(Tina Sjogren) We've built automobiles and jet planes, we've been to the Moon and back. We have found thousands of other planets and peeked into our own brains - but we have yet to climb Nanga Parbat in winter.
It's hard. Really hard. In fact folks ExWeb spoke to who tried 8000ers in winter say they can't even explain how rough the death zone is on a fragile human in the deep of winter.
And yet it's that time again. ExplorersWeb caught up with another set of climbers decided to give Nanga a try.
This team have nailed one first already: trying to crowd-fund on Indiegogo. Many climbers have eyed this opportunity: the Nanga winter expedition finally braved it.
Here goes the interview, with American expedition medic Ian Overton; and Hungarian climbing mates Dávid Klein and Zoltan Ács chiming in.
Explorers Web: You guys are up for a huge adventure; one of the rare undone climbs left in this world. This is for Ian: As expedition medic, will you climb or stay in BC? What are your most notable alpine climbs and being a ski instructor, do you plan to bring your skis?
Ian: As the team medic, I intend to be on the mountain with David and Zoltan. I won't be of much use at base camp playing with a suture kit and taking my own blood pressure.
As for my personal climbing career, I won't shy away from saying I've never reached beyond what you can find here in the Continental US. Point me at a 14000 in winter and I'll make a run at it. I've been enjoying more technical rock lines lately and want to make a cold weather attempt at a number of lines with my climbing partners Nat Goodby and Brett Sasine in Rocky Mountain National before I take off for Budapest near the end of November.
The skis. There is part of me that would love to bring them, but they're heavy. Bored days at basecamp just waiting out the cold are excruciating and it would be a blast to pick fresh lines in Pakistan. Build a 20 foot kicker over the mess tent and hesh up some fresh gnar (I get all snow-bro-ish just thinking about it). So, I'm not saying no, but its extra weight.
Explorers Web: Dávid Klein and Zoltan Ács have five 8000er summits between them and both climbed to 8650 meters on Everest, all without bottled O2. This time though you guys will be much colder, and lack help with logistics. What is your game plan?
Ian: We are working with Jasmine Tours for logistical support to Base Camp – permits, porters to
BC, cook, BC supplies, etc. –, but the support ends there.
Even up to Base Camp it will be a different game all together: Approaching Base Camp is more difficult for the porters in the winter, Base Camp life is tougher.
Days will be shorter, so some routine tasks – for example charging our electronic gadgets, radios, satellite phones, etc. – will require more attention.
David: Yeah, the winter season sounds crazy at first, but it has its advantages: we expect more stable
season weather wise and – if conditions permit – we can make good use of skis, snow shoes, and sledges.
I think I actually like cold conditions… I made two attempts on Denali in the winter (first time with Zoltan) and I loved the entire experience: we had the whole mountain for ourselves. Zoltan also likes Arctic adventures: he’s been on Aconcagua in the winter, he did ‘ski the last degree’ trips to both the North and the South poles and has climbed Vinson Massif.
Zoltan and I have climbed together – since 1998 – on six different expeditions (four of those in the greater Himalayas) and we know how the other functions during an expedition.
And I’m very excited to have Ian as the third member of the expedition: he is very fit, very ambitious; he is a good alpine climber and a very good team player. Not mentioning his field medic experience, which will be a huge advantage on an expedition where we will be so
Zoltan and I both like to climb in small teams, as light as possible. We plan to do quick, almost aggressive pushes to establish high camps and gain acclimatization, but it is equally important for us to be diligent about low altitude rests between pushes. Even if it means extra work to go down, rest and then go back. For this, we need energy: to save energy – to save ourselves from gradually waning away in a high camp – we need to be fit enough and in Base Camp we need to be serious about what we eat and what we can do to replenish our physical reserves.
Luckily BC is at a very low altitude compared to most Himalayan base camps, so we don't have to descend further before our summit push.
Zoltan: All has been said. So I can just repeat the others. I love winter climbing, with all of its downsides. All together it is a big plus in the equation. That is why in 1999 I went for a winter Aconcagua attempt. It was great. There were no others on the mountain. There was no mule service either, so we ended up carrying everything to Base Camp ourselves…
Explorers Web: How have you prepared for this attempt in terms of climbing skill, gear and cold?
Ian: For the cold, the best I can say is I spent a number of days over 4000 m skiing, bucking and chopping firewood, ice climbing and bagging peaks in -20 to -40 °C weather. I don't make a ton of traveling money as an EMT, so the summer has been spent cranking out some fun stuff in the South Platte and RMNP with friends here in Colorado while sticking to a tight Crossfit
schedule and make use of a nasty run called The Incline, a decommissioned cog railway line here in Colorado Springs.
I read in Minus 148 Degrees that a Japanese climber used to lock himself in a tuna freezer for a few days and practice setting up his tent, stove etc. If anybody reading this knows of a place in Colorado awesome enough to let me try this, I'm in.
Zoltan: I do a great deal of thinking about the right equipment for these conditions. Many times we
have made our own small inventions. For example: we created a bivy bag/rucksack: you put your legs into the bag and the bag has a tube-like upper part that you could pull out to cover your upper body… and other small things… we like to experiment. Also, we try to use
solutions seen in other sports: fabrics, designs, etc. and see how they can be used in the world of climbing.
Explorers Web: What route do you plan?
David: Last winter Simone Moro and Denis Urubko scouted an excellent line slanting to climber’s left of the traditional Kinshofer Route (and then later gaining it) on the Diamir Face.
It looks relatively safe and avoids the steeper, rocky sections at lower altitudes.
It’s important, because this way we can limit – or maybe avoid – fixing ropes. Since these steep, rocky sections are at a lower altitude of the Kinshofer, we would have to fix them, so that we could ascend and descend these sections during acclimatization.
We are a small team, relaying on no high altitude porters or bottled oxygen, so I was very happy to see this creative solution of the Italians.
All in all: we will set up Base Camp and see what the mountain looks like, what snow conditions are like, what we feel and think, and then try to find a solution to the puzzle. Again, an advantage of a small and flexible team.
Explorers Web: Are you in contact with any of the other winter expeditions?
David: We know about another Romanian expedition which has similar plans – we will actually use
the same Pakistani agency – so we will have company in Base Camp.
Although we all have to arrive to Base Camp ready to do it on our own, we are certainly eager to cooperate with them on the mountain. Their expedition leader was still in the Himalayas a few weeks ago, but as soon as he gets back to Europe, we will contact him.
Zoltan: Life in BC is more fun, if you have good neighbors; sharing the burden of breaking trail, sharing high camps if the situation calls for it, comparing weather information and Ian’s knowledge as a field medic are certainly areas where cooperation would make sense.
Explorers Web: Who inspired you? How did you come up with the idea?
Ian: It's been a process this year. David invited me to join him at Everest as BC manager for the spring, but decided upon someone who speaks Hungarian instead (probably a good choice). The conversation evolved from there to winter on Denali, to Manaslu in the fall, and eventually, Zoltan proposed we go for a first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat. So, I'm saying he's to blame.
As for personal inspiration, there are a ton of factors that have built up from friends, family,music and just flat out weird experiences that lead me to follow the process. “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've arrived where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams.
David: I love winter. I love the Himalayas. I’m keen to put them together.
Books about Artic explorers, or classic Himalayan expeditions were always very inspirational for me. In 1996 – after a long alpine climb in the High Tatras in mid-November – with my friend and climbing partner at that time we had quite a few shots of Becherovka (local
alcohol) when we finally found the hut, wet and cold, around 1 am.
We discovered that the book of Kurt Diemberger – Summits and Secrets – was a great inspiration for both of us. So we decided there and then that we will do an expedition. We actually started to sketch down what we needed on napkins.
Next morning we had a strong headache and probably a few doubts, but hey, it would have been un-cool to say anything about these. So we started to work on the project. Zoltan joined us, and on a hot summer day in 1998 the plane landed with us in Pakistan. We were headed for Tirich Mir (7708 m) in the Hindukush.
A strange coincidence: we actually met Kurt Diemberger that year, in Pakistan.
Zoltan: I read Minus 148 by Art Davidson, and Stephen Venable’s book of their Kangshung Face
Expedition, as well as Ed Webester’s book about the same trip. I loved the early polar explorer’s books, like Sir Ernest Shackleton, Nobile and Nansen.
Explorers Web: Biggest fear/worry?
Ian: I could spend a lot of time going over issues we could encounter from a medical standpoint, so it's a funny question for the medical support.
Weather may prove to be challenging. While it is our understanding the weather patterns are more stable in the winter for this region, heavy snowfall leading to high avalanche danger is a frightening prospect. We had a high number of avalanche fatalities in Colorado this past winter; a few just right up the road from where I was living at the time, so those are still fresh in my memory.
David: Weather. I consider myself a conservative climber. In 2007 with Konyi, my climbing partner at that time, we turned around at 10:30 am at 8650 m on the North side of Everest, just because we had an agreement that we will turn no later than 12:00, and it was obvious that we would be on the summit about 2-3 hours later than that.
So no, danger does not make an expedition more exciting for me. I’m in it for the aesthetic beauty, for the challenge, for the adventure, for the camaraderie, for learning more about myself and my limits.
As far as our goal is concerned, the weather. Precipitation is a key factor. It feels awful, when you are ready, but the mountain is not. It’s an important and humbling moment. One that we have to learn to recognize.
As far as our safety is concerned, it’s avalanches. In 2010 I lost my good friend, Konyi, when a collapsing ice wall swept us away descending from the North Col of Everest. I don’t see what I could have done to prevent that from happening, and that is a terrible feeling.
Zoltan: Weather. (We usually have pretty good weather forecasts, though.)
Explorers Web: Biggest strength as a team?
Ian: The three of us are all very adventurous, fit and positively minded. It is in the joy of the pursuit, the understanding that this will be no easy feat, and the finding a joy in the grind of a brutal climb with your team.
Also, we are all extremely good looking, which doesn't hurt.
Zoltan: We know each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
David: We are a small, cooperative, and ambitious team. We are in it for the love and fun of it. We
are ready for the cold and I trust that we will be patient and wise enough to wait, when it’s time to wait and strong and motivated enough to act, when it’s time to act. And to let it go, if we have to.
Explorers Web: You plan a full winter climb (starting not until December 26). Winter climbers say endless days spent in frigid BC are worse than the climb itself – how will you ease those potential 60+ days?
Zoltan: Yes. Most likely we will arrive to Islamabad at the earliest of 27th of December 2012. Personally I don’t have a problem with long expeditions. Yes, it can get a bit boring, but after 14 years of expedition climbing in the Himalayas I very much recognize that staying mentally fit and alert is just as important as to keep your throat clean, or to drink plenty of liquids. We should use it as a chance to read, chat, dream, and strengthen team spirit.
Ian: The boring and frozen days are nothing new to adventurers. The crew of The Endurance provided an excellent example on how to handle the cold tedium. You normalize it. Chat, scheme, play cards, learn a new language (I may finally figure out Hungarian with 3 months of nothing else to do).
Shackleton insisted they save a banjo from the wreckage of the Endurance. Incensed, the crew asked why they were hauling the instrument. Shackleton replied something to the effect of: “Because without it we will only have the wind and our own voices.”
On this note, I hope my harmonica doesn't freeze up too bad on the venture.
Explorers Web: Your mission is to bring the cultures of Pakistan, the USA and Hungary closer together with your adventure. US vs Pakistan is an old story but Hungary?! How does Hungary fit into this :)
Ian: Concerning Pakistan, I don't have any delusions about being some sort of appointed diplomat
for the States on the expedition. I'm hesitant to think that one climber’s experience will radically shift geopolitical paradigms, alter long standing grudges and completely erase the stereotypes thrust upon our respective nations.
My goal is human. I want to climb and be with friends.
I want to meet beautiful people who know life is there to be enjoyed. I want to go to far off lands and be kind, joyous and caring. If, in the process, I'm able to break through some wickedness that has been bestowed on any of our cultures, we'll call that a bonus.
Hungary was kind of a hub for me on a hitchhiking adventure across Europe shortly after University. While I was there I met some of the most generous and adventurous people of the whole trek. Unfortunately, upon return to the US, most of the questions about Eastern Europe turned to old movie stereotypes (e.g. mafia, the movie Hostel). No question about the Carpathian Ring and fascinating history. Once again, I don't think I'm out here to expand trade relations. I'm going to climb with friends.
Explorers Web: Thanks for going the extra mile to let us follow in cyberspace. Who are your sponsors? Where will you post updates?
David: Oh! I wish I could give you this long list now… But it’s still hectic. We have open negotiations on both sides of the sea.
So far Johnnie Walker will join the team again and Samsung said yes too. Four or five other potential sponsors are in the process of making their final decision. We also have ongoing negotiations with some of the companies producing climbing gear, but since we do not yet have a signed contract with them, it would be too early to name them. Well… It’s definitely not “too early” in general… But yes, we are still “open to suggestions”.
Ian: Currently for equipment, both ColdAvenger facemasks will ensure we return with noses and Princeton Tec will provide us their Apex Extreme headlamps, a crucial piece of equipment for early starts in the cold. Big thanks to both of them!
We'd like to thank Samsung, Johnnie Walker Black, Tubbs Snowshoes, Talus Outdoor Technology and Princeton Tectonics for their support of our expedition. We are still seeking opportunities to work with sponsors.
We will send home dispatches almost daily to our website.
David Klein (Expedition Leader) summited GII and Cho Oyo without the use of oxygen. He climbed to 8650m on Everest without bottled oxygen and spent two winters on Denali. Formerly climbing with wing suit glider Joby Ogwyn (Simone Moro's close friend), read what Joby had to say about David and his upcoming attempt.
Zoltan Acs (Videographer) summited GII, Broad Peak and Cho Oyo. He has also spent a winter on Denali with David and reached 8650m on Everest without O2.
Born December 21, 2012, Ian Overton will spend his 28th birthday in Budapest: "Because of the 2012, Mayan, 'end of the 6th cycle' thing people are freaking out. I'm thinking of having an end of the world/expedition departure party."
He's living single in Colorado Springs,Colorado, USA. "I just recently joined the ranks of climbers who lose a relationship due to their climbing habit."
Hobbies: Crossfit, skiing, juggling, harmonica, reading, hitchhiking, coffee and beer nerd.
Music: "Punk rock got into my bones in those awkward teenage years and never left. Strike Anywhere, Suicide Machines and Black Flag. And Post-Rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and From Monument To Masses are great for introspective days."
Movie: "O Brother Where Art Thou? is fantastic. I've carried on conversations with people with lines from this movie."
Book: "I used to read a lot of political theory on power relations by Foucault, Baudrillard and Debord. But you can drive yourself mad over analyzing everything through that lens so I mostly stick to the absurd and fantastical now. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by the late Douglas Adams. It's ridiculous and hysterical but you'll never forget your towel afterward. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins is hysterical, insightful and brilliantly written.
Saying/Proverb: “There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” – Douglas Adams
Highlight: "My first alpine experience was at age 16 with my father. We had packed into the Titcomb basin in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers to summit Gannet and made an alpine start at 3 am. When we reached the top of Dinwoody Pass, I was freezing, my lips were bleeding from the wind, my eyes stung, had wind burn and I was already starving. But the stars, the alpenglow, that
feeling of finally being 'present...' I loved it.
Support the Indiegogo campaign
Denis and Simone leaving Nanga Parbat
Avalanche on Everest north side: Hungarian David Klein rescued, Laszlo missing
Pakistan wrap-up: details on Nanga Parbat new route attempt
Live from winter Nanga Parbat: ExWeb interview with Denis Urubko
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