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with Stefan Nestler

A special kind of mountain “idyll”

Iranian climbers and their guardians

Iranian climbers and their guardians

Heavily armed police officers in the base camp – honestly, that would spoil my joy of mountaineering thoroughly. Soon these special forces are to be not only the exception but the rule in Pakistan, at least at “prestige mountains” like Nanga Parbat (8125 m), K 2 (8611 m) or Rakaposhi (7788 m) and also in much visited camps on the glaciers in the north of the country. In the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, a special “High Altitude Police Unit” was introduced this week. It consists of 50 men now and should be increased to 100 police officers later. The security forces get special clothing against the great cold and are trained by mountaineers, so that they may help in rescue operations in case of emergency. But first and foremost it is their duty to protect foreign climbers.“Because of the ongoing military offensive in the country, there is a high risk of reprisal attacks and we can’t afford to repeat any incident like Nanga Parbat”, police spokesman Mubarak Jan said. In June 2013, Islamist terrorists had killed eleven climbers in the base camp on the Diamir side, the north-west side of the mountain. One of the alleged assassins who had later been arrested today succeeded in breaking out of jail in Gilgit. Another prisoner who also tried to escape was shot dead.

Automatic weapons instead of Kalashnikovs

In 2014, some professional climbers, such as the Russian Denis Urubko or the German brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber, decided not to go on expedition to Pakistan because of safety concerns. In the summer of 2014 not a single expedition pitched tents on Nanga Parbat. But in the last and this winter too, several climbers travelled to this insecure area near the border with Afghanistan. The risk of terrorist attacks is considered low in the cold season. In addition, Nanga Parbat is attracting mountaineers because it is the only eight-thousander besides K 2 which has never been climbed in winter. Already in the winter of 2014, western climbers were escorted by police on their way to Nanga Parbat base camp. The officers were armed with Kalashnikovs then. This winter, the security forces, that are to protect the remaining seven climbers from Spain, Italy, Iran and Pakistan in the base camp on the Diamir side, are carrying automatic weapons. Even if the Iranians describe their police escort as “kind and friendly”, I cannot imagine that the climbers do not wake up sometimes in their tents with a queasy feeling.

Joint summit attempt

Planned route

Planned route

Probably they only feel really safe when they are climbing on the mountain – as they do now: Today the Basque Alex Txikon, the Italian Daniele Nardi, the Iranians Mahmood Hashemi, Reza Bahadorani and Iraj Maani and the two Pakistanis Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Khan set off for a summit attempt. They reached Camp 1 at 5050 meters. “(It) seems that the best days (best conditions) for summit try will be next Tuesday or Wednesday”, Alex writes in his blog. The climbers had made deposits with mountain equipment up to an altitude of 6700 meters before. After heavy snowfall in the past few days they will probably have to dig it up. And the avalanche risk is likely to be considerable.

Learning patience on Manaslu

Above the Naike Col at about 5700 m

Above the Naike Col at about 5700 m

Without police protection, Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro meanwhile established their base camp on Manaslu in Nepal and explored their route up to about 5900 meters. For the 28-year-old South Tyrolean Lunger it is the first winter expedition in the Himalayas. She has to bridle her temper, Tamara writes on her homepage. “I have to admit that I still have to learn to be patient, because as soon as the wind decreased today, I regretted the decision that we climbed down again today. In my mind I would see myself already on 7000 meters tomorrow and with the next window of good weather on the summit (if we are granted to do so). But thanks to Simone, who indeed has enough experience, I can restrain somehow my ideas, and just try to live on one of my resolutions: Enjoy the moment!” Simone Moro is an old hand in winter climbing. The expedition to Manaslu is his 13th in the cold season. The Italian made three first winter ascents of eight-thousanders: Shishapangma (2005), Makalu (2009) and Gasherbrum II (2011).

Update 28.2.: The climbers on Nanga Parbat reached an altitude of 5,300 meters, then returned to base camp. “Too snowy today, dangerous”, Alex Txikon wrote on Twitter. “Will keep on.” Reportedly the three Iranian climbers decided to end their winter expedition due to the dangerous conditions on the mountain.


27. February 2015 | 21:11