Winter Climbs 2019: Nanga Parbat Search Extended, Climbers Reach C4 on K2

The search and rescue operation on Nanga Parbat has been extended for one more day with the faint hope that Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard –– against all logic –– might still be alive on the mountain. Yesterday, it was reported that Alex Txikon spotted two “silhouettes” on the Mummery Spur that may or may not be the two missing men. That was enough to prompt the rescue team to call for a helicopter to make one last sweep of the region, even though it seems unlikely that the Italian or the Brit will be found alive.

Yesterday, Txikon, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Felix Criado, and Rahmat Ullah Baig had all-but called off their efforts prior to the shapes being spotted on Nanga. In fact, Base Camp had been disassembled and the remaining support crew had descended to the village of Ser, indicating that they were finally ready to move on. But once the two silhouettes were seen the plan shifted slightly. Alex and company are still in Ser and awaiting the arrival of a helicopter that can pick them up and make the final sweep. Once that is completed, they intend to fly back to Skardu and then catch another flight to K2 to resume their expedition there.

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan just yet as the helicopter ran into some problems getting off the ground that had to be sorted out first. That has delayed the search once again, but based on reports it seems that things are ready to go now and as of this writing, the aircraft was headed to Ser to collect the waiting men. Once in the air, they’ll concentrate their efforts on the location where Txikon saw the two figures but if that search proves fruitless it seems that they’ll pull the plug quickly and move on.

At this point, it seems incredibly unlikely that Daniele and Tom are still alive and climbing on Nanga Parbat. It has now been nearly two weeks since they were last seen and the probability of survival in the conditions that they would have faced is extremely low. Still, they are both very experienced climbers who also happen to be resourceful and tough. That alone allows us to hold a faint glimmer of hope until the rescue operation is completely finished.

While the team on Nanga Parbat makes one last push to find the missing men, the Russian/Kazakh/Kyrgyatanian team on K2 continues to make slow, but steady progress upwards. Yesterday they managed to push their way up to 7600 meters (24,934 ft) where they established a makeshift Camp 4 that could serve as a launching point for a summit bid. It is still somewhat lower than the ideal position to make an attempt on reaching the top, but it could work provided the weather holds. We should know more in the next day or two as they are getting close to either finishing up the first winter ascent of the mountain or turning back and going home. This is the closest that anyone has gotten to achieving that goal in recent memory however, so there is a chance they’ll pull this off.

I’ll post another update soon.

Kraig Becker