted to spare the Sherpas this exhausting ordeal. The Sherpas simply would climb a good distance behind them and could follow the correct markers.
Schneider and Aschenbrenner finally arrived in the evening in camp 4 completely covered in ice. Their climb down was called an heroic feat in the most horrible conditions. But unfortunately none of the others would follow in their wake. The three porters (Pasang, Nima Dorje II, and Pinju Norbu) had not been following in their footsteps and instead, had stayed in camp 7 after the leaders had unroped from them. The plight of the main party was even worse: in an entire day of climbing they had barely made it out of the ‘Silver Saddle’ where they were forced to dig snow caves for a bivouac without tents (left in camp 8 for the next summit push). Lack of first hand witnesses means it is still uncertain why the second group made little to no progress at all during almost an entire day. By the morning of the 9th, porter Nima Dorbu had passed away at the site of the bivouac.
On the morning of the 9th three porters (Angtsering, Gaylay, and Dakshi) didn’t have the strength to move yet and opted to stay in the improvised camp. The rest of the main party resumed their effort. But Uli Wieland didn’t last long and died of exhaustion the same morning some 30 metres outside the tent at Camp 7. Merkl and Welzenbach were frostbitten and exhausted and crawled in the single tent that still remained at camp 7. They stayed there for the night. For porters Kitar, Da Thondup, Nima Tashi, and Kikuli there was no more room at camp 7 and so they were forced to make an attempt for camp 6. But they didn’t make it before nightfall and had to spend another night in a snow cave.
In the afternoon of July 10th, seven men were seen descending the ice wall of the Rakhiot Peak. Three of them, the ones who broke trail with Schneider and Aschenbrenner, had spent the night in camp 6, while the other four had just spent a second night in a snow cave not far from camp 6.
Aschenbrenner & Schneider set out from camp 4 to offer support but deep snow and adverse weather prevented them from even reaching camp 5 at the foot of Rakhiot Peak. Pasang (from the first party), Kitar, Kikuli, and Da Thondup (second party) would be the only ones to make it past Rakhiot Peak alive. Pinju Norbu (1st party) had died of exhaustion a mere three meters before the tent at camp 5. Nima Tashi and Nima Dorje II perished on the ropes and ladders down the Rakhiot Ice wall. By the morning of July 11th, 4 porters and 1 climber had already perished in two days. Porter Kitar recovered enough to inform the party there were still others alive in camp 7 and possibly above.
One of the three porters who had staid at highest snow cave on July 9th, Dakshi, hadn’t lived through that second night. Gaylay and Angtsering, the other two, descended to Camp 7 on the 10th, where Merkl and Welzenbach had remained. Meanwhile the rescue efforts continued from the lower camps. Aschenbrenner and Schneider finally reached camp 5 on July 12th, finding Pinju Norbu’s body. They tried to cut down the bodies of the other two porters entangled on the ice wall, but adverse weather again prevented them.
During the night of the 13th, after 5 days and 4 nights, Willi Welzenbach finally died of exposure in the one tent of camp 7. The final three survivors, leader Merkl, and porters Gaylay and Angtsering, gathered all their strength and on the morning of the 14th, made a final attempt to get down to the safety of camp 4 .
On the 15th, after having spent another night in a snow cave, Angtsering was the only one descending Rakhiot Peak. He stumbled into camp 4 after having been in the storm for an entire week.
Cries of help were still heard in subsequent days and up to July 17th, Aschenbrenner, Schneider and two members of the scientific team Raechl and Misch attempted rescue missions but all failed because of the deep snow and storms. After the 17th, no more signs of life were heard and Merkl and his personal porter Gaylay were declared dead. It was later implied by Angtsering, that Gaylay had enough strength to come with him on the 14th, but refused to leave a worn out Merkl behind.
By July 22nd, the expedition was over as even the lower camps were now engulfed in storms. Ten people (including Drexel who died before the storm) had lost their lives in the third attempt on Nanga Parbat. Still, this was not the worst tragedy to ensue on Nanga Parbat.
After the tragedy of 1934, there were voices in Germany saying Nanga Parbat should be left alone (for now) and that the climbing efforts should once again be focused on Kangchenjunga, the original love/goal of the Germans in the Himalayas. Kang was considered more technical and challenging than Nanga Parbat, where environmental factors (like the weather and avalanches) were seen as the biggest obstacles. Karl Wien ignored those voices and chose to once again tackle Nanga Parbat.
He composed a strong team: Hans Hartmann had tackled the North-East spur of Kangchenjunga and was knowledgeable about the human body’s reaction to higher altitudes. His assistant, Dr. Ulrich Luft, was also invited on the expedition. The other members also came out of Wiens circle of friends: Günther Hepp, Adolf Gottner, Pert Fankhauser and Martin Pfeffer all had extensive mountaineering experience in the Sikkim mountains and Tirol. Lastly, Peter Miillritter had already been part of the tragic 1934 expedition.
They took with them 12 of the strongest Sherpas (some with experience on Everest) who in spite of the tragedy of 1934, were eager to climb with the Germans again. Da Thondup was the only Sherpa survivor of the 1934 expedition who had signed up again. Though he never climbed above camp 2 on this expedition.
The team followed the same route of the 1934 expedition and by May 26th, they had established camp 2. It was on that day the expedition received a first warning sign: part of the eastern serac of the East Peak (“Silberzacken”) broke away and caused a massive avalanche. By the time the avalanche reached the bottom of the face, it had lost momentum and volume so nobody was hurt at that occasion.
Hindered by terrible weather again, the expedition remained confined to Camp 2 for several days. By June 4th, camp 3 was finally established. By June 7th, camp 4 had been established somewhere below the Rakhiot Peak. Camp 5 would again be placed at the foot of Rakhiot Peak.
The temperatures were exceptionally cold that year: on the 12th they reached -24c°. In camp 4 expedition leader Wien devised the following plan:
“ Six men are to push on to Camp 5, and from there four others will go on to Camp 8. The other two are based in Camp 6, being responsible for maintaining a safe connexion upwards and downwards. Of the four at Camp 8, two will prepare the way and then act in reserve to the other two who will make the attempt. From Camp 5 onwards the party is to cut ice-caves for the protection of the men in every camp, to equip them with provisions, primus stoves, sponge-rubber mattresses, and sleeping-bags to enable the party to withstand a siege by the weather and to safeguard retreat. Only the choice of men for the final tasks remains to be decided.”
On the 25th of June, a positive report sent by Dr. Ulrich Luft reached Germany. He based his report on the words of a Lieutenant Smart (A British attaché who tagged along for the expedition) who had come back to base camp on the 14th from a rotation to camp 4.
He reported the expedition was making good way despite deep snow (sometimes waist deep). Five porters had become sick and were also back in base camp. On the 13th, the route to camp 5 at the foot of Rakhiot Peak had been paved, but the camp was not yet installed. On the 14th, the day Smart departed for base camp, he had seen four climbers moving towards the proposed position of camp 5, but they had turned back in the afternoon. This means that beyond doubt the following mountaineers were in Camp 4 on the night of the 14th: Wien, Hartmann, Hepp, Gottner, Fankhauser, Pfeffer, and Miillritter. Nine Sherpa porters also slept there on the same night.
Dr. Ulrich Luft headed up from base camp towards camp 5 the next day intending to join the expedition should his assistance be needed somewhere in the intermediate camps that surely would be in place by now. When he arrived below Rakhiot Peak, on the 17th, he found no trace of any camps though and saw only the signs of a huge avalanche with seracs strewn about. A large part of the North face of Rakhiot Peak seemed to have come loose. The Sherpas who came up behind him confirmed his fears: the path of the avalanche went straight over the position where Camp 4 had stood. The avalanche was not that old (judging by the freezing of the seracs) and probably occurred during the night of the 14th. Luft didn’t have the appropriate tools to start digging but found the backpacks of Hartmann, Hepp, and Miillritter.
Dispatches were sent out to India and Germany and the Brits joined the recovery operation a couple of days later with tools and men. Of course, by now all hope of finding anyone alive had disappeared. It would take 24 days for a large independent German party to arrive and to relieve Dr. Luft, the only survivor of the entire climbing party. So instead a small expedition was sent out including Paul Bauer, Fritz Bechtold and Karl von Kraus. With the help of the Royal Air force and the Dutch (interesting considering the pre-war period), they arrived at base camp on July 3rd. It took all the men a total of another six days to finally dig up two of the three tents and the bodies of Pfeffer, Hartmann, Hepp, Wien, and Fankhauser still inside. They were buried in a crevasse on site. The tent of Miillritter and Gottner was never recovered.
It is probable that massive amounts of snow and cold temperatures caused the disaster. Between the location of camp 4 and the start of the slope of the Rakhiot Peak there are approximately 200 meters of almost level ground that under normal circumstances, would have absorbed an avalanche or a serac breaking off. The extremely low temperatures and high amounts of frozen snow meant that when that did happen, the ice crossed over the 200 meter surface, literally sliding over the tents rather than blasting them away. Under normal circumstances, the location of camp 4 (the same as in 1932 and 1934) would have been considered relatively safe. The recovered bodies were all in their sleeping bags indicating they had been caught by surprise during the night. One of the watches had stopped at 12.20 (am). Sixteen men died instantly in what remains the worst single disaster to occur on any 8000 meter peak.
Paul Bauer, who had led the 1937 recovery mission, returned to Nanga Parbat a year later together with Bechtold and the brave Dr. Luft. The other members of the expedition were Chlingensperg, Rebitsch, Ruths, Schmaderer, and Zuck.
They would once again attempt the same route on the Rakhiot Face. But contrary to previous attempts, they would start their assault almost a full month later, counting on a good weather window from mid June into early July. They found the mountain considerably dryer than the expeditions before indicating the gamble might pay off. For starters, the team could head up the mountain closer to the North Ridge that seemed less avalanche prone, thus avoiding the treacherous ice fall of the Rakhiot nerve. By June 9th, camp II was established.
Because of the low snow conditions, it seemed possible this time to bypass the traditional camp 3 and so cut the travel time to camp 4 short by almost a day. This direct line proved impossible in the end as the climbers were held up by a labyrinth of crevasses. The expedition moved back to the East (towards the Chongra) in the hopes of finding a feasible route to the classic camp 4 position. Bechtold and Schmaderer, the lead climbers, barely escaped with their lives when once again a large serac broke off feet away from them.
Mixed weather meant that Camp 3 wasn’t reached until the 18th, after which the weather again turned for the worse. By July 1st, only Bechtold, Luft, and Ebermann had reached camp 4 below Rakhiot Peak. The other members were forced down by bad weather. To avoid leaving the highest men completely isolated, Bauer and Chlingensperg remained in camp 2. This situation remained for several days, but eventually the first push had to be aborted.
The second push started on July 13th. The men quickly constructed a camp 5 at the foot of the Rakhiot Peak. The next day, the front-runners Bechtold and Zuck came upon the body of a dead porter at the bottom of the Rakhiot Ice Wall. It was the body of Pinju Norbu from the 1934 expedition. They cut down his mummified body, that was sat upright and retrieved a necklace from it later delivered to his family. They buried him unbeknownst to the porters below so as not to spook them.
Meanwhile, Bauer had uttered the idea of simply traversing below Rakhiot Peak rather than climbing its exposed and steep walls (exactly what Buhl would do later during the first successful ascent). Whilst Bechtold and Zuck were climbing the Peak, Bauer and Rebitsch put their idea to practice and were the first to open up this less exposed route.
Bauer, leading the pitch after the traverse and on his way to the ‘Moor’s head‘ (a rocky formation between Rakhiot Peak and the start of the Silver saddle), suddenly stumbled upon two feet sticking out from the snow. Because he didn’t want the porters to see this, he ordered them to build camp 6 a bit lower than usual and closer to Rakhiot Peak than had been the case in the ’34 expedition.
Bauer had stumbled on the bodies of Willy Merkl and his loyal porter Gaylay who had refused to leave him behind. The only equipment found on their perfectly preserved bodies were a blanket and a sponge. They found an exceptionally emotional lettre in Merkls pocket, written on the night of July 12th by Merkl and Welzenbach (who would perish in the tent at camp 7 the next night) in which they told of their plight and weakness, and asked for help. It was also confirmation that Merkl and Gaylay had survived up there for several more days and had still desperately tried to reach the Rakhiot Peak.
The porters caught wind of what was happening and, already exhausted, were now overcome by fear as well: only one out of the entire lot was still willing and capable to move on. The next day the expedition moved past the Moor’s Head and Luft and Zuck led the way up the Silver saddle. But the support team hindered by Monsoon winds and heavy snow did not manage to come up from camp 4. The snow on the stretch towards the silver saddle was waist deep and an intermediate camp had to be established at the half way point between The Head and the Saddle. On the 25th, Schmaderer and Zuck broke the trail. Behind them Luft, Rebitsch, and Ruths shared loads with the only remaining porter. Clearly, the line of supply was stretched too thin. And then another storm broke out high on Nanga Parbat.
With only one porter left in camp 6 and the weather deteriorating, Bauer made the brave decision to call everyone back to base camp. They would regroup for one more summit push after the storm, which would rage on fiercely for two more days after all had retreated. Bauer’s decision to pull back on the 29th had been the right one.
A few Climbers regrouped and held out in camp 4 up until August 9th, but heavy snowfall had made the traverse below Rakhiot Peak too difficult and climbing Rakhiot Peak wasn’t really an option any more. So the expedition ended without a summit but also, without any casualties this time.
During this expedition, it became clear that the approach route of the Rakhiot face was perhaps too long (8 kilometres almost until camp 4) and too dangerous in warm conditions, with the ice falls and glaciers breaking off occasionally. But also, that given the right conditions, one could traverse below Rakhiot Peak rather than having to climb its steep and exposed walls.
1939 was also an important year in the history of climbing on Nanga Parbat. For the first time since Mummery‘s attempt in 1895, the Diamir face was again reconnoitred. It were again the Germans who issued the expedition. The 1938 mission had exposed the biggest problem with the classic Rakhiot route: the long and dangerous approach was too tiring and meant that climbers were exposed to hazards for longer periods.
Peter Aufschnaiter lead a small expedition up the Diamir face looking for a shorter route to the top. He had climbed with Bauer at Kangchenjunga before in the late Twenties and early Thirties. The other famous participant was Heinrich Harrer, who premièred the Eiger Nordwand (and is the subject of the famous Hollywood movie “Seven Years in Tibet“). Hans Lobenhoffer, and Lutz Chicken, a medical student, completed the small team. They were to scout an alternative route for Bauer to complete in 1940.
They first attempted to climb the lower reaches of a route on the North side of the Diamir Face, via the North Ridge, over the North Peak and to the summit. The risk of avalanches proved too great for them, as they went back down after establishing two camps. They refocused their efforts on the Mummery Rib on the South side of the Diamir face where they also established two camps before heading back to base camp. They also stumbled on remains from Mummery’s 1895 camp! From there, they witnessed a large avalanche roll over their camp 2 obliterating it completely. They abandoned the rib as well.
On the 15th of June they tried a third route, which was actually close to the modern day Kinshofer route, establishing three camps within a matter of days. Harrer and Lobenhoffer reached a high point of 6187 meters before heading back down. The third route had seemed the safest and most feasible route and the conclusion was that it formed a good alternative for the Rakhiot Route.
After a break, they were going to give the route a second shot in July but found conditions to have worsened dramatically, thus concluding the climb should be performed in June, rather than July. Finally, they trekked around to the Rakhiot face to compare it one last time with their new alternative. They found the Rakhiot Face to still look a lot more inviting to climb than the narrow and steep Diamir Face and their optimism of the new route diminished somewhat. The men returned to Karachi where they were incarcerated by the Brits for years because war had begun in Europe.
The First Ascent: 1953
In 1953, The Germans would finally conquer their mountain. But not before tragedy had struck there yet again. In the winter of 1952-1953, the British (who were mainly concentrating their efforts on Everest) set out to reconnoitre Nanga Parbat for the first time since Mummery in the 19th century. This time they too chose the Rakhiot Face for their probing ascent. The three climbers involved were J.W. Thornley, W.H. Crace and R.M.W. Marsh.
Thornley and Crace ascended 5486m up the face without much effort. But then a three day storm forced them to stay in their tent and contact with base camp was interrupted. When the storm had passed, there was no sign of the men or their tent. Despite a search operation by Marsh, who even enlisted a plane to fly over the mountain, not a trace of the two men could be found.
The next summer a German-Austrian expedition set out to finally climb the ‘Killer Mountain’ that had claimed 31 lives already. For a detailed description of this first ascent, I advise you to read Buhl’s “On the Summit of Nanga Parbat“. We will limit us to a shorter summary here.
The expedition was lead by Germans Karl Herrligkoffer, half-brother of Willy Merkl who perished on Nanga Parbat in 1934, and Peter Aschenbrenner, who had survived both the 1932 and 1934 failed expeditions.
After a frustrating start with delays, objections in the press, lack of funding and even some debate on the route, the start of the actual expedition unfolded fairly uneventfully. By June 29th, the Monsoon was starting and Aschenbrenner, wanting to avoid another possible storm related drama, ordered everyone down from the mountain.
Buhl, Ertl, Frauenberg and Kempter had by then traversed beneath the Rakhiot Peak and had set up a final camp at 6900 meters just before the Moor’s Head. Aschenbrenner rightly feared that there was no way of supporting that high camp (they had skipped setting up several intermediate camps because of the delays). More so, the final camp being only at 6900 meters meant that the summit was still very far away.
The remaining climbers ignored the experienced and respected Aschenbrenner‘s command and a summit team consisting of Herman Buhl and Otto Kempter set off at 2.30 am on July 3rd 1953. They knew the distance to the summit was too great for a round-trip to high camp: no matter how good the conditions, they were going to have to bivouac at some point.
Kempter was slow out of his tent and fell behind immediately. Buhl didn’t wait and Kempter never caught up with him. Kempter would turn around after a few hours already. Buhl crossed the Silver Plateau in very hot conditions because of the sun. But the climb went exceptionally smooth all the same. But when he came to the North Ridge, unknown territory up to then, it was more technical than he could had ever imagined. He cached his rucksack there and it took him hours to climb the final 100 meters, with a 4000+ meter drop threatening him all the time. He had to climb the final obstacles on his hands and feet. But finally, under a setting sun, he stood alone on the summit at 7 pm. In doing so, he became the only man to ever perform a first summit of an 8000m mountain solo. However, as he knew even before he had set out, he now had to return in the dark.
In a state of euphoria, he made a schoolboy error: he forgot his ice axe on the summit. And minutes later he also lost one of his crampons on the Ridge. He spent the night standing on one leg on a wobbly rock somewhere in the North Rigde: there wasn’t even enough room for him to sit down. Miraculously, the night was clear and windless and he survived at almost 8000 meters without having as much as a blanket for cover, holding on to the ridge with one hand at all times.
The next day, Buhl inched his way down on one crampon and when he reached the Silver Plateau, he started to believe in his chances again, saying later “the whole day I had the impression of an invisible companion behind me”. When he reached The Moor’s head, it was almost dark again. Two men had come up from high camp with little to no expectations of catching a glimpse of Buhl: he was already presumed dead. To their utmost surprise, Buhl was alive and well despite missing an ice axe and a crampon. He had even summited!
Buhl’s account of the climb ends there. The ascent was steeped in controversy, a stark contrast with the euphoria that had ensued after the conquering of Everest a few weeks before. Buhl was criticised for ignoring orders and acting irresponsibly with no regard for his own or his climbing partners lives. In spite of his solitary heroics, the climb would forever leave a sour taste in his mouth because of the recriminations afterwards.
The Second Ascent : The Diamir Face 1961
The quest for the first ascent via the Diamir face began in 1961. A reconnoitring expedition was led by German Dr. Karl Herligkoffer. Other members were Rudl Marek (50), Michl Anderl (46), Dr. Ludwig Delp (40), Toni Kinshofer (27), Georg Lehne (25), Siegfried Low (28), Toni Messner (48), Harry Rost (35) and Gerhard Wagner (40), the expedition’s scientist.
The expedition began late May 1961. They quickly abandoned the idea of going up the centre of the Diamir face, for it proved again to be prone to avalanches. Instead, they directed their attentions to the North (much like the 1939 expedition). They went up an ice couloir which they later named the ‘Low Ice couloir‘. It was up to 50% steep in some areas so they had to use fixed ropes early on. Even then many of the porters couldn’t manage it. At the top of the couloir in a small rock pulpit, they established camp 1 renamed ‘The Eagles nest‘, for only one tent could be fitted there.
Then followed a 150 meter long rocky step (what we referred to as the first crux in the routes section). At the top of this step there was considerably more room, so camp 2 was established there at roughly 6000 meters. Kinshofer, Lehne and Low occupied that camp for several days in stormy conditions from June 12th onwards.
A new weather window opened on June 19th and the assault party moved up above camp 2, first manoeuvring a second rocky section (2nd crux) then crossing the 400 meter wide Kinshofer Ice Field before establishing camp 3. On June 20th, the three men of the assault party wanted to start their attack on the summit: what was originally a reconnoitring mission now turned into an amazing opportunity.
They moved up from camp 3 and bivouacked that night, with the intention of setting out for the summit a couple of hours later. But much like Buhl they had gravely underestimated the distance of the final stretch.
During that night, the weather conditions declined rapidly. At dawn, rather than ascending, they were heading back down the Ice Field in a full on blizzard. They remained at camp 2 for a while hoping for another shot, but the expeditions limited resources finally ran out, so there was nothing left to do.
The expedition had found a very feasible route up the Diamir face and had reconnoitred as far up as the Bahzin Hollow and Gap. It was a success by all means.
Almost the same team came back in 1962 for a second go: Herligkoffer, Kinshofer, Low and Anderl had signed up again for the 1962 expedition. Mannhardt (22), Manfred Sturm (27) and Hubert Schmiedbauer (29) had replaced Messner and Lehne on the team. Because the porters had struggled in the steep Low Ice Couloir, Herligkoffer opted to take only the strongest and most experienced ones. He enlisted the senior Sirdar Isa Khan and the four best porters of the previous expedition and filled up the ranks with some more strong and confident men. The team ran acclimatisation runs between base camp and camp 2 (which was situated a little higher up the mountain in 1962). A prototype cable-lift was also installed to hoist loads up the 1st crux between camp 1 and 2.
Above camp 2, Kinshofer devised a safer route, traversing the second crux much sooner, avoiding the blue ice just below camp 3. On June 15th Kinshofer and Low set out fixing ropes on the route up to Camp 3 but then the expedition was halted again at camp 2 because of a storm. In spite of bad weather, Kinshofer and Low set out from camp 3 on June 17th towards the Bahzin gap, where they fixed another 150 meters of rope.
On June 20th, the final assault began. Kinshofer took the lead, followed by Mannhardt, Low, Sturm and Anderl, all carrying 15 to 20 lbs. of bare necessities in their packs. Towards noon they reached the crest of the Bahzin gap where they pitched their tent at 7163 meters behind an ice-fall coming from the North Summit. The weather worsened and a storm erupted during the night. They were stuck in this area for another two days until late at night on the 22nd of June, the weather finally cleared and they decided to go for the summit.
Michl Anderl had to admit that he had reached the limit of his abilities and remained in the tent. Low was in good shape, despite frostbite to his toes, and took the lead, followed by Kinshofer and Mannhardt. Sturm soon felt unwell and suffered continuously from a stitch in his side. After about two hours he realized that he could not keep pace with the others and reluctantly turned back. Because none of the summit party had reached the final ridge in 1961, they still didn’t know they had underestimated the distance towards the summit: it took them until 9 am to reach the North Shoulder. Their plan of reaching the summit and descending on the same day back to Camp 3 had to be thrown overboard.
On the North ridge, Low took a nasty fall, but because the three remaining climbers were roped up, no harm came to him. He did lose an ice axe. It took Buhl 4 hours to lead the final technical part before the summit wall. Because the trio were roped up, it would take them almost seven hours to finish the North ridge. At 5pm they finally reached the summit of Nanga Parbat where they also found a little cairn built by Buhl in 1953.
The men descended some 90 meters back on the North ridge where they bivouacked in a marginally sheltered crevice in the rocks. Low was already suffering greatly from frostbite and the others too felt it setting in during the cold and windy night, the highest open bivouac ever recorded still. Low was furthermore struggling because he was feeling the after effects of a dose of Katovit: a dope known for giving an energy boost but with terrible side effects when ones reserves are depleted. Still, all three survived through the horrible night and started to descend again under the first rays of sunlight. They paused on the crest to warm up and reached the shoulder at around 7 am. The men unroped to descend the fairly easy Bazhin hollow towards the Diamir face.
After a while, Kinshofer turned around and saw that Low, already more than 150 meter above him, was making exceptionally slow progress: Kinshofer yelled at him and a desperate reply from Low came pleading for Kinshofer to come back up to him. After Kinshofer had climbed roughly a third of the distance back up, Low came racing down passed him on his back at an incredible speed: clearly he had fallen in this fairly easy section.
He raced down the slope arms spread wide, at an incredible speed and got catapulted in the air on a little snow ramp, hitting a bunch of rocks head first. He had made no obvious attempt to arrest his fall (then again it is fair to assume he didn’t have an ice axe since he lost his, the report doesn’t clarify this). It was Mannhardt, who had made the most progress, that reached the injured Low first. He determined that Low had suffered a likely fatal head injury: Low could not be saved. Kinshofer, in his report, still thinks Low was suffering from the after effects of the energy-boosting drug he had taken. Even so, Low had lost all sensation in one of his feet the day before already.
Even though the injuries looked fatal, the two remaining climbers still made an effort to get Low down. But they had left their final camp almost 24 hours before and had no energy left. Low still gave signs of life and Kinshofer refused to leave him, sending Mannhardt down to camp 4 alone to get help. Mannhardt climbed down at a remarkable pace through dozens of crevasses to find camp 4 empty and abandoned. He then climbed down in a risky direct line to camp 3 over the Kinshofer Ice field which took him another three hours.
Kinshofer, unaware of the empty camp 4 situation, stayed with Low as life slowly faded from his body. He too was becoming delusional and suffering from hallucinations. By 7pm, Low had died painlessly and unconscious. Another hour or so later, Kinshofer received a jolt to his system and realised he too had to get down as fast as he could. He tried to follow Mannhardts footsteps as best as possible in near blizzard conditions.
Kinshofer’s descent would prove to be one of the epics of mountaineering. He soon lost his ice axe and had also left behind his rucksack (containing the cameras with summit pictures) at Lows corps. One of his crampons also continuously became untied. But what was most remarkable was Kinshofer’s mental state during the descent: he described later that he didn’t even recall much of the first part of the descent: he was convinced he was lost in a tobacco plantation and that only out of pure reflex and automation, he periodically fastened the faulty crampon. Kinshofer continued climbing through the night convinced he had met Mannhardt at camp 4 (Mannhardt was long in camp 3 by then). Kinshofer arrived in sight of camp 3 at around 8 am the next morning and a rescue party went up to meet him. They were delighted that he had made it out alive, but also saddened by the confirmation of Low’s death. For 56 hours Kinshofer had withstood the deadly menace of his savage surroundings without recuperative rest, without liquid or solid nourishment.
Low’s body could not be recovered and both Kinshofer and Mannhardt had severe frostbite on their feet and couldn’t go down on their own strength. But thanks to help from local porters, they made it back alive. The Kinshofer route is now the standard route to climb Nanga Parbat, though it is not climbed successfully each year: it remains one of the more difficult standard eight-thousander routes.
1963 and 1964 were the scene of the very first attempts on Nanga Parbat’s impressive Rupal Face. Four time Nanga Parbat participator Karl Herrligkoffer organised the expeditions. 1963 was a reconnoitring mission but in 1964 the team was ordered down the mountain by the Pakistani government because of problems with their permit. They had never reached above 5800 meters and the expedition was considered a big failure.
Karl Herrligkoffer returned to Nanga Parbat in 1968 for an attempt at the Rupal Face. He was obsessed with the difficult South-East spur and wanted to climb the mountain there and he would launch several more expeditions to this route later. The expedition was thwarted at 7100 meter when German climber Günter Strobl broke his leg in a fall. The expedition members performed a remarkable feat in lowering him 3000 meters down the mountain. No summit, but an equally astounding feat if you ask me. After that, the expedition was over with everyone exhausted from the successful heroic rescue mission.
1970 was the year of the third and fourth ascents of Nanga Parbat and for the first time via the Rupal Face. The two Italian (South-Tyrol) Messner brothers, Reinhold and Gunther joined an 18 member Austrian/German expedition. It was again Karl Herrligkoffer, who had been part of 6 Nanga Parbat expeditions already, who was behind the organisation. There had been two very unsuccessful attempts on the Rupal face before (met with very little drama fortunately).
Because of the judicial controversy that would follow after this ascent, facts about this expedition were long undisclosed to the public and even now, two separate accounts exist: one from Messner (see the German movie Nanga Parbat (2008) for his account, now regarded as the most accurate). The other was from Herrligkoffer, who’s was long considered the more plausible one but has since been distrusted more and more. At any rate, we have little to work with to describe this ascent but will do our best to stay neutral.
The expedition had forged a very direct route up the Rupal Face (see routes for details). And on the evening of June 26th 1970, after 40 days of climbing, Reinhold Messner, Günther Messner and Gerhard Bauer were in high camp 5 ready for the first summit push. The plan was that in case of inclement weather, the best and fittest climber, being Reinhold, would make a quick dash for the summit alone. In case of favourable weather, the lead party of three would however become the advance prep party paving a way up as close to the summit as they could get, so that the next party of four climbers could easily reach the summit the next day.
There was no direct radio link between high camp and base camp, were Herrligkoffer was in charge. And the expedition had devised a plant whereby at night a red rocket would be fired in case of unfavourable weather and a blue rocket in case of a good forecast.
It is still unknown what exactly went wrong: the second party, waiting in camp 4, received a good weather forecast from Herrligkoffer via their radio. They prepared for the blue plan. However at night a red rocket was fired from base camp indicating that Reinhold Messner would have to make a dash for the summit alone because bad weather was imminent.
Reinhold set out alone according to plan at 02.30 am on June 27th. He still had to cover a vertical distance of well over a kilometre so speed was in order assuming bad weather was on the way. After 5 hours of climbing, the difficult summit wall passage was behind him but as he looked down, he saw his brother Günther coming up after him. Surprised, he decided to wait for him. They then continued the final easier section toward the summit together and were on top by 5 Pm. But Günther had outclimbed his abilities and was feeling tired: he felt that it was impossible to descend the same route through the difficult section below. Reinhold shared that sentiment because neither of them had brought a rope (Reinhold never intended this but according to some, Günther who according to the rocket plan wasn’t supposed to come up in the first place, should have brought one).
Because of the late hour and the inability to descend the same route, they had to bivouac at nearly 7925 metres on the south shoulder, west of the original route they had climbed up, with only a couple of blankets for protection. Early the following morning, the second summit team of Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz, heading up because of the good weather report, passed roughly a 100 metres to their East but couldn’t assist (it is unknown to me whether or not the second summit team even noticed the Messner Brothers or simply couldn’t help them). They too successfully summited becoming the 4th team to do so.
Reinhold took action and rotated further South-West towards the Mummery Rib on the Diamir Face. Günther followed and the men were descending the steep face at a reasonable pace. By nightfall they were down to about 6500 metres and bivouacked a second time in the open. That morning the men got separated though: Reinhold was in the lead and chose to go straight through the ice glacier at the foot of the Mummery Rib. Günther diverged west onto the lower slopes of the Mazeno Ridge bypassing most of the glacier. Günther was not seen again. Reinhold spent two more days on and around the glacier searching for his brother but couldn’t find him. There were traces of a big avalanche. He would lose most of his toes to frostbite because he stayed on the mountain for two more days. Reinhold, regarded as the best rock climber of his time, therefore had to switch to mixed climbing in the Himalayas. He would become the first man to summit all eight-thousanders without oxygen as well.
The climb was steeped in controversy resulting in several lawsuits and bitter conflicts between members of the expedition. In 2005, the body of Günther Messner was discovered on the Diamir face and since then, most people have come to believe Messner’s account of the climb.
1971 finally saw a repeat of the Buhl route used for the first ascent of Nanga Parbat. It would be the fifth successful ascent of Nanga Parbat. The Czechoslovakian team had already returned to the Rakhiot face in 1969. But like many of the early attempts on this face, they were repelled by bad weather after Rakhiot Peak and their permit had expired. At least that 1969 expedition was spared any casualties. The 1971 expedition was a massive effort put together by the Slovak Mountaineering Club James for its fifty years jubilee. Primary objective was the summit of Nanga Parbat via the Buhl Route. A secondary team would tick off the unclimbed South Chongra Peak and the East Summit.
On July 8th, the expedition suffered its only major setback: a Hunza porter Näbi Mantas Hunza perished from a fall in the treacherous Rakhiot ice fall, the first obstacle of the climb. By July 11th, the team had set up camp 4 on the traditional position under Rakhiot Peak. The Czechs set out in two groups: one would climb over the Rakhiot Peak like the early expeditions had done, while the other group would traverse beneath the peak.
The traversing team reached the Moore’s head first and set up camp 5 there. This was where they were repelled by heavy weather back in 1969. They struggled an entire day to get through the Silver Plateau and made high camp 6 near the Bahzin Gap ready for the final assault. They had brought only a single 2 person tent for a four person summit team though.
The next day, M. Krissak was the first to give up after three hours of climbing. He gave his ice axe to Michael Orolin. They then reached the technical rock chimney (grade IV) that had troubled Buhl so much on his way to the North Shoulder. Remarkably, they passed through this section quite easily. Orolin was hampered by crampons that continuously untied and thus climbed behind the other two remaining members, Ivan Fiala and L. Zahoransky. Zahoransky had not brought ice axes with him and on the difficult North Shoulder with a 4000 meter drop next to him, he felt uncomfortable using only his ski sticks. He had made a promise to his wife not to get killed and decided to hold there and wait for the other two climbers after their summit.
At around 2pm on July 7th 1971, first Czech Ivan Fiala and Michael Orolin a little after him, made the fifth ascent of Nanga Parbat and the first repeat of the
Buhl Route. Though not without trouble (Zahoransky would lose his spectacles and got lost), all men made it back to high camp and the expedition was highly successful with other teams also ticking off the subsidiary peaks on the Rakhiot face.
Another failed attempt at the Rupal Face by German Nanga Parbat veteran Herrligkoffer and a team of 21 young Swiss, German and Austrian climbers. I only found a German source for this expedition and unfortunately, my German is a bit rusty, but from what I found, there were conflicts between the climbers and Herrligkoffer pretty much from the start of the expedition. They tried the difficult South-East spur (not accomplished until the Polish-Mexican expedition) but got to around 7500 meters when bad weather and conditions finally forced them off the mountain. Herrligkoffers approach was deemed too conservative and had cost them too much time.
A small independent Austrian expedition would be the second successful team on the Rupal Face in 1976. Hanns Schell, Robert Schauer, Siegfried Gimpel and Hilmar Sturm reached the summit in a record 4 weeks and with only 4 camps on August 11th 1976, the latest summit on the year to date. This would become known as the Schell route, but the line had actually been plotted by Nanga Parbat regular Karl Herrligkoffer. The Schell expedition was the 6th successful one on Nanga Parbat.
Sparked by the news of an ascent on his line, Karl Herrligkoffer returned to his beloved mountain once more with a larger Austrian/Polish expedition attempting the same route. There were a few things special about this short lived attempt.
Firstly, they tried to ascend the Rupal Face in the post-monsoon period of September/October. Secondly, the expedition included one of the most famous female mountaineers Wanda Rutkiewicz who wanted to become the first woman to summit Nanga Parbat. But the expedition never got far on the mountain: Austrian climber Sebastian Arnold fell to his death in the lower parts of the climb. Herrligkoffer diverted all the expeditions resources to the recovery of his body. When this was accomplished, he subsequently ended the expedition which met with a lot of criticism within the team: Rutkiewicz spoke out publicly against the decision which in turn met with criticism from the press contributing to her reputation as a hard lady. The first Japanese expedition, also trying the Schell on Rupal, were forced back down even lower.
1977 was the scene of the first American attempt on Nanga Parbat. From 1975 onwards, the Americans had become interested in climbing ‘The Naked Mountain‘ and thus planning began that very year. Expedition leaders Dan Bruce, George Bogel and Jay Hellman composed a strong 14 man team. For practice, they had climbed in Peru during the summer of 1976.
By July 9th the expedition was ready for a summit push from the Diamir Face. They had agreed upon using the the Kinshofer route as their guideline to the top. They moved up the Low Ice Field and created a depot in the infamous Eagles Nest above it. George Bogel devised a pulley to transfer the heavy loads up the ice field for storage in the gully, which would be their advanced base camp and the start for their attack. The Americans thus called the Eagles Nest, Depot Rock.
By July 31st the team had manoeuvred the 2nd Crux and established camp 2 above it. They were well stocked and spread out between the three camps. With 10 of 14 climbers healthy, the team looked ready for the summit. But in the night of the 31st, tragedy struck.
There was only room for one tent at Depot Rock which was occupied by leader George Bogel and Bob Broughton. Above them, a 100ft. slab of rock broke loose in parts as big as a truck. They stood no chance and the entire site of Depot Rock was annihilated. Bogels body was recovered from the Low Ice Field the next day, but Broughton was never found. The expeditions resources were scattered around the mountain after the rockfall and continuing on made little sense. This ended the first American attempt at Nanga Parbat in tragedy.
In the same year, a small three man Polish expedition lead by Adam Zyzak climbed Nanga Parbat in the post monsoon month of October again using the Kinshofer route. They reached at least as far as the Bahzin gap, but were unsuccessful in harsh conditions.
In 1978, it finally looked like Nanga Parbat was yielding to climbers more easily. 1978 would become known as one of the most successful years on Nanga Parbat with 3 successful summit teams and no casualties.
The season started with the first successful ascent of the North Summit (7816m) by Czechs Andrzej Belica and Juraj and Marian Zatko.
A month later (August 9th) it was Reinhold Messners time to shine. Heperformed the first complete solo ascent of any eight-thousander (meaning from base camp). He went up the mountain on the right side of the Diamir Face perhaps hoping to find the body of his lost brother Gunther there. He crossed the Mummery Rib high up and then went in a direct steep line to the summit avoiding the North Ridge and climbing the steep head wall directly. It was one of mountaineerings greatest achievements.
Still the route of the 7th ascent remains extremely avalanche prone but the upper parts of the route can be used by climbers on the Rupal Face as an easier but lengthier way to the summit.
Finally, the Austrians were successful once more when the Naturfreunde-Expedition managed to put two teams on top (8th/9th ascent): on August 23rd Wilhelm Bauer, Reinhard Streif and leader Rudolf Wurzer repeated for the first time the Kinshofer route pioneered by their countrymen. Five days later, Alfred Imitzer and Alois Indrich completed the third successful Kinshofer ascent.
After the successful year of 1978 activity on Nanga Parbat subsided for a few years with only one or two smaller unsuccessful attempts on the mountain. But in 1981 things turned around again.
First, Ronald Naar (NL) became the first to successfully repeat the Schell route and solo at that. Meanwhile, on the Diamir Side, the Italians booked their first success on Parbat with Alessandro Fassi, Luigi Rota and Gianbattista Scanabessi on top via the Kinshofer route which was now considered the standard route.
In 1982 though, Nanga Parbat would once again prove that it can’t be taken easily. That year, three routes on Nanga Parbat were under attack by five different expeditions: Early on in the season, the French attempted the unclimbed South-East spur of the Rupal Face. They were making good progress under the lead of famous climber Yannick Seigneur. But passed the halfway point of the climb, a serac fall injured Seigneur and killed a porter Ali Sheikh, the first casualty on Nanga Parbat since the Americans in ’77. With their leader and top climber injured, the French were forced to retreat.
A month or so later, none other than Herrligkoffer returned to his South-East spur which he had attempted so many times already. For the first time his team managed to complete the spur. On August 8th, Swiss climber Ueli Bühler became the first mountaineer to stand on Nanga Parbat’s small South summit (8042m) as the only one of a summit party of four. Unfortunately, he was too tired and unable to progress to the summit so once again Herrligkoffer had failed to put someone on the summit via his Rupal Face. That concluded the action on that part of the Rupal Face without summits.
Two months earlier on the Schell route, the Swiss attempt had been thwarted as well. At camp 3 they encountered impossible amounts of snow. Up to June 3rd, they had tried to forge a path but the snow was simply too deep. By June 4th, they were heading back down. It was then that tragedy struck: a snow bridge collapsed and took with it Dr. Peter Forrer in to the depths.
Finally, on the Diamir Face, a French-lead international expedition and another Swiss expedition were trying their luck. The Swiss aborted when one of their members, Peter Hiltbrunner collapsed at an altitude of 7400 meters. The team tried to transport him down but he finally died on June 7th. Norbert Joos and Erhard Lorethan (3rd climber to complete the 14 Eight-thousanders) reached the summit a day later.
The French-lead international expedition managed to put only one person on the top: German Hans Engl. He became the first German on top without the aid of Oxygen.
After 5 years without casualties, Nanga Parbat had claimed three in 1982.
1983-84: The Japanese Schell Tragedies
By now the Kinshofer route really had become the standard for climbing Nanga Parbat and as such, the route would manage to put several people on the summit each of the following years. In 1983 there were a record 11 expeditions on the mountain, most attempting the Kinshofer ascent. By now there had already been 12 successful summit teams so talking about all ascents from this point on is pointless and lengthy. Instead, we shall focus on the more special attempts or the tragedies that still occurred on the mountain.
The Japanese Schell tragedies are a stretch of events worth discussing. The Japanese had their own coveted mountain in the Himalayas (Dhaulagiri) but had in the seventies also diverted their attention to the Karakoram range where they fancied a go at Nanga Parbat. Their first expedition had failed miserably on the Schell Route though.
In 1983 and 1984 they returned to Nanga Parbat with five expeditions, one in winter. The first two of those expeditions also tackled the Schell Route in 1983 but ended in tragedy.
First, members of the Tohokeiryo Kai Club from Tokyo, along with a few famous Pakistani guides (including Nazir Sabir) were hit by an immense avalanche at around 7200 meters. The entire team was swept down the Rupal face for more than 400 metres. Miraculously, only one climber died as the climbers were roped up: Kasuoh Shimura‘s body was never recovered. The rest of the team suffered grave injuries: Dr. Arai and Mr. Wakatsu suffered broken arms, team leader Osamu Kunii survived with four broken ribs and rope cuts so deep his abdomen were exposed. It was a wonder only one person perished but of course the expedition was over.
The second Japanese team on the route, the Fukuoka Tokakai Club from Fukuoka was still lower on the mountain when the first avalanche killed their compatriot. They decided to push on. On 14th of July, 3 members of the expedition were killed by a new avalanche much lower on the mountain that destroyed camp 1. The bodies of Satoshi Iida, Yuichiro Takamori and Nobuyoshi Yamada were eventually discovered by a late attempting Austrian team in late July. That Austrian team completed the thirteenth ascent of Nanga Parbat with Eduard Koblmuller.
The third Japanese expedition of 1983, using the Kinshofer route, did manage to put the first two Japanese climbers on top with M. Taniguchi and N. Nakashini of the Toyama Prefecture Climbing Club. Small comfort compared to the four Japanese lives lost. In their wake, the Spanish also claimed the fist success via Kinshofer with the 15th ascent by Enrique de Pablo and Jose Luis Zuloaga.
The Japanese misfortunes on the Schell of Nanga Parbat continued in 1984. In the night of July 6th/7th, a team from the Himalayan Club of Japan were surprised by an avalanche in camp 3 (at roughly 6700 meters) reminiscent of the German tragedy of 1937. Takashi Kogure, Nobuyuki Imakyurei, Shigeoh Hida and Fuji Tsunoda were lost in the avalanche. That made 8 dead Japanese climbers in two years. Their bad luck was further illustrated by the successful ascent of a Spanish team two weeks before them. Tsuneo Hasegawa would bring some relief late on the year when he made the first serious winter attempt on Nanga Parbat solo. He reached 7600 meters on the Schell route in November but was then repelled.
On the other side of the mountain, on the Diamir Face in stark contrast successes were being made. Liliane Barrard (together with her husband Maurice) became the first woman to summit Nanga Parbat on June 27th 1984. A Swiss expedition was also successful there.
The final Japanese expedition to tackle the mountain attempted The Diamir face in winter. The seven man expedition was lead by Motsumu Omiya and were well on their way to accomplishing a remarkable feat. They had set up their seventh camp and were ready for a summit push when Hiromi Kameda fell to his death on the Diamir face. That tragedy immediately ended the harsh winter expedition. Nine Japanese climbers (and only Japanese climbers) had lost their lives on Nanga Parbat in two years time, against only two Japanese summits.
1985 finally saw the completion of Herrligkoffers nightmare South-East spur. Ueli Buhl had completed the spur but turned around at the South summit. A strong Polish/Mexican expedition triumphed where he had failed: Poles Zygmunt Heinrich, Jerzy Kukuczka, Mexican Carlos Carsolio and naturalised American Slavomir Lobodzinski succeeded in July 1985. The only incomplete route remaining was now the 10 kilometre long Mazeno Wall to Summit. On the descent, unfortunately one team member perished in an avalanche: Polish Piotr Kalmus became the 51st casualty on Nanga Parbat.
On the other side of the mountain on the Diamir Face, the first All Women Expedition to Nanga Parbat was also successful. Poles Anna Czerwifiska, Krystyna Palmowska and on her second attempt Wanda Rutkiewicz followed in the footsteps of Liliane Barrard. They accomplished the feat without any Sherpa or porter support.
The Rest of the Eighties
In 1988, the Italians returned to the Rakhiot face for the first time since the 1971 Czechoslovakian effort. Six climbers ascended a new buttress West of the original Buhl route reaching a high point of 6800 meters. But the choice for the route had been too optimistic and continuous avalanches in the buttresses had them fearing for their lives and so they admitted defeat.
The summer of 1989 saw two more climbers losing their lives on Nanga Parbat: Korean Kim Kwang-Ho fell to his death during an attempt on the Diamir face. More disturbing was the freak death of Japanese climber Baba Tetsuya who was struck and burned by lightning whilst attempting a direct route up the Rupal face.
In the winter of 1989 the Polish launched the first official Winter attempt on the Diamir face of Nanga Parbat (some say actually the third after the failed Japanese solo run of 1984 and the larger expedition of 1984/1985). They opted for a repeat of the Messner Solo route rather than the standard Kinshofer. Maciej Berbeka, Piotr Konopka and Andrzej Osika reached a high point of 6800 meters as well before being caught in a storm. All made it back alive fortunately but the attempt was over.
Climbing in the Nineties
During the Nineties there were too many attempts on Nanga Parbat and describing them all would simply be too much. There were four remarkable trends surfacing:
- A) There were very few successes outside of the Kinshofer route
- B) Winter expeditions to Nanga Parbat became more frequent
- C) Casualties on the mountain became less frequent
- D) The Mazeno Ridge, the last unclimbed ridge to the summit, becomes a focus
There were only two successful attempts on Nanga Parbat that didn’t use the standard Kinshofer route during the nineties. First, in 1990, A German/Slovenian expedition ascended via the Schell Route, the last attempt at the dangerous route until the 2007 Polish winter expedition would once again try it. They managed to put 5 people on top (3 Germans and 2 Slovenians).
The second expedition was the infamous 1995 Japanese expedition that opened a new direct route to the Silver Saddle (‘Japanese Route’) on the by then disused Rakhiot Face. They put 3 men on the top of Nanga Parbat. All the other successful climbs would use the Kinshofer route or some slight variation of it.
In the winter of 1990/91 the English and Polish teamed up for another winter attempt. Like the last attempt a year before, they opted for the Messner solo route. They reached a high point of 6600 meters before avalanches pushed them back.
The British and Polish returned separately in 1996 for another winter shot. The Brits tried their hand at the Kinshofer route this time but were repelled by adverse weather even below 6000 metres. A few days later, the Polish took over. A strong due of Krzysztof Pankiewiez and Zbigniew Trzmiel almost made the first winter ascent of any 8000m mountain in the Karakoram but they turned around in blizzard conditions some 250 metres below the summit. Both suffered terrible frostbite injuries and had to be evacuated by helicopter from the lower camps.
Slowly but certainly, Nanga Parbat’s fatality rate started to drop down as well, as many summitted via the Kinshofer Route. Still, there were more casualties to be regretted during the Nineties:
Park Chang-Gi slipped into a deep crevasse whilst attempting the Kinshofer with the 1990 Korean expedition. That year, the Japanese were still attempting the Schell Route after the German/Slovenian success some weeks before. But they aborted after one of their climbers, Nakajima Osami, fell into the depths almost within reach of the summit. The Schell route thus remained a curse for Japanese climbers: they would never succeed on it.
In 1993, Korean Ahn Chun-Moon disappeared on the Kinshofer route never to be seen again. A year later, in 1994, a successful Spanish expedition on the Kinshofer route ended in tragedy when a snow bridge collapsed under the feet of Antonio Lopez on the way down and he fell 2000 metres to his death. Lopez was the only member of the team who hadn’t summited because he was struck by Cerebral oedema in the high camp. But at the time of his death, he had recovered substantially.
In 1996, two members of a Romanian team were swept away in an avalanche again on the Kinshofer. The avalanche wiped out their camp 3 on the Kinshofer Ice field and unfortunately Răzvan Petcu and Gabriel Stana were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In 1997 exhausted Catalan climber Joan Colet fell somewhere near to camp 3 after a successful ascent. His body too disappeared in the depths. Finally, in 1998 Japanese Ohmiya Hideki fell on his way to the summit again via the Kinshofer route. There would be no more casualties on Nanga for 6 years after that.
The Nineties saw the first serious attempts at completing the Mazeno Ridge. In 1992 Doug Scott aborts after climbing three of the Mazeno Peaks. And in 1995, Wojciech Kurtyka (Polish), Andrew Lock (Australian) and Rick Allen (UK) too ticked off the first three Mazeno Peaks.
Finally, in the summer of 1996 Krzysztof Wielicki (POL) made the first solo ascent of the Kinshofer Route and became the fifth man to summit all the 8000m mountains. He climbed continuous for 48 hours then descended 5800m the same day as summiting.
Climbing Since 2000
In 2000, legend Reinhold Messner returned to Nanga Parbat for the last time. He tried to open up a new route on the Diama/North Ridge. The status of that ridge is somewhat dubious. Because its upper slopes are utilised by the Kinshofer route and some variants and the North Ridge was already used by Buhl and the likes, it is not really considered as unclimbed. Still, Messner and partners Hubert Messner, Hanspete Eisendle and Wolfgang Tomasete staid on the ridge for longer than anyone else in the past and argued it was a new route. The upper part connected with the Czech 1978 first ascent route of the North Peak though, so the status of this climb has always been dubious (new route or not?). At any rate, they weren’t successful and were forced back at 7500 metres due to dangerous snow conditions. Reinhold Messner received criticism for utilising porters in the early stages of the climb: he had always been the strongest advocate of alpine style ascents.
In 2003, Frenchman Jean Christophe Lafaille opened a new variant on the Diamir Face. He ascended far more to the left of the Kinshofer route. But the last third of the variation did hook up with the standard route. He was joined from there by Ed Viesturs who became the first American to summit and also the first American to bag all 14 eight-thousanders.
In 2004 Steve House makes a first attempt at his most direct line on the Rupal Face. Altitude sickness forces him down at around 7550 meters. The same summer, Brits Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson finally complete the Mazeno Ridge up to the Mazeno col but are exhausted and can’t proceed to the summit. They descend via the Schell route which hadn’t seen activity since the failed Japanese attempt of 1990.
In 2005 an ambitious and skilled Korean team finally makes the first repeat of the Messner Brothers Route up the Rupal Face. Remarkably, they were faced with the same problem as the Brothers back in 1970 and they chose to descend via the standard Kinshofer Route.
That year, the remains of Günther Messner were also found at the western bottom of the Diamir Face. His jacket and shoes were identified by Reinhold but DNA testing finally showed that Reinhold had told the truth about their descent.
On the North Face, Slovenian Tomaž Humar had tried a new variation of the Buhl route solo (first action on the Rakhiot since the Japanese in 1995) but was stuck for 6 days on a narrow ice ledge at around 5900 metres. He was rescued by Pakistani military helicopters in a daring operation.
On the Rupal Face, American Steve House together with Vince Anderson finally completed his most direct (and dangerous) route up the face with his second attempt. They accomplished the feat in 6 days and were later award the Piet-Dor. More direct than the Messner route the climb has been heralded as one of the greatest ascents of all time. The route remains unrepeated.
In the winter of 2006/07, the Polish finally returned to the Schell Route for another winter attempt. They fought the mountain admirably but bad weather and snow conditions meant there was no chance of success.
In the summer of 2012, Brits Rick Allen and Sandy Allan finally completed the last great unclimbed ridge of Nanga Parbat. They finished the Mazeno Ridge in about a week after which the rest of the team (including Cathy O’Dowd) were forced to retreat a new undisclosed route down the Rupal Face. The Allens proceeded to the summit with a bare minimum of rations and after ticking it, descended a variation of the Kinshofer down the Diamir face where they were greeted by expeditions that had just arrived.
Recent Deaths on Nanga Parbat
Even in the modern era, Nanga Parbat has remained a lethal mountain. Several esteemed climbers have found their death there in recent times. A short summary:
On July 1st 2004, German Sixty year old veteran climber Günter Jung celebrating the 51st anniversary of the first German ascent of Nanga Parbat, was returning after a summit via the Kinshofer when he slipped and tumbled down the Diamir. His body was never found. He was the oldest person ever to summit Nanga. His was the first fatality since 1998.
On the 22nd of July 2006 another monument of mountaineering perished on Parbat after successfully summiting. José Antonio Delgado (VEN) was one of the most celebrated Latin American climbers with 5 eight-thousanders under his belt. He was caught in a storm after his ascent on the Kinshofer route and was in bad weather for 6 days. A six man Pakistani rescue team went up the mountain and found his lifeless body in the open between camp 3 and 4 above the Kinshofer Ice Field. A good week later, Japanese climber Naohiro Ozawa disappeared in similar conditions.
In the summer of 2008 another monument of mountaineering perished on Nanga Parbat. Karl Unterkircher (also South-Tyrol like Messner) pioneered the North Face of Gasherbrum II and was the first person to climb Everest and K2 without oxygen in the same year. He was trying to open up a new route on the Rakhiot face solo but slipped into a crevasse and was never seen again. He is presumed dead.
A few days later, Iranian climber Saman Nemati disappeared on the Kinshofer route whilst ascending probably due to a fall.
Finally, in 2009 on 10th of July Austrian Wolfgang Kölblinger descending after a successful summit in stormy conditions, lost his balance high on the Diamir Face and fell to his death. A day later, exactly the same happened to an exhausted famous woman climber Go Mi-Young who was in hunt of becoming the first woman to complete all fourteen eight-thousanders. She had survived the dramatic 2008 K2 disaster a year before. Oddly enough, she is to date the only female climber to have perished on Nanga Parbat. Another peculiar ‘statistic’ (feel bad calling it that), is that contrary to mountains like K2, only a relatively low percentage (roughly 10%) of climbers died on the descent of Nanga Parbat.
Since 2009, there have been no more casualties on Nanga Parbat. But the success rate on the mountain has decreased a little compared to the Nineties. Some years saw no ascents while others only featured one or two. Currently in 2012, only the Mazeno Ridge expedition has produced two summits with Rupal and Diamir expeditions repelled once more.