The base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat is pitched. And when the German David Göttler, the Italian Hervé Barmasse and the American Mike Arnold look out of their tents, they see the Rupal Face of the eight-thousander Nanga Parbat – “an almost 4,500-meter-high wall of snow, ice and rock,” as Hervé said in an interview with the Italian sports newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport: “It is the highest wall in the world, and no one has ever managed to climb it in the coldest season.” By comparison, the Rupal Face is about 1,000 meters higher than the North Face of Mount Everest and two and a half times higher than the Eiger North Face.
Messner or Kukuczka route?
The Southeast Face of Nanga Parbat was first climbed in summer 1970 by the South Tyrolean brothers Günther and Reinhold Messner. On the descent via the northwest side of the 8,125-meter-high mountain in Pakistan, Günther Messner died in an avalanche, according to his brother Reinhold. In Barmasse’s words, the ascent route of the two South Tyroleans via the Southsoutheast Spur is one of two options that the international team has now picked out.
The other option is the route taken by a four-man team led by legendary Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka, who had climbed to the summit via the Southeast Pillar in summer 1985. And why these two routes? “They are the most direct and, in my opinion, the most feasible in winter,” Hervé said, adding that they wanted to climb Nanga Parbat in clean style, “without polluting it or ‘wrapping’ it with plastic, neither using fixed ropes nor bottled oxygen”.
Climbing only in the sun
According to the 44-year-old, the climbers hope to make a summit attempt sometime between January 10 and 20: “If everything goes perfectly according to plan, we’ll spend two nights on ascent and one night on descent, in the worst case three up and two down. (…) We use our ability to move quite fast even at these altitudes and try to climb in the sun and find shelter in the tent at night. Normally, even in winter, we start for the summit at night, but this time we will try to use a different tactic.” Currently, temperatures in the summit zone are hovering around minus 45 degrees Celsius.
“Our chances of success are very, very slim,” David Göttler writes on Facebook, but is still cautiously optimistic: “I think we have enough expertise to have a chance, but please just know that so many stars have to align perfectly for us to be in with a fighting chance.” The 43-year-old had tried his hand on the southeast side of Nanga Parbat in winter 2013/14, getting as far as the Mazeno Ridge at 7,200 meters before having to turn back due to bad weather.
Update 29 December: Pakistani climber Qudrat Ali has clarified that he will not be climbing the mountain – as previously reported – but will be managing the base camp as a “Liasion Officer”.