American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, Nanga Parbat Range, Nanga Parbat, Northeast Face, New Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Nanga Parbat, Northeast Face, New Route. In July, Reinhold Messner, his brother Hubert Messner, Hanspeter Eisendle, and climber/cameraman Wolfgang Tomaseth traveled to Nanga Parbat. Hubert doubled as the expedition doctor. After 14 years of abstinence, as Reinhold put it, he wanted to stand on an 8000-meter peak one more time. And once more it should be the summit of Nanga Parbat, his personal mountain of destiny: here his brother Guenther died in 1970 in an avalanche, and Reinhold himself lost six toes to frostbite. Eight years later, he managed to solo from valley to summit without supplemental oxygen.

In addition, this expedition was important to Reinhold because he wanted to search for the missing English climber, Alfred Mummery, who Reinhold considers one of his role models. Mummery attempted to be the first person to scale an 8000-meter peak in 1895. Reinhold wanted to climb to the summit in Mummery’s tracks.

Reinhold’s goal was the northeast side of the mountain, between the Diamir and Rakiot flanks. Until now only Mummery had succeeded in reaching it, but no trace of him or his Gurkha porters was ever found. The area has extreme avalanche and rockfall danger, and is only reachable through the broken and crevasse-laden Diama Glacier.

An ice trough that rises to the east was Reinhold’s destination. Abdul Raman, the cook’s helper, had entered the valley five years ago on a barely decipherable trail that turned out to be much safer than the originally planned route.

The team discovered why no one has ever attempted an ascent from the Diama Glacier: the terrain is murderous, a narrow valley full of boulders and ice, with dangerous crevasses and seracs. With Base Camp at 4200 meters, they established a depot at 5200 meters. Advanced Base Camp (ABC) was established at 5800 meters.

Reinhold believes that Mummery was a victim of the extreme variability of the weather on Nanga Parbat. During an influx of bad weather on the mountain, Mummery would have had little chance of leaving the Diama Glacier Valley in a timely manner.

After a week’s stay in base camp, the expedition began the second acclimatization phase. Reinhold and his team went to ABC at 5800 meters for a week, moving food from the cache 600 meters higher. In the meantime, a wanded route was established between the cache and the upper camp.

In the hopes of stumbling upon a trace of Mummery, the Messner brothers worked their way up to the Diama Notch at 6300 meters. This is where Mummery wanted to descend into the Rakhiot Valley, but not even the smallest sign of the missing men was found.

Eisendle and Tomaseth finally discovered the possible passage to the summit after a long search in the unwelcome walls of the hanging glacier. The passage also appeared to be feasible for the descent.

On the morning of July 19, the climbers returned to base camp. The monsoon then started, and for a week the rain splashed down. In the village of Kurgali, some two hours away, Reinhold had issued invitations for a “gathering of veterans.” Those who participated in the 1970 expedition, who saw the seriously injured Reinhold drag himself off the Diamir Glacier, enjoyed the reunion. The rain stopped, and the weather turned. On the night of July 27, the four climbers and two porters got moving, reaching the upper camp with no problems. The next morning, the Messners, Eisendle and Tomaseth climbed through the icefall and up onto the north face and through to 7200 meters—an accomplishment of 3000 vertical meters in only two days. An avalanche path that reached 1000 meters down the side of the mountain offered them solid footing. The weather continued to hold and the walkable avalanche path continued above the bivy site. The next day, after a sleepless night and in spite of wind and cold, the team quickly moved up 100 vertical meters. However, where the avalanche path ended, snowdrifts began. The six days of bad weather that kept Reinhold and his crew in base camp had filled hollows and slopes with hip-deep snow. After two hours, in which they gained only 300 vertical meters, they knew that they had hit the limit and that the summit was unreachable.

“The new route stands,” said Reinhold, “but because of poor snow conditions we could only get to 7500 meters.” At that point, the new route connected with the 1978 Czech Route. Reinhold had reached his personal goal: the Mummery route was complete. According to him, the summit was merely a byproduct; what counted was that they had tried a clean ascent “by fair means.”

From an August 10, 2000, article in the German newspaper Die Zeit, by Ralph-Peter Maerten

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