(By Raheel Adnan) “Expeditions divide into successful ones and happy ones. That was a successful expedition, because we reached the summit. But happy expeditions are those when everyone returns,” Polish mountaineering legend Krzysztof Wielicki commented in a documentary about 2013 Polish winter Broad Peak expedition. Out of four members of that expedition who reached the summit, two never returned home. After narrow escape from a disaster during summit push, Nanga Parbat climbers can safely say, they had a happy expedition.
Sensing the Danger
On Friday March 13th, Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara and Daniele Nardi left C4 (7200m) at around 3am. Under perfect climbing and meteorological conditions, first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat almost seemed a matter of few hours. However, by the noon, Base Camp team communicated that the climbers made a wrong turn during ascent and are retreating to C4. Their plan was to rest, recover and launch another attempt next day. Later on that night, it was announced that climbers were going for another summit push and would retreat to BC. Everyone felt concerned but not alarmed.
By Saturday evening, climbers were back in BC and that’s when the actual story unfolded: Ali Sadpara suffered severe altitude sickness during the attempt and is very fortunate to be back at BC alive.
A Lifesaving Wrong Turn
“We saw him very tired a day before, but we have really realized what was happening when in the morning, before leaving, we saw he was putting on his glove as a sock and vice versa. We started to make him questions about his age and children, and the response has been totally incongruous. I also heard him make strange noises at night, but I didn´t think it was any of this,” Alex Txikon told about the condition of Ali Sadpara on summit push night.
Ali has already climbed Nanga Parbat twice and had been leading progress on the mountain, this winter. During summit push, Daniele and Alex relied on Pakistani climber’s acquaintance with the Kinshofer route. However, due to altitude sickness Ali Sadpara made the “wrong turn” and that failed the summit push (And probably saved his life, as well).
While the climbers haven’t shared the first-hand report of exhausting descent cum rescue mission, Base Camp team has provided snippets of the day.
On Saturday, Alex Txikon contacted BC at around 7:30am and enquired about weather forecast. He called again at 08:00am and communicated that they are descending immediately. The team at Base Camp felt worried and sensed that something wasn’t right. Finally at 08:30am, Alex uttered the worst, “we are in trouble; we need to take Ali down from here as soon as possible. He cannot vocalize properly, says nonsense and is unable to coordinate his body; It is very bad sign”.
Muhammad Khan, second Pakistani climber who turned back from C3 during summit push, left BC immediately to join the rescue mission. He later met the descending climbers between C1 and C2. It’s told that the unfixed portion of route from C4 to C3 was dangerous and delicate. “Ali slipped again and again.” They reached C2 at around 2:00pm and rested for a while. By 5:00pm, they were in C1 and made it to BC at around 06:30.
Last communication out of Base Camp says that Ali Sadpara still showed signs of trouble but lack of altitude was doing the magic. “Although Ali still has a severe headache, dizziness and some incoherent speech, the situation is fortunately under control.” Team wrote on Mar 14th. “For now, the most important thing is that Ali’s health improves, as already is doing and will soon recover completely.”
Until this year, the highest point ever reached on Nanga Parbat in winter was 7875m by Polish climber Zbigniew Trzmiel in 1997. He was the only person in winter Nanga Parbat history who had a real chance to reach the summit. Alex Txikon, Daniele Nardi and Ali Sadpara had a great opportunity to bag first winter ascent of the mountain, this year. An illustration by Alex Txikon depicts that they were also at a altitude similar toZbigniew Trzmiel.
Based in Pakistan, mountaineering enthusiast Raheel Adnan is a reporter for Explorersweb's mountaineering sections. He shares regular updates on Twitter and runs his own blog at Altitude Pakistan posting initiated climbing news from Himalaya and Karakoram.
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