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Asia, Pakistan, Nanga Parbat Tragedy

Nanga Parbat Tragedy. Preparations for the first American attempt on Nanga Parbat began in 1975. Expedition leaders, Dan Bunce, George Bogel and I, selected a team, set a timetable, explored sources of funding and submitted an application to the Pakistani government. For training, a core of members climbed Huandoy in Peru in the summer of 1976. The team was assembled in Rawalpindi by June 28, 1977. We were the three leaders, Bob Broughton, Andy Colucci, Peter Erdman, Nelson Max, Bruce McClellan, Ellory Schempp, Rick Sloan, John Unkovic, Eric Wilhelm, Dr. Henry Bahnson and Dr. Robert Hoffman. On June 30 the expedition left Rawalpindi by bus for Balikot where the paved road ends. The following day we traveled by jeep to Jal, the end of the dirt road. We walked the rest of the way to Base Camp, arriving at the head of the Diamir valley on July 9. We had few problems with porters on the approach march. The government had pre-set the pay scale and load limitations, which removed potential points of friction. What issues remained, the distance to be covered each day and the precise weight of each load, were settled with relatively little dispute. This untroubled relationship was largely due to the administrative skills of the assistant liaison officer who both appreciated our limitations on time and money and understood the needs of our 173 porters too. By July 10 a route had been found through the glacier, and the 13th saw Camp I established. The critical part of the climb, the Diamir face lay ahead. George Bogel devised a solution to the problem of moving loads up the long face: he designed a pulley with the capacity to haul sleds loaded with up to 100 pounds of food and equipment. A haul could sometimes be made in less than an hour. A man carrying a third of the weight needed three hours to cover the same ground. Built at 19,300 feet at a site we called Depot Rock, the pulley was finished on July 18. Depot Rock is an outcropping on a steep and narrow corridor of ice hemmed in by high rock walls. It provides a ledge for a tent, a place to anchor loads, and some protection from the rockfall that pelted us each afternoon. On July 31 the last load required to stock the higher camps had been hauled to the Depot. The route had by that time been pushed to Camp II on a ridge at 21,600 feet. While we had fallen behind our timetable, there were reasons for optimism. We had four men at Camp II, two at the Depot, and eight at Camp I. Ten of fourteen were reasonably healthy and, according to our information, the toughest part of the route was behind us. That evening a slab of rock broke from a wall slightly above the Depot. It was 100 feet high. Fragments, some big as trucks, slid over the site where George Bogel and Bob Broughton were camped for the night. Both men were killed. We found George’s body the following morning. Bob’s body was never found. The falling rock had blasted our gear over acres of mountain side. In view of our losses, most were ambivalent about going on. The climb was abandoned. We searched for Bob’s body, dismantled the camps, and cleaned up the face. We walked out and reached Rawalpindi on August 8.

Jay M. Hellman