[UPDATE, March 11–The bodies of the missing climbers were found on March 9; the latest story can be found here.]
[UPDATE, March 5–According to posts on Daniele Nardi’s Facebook page, Askari Aviation Helicopters were able to transport a group of climbers from the K2 expedition teams to Nanga Parbat over a two-day period because of storms that prevented a direct flight. There have been more avalanches in the area since March 1, adding more trepidation to rescue efforts and any hope of finding the climbers alive. Yesterday the search team has reached a plateau of seracs above Camp 2, approximately 300 meters from Camp 3 (ca. 5700m). From there, drones were used to scan the area above but no signs of Nardi and Ballard were found. Meanwhile, a Go Fund Me campaign has been started by Nardi’s friends.]
[UPDATE, March 1–The planned rescue efforts for yesterday, February 28, were postponed. A report on Daniele Nardi’s Facebook page reads: “This morning the helicopter, after having had the authorization to fly, could not take off due to weather and administrative issues…. Meanwhile, Ali Sadpara, with the other two Pakistani mountaineers, left this morning on foot from the Nanga Parbat base camp and arrived near camp 1. Now he is at base camp.”]
Tom Ballard, 30, of Britain, and Daniele Nardi, 42, of Italy, are missing on Nanga Parbat (8126m) in Pakistan. According to updates on Nardi’s Facebook page, helicopters [were going to attempt] to deliver a rescue team “as close as possible” to Camp 3 [on February 28], where a tent “invaded by snow” was spotted amid “traces of an avalanche” during a morning reconnaissance.
The climbers were last heard from on Sunday, February 24, while attempting a winter ascent via a new route up the Mummery Rib, which is prone to avalanches. Their last known position is somewhere around 6300 meters between Camp 3 and Camp 4. A story by Alan Arnette on Outside Online reports that Nardi had communicated with his wife via satellite phone on February 22, and shared the pair’s location. Weather on 8000-meter peaks tends to be severe, and harsh conditions such as extreme cold, high winds and unstable snow, are only exacerbated during winter. The most recent period of harsh weather and heavy snow hit the mountain on February 22, obscuring visibility and making it difficult to look for the climbers. On Wednesday, February 27, base camp staff took advantage of clear skies used binoculars to look for any sign of the men. They found none.
Rescues in such big mountain ranges at extremely high elevations are never easy, especially in winter storms, and this rescue attempt has been even more complicated than usual because of a border conflict between India and Pakistan. Current tension between India and Pakistan has recently escalated over the long-disputed territory of Kashmir. On February 14 a suicide bombing of Indian Security Forces killed 40, which prompted India to retaliate, and the Pakistan military to shoot down two Indian fighter jets. This has caused air space in the area–including that above Nanga Parbat–to be closed. Special permissions have been organized by the Italian Ambassador to Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, to allow a rescue helicopter to fly today, February 28, in order to search for the missing climbers.
The rescue team includes Muhammad Ali Sadpara, of Pakistan, and four climbers from an international Russian/Kazakh/Kyrgyz-team that is currently attempting nearby K2 (8611m). Sadpara was on the team that made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 with Simone Moro, of Italy, and Alex Txikon, of Spain. Txikon is currently leading another team on K2.
Ballard and Nardi are both highly experienced and accomplished alpinists. Nardi previously attempted Nanga Parbat three times. He was climbing with Txikon and Sadpara when they made the first winter ascent in 2016, but chose to descend before the summit. He also attempted the peak once with Elisabeth Revol in 2013.
Ballard is the son of revered alpinist Alison Hargreaves, who was the first woman to summit Everest without bottled oxygen in 1995 (she died a few months later while descending from the summit of K2). Ballard, at 26-years-old, became the first person to solo all six of the Alps’ major north faces–Cima Grande di Lavaredo, Piz Badile, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Petit Dru, and Eiger–in a single winter. He was inspired by his mother, who was the first woman to solo the faces (she did so during the summer). In 2016, Ballard established one of the hardest dry tool routes ever done, a Line Above the Sky (D15), and completed the first ascent of Titanic (M5 5.10c A3 WI4, 1800m) with Marcin Tomaszewksi.
Nanga Parbat was the second-to-last 8000-meter peak to be climbed in winter. Only K2 has yet to see a winter ascent. This season the two teams previously mentioned are attempting K2–one led by Txikon, and another team led by Vassily Pivtsov, of Kazakhstan. The second winter ascent of Nanga Parbat was just last year, when Revol and Tomek Mackiewicz reached the summit on January 25 before descending into a storm that proved fatal for Mackiewicz. Revol was ultimately saved after an impressive rescue by Polish climbers Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko, who left their own winter attempt of K2 to come to her aid. In that rescue, the helicopters were only able to fly as high as Camp 1, at about 4800 meters.
Alpinist will update this story as more details become available.