NANGA PARBAT: Mummery Winter 3
Sometimes a few days of bad weather can be a good thing, allowing you to rest with a clear conscience. But when it snows over a metre in 24 hours, you’re wishing for clear skies once again. Even if it means that you have to actually go climbing!
Breaking the first part of the trail was hard work. We didn’t descend onto the glacier because of avalanche danger. The next day we easily followed our nicely made path and then down onto the glacier. Crossing this in a rather circumspect route. I was at the sharp end with my mini skis. Struggling with the skins not sticking due to the cold. I made a big mistake in not applying fresh glue to these old skins before coming to Pakistan. Every hundred metres or so one skin would slip off, I’d curse, maybe a second curse, then slide a warm bottle along the skin to reactivate the glue. Jump on the skis and rush off to make some ground before the next slippage (and the next cursing).
It lightly snowed all day with very poor visibility, which kept the temperature bearable. Deep snow meant that it took almost six hours to reach camp 1. I say camp 1, actually what we found was just snow. Abundant snow. So Karim, Daniele and I started a chain gang to dig out the tent with the shovel we had fortuitously carried up. After a lot of work the tent was reassembled, a broken pole mended and re-pitched. Now to find the second tent. An hour later and several deep holes later we still hadn’t found it. Time for a cosy night in the (fortunately) three man tent.
Blue sky the next morning meant cold temperatures. Spent two fruitless hours looking for the other tent. The only sign was a broken guy line attached to a rock, a freeze dried meal and a plastic sack. We assume the tent was blown away. Most of our gear was in the surviving tent. Sadly though Karim’s crampons were lost. So he dejectedly headed back to basecamp whilst Daniele and I slogged up to camp 2. A lot of digging to be done here too. Finally the battered tent was unearthed from beneath several metres of snow. Two broken poles and much out of shape. Everything inside in good condition though.
The third day dawned exceptionally clear and exceptionally cold. We woke late due to having to reheat our hot water bottles several times during the night . We repaired the tent the best we could, replacing the broken and misshapen poles with poles from a spare tent – fiddly at room temperature, never mind at numerous degrees below zero. Every time you take your outer gloves off, your fingers become numb extraordinarily quickly. Then light the stove to bring some life back into them. The afternoon we spent lying in our sleeping bags. Fortunately I had T.E Lawrence to keep me entertained. That and the snoring of my partner in crime. I would barely make it through a chapter before my fingers became too cold to turn the pages. Reading whilst wearing gloves is never a pleasant experience. Around 8pm my watch showed -22, inside the tent. That would increase to a rather pleasant -8 when we had both stoves going. During the evening many avalanches swept down from above.
Another clear and cold day. Off we set for camp 3. It really was cold, a bitter breeze swept down from above. The unpleasant feeling of cold fingers and the agony of the hot aches cycle was repeated several times before we arrived at what had been camp 3. Some sunshine made things almost pleasant, in the short time it lasted. Of the tent and all our gear there was no sign. Buried under several tons of snow. Tiredly we dug several deep holes, but in vain.
Meanwhile the sun shone on the Mummery spur directly above us. Tents, our down gear, sleeping bags, food, fuel and technical equipment were all lost. All that hard work to carry it up here, for nothing. What’s more it meant we had to descend since we had nowhere to sleep and we needed to take stock and start again, pretty much from scratch.
Quickly descending as the wind up high was increasing, forming some incredible clouds, brought welcome warmth to numb toes. A brew and a bite to eat at C2 before reaching C1. Then I had the pleasure to don skis. I reckon I got in about seven really awesome turns in the powder down the steepest part. The rest of the time I was straight lining through deep snow or shuffling on the flatter sections. We were rewarded with glorious alpenglow as the sun set. Absolutely stunning, almost worth the trip down just to see it.