American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Asia, Pakistan, West Himalaya, Nanga Parbat (8,126m), New Route on Diamir Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Nanga Parbat (8,126m), new route on Diamir Face. Of the five expeditions to Nanga Parbat, only two were successful and a total of 14 climbers reached the summit, bringing the total number of ascents of the mountain to 216 from 1953 up to its Golden Jubilee year. However, the Diamir Face of the peak proved the venue for the only new route on a very high mountain in Pakistan during 2003.

Jean Christophe Lafaille reached the 4,100m base camp below the face on June 5, a little later than other members of his team. Almost immediately he set off for the standard Kinshofer Route with Ed Viesturs, climbing up to Camp 2 at 6,100m, where they erected a tent. Bad weather drove them down, and the next time they regained the camp Lafaille was ill with suspected giardia and had to be escorted down by Viesturs. He recovered quickly on antibiotics and on June 16 was able to carry equipment to Camp 3 at ca 6,800m. However, before leaving for Pakistan, Lafaille had already made a photographic study of the broad buttress/spur to the left of the Kinshofer line and, disenchanted with the copious amount of fixed rope on the Standard Route, decided to investigate further. The Italian, Simone Moro, also had the same idea and the two paired for an alpine style ascent. The line lies parallel to, left of, but close to the 1978 Slovak Route (Belica/Just /Zatko/Zatko), which climbs the west face of Nanga Parbat North I. It finishes on easy ground at around 7,100m, with the continuation of the Kinshofer just to the right. The plan was to time their ascent so as to meet Viesturs at Camp 3 and continue with him to the summit.

At 11 p.m. the two left Camp 1 at 4,900m and an hour later were starting up the glacier. Once they were on the spur they unroped and climbed at their own pace up an ever steepening and narrowing couloir. The snow conditions were excellent. Around daybreak and close to the top of the first icefield, a route finding error cost them some time. Above, an icy couloir and snow covered slabs forced them to rope. The second ice field was climbed unroped and led to more mixed ground close to the top of the spur. Another delicate passage required the rope, after which they reached a horizontal arête at the top of the spur. The snow was now getting deeper and in worse condition as temperatures rose in the sun. At one stage the pair were optimistic about reaching the Kinshofer Route the same day but eventually decided to bivouac at ca 6,800m. This proved a wise decision as they were later hit by a sudden afternoon storm.

Next morning 45-50° slopes led up to the junction with the Kinshofer, from where they descended several hundred meters to join a waiting Viesturs at Camp 3. The new variation was in the bag but the summit still some distance off. On the 22nd all three set off for Camp 4 at 7,400m, already installed by the Kazakh members of the team who had summited earlier (Denis Urubko, the first to summit on the 17th, reportedly made the top in the amazingly fast time of three-and-a-half hours from camp). Moro, not happy with his acclimatization, decided to return before reaching camp. He went all the way back to base, hoping to make another attempt later. Unfortunately, when he did so he was thwarted by very strong winds.

That afternoon it snowed once more but the next day dawned cold and clear. By 11:45 a.m., after a grueling seven-hour climb through deep and unstable powder, both Lafaille and Viesturs were standing on the summit; 44-year-old Viesturs later remarking that it was one of the most physically challenging days of his career.

After a second night at Camp 4 both climbers descended to base camp on the 24th, and the following day Lafaille was already on his way out for a new adventure. The new line was named “Tom and Martina” after both Lafaille’s and Moro’s children.

This success, not long after Dhaulagiri, the summit of which he reached, alone, on May 20, was doubly impressive, as in January 37-year-old Lafaille had sustained a broken collar bone and a blow to the head, which resulted in partial amnesia, after taking a 20-meter fall from an ice pitch in Vail, Colorado. He was stopped from hitting the ground by the only ice screw placed below.

Lafaille went on to climb the main summit of Broad Peak with Viesturs on July 15, thereby completing a hat trick of 8,000m peaks in less than two months. However, his success on Broad Peak could well have ended tragically and is another interesting example of how even after nearly three months at high altitudes, an excellent acclimatization, and on the third 8,000m peak of the season, high altitude mountain sickness can still strike those making a rapid ascent. Lafaille arrived at base camp on July 11 and was on the summit just four days later. On the descent he contractcd pulmonary edema and although he managed to get himself back to the top camp, from there he had to be assisted down the mountain by other climbers, who were fortunately in camp at the time

Lindsay Griffin, U.K.

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