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NANGA PARBAT, RUPAL FACE
Posted on: March 1, 2006
During eight days in September, Steve House and I completed a new route on Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face. The route climbs a more direct line to the summit on more technically difficult terrain than the 1970 Messner Route to the left and the 1985 Polish-Mexican route to the right. After weeks of waiting for good weather and climbing conditions, we started our climb on September 1. We left our base camp at 3680 meters with a bare minimum of equipment and six to eight days' worth of food and fuel. Our packs weighed roughly thirty-five pounds each.
The route itself started in earnest at around 4000 meters on the Bazhin Glacier. Above the glacier's toe we gained a rock buttress that offered protection from the numerous avalanches roaring down the face. We followed this rock buttress to a height of about 5000 meters, where we traversed out right to a bivy below the next rock buttress at 5100 meters. Climbing this buttress via an ice vein the following day proved to be the technical crux. On one pitch, I tired halfway up and lowered off to let Steve finish it without a pack. We climbed about 300 meters this day in ten hours of climbing, and we bivied above this buttress in a semiprotected spot on an outcropping.
After watching several huge avalanches roar by our camp during the evening, we set off early the next morning and hurriedly traversed below the dangerous, serac-threatened gullies. Once more we gained a rock buttress that, although technically more difficult than the adjacent ice slopes, offered more protection from falling seracs. Here we were pleasantly surprised to find high-quality mixed climbing followed by ice runnels. We continued climbing for hours into the darkness as we searched for a decent place to bivy. After a few more trying pitches (Steve vomited—for good reason—when he finished leading one in particular) and a big traverse to a hanging glacier, we found a sheltered bivy under a severely overhanging serac at more than 6000 meters, and enjoyed some much-needed rest.
Late the next morning we continued up this hanging glacier on easy snow and ice until we reached the base of yet another rocky headwall. We approached with trepidation. At nearly 6500 meters we were pleased to find a section of easy waterice ascending the left-hand side of the headwall—a key passage to the completion of the route. As soon as we'd climbed it, we searched for a bivy on a snowy ridge to our left. Just before Steve gained the ridge, the snow collapsed beneath him, and he narrowly missed taking a whipper. He caught himself with one axe planted into the snow above the break line. We managed to carve out a spot just wide enough for our small tent on this narrow ridge at 6800 meters, an exhilarating bivy site.
The next day saw us climbing a few pitches of moderate ice and then endless snow slopes to 7400 meters, very near the intersection with the Messner Route. After a poor night's sleep, we left at 3 a.m., carrying one pack that contained four liters of water, one liter of SPIZ (an energy drink), and several GUs and organic food bars. Although we started with two fifty-meter ropes, after two easy mixed pitches right above camp, we abandoned one and continued with a single five-mil cord to facilitate rappelling on the descent. We climbed slowly, taking only a few, short breaks. The weather, with warm temperatures and no wind, could not have been better. At 4 p.m. we gained the 8000-meter foresummit of Nanga Parbat, and the final way to the top was obvious and easy. We took our longest break here as I had a much-needed nap while Steve dried out his socks in the afternoon sunshine.
Less than two hours later, we stood on top of Nanga Parbat's 8125-meter summit, elated and near exhaustion. We spent fifteen minutes reveling in the glory of our ascent before starting down. Darkness overcame us as we down climbed and rappelled back to our high camp, which we reached at 3 a.m., twenty-four hours after starting.
The next day and a half we descended the Messner Route to return to our base camp, where we celebrated the completion of our 4100-meter route (VII 5.9 M5 WI4).
Vince Anderson, Ophir, Colorado