Tom Ballard Reports from Nanga Parbat

Like K2, Nanga Parbat has also become known as a killer mountain because of the number of deaths on its slopes. Just last year, Tomek Mackiewicz perished while his partner, Elisabeth Revol, only survived thanks to a now-famous rescue.

Now, Nanga Parbat again plays host to a pair of winter interlopers. British high-altitude newcomer Tom Ballard and experienced Italian Daniele Nardi are currently attempting the Mummery Spur. As we reported on Monday, the pair are hunkered down at Camp 2 after winds prevented them from reaching Camp 4. Ballard’s lively reporting shows what the pair are up against. Here, with some light edits, is his take:

The team arrived at Base Camp at the end of December…
We spent the first day at BC digging in. There is a decent amount of sugary snow to get through to reach the earth beneath. It’s so cold and dry up here that the snow is completely useless for making snowmen or snowballs. I’ve been designated trail breaker, as I’m the only one with skis. I’m having real problems with the skins not sticking due to the cold, though. It’s generally around -15C in the evening here. So not too bad.

Off we went towards Camp 1. The glacier has changed a lot since Daniele was last here in 2015. Daniele and I stopped on a ridge at about 4,500m. We’re both weak, due to illness and lack of food. Karim and Rahmat [Pakistani team members] are both better acclimatized, since they live above 2,500m, so they went higher. The following day, I felt stronger and caught up to them. We established Camp 1 at 4,700m.


Tom Ballard on the way to Camp 1. Photo: Tom Ballard


Action, then an impromptu rest…
We had two days of rest, the second involuntary due to an all-day snowfall. We went back up to Camp 1, and drafted one of the cooks and one of our “security” detail to carry some stuff up. Those two then went back down to Base Camp, while we had lunch. We four intrepid climbers then braved the crevasses and the precipitous ice wall above to cache some gear at ca. 4,900m, where a seemingly impenetrable crevasse blocked our path.

We then went back down to Camp 1 for dinner and sleep. Daniele managed to burn two great holes in my sleeping bag with the stove. Possible payback for me dropping  his sleeping mat on Link Sar last year?

Off again…

It was a fairly slow start the next morning. We used Rommel’s Tobruk technique to bypass the crevasse, and there was heavy breathing up to the site of what will be the intermediate Camp 2. I mucked about on overhanging ice while the others caught their breath. Then we scampered back down to Base Camp, as the weather was taking a turn for the worse.

So far everything is going pretty well. Slow but steady. We had a few technical problems with the generator, as it was working on and off, mainly off, before it exploded. We got the backup running now, thanks to a fresh delivery of engine oil (and the odd foodstuff too, of course).

Our next job is to spend a few days establishing Camp 3 at 5,700m to continue our acclimatization.


Out-of-breath selfie. Photo: Tom Ballard

Buried in snow…

The other night, Karim and I were woken by feeble cries outside. Daniele needed help. Drowsily, we donned semi-frozen boots and crawled out to find him frantically shoveling snow from around the tent he was sharing with Rahmat, who had woken him up to say they were beginning to suffocate because of the snow building up against the walls of the tent.

So before 4 am, we took turns with the shovel and were soon back in bed for a few hours sleep. I should explain that Camp 3 (circa 5,700m) is situated in a crevasse/bergschrund. When Karim and I arrived there several hours earlier, we spent two hours digging the tent out from under a meter of snow.


Daniele Nardi’s tent engulfed in snow. Photo: Tom Ballard

After recuperating at Base Camp, they went back up to Camp 3, hoping to press on to Camp 4…

We’re back at Camp 3. Although sheltered, there is always wind in that blooming awful place. Taking your outer gloves off to do any delicate task means wet inner gloves within minutes, due to spindrift. Because it’s such an uncomfortable place, the thought of sitting out one day of bad weather wasn’t even considered. Rahmat was still struggling with a sore throat and Karim had pulled something in his back, so they descended. Daniele headed up the gully that is a prominent feature of the Mummery Spur. Finally, we were actually doing some climbing, after so much glacier slogging. We carried the tent, sleeping bags, stove, food etc. with us. The intention was to sleep that night at Camp 4. There was continual spindrift. Blustery wind. To look up meant a face full of snow.


Ballard tooling around Base Camp. Photo: Tom Ballard

But high winds pushed them back… 

Long pitches led to the proposed site of our camp, ca. 6,000m. Daniele looked puzzled (at least, from what I could see under his goggles) because where he had spent the night with Elizabeth Revol in 2013 just doesn’t exist anymore. No snow ridge. We could barely stand up in the wind. So we left a rucksack full of kit attached to three ice screws and abseiled back down to Camp 3. The usual situation here: spindrift. Into the tent for a rehydrated meal. It went dark. Headlamps switched on and off down the mountain. Exhausted, we reached Base Camp at 9 pm. We were very glad of the fresh tracks left by Karim and Rahmat to guide us back.

Ballard’s words were taken and edited from a sponsor’s press release, which can be found in full here.

Relevant Links

Latest Winter 8,000’er Update

Ballard Reaches Camp 1 on Nanga Parbat

Previous 8000’er Update