ExWeb special: Stitzinger's first ski descent of Nanga Parbat central Diamir face

ExWeb special: Stitzinger's first ski descent of Nanga Parbat central Diamir face

Posted: Jul 31, 2008 01:38 am EDT

(K2Climb.net) It has been an unfortunate season for Karakoram extreme skiers. French Jean Noel Urban was lost on Gasherbrum in a crevasse fall and word is that the North Face Ski & Snowboard G-II Expedition aborted their plans.

The season was equally dark on Nanga Parbat. With all the events, an amazing Nanga debrief got stuck in ExWeb's to-do box. Luckily today, a reminder arrived:

"Beside all the tragedy on Nanga Parbat, an excellent adventure was done there by German Luis Stitzinger," wrote an Austrian reader. "He climbed NP as a guide via Kinshofer route. He wanted to reach summit over the unclimbed Manzeno ridge, where he climbed until Manzeno Peak and descended due to bad weather via Messner route on the Diamir wall. Finally he made a speed climb up the Kinshofer route, had to abort short
from summit and skied down the whole Diamir face! in 24,5 hours)."

Following his 2006 speed ascent and complete ski descent of G2; Stitzinger has been at it again - this time on "killer mountain" Nanga Parbat. Here goes the full scoop at last:

Kammerlander and Wellig

Italian Hans Kammerlander and Swiss Diego Wellig made history in 1990 when they accomplished the first and so far only ski descent on the peak, starting on the north summit (8070 m) and coming down the Kinshofer Route, on the left pillar of the huge Diamir Face that rises almost 4000 meters from its base to the summit.

Due to the nature of the line, they had to down climb and abseil some of the most difficult passages in rock bands and the razor edge ridge line between camps 1 and 3.

Luis Stitzinger´s goal was to attempt a complete ski descent on a new line through the steep and serac packed central part of the Diamir Face. This month, the German (Munich) extreme skier (supported by Arc´teryx and Dynafit), accomplished the first ski descent there - following a 24 hour speed ascent and after having climbed the peak almost twice before.

Nanga Parbat's finest day

On June 21, 9 team members from Amical (including 2 High Altitude Porters) and 6 team members from DAV Summit Club set out from camp 4 (7170 m) in a joined summit attempt - the first on Nanga this season. Austrian high altitude meteo guru Karl Gabl promised improved weather and that the climbers got, still the long and demanding summit headwall asked its toll. Climbers reached the top not until 4.30 pm (usual cut-off time is 2 pm).

Summiteers were Amical leader Rainer Pircher with client Thomas Streng, all 6 DAV Summit Club team members led by Luis Stitzinger (Alix von Melle, Helga Söll, Jürgen Greher, Josef Lunger, Florian Hübschenberger) and Italians Daniele Nardi and Mario Panzeri.

With 12 climbers on the summit at the same time, this proved the finest day yet for Nanga this season. Good weather allowed a safe, although late descent.

The Mazeno attempt

After this summit, Luis Stitzinger and Joe Lunger set out to attempt the first complete traverse of the 10 km Mazeno Ridge to the main summit of Nanga Parbat (8125 m).

The Mazeno Ridge has more than a dozen points of elevation above 7000 m, including 8 individual summits. Doug Scott, Jean Troillet and Woiteck Kurtyka are among those who have tried, without success, to complete this ridge. In 2004 Americans Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson came closest, reaching the Mazeno Col, only one day short of summit. Retreating via the Schell route on the Rupal side, their line offered difficulties of VI, M4, AI 3.

July 2nd, Luis and Joe left Diamir BC, crossed the Karó Pass to the Loiba valley and continued up into the direction of Mazeno Pass. Before reaching it, they ascended the ridge line to the left and gained the main ridge of the Mazeno Ridge about 3 summits before Chabot and Swenson´s line from 2004, adding some kilometers to it.

Difficult conditions, days of bad weather, deep and crusty snow made the climb increasingly hard. After having scaled several minor peaks above 7000 m, Joe and Luis arrived on top of Mazeno Peak (7145 m) on day 7 of the climb, achieving the second ascent of the mountain.

With 2 days of approach and 6 days of climbing, the team ran out of steam and provisions, having to make the hard decision to abandon the climb and descend via the Messner Solo Route, the only possible escape before reaching the Mazeno Col. For 8 hours, they descended through a maze of crevasses and a multitude of seracs to the base of the Diamir Glacier and back to Basecamp.

Down the steep Diamir face of Nanga Parbat

After some recovery, Luis Stitzinger wanted to try the ski descent. In a warm up for the new line, Luis had already skied the key passages of Hans Kammerlander´s 1990 ski route on June 14. Kammerlander and Wellig had to abseil and down climb some stretches of their steep ski route, reaching almost 60 degrees in some passages. In very icy conditions, Luis skied every inch from Camp 3 (6810 m) to below Camp 1 (4800 m).

Following the normal route ascent and the Mazeno attempt, the German climber was running out of time though and had to move fast for the final ski descent. He left BC July 15 at 4.30 pm and reached C2 (6070m) less than 6 hours later. Having to climb the Löw ice couloir at night due to bad ice- and rock fall conditions, Luis made a forced stop until 6 pm when he climbed the snow and ice slopes up to Camp 3 (6800 m) in 3,5 hours.

The longest night

Stopping by the Iranian team for some tea and cookies and to change clothes for the grim temperatures ahead; close to midnight Luis set off again. Climbing the traverse between Camp 3 and Camp 4 (7200 m), which had not been touched in the past two weeks, Luis had to break his own trail in knee-high, crusty snow. The fixed ropes were buried deep beneath the icy surface and useless.

In the last passage, the wind picked up and temperatures plummeted to such an extent that Luis dug a hole in which to recoup some and check on his toes, totally numb for the past hours. Early dawn brought the temperature up a bit but before the sun's first warming rays could touch the shady NW side of the Diamir Face; Luis was already on his way on the summit headwall.

Conditions were still gruesome and the going was slow. Deep, crusty snow was too exhausting to climb with crampons while skis, even with skins on, proved too slippery on the steep summit slopes.

Choosing the run

300 meters from the top, Luis ran out of choices - it was either the summit, or the ski descent. With the rising sun, conditions on the serac strewn central Diamir Face were fast deteriorating, and a summit would make a ski descent impossible.

Having topped out only weeks before, Luis stepped into his bindings. Down in BC, outfitted with binoculars and a radio, Joe assisted Luis in finding the central part of the Diamir face. After 21 hours and 3500 meters of climbing, Luis took off.

Following the summit couloir, Luis had to descend more than 3000 meters in the complex maze of seracs, crevasses and steep slopes before reaching the end of the glacier at 4500 m. The key passage being the staircase, a very steep and narrow cascade of seracs with slopes reaching 55 degrees.

Only 2 hours since leaving his highest point, Luis shouldered his skis and sped-climbed back down to BC, closing the circle at 24 hrs and 33 min in total climbing and skiing time.

With his spectacular speed ascent and descent, Nanga Parbat has gained an amazing skiing line and Luis certainly accomplished one of the fastest climbing times on the peak, even though missing the summit closely, for this time.

In the Alps, if you travel really light and bring your skis, you can climb a series of peaks in one day. Fed by the same impulse that motivates todays ski touring racers, some athletes, who shy away from the rumble of the competition events, seek other challenges to translate their abilities into higher levels.

In August 2006, German Luis Stitzinger and his mates Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag managed to do a speed ascent and a complete ski descent on G2, investing a total of 17 hours from ABC to ABC; applying alpine methods in Karakorum; to climb and ski down an 8000er in only one day.

Gasherbrum II might not come first to mind as a ski touring goal. The partially over fifty degrees steep, infamous "Banana" of the SW-Ridge, the crevassed zones, the knife edge summit ridge do not qualify for first rate ski touring terrain.

But this is exactly the point, Stitzinger told ExWeb. After having skied down numerous steep classic ice faces on the 'Nordwände' (north faces) of the Alps and having tested our stamina in thin air on the easier grounds of ideal skiing mountains such as Mustagh Ata (7546 m) and Denali (6194 m), we wanted to combine both skills on a higher level."

"In this sense, skiing down is only the logical completion of 'running up' to achieve the fastest time possible. But it is also a sports discipline on its own, an independent style of movement.

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering

Feeling the void of Nanga Parbat's Diamir Face before going down (click to enlarge).
The new line of descent through the central part of the Diamir Face. Images courtesy of Luis Stitzinger (click to enlarge).