Nanga parbat: Mummery Winter 1

Like most expeditions, things started fairly slowly. I landed in the sparkling new Islamabad airport at 1:30am. After an hour and a half I finally collected my checked bags. Then met with Ali Saltoro at arrivals and off to the hotel for much-needed sleep.  At lunch time I had breakfast. Met with trekkers Daniele and Allessandra and then reunited with climbing companion Daniele (trust the Italians to be confusing).

INSERTION walk to nanga parbat | montane

vol. 2 >

The next two days were spent organising the equipment to be sent by road to Chilas and attending various dinners with various dignitaries.

Our flight out to Gilgit proved prohpetic. Cruising above our objective, Nanga Parbat unfurled itself below.  Obscured by the sun, however, much of its secrets remained illusive.  This tentative first glimpse added an electric charge of anticipation and excitement to the air.

After the usual hmming and ahhing from the officials we were stamped and met for the first time fellow climbers Karim and Rahmat. Both experienced 8000’ists and relative locals, both from nearby Hunza.  They joined us for some last minute shopping in Gilgit, where we found amongst other things an excellent paraffin heater which would make us warm and cosy at BC (except of course we could only haggle and hope).

Fast forward through a three-hour minibus ride and we had arrived at the Shangrila Motel in Chilas. Here the bedrooms were so cold that we were forced to sleep in our winter sleeping bags. Good preparation for the weeks to come I suppose.

By this point, I had lost count of how many times we visited the police station and how many times the police came to visit us at the motel. On one such visit, I was discussing Brexit with the chief of police when he suddenly cut his finger on the glass tabletop. This meant we had a good way of breaking the ice when we next saw him. The table was let off with community service as apparently, the local prison is overflowing with badly behaving furniture.

The third day we were escorted down to the wide silver beach beside the Indus river by a police guard. The furniture had more freedom of movement than us. On the beach, the local kids were playing cricket. Daniele (the climber not the trekker) had a go at batting. The fast bowler nearly took his head off. I will have to get him up to speed on the rules, otherwise he’ll be LBO before long!

On Christmas day we found ourselves finally heading into the crisp mountain air. Our first stop was to drive to Bunderdas to pick up the porters. Then a dusty, winding road and a bunch of planks masquerading as a bridge.

We soon left the car, setting off on a steady trek up to the small village of Ser at ca.2800m. We slept in the school which due to the long winter holidays was unattended. The next day was a rest day. Good job really as I threw up all over my sleeping bag and then the beginning of diarrhoea which would last more than a week.

Two more days it took us to reach basecamp (ca.4200m) through the ever deepening snow. We slept in the delightfully situated Cotgali. A small collection of huts at ca.3750m. The smoke from the blazing fire in the middle  of the low hut made our eyes sting.

The first day at BC was spent digging in. Decent amount of sugary snow to get through to reach the earth beneath. It’s so cold and dry up here that the snow is completely useless for making snowmen or snowballs.

 

I’ve been designated trail breaker as I’m the only one with skis. Having real problems with the skins not sticking due to the cold though. Its generally around -15 in the evening here. So not too bad.

Off we went towards Camp 1. The glacier has changed a lot since Daniele was last here in 2015. Daniele and I stopped on a ridge about 4500m. Both feeling weak due to illness and lack of food. Karim and Rahmat , both better acclimatised due to living above 2500m, went higher. The following  day I felt stronger and caught the Pakistani pair up despite starting later. We established Camp 1 at 4700m.

tom ballard down suit above crevasses nanga parbat | montane

Two days of rest, the second involuntary due to it snowing all day.

Mob handed back to camp 1. Roped in (without actually using ropes) one of the cooks and one of our ‘security’ detail to carry some stuff up. Those two back down to BC, whilst we had lunch. Us four intrepid climbers then braved the crevasses and the precipitous ice wall above to cache  some gear at ca.4900, where a seemingly impenetrable crevasse blocked our path.

Back down to camp 1 for dinner and sleep. Daniele managed to burn two great holes in my sleeping  bag with the stove. Possible payback for me dropping  his sleeping  matt on Linksar last year?

Fairly slow to start the next morning. Used Rommel’s Tobruk technique to bypass the crevasse. Heavy breathing up to the site off what will be the intermediate camp 2. I mucked about on overhanging ice whilst the others caught their  breath. Then we scampered back down to BC as the weather was taking a turn for the worse.

So far everything is going pretty well. Slow but steady. Few technical problems with the generator. Was working on and off, mainly off, before it exploded. Got the backup running now due to a fresh delivery of engine oil (and the odd foodstuff too of course).

Next step is to spend a few days establishing camp 3 at 5700m to continue our acclimatisation.

Click below to read the next instalment:
tom ballard nanga parbat winter 2 | montane

 

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