Troubling winter news from Nanga Parbat for the second year running: two alpinists—this time the Italian alpinist Daniele Nardi and the British alpinist Tom Ballard—who were attempting a winter ascent of the Mummery Rib, on the Diamir Face, are overdue and may be stranded high on the mountain.
Nardi and Ballard were last heard from on Sunday, February 24, when Nardi communicated with his wife. The climbers’ last communique with base camp was two days prior, on Friday, February 22, when they said they were descending from Camp 4 to Camp 3 (6,300 meters). They have been communicating with a Thuraya satellite device.
Since February 22, Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters) has been lashed by poor weather. As concern grew, base camp support staff began sweeping the mountain with binoculars for any sign of the climbers; no sign thus far. Today, February 27, offered the first clear day since the 22nd.
Rescue expert Shamyl Sharafat Ali has provided Rock and Ice with updates on the developing rescue effort. In just the past year, Ali, who lives in France, helped organize the rescues for Elisabeth Revol and Tomek Mackiewicz on Nanga Parbat; for Bruce Normand Timothy Miller on Ultar Sar; for Alexander Gukov on Latok 1; and for Mathieu Maynadier in the Tagas Valley, Pakistan.
Ali told Rock and Ice early Tuesday morning (MST), “Ali Sadpara has been prepared to go in search of the stranded team but he’s still in Skardu at the moment.” Sadpara, from Pakistan, made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 with Simone Moro and Alex Txikon. (Txikon is currently attempting the first winter ascent of K2 as part of a Russian-Kazakh-Kyrghyz expedition.)
Recruiting a climber for the rescue job was the easy part, though; geopolitical problems between Pakistan and India have made lining up a helicopter and getting permission to fly in Pakistani airspace a major hurdle. Ali explained that clashes along the Line of Control (LoC) between the two countries in just the past few days—“Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets this morning during an incursion in Pakistan airspace,” he noted—have elevated tensions and led to the temporary closure of Pakistani airspace.
“Despite the very tense situation with the Line of Control with India as well as the closure of Pakistan airspace,” Ali updated us in a later message, “the Pakistan Army has graciously made an exception to launch a rescue mission for Daniele Narde and Tom Ballard. Since it’s too late to launch a rescue this evening [February 27; Pakistan is 12 hours ahead of MST], a mission would be launched early tomorrow morning to drop Ali Sadpara as high as possible on Nanga Parbat, weather permitting.”
Additionally, Ali said, “We are also looking at weather on the Concordia side [of the mountain] to ascertain if the Russian/Kazakh team could be used as well on this mission.”
Nardi and Ballard have been at Nanga Parbat since December 2018.
Nardi, 42, has a long history with the mountain, having already attempted it three times previously: in winter 2013 with Elisabeth Revol; in winter 2014, solo; and in winter 2016 with Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara, Adam Bielecki and Jacek Tcech. Ballard, 30, is one of the best mixed-climbers in the world. In 2016, he established A Line Above the Sky (D15), which for a time stood as the world’s hardest dry-tooling route. Ballard also comes from mountaineering royalty: his mother, Alison Hargreaves, was the first person to solo the six great north faces of the Alps—the Eiger, the Grand Jorrasses, the Petit Dru, the Piz Badille, the Matterhorn and Cima Grande de Laverado—in one summer season. Ballard went on to become the first person to repeat his mother’s feat in winter. Ballard’s interest in the Greater Ranges was also inspired by his mother: Hargreaves was only the second person (after Reinhold Messner) to climb Everest unsupported and without supplemental oxygen, in 1995. Tragically, she died on August 13 that same year on K2.
This marks the second time in two years that climbers attempting a winter ascent of Nanga Parbat have required a rescue. On January 25, 2018, the French climber Elisabeth Revol and the Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz made the second-ever winter ascent of Nanga Parbat. However, Mackiewicz had become snowblind and hypoxic on the ascent. The partners descended to 7,280 meters, where Revol eventually had to leave Mackiewicz if there was any hope of rescue for either of them. A rescue team comprised of Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Jaroslaw Botor and Piotrek Tomala—members of a Polish expedition then attempting the first winter ascent of K2 that same season—helicoptered over to Nanga Parbat on January 27. In the intervening days, Revol had continued to descend. Urubko and Bielecki then blitzed up the Kinshofer Route, and found Revol in the early morning hours of January 28. Mackiewicz could not be saved.