Winter Climbs 2019: Concern for Nanga Parbat Climbers Grow, Rescue Operations Standing By

It has now been several days since there has been any contact with Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, the two climbers making a summit bid on Nanga Parbat. The two climbers set off from Base Camp this past weekend after spending more than two weeks stuck in place while waiting out the wether. Upon reaching Camp 3, they announced that they would push upwards in an attempt to reach the summit. Since then, no one has heard from them, which has prompted Nardi’s home team to contact Pakistani officials with the hopes of launching a rescue operation. But as usual in Pakistan, things aren’t quite so simple.

An update on the status of the two men was posted to Daniele’s Facebook page earlier today with the news that the Italian climbers support team back home has requested a sweep of the mountain by helicopters to search for Nardi and Ballard. There were bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but after some time and negotiations, the helicopters were given permission to fly to Nanga Parbat and look for the climbers.

But before that operation could get under way, it was scrubbed and all aircraft across Pakistan were grounded. Thanks to the growing tensions with India –– which attacked insurgents in Kashmir a few days back –– the Pakistani government has cancelled all flights until further notice. That means that the aircraft can’t be used to help in any potential search and rescue operations on Nanga Parbat, making efforts to locate and assist Nardi and Ballard much more difficult.

Last year, the Polish climbing team on K2 had to make a dramatic rescue on Nanga Parbat when two climbers became stranded at altitude. To make that happen, helicopters flew to K2 BC and picked them up, then took them to Nanga. But at the moment, that isn’t possible either since the flights are grounded. Weather conditions on K2 aren’t great either, which could hamper flights even if the airspace wasn’t restricted.

Currently the support team in Base Camp are watching all of the potential routes for descending the mountain in hopes of catching a glimpse of the two men. So far, there has been no sign of them or word on radio or satellite phone. That isn’t necessarily a cause for concern just yet, as clouds over the mountain are thick at the moment, which could prevent a sat phone from working and their route above C3 also prevents the use of two-way radios.

For now, everyone is holding keeping their fingers crossed and holding their breath that Daniele and Tom are okay but just out of communications. They haven’t been heard from since Sunday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are in trouble. Hopefully everything will play out and we’ll get word from them soon. I’ll post an update when more is known.

Kraig Becker