Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Nangpa Parbat and Fairy Meadows

July 3rd-5th.
The mountaineering history of Nanga Parbat begins in 1895. A British Expedition led by A.F. Mummery attempt the Southern and Western slopes. Mummery and his two Gurkha companions were never seen again and are thought to have perished in an avalanche.

The huge Nanga Parbat Raikot face. 8126m

In 1932, 37-years on a German-American party under Willy Merkl's leadership approached the mountain from the North. At 23,000 the push for the summit ended as bad weather closed in.

Merkl returned in 1934. Alfred Drexel died early in the expedition, at the time it was presumed
to be pneumonia, but now it is believed more likely pulmonary edema. The expedition would end in more tragedy as the remaining mountaineers would perish high on the mountain in a ferocious storm. It has been said that the disaster "for sheer protracted agony, has no parallel in climbing anals."

Another German expedition followed Merkl's route in 1937, led by Karl Wien. 7-Germans and 9-Sherpas, almost the entire team, were at Camp IV below Raikot Peak when it was overwhelmed by an avalanche. 16-men died instantly in what remain the worst single distaster to occur on an 8000m peak.

Heinrich Harrer, famous for his travels in Tibet, explored the Diamir Face to find an easier route. His small group concluded there was a viable route. But he was later interned in India as the Second World War broke out.

Finally on July 3rd, 1953 Austrian climber Hermann Buhl as part of a Austrian-German team successfully summited Nanga Parbat. Buhl heroically pushed for the summit despite his teammates had turned back. During his retreat he was caught by darkness and was forced to bivouac standing upright on a narrow ledge, holding a small hold with one hand. Buhl remains the only the only man to have made a first accent of an 8000m peak alone.

Our own journey to Nanga Parbat started with a long ride down the Karakoram Highway from Gilgit. The road is in a terrible condition currently and the cramped conditions at the back of the public bus were not much better. Despite our extended protestations we were lumped in the worse seats. Fortunately Stacey and myself had some interesting company. The Pakistani locals are all so friendly and hospitable it wasn't long before we were chatting away. Exchanging English for Urdu words and having a good old laugh about how Stacey as my "wife" was actually older than me by one-year.We arrived at the imposing Raikot Bridge to find all the jeep rides up the dirt road to Jhel hugely overpriced. Its a long walk up a steep gorge, and the sun was belting down into the melting pot of the valley. But at 5000Rs return the options were limited.

We set off. The start of the walk was incredibly hot and I had my doubts. After 30-minutes a jeep on route down the road pulled up and an Australian called Carlos was impressed if not a little bemused by our plan to walk. "Its 15km up and it just goes and goes" he rattled in his Aussie accent. We explain that we know, but stubbornly explain we won't pay the exorbitant fee to the jeep drivers. "arrrh your pommes" he exclaims and then proceeds to hand over several litres of water and wish us luck for getting there before nightfall.

The march continues through a beautiful gorge. Incredibly steep and unforgiving, I wonder how people have managed to build a road in this impossible environment. As we turned into the gorge its after 5pm and although the sun is now off our backs and we have the pleasure of cooling temperatures our new problem is time. The walk is beautiful and although its a little tough going, climbing 1250m from the road to Jhel, we enjoy it. But in the back of my mind all I can recall is the Lonely Planet guide stating travel in the dark of night is strongly discouraged.

As the light fades and our legs start to grow weary we spot some lights high up in the valley, at last I exclaim my relief at reaching our stop for the night. But as we arrive in the village, 3-local men exclaim that we are still hour and a half from Jhel. We politely decline their guiding services and continue to march with more verve and determination than before. Its dark and theres a sense among both of us, though never spoken, that we should not be walking by headtorch in the mountains of Pakistan. Alas 40-mins later we arrive at the roads end. Initally looking out over the river and onto a small wooden bridge, I become disheartened and worried we are heading into the bush. But a light appears on the other side of the river and we soon realise that its the guesthouse owner. He makes us chai, some delicious pasta and we turn in for the evening in a cosy wooden hut with blankets for bedding and candles for light. Its been a hard day, but very enjoyable.

The following morning we cruise up the trail to Fairy Meadows. Fairy Meadows is a grassy clearing surounded by pine and birch trees at 3300m. Named by Merkl's expedition in 1932 and known locally as Pungadori, translated as 'The tousled beard', after the inordinately long beard of a shepherd who once in times past here tended his sheep. It a beautiful spot, if not a little tarnished by the hordes of tourists that now frequent. We settle in for the day in yet another cosy wood cabin at Raikot Serai and watch the glorious face of Nanga Parbat in awe.

The beautiful glacier

Nanga Parbat is the 9th-highest mountain on Earth, standing 8126m high. Its name translates as "Naked Mountain". Its know as killer mountain for its deadly record of climbing related deaths. The mountain has an awesome vertical relief over local terrain in all directions.

On day 2 we enjoy breakfast on the lawn watching the face for avalanches. Were not disapointed as a rather large cloud of snow and ice tumbles down the face. Later we walk amongst the beautiful pine woodlands dotted with colorful flowers and small streams on route to view point 1. Looking onto the glacier and listening to the sounds of its steady march down the valley, I get the usual spine tingling reaffirmation that I usually get in the face of the awesome power of nature. What a marvelously terrifying spectacle it is!

A huge avalanche roars down the face