(Translated from German by C. S. Aravinda)


Nanga Parbat — We Have Not Made It

WE HAVE NOT MADE IT. It is not easy to admit this. However, difficult it is, it is more difficult to answer oneself when for over a year one had struggled for, worked hard towards, trained for, and dreamt of a goal, and this goal could not be reached.

We were aspiring high. Only twice before had an expedition reached the summit of Nanga Parbat via the Rakhiot face. In 1953, the long struggle of Herman Buhl was rewarded with the conquering of the summit; since 1932 the mountain had not been attempted from this face. 18 years later — in 1971 — a Slovakian team succeeded (after an unsuccessful attempt in 1969) in conquering the summit from this side.

22 years have gone by since, more expeditions have attempted the Rakhiot face, none of them have been successful.

We were overcome by a fascination for this mountain — captivated by its elusiveness. 40 years after Herman Buhl, we wanted to make a third attempt from this face. The fourth, without high altitude porters, without oxygen masks — light and flexible. But we have not made it.

Every failure in this world has an excuse — I have broken my head to find one!

Even when the weather, which is often the basic reason for an expedition to suffer, was bad for half of the expedition, we were not threatened by the weather. Not even by the metre-high fresh snow, which in Camp 3 destroyed a tent with its load including almost our entire stock of cooking fuel. It did not defeat us. Neither the fall of Jorg Ehrlich into a crevasse in spite of arresting himself with the rope and resulting in an unfortunate fracture of his right arm nor Gunnar Kinds' knee injury after a ski-fall were the main reasons for our failure.

Photos 31-32-33

Not with one single devastating stroke but slowly and steadily the mountain wore down our expedition. New obstacles kept coming our way and each time sapped our strength.

Finally I was so weak after a 7-day bout of diarrhoea that on 5 July with the last vestiges of strength, I had to request Jorg Lenpold to turn back from the wall of the Rakhiot peak at 6750m.

The mountain had depleted my body of its strength and with me the whole expedition had fallen. Jorg Lenpold, in spite of his excellent condition, had to climb down with me. I needed him as much as he needed me for any further climb.

Nanga Parbat had defeated us. It had imposed too big a test for our small team.

After his summit climb Herman Buhl recorded that the Nanga Parbat only takes but never gives. It appears to me that Buhl should actually have said, that it does not take but robs. It robbed me of my strength, health and self confidence; it took away my illusions and took away my understanding. But Nanga Parbat, we will come again.

The King of Mountains

The 8125 m high Nanga Parbat in the western Himalaya has many names. As many as a king of mountains can be called. The mountain inhabitants on its southern side know it as Diamir which means majestic. Nanga Parbat, the name under which it is known in Europe means naked, fearsome mountain. There is a lot of truth in these names, it is both niajestic and fearsome.

It is the first eight thousander that any climber attempted. Already in 1895, the Englishman Mummery had undertaken the first attempt to climb; he has not been heard of since.

In 1932, 1934, 1937 and 1938 some German climbers attempted the mountain; they located the peak but did not succeed in climbing it. In 1932, there were also 2 Saxons, Fritz Wiessner and Felix Simon. In these expeditions also there were many miserable sacrifices.

In 1953 there was a German-Austrian expedition under the leadership of Karl. M. Herrligkoffer, from the Rakhiot face of the peak. After a legendary solitary climb, Herman Buhl reached the summit on 3 July 1953.

The second ascent in 1962 was via the Diamir face, again under the leadership of Herrligkoffer. Also in 1970, Reinhold Messner and companions made the third and fourth visits; this time via the Rupal flank, again Herrligkoffer was the expedition leader.

Between these successful expeditions there were many failures. The 1969 Slovakian expedition tried to repeat the Buhl route and failed. But they came back again in 1971 and succeeded in their second attempt on the route.

Till today Nanga Parbat has been attempted more than 100 times and is ascended by 51 climbers. The fearsome mountain has already claimed 50 lives, and this year also a climber lost his life on the Diamir face.

Most of the successful climbs have been along the Diamir side. However, the Rakhiot face as well as the route of Herman Buhl, is awaiting its 3rd successful attempt. Since 1971 many more expeditions have tried, all unsuccessfully.

Our Plan of Action

We did not employ any high altitude porters in the 5 high altitude camps, as did both the earlier successful expeditions. The route to Camp 1 and Camp 2 was not as in the prior successful climbs through the broken ice on the Rakhiot glacier but, following the 1969 Slovakian expedition, through the notch between both the camp spurs. This is much steeper but in our opinion less dangerous.

From Camp 5 on the Black Top (6950m), the peak (8125 m) was to be climbed in two days with an overnight stay on the Silver plateau (7600 m). The summit assault was planned for the first week of July.

Camp 1 on Uyumrung Sar looking to the route of ascent via the east ridge.

29. Camp 1 on Uyumrung Sar looking to the route of ascent via the east ridge. Article 15 (D. Wilkinson)

View down to the Garumbar glacier from C2 on Ultar Sar. Hispar glacier in the distance.

30. View down to the Garumbar glacier from C2 on Ultar Sar. Hispar glacier in the distance. In the background: L to r: Trivor, Bularung Sar and Disteghil Sar. Article 15 (D. Wilkinson)

The Reality of the Plan

Until the turning point half way after Camp 4 the expedition went as planned. Circumventing the broken ice was worthwhile. 'All of us should, at least once, trace the path on the glacier marked by flags and should not start looking for a route after an intensive snowfall' — all these precautions paid off well.

Despite both the accidents and consequent loss of time it would still have been possible to reach the summit in the first week of July.

Rope Fixing

At certain places on the way up, ropes were installed to facilitate the ascent with loads and to manoeuvre difficult passages. It came to about 300 metres of rope on one stretch on the way up on the ridge between Camp 1 and Camp 2. At other places, in particular between Camps 2 and 4, only short lengths (15-25 m) of rope were necessary to overcome the steep icy-slopes on the glacier.

Skis Employed

With the knowledge that the earlier expeditions had a lot of problem with excessive snow on this route, we set off on skis right from the beginning. It was planned to continue with them till the Diamir notch (7712 m).

Our choice was from the veiy light 'Alpin Tour' package by, 'Atomic' (available in either 160 cms or 170 cms) which can also be carried in the rucksack during the steep passages.

Likewise, with a very light package of Tritschi-Tour light' and 'Colltex' Mohair coats we were completely equipped. We did not employ any special ski-boots but made use of Koflach Arctic Expedition climbing shoes.

The use of skis was worthwhile; we were very happy with the chosen material. In the night and often on the way we left the coats on the skis, thus the gluing problem was avoided. This also was worthwhile.

The Expedition Progress

20 May: We set up base camp, sorted out our luggage and packed together the ration for the high altitude camps.

25 May: We set up Camp 1 at the end of a big moraine. With skis we were very fast and so during the day we could climb down to the base camp twice. In 2 days we transported nearly everything necessary for Camp 1 as well as all the high altitude camps to Camp 1.

27 May: Jorg E. (Ehrli) and Gunnar started off from Camp 1 to find a way through the cleavage on the Rakhiot glacier. Jorg J. (Leo) and Christian helped them out from Camp 1 with wireless and binoculars to crack the split labyrinth. Shortly before they reached the foot of the rugged ridge, Gunnar fell so badly that he could not get up on his own and move. His knee was incapacitated. With the help of the wireless Leo and Christian hastened through the glacier to help him. A make-shift sledge was made out of Gunnar's skis and Gunnar was tied up in a sleeping bag. It took all our reserve energy to push the sledge through the soft snow. Luckily we left the glacier before it became dark; however, we reached the Camp 1 above the moraine only at 22.00 hrs. The following day we pulled the sledge into the base camp. It was now a bit steep to go down and we had to be very careful that the sledge did not slip away from us.

29 May: In the base camp we rested for a while before we took up the rescue action. Christian went and fetched the ski that .was left above the moraine; the rest of the day we were lying down lazily in the sun; Gunnar was lying immobile in his tent and reading.

1 June: The weather improved but on account of the avalanche danger we wanted to transport the luggage only through the glacier. Further route finding was adjourned. We set up a depot here and, in two trips, brought the load the following day. In between the LO came to Camp 1 and helped us transport Gunnar's luggage to his place. Gunnar could now hardly hobble so he climbed down and turned his way back towards home. With the LO's help we could again have 2 teams now.

3 June: Christian and Leo looked for a route further up, came across very bad weather at 5200 m and had to establish Camp 2 there itself. Two days later however, we found a good route and a place for setting up Camp 2 at 5300 m.

8 June: Leo and Christian set off to find a way towards Camp 3; the labyrinth on the Rakhiot glacier in these places appeared very tricky. They needed two lengths and a few metres of rope till the big ice plateau, the place where Camp 3 was set up on 10 June.

17 June: The LO advised us over the wireless to retreat; the weather report predicted the weather would worsen further. We also felt that rest would do us good; Christian and Leo had been at the high altitude for three weeks already. Soon the weather looked reasonable but the warning said that there would be thick clouds and more snowfall in the afternoon. We stopped before descending to climb the south Chongra peak. We would reach Camp 2 from here in 2 hours with skis. We started off with skis towards Chongra peak. Leo led. On an easy stretch on the hard ice Ehrli suddenly stopped midway near a crevasse.

In his expedition diary Leo wrote: ‘... all of a sudden I heard a loud "Ah!" from Jorg. I turned but Jorg had disappeared out of sight. A jerk! I fell and the rope pulled me to the ground. Christian looked very frightened; hurriedly fixed his end of the rope with pick and ski; I followed his example but stood firmly rooted. Christian secured himself on the edge of the crevasse and shouted downwards. I could not hear him. He let himself down on the rope. I could not see the knot, he should be secured. One hour passed. I suddenly got a feeling that I was needed. I fastened myself and crawled around the crevasse. I shouted downwards; no answer. The rope disappeared deep down. I could look about 10 m below-into nothing. I felt uneasy and called out again. In the biting wind, I faintly perceived Christian's voice. Soon I saw him as he climbed up the chimney. Shortly after him Ehrli also appeared from the dark of the crevasse. With Christian's support he had worked his way up slowly on the rope and winding steps. His right arm was hanging down; it was fractured.....'

The skis and other things were lost and gone. In between it snowed heavily and we returned to the tent. Luckily Ehrli could walk on his own although his knee ached. We spent the next two days climbing down to the base camp.

From there Ehrli hurried to a doctor in Gilgit; who advised him to go back to Germany where he had to undergo a complicated operation.

20 June: Leo and Christian rested at base camp. Christian climbed up towards the 'fairy-tale meadow' with 'binoculars' and made a sketch of the route ahead. The weather looked good but worsened soon so any further climbing was unthinkable.

3 July: As the weather improved they pushed towards Camp 4. Initially they proceeded with skis in the deep snow but one must go on foot on steep inclines. Once again the weather deteriorated.

Leo writes in his diary:

'.... soon nothing more is visible, it is simply awful — the afternoon weather. It is steep and I decide to unbuckle the skis and proceed with crampons. Christian has already done it and I follow his example. I can hardly recognise where we were going. Only with the help of Christian's sketch could we orient ourselves. It is exhausting to go upwards in knee-deep snow. When the snow is so deep it is difficult to take the next step. We buckle the skis again; it is not that steep anymore. I have already exhausted my capacity. We move very slowly from there. The hands are cold as ice-lumps; very often I have to remain standing and warm them under my jacket. The wind robbed me off my remaining strength. Apathy begins to occupy my body. We stop at the first suitable place to pitch the tent. We must move ahead. The wind is icy and I fear that my face will be frostbitten. While Christian halts once again to warm his hands, I look for my face mask; I don't manage to put it on as the fingers are hurting very much. First they have to be taken close to the body. All fears grip; the fasteners jams and so much time is lost working with bare hands. The finger tips are white causing the highest degree of alarm. I still manage to put on the storm cap ....’

Leo had some parts of his face frostbitten. At the foot of the Rakhiot peak we set up Camp 4. The tent was anchored with skis and ice axes. The powerful storm tried to upset it but it stood firmly. The day after that Christian was feeling markedly worse; the storm had subsided. We waited for one day though we had to economise on food and gas but in any case Christian almost did not eat.

5 July: At 4 o'clock we began cooking, the cooker worked superbly, though it took for ever in that cold. The storm was still furious but we decided to risk it. Dismantling and packing tent took a long time. Finally we started at 9.00 hrs. Christian led. We set off on foot; the snow was deep and the terrain was not simple. At the foot of the wall of the Rakhiot peak we deliberately paused. Christian's feet were frostbitten, his body was completely frozen. Through the 7-day diarrhoea his body had become weak; still he braved the cold and storm. We spoke of returning but still climbed another 50 m higher. There was the conclusive halt. Any further climbing would have meant the end of Christian's toes as they were not covered completely.

The Rakhiot peak is like a trap. One who has stepped over it is sure to need greater strength to climb it back again. Merkl and his companions fell as sacrifices to this trap in 1934. There we made the difficult decision to return. We climbed down together to Camp 3 where Christian lost himself in the sleeping bag and looked while Leo worked outside preparing the camps. Now the weather mocks at us — it is beautiful!

From 6 to 14 July we withdrew in inclement weather, reaching Rawalpindi on the 17th.

Garbage Disposal

The disposal of the resulting rubbish in an expedition cannot be underestimated. For us it was not always easy to pack the unusable equipment, empty gas cartridges, old ropes and filled garbage bags in the already full rucksacks while taking them down.

In retrospect, we can state confidently that except a few small things which got lost in the deep snow and the untraceable ropes, we did not leave anything on the mountain.

Collected combustible garbage was burnt in the base camp and the ashes were buried. During the preparation of the expedition itself we made sure to choose garbage bags which could be easily burnt.

Non-combustible garbage was taken to Gilgit; the non-biodegradable refuse like used batteries were taken to be specially disposed of in Germany.

Organised by: Saxon Alpin club.

Members: Christian Walter (23), leader, Jorg Leopold (23), Jorg Ehrlich (23) and Gunnar Kind (23).


An attempt on the Rakhiot face of Nanga Parbat (8125 m) by a team of young German students in May-July 1993.


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