On Friday 26 February 216 Italy’s Simone Moro, Spain’s Alex Txikon and Pakistan’s Ali Sadpara successfully carried out the historic first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat (8126m, Karakorum, Pakistan). Italy’s Tamara Lunger stopped her bid on the ridge below the summit. Towards 20:00 circa (Pakistan time) all four alpinists returned to Camp 4 at 7100m.
Good things come to those who wait. And the waiting game certainly paid off for the Italians Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro, Spain’s Alex Txikon and Pakistan’s Hassan Ali Sadpara. They held on to their beliefs, adapted where necessary, changed plans, combined forces and resisted even when everyone (or almost everyone) no longer thought it was possible.
Their ‘journey’ lasted two months and a half. A period marked by the eternal waiting game, by high winds, ‘polar’ temperatures, terrible weather but also disappointments, sudden changes of plans and a thousand other obstacles that needed dealing with. Then, almost unexpectedly, the fleeting moment arrived and they managed to seize it.
At 15:37 local time today Moro, Txikon and Sadpara reached the summit of Nanga Parba while Tamara Lunger halted her attempt lower down, a truly immense achievement as she had not been feeling well since early this morning. The news regarding the summit was anounced by Igone Mariezkurrena directly from Base Camp, after having received comunication from the team of alpinists via walkie talkie. This is now the first time that the Naked Mountain has been climbed in winter.
A fact which – regardless of how people choose to view it – adds another important chapter to the history of winter mountaineering on the 8000m giants, and not only. It’s worth bearing in mind that prior to today’s success, Nanga Parbat had been attempted in winter by 30 or so previous expeditions. As of today, the only summit missing off the list of the 14 highest mountains climbed in winter is K2.
Another fundamental piece of information: Base Camp reported the much-awaited news that (at circa 20:00 local time, 16:00 CET) all four alpinists had returned to Camp 4 a 7100m. Circa 14 hours had passed since setting off from Camp 4, and 5 days since leaving Base Camp! Lunger, Moro, Txikon and Sadpara now need to complete the final important act. Another night and another day (or two) on the mountain lie in store.
They (and we) are comforted by the fact that the weather forecast is good. We’ll wait for them at Base Camp, when it really is all over. In the meantime it’s worth recognising that this summit represents, for each of the four alpinists (we’d also like to add Tamara to these three successful summiters), an absolutely cutting-edge achievement. For Simone Moro this mountain is now his fourth first winter ascent of an 8000er, after Shisha Pangma (2005), Makalu (2009) and Gasherbrum II (2011). No one has achieved more than this!
Alex Txikon is the first Spanish mountaineer to add his name to the hall of fame of first winter ascents on one of the 14 eightthousanders. And, last but certainly not least, there’s Ali Sadpara. In the words of Moro: “he’s a great alpinist!” Sadpara is unsurprisingly considered Pakistan’s most successful mountaineer and, apart from being the first Pakistani to climb an 8000er in winter, with this summit he has now climbed all five of his country’s 8000ers as well as Mt. Everest.
His success crowns last year’s unsuccessful bid that ground to a halt, together with Italy’s Daniele Nardi and Txikon at 7,800m… “off route” while on their way to the summit. At the time the trio descended in order to make a second summit push the next day, but Sadpara then felt unwell and this plan was abandoned.
For her part, Tamara Lunger has proven – regardless of the “non summit” – her true workhorse strength once again. Furthermore it’s worth noting that she was the only member of this 4-person team to not have attempted Nanga Parbat previously in winter.
We mentioned that many had almost stopped believing in today’s summit. And in effect, everything or almost everything took place during the last couple of days. At 5:30am on 22 February the four alpinists set off from Base Camp on the Diamir side of the mountain. Their aim, agreed on a long time ago, was to follow the Kinshofer route, first climbed in 1962 by Toni Kinshofer, Anderl Mannhardt and Siegfried Loew along the Diamir Face.
This is considered the “normal” route up Nanga Parbat, the second to be climbed after the legendary first solo ascent carried out by Hermann Buhl in 1953. Moro and Lunger had opted for this route only recently, initially they had planned to climb the Messner – Eisendle route but the serac above the starting traverse loomed too dangerously overhead.
Hence the consensual decision to join forces with Txikon and Sadpara on the Kinshofer line. In truth initially it seemed as if Daniele Nardi would form part of this team, but the Italian subsequently returned home as other components had done before him, belonging to other expeditions (this winter 6 expeditions had set their sights on this mountain).
As mentioned, the four had set off from Base Camp on 22 February. After 10 hours of “hard work” they reached Camp 2 at 6200m. Nothing could be taken for granted at this stage, there were still far too many doubts. Starting with their lack of acclimatisation.
Due to the impeding weather (and avalanches), the maximum altitude Txikon and Sadpara had reached was 6700m, while Lunger and Moro had only climbed as high as 6100m. Furthermore, the pit stop at Camp 2 lasted all of 23 February due to… stormy conditions in true Nanga Parbat style.
Karl Gabl, the magic Austrian weather forecaster, had predicted the following: very favourable conditions were expected for Friday 26, but above all Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 February. Which meant that should they succeed in gaining height on Thursday and reach Camp 4 at 7100m, and should they then make their summit push on Friday, they’d have another two days to descend in good weather.
In the meantime though they still had almost 2000m of climbing looming above them, coupled with the unknown route conditions and, above all, questions about how their bodies would react to the altitude. As Moro stated, the chances of scoring a winter ascent on an 8000m peak are always tiny.
Fortunately on Wednesday 24 February the storm settled and the team set off once again. After a mere five hours they reached Camp 3 at 6700m. They were on form, could see the summit but… were separated from this by 1400 long meters. The route above was still eternal. Nevertheless, they continued to climb according to schedule. On Thursday 25 they reached Camp 4 at 7200m.
Now another 1000m vertical height gain remained to be climbed, the highest, the most unpredictable of all. Anything could still happen. All that could be done now was cross fingers and… hope.
The rest, as they say, is history. Written only a few hours ago. For the first time ever the summit of Nanga Parbat was reached in winter by Simone Moro, Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara.
Tamara Lunger stopped slightly short of the summit, somewhere along the ridge. Given the time of day, her decision to turn back was obligatory and absolutely the right one. Time had run out: only two or three hours separated the four from total darkness.
And, at this point, the only summit they now had to reach was Camp 4, a thousand meters below them. They had made another good decision. Like a true team. Now we’ll wait for them to reach Base Camp. Another extremely important objective, the most beautiful one of all!
by Vinicio Stefanello
UPDATE 27/02/2016 at 14:30
All have descended to Base Camp! Tamara Lunger, Simone Moro, Ali Sadpara and Alex Txikon have returned safely: the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat has been successfully completed. Congratulations!