There are 14 8000 meter summits in the world, and 12 of them have been climbed in winters, only Nanga Parbat and K2 still stand unclimbed.
Mountaineers are attempting to climb Nanga Parbat since 1988, which makes 27 years to the date. More or less 27 expeditions have tested their limits on Nanga Parbat in winter, and none of them could reach the summit of Nanga Parbat. A lot of questions rise: what makes Nanga different from other 8000ers? Why is it still unclimbed in winter? When Mount Everest can be climbed in winter, why can’t be Nanga Parbat? Over the years, the mountaineers who tested themselves on Nanga in winter have answered these questions.
Nanga was attempted first time in winter 1988-1989 by Polish team. The team was lead by Maciej Berbeka himself, who had made several first ascents in Himalaya (Nepal). Maciej was astonished after looking at conditions on Nanga; he said everything is cruel on this mountain and conditions in Western Himalaya are way worst in winter, “blue ice, lower temperature, faster winds and less weather windows.” The highest altitude reached by Poles was 6800 meter.
The most successful attempt on Nanga Parbat in winter had been made by Poles till date. The expedition was led by Andrzej Zawada in winter 1996-1997, who is considered to father of winter climbing, and respected greatly by all mountaineers. Zbigniew Trzmiel reached an altitude of 7875 meter, he was only 250 meter short of summit when he got severe frost bite and retreated down to base camp. On the other hand, Krzysztof Pankiewicz retreated from 7700 meter. Both climbers suffered severe frostbite and were rescued through heli from base camp.
Poles tried again several times but could not exceed 6800 meter. Many expeditions failed in the meanwhile and no one could reach 7000 meter after Polish 1996-1997 expedition, until Tomek Mackiewicz joined in. Tomek Mackiewicz after two failed attempts was successful in breaking the shackles and reached above 7000 meter on Schell route in winter 2012-2013. The highest altitude reached by Tomek Mackiewicz was 7400 meter.
The very next year in winter 2013-2014, Polish climbers Tomek Mackiewicz and German climber David Gottler once again exceeded 7000 meter and reached 7200 meter on Schell route. David Gottler also spoke to obstacles and he said, above 6100 meter there is hard winter ice, which is normally referred to as blue ice, which makes climbing very technical and physically hard. Gottler further added that wind is very fast on Nanga; the faster the wind, lesser your body preserve energy; he further said, I never so cold on any mountain.
Then came the winter 2014-2015, when French climber Elisabeth Revol and Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz decided to go on Messner (2000) route, which is long route, but less dry. In start, mountaineering was not expecting much from the duo, many were of the belief that a woman might not bear extreme cold physically and psychologically. But against all odds, French-Polish duo reached the second highest point in history of Nanga Parbat in winter. Elisabeth Revol and Tomek Mackiewicz reached 7800 meter on Messner 2000 route, Messner route was not climbed above 7500, not even in summer, but Elisabeth and Tomek reached 7800 on Messner 2000 route in winter. They had to turn back because weather turned bad, and wind strengthened.
“I could feel the summit in my hands, we were just 300 meter short of summit when wind strengthened and we had to turn back, it was painful but right decision” Elisabeth said
Elisabeth Revol being a woman outclassed most of the men who had ever attempted Nanga Parbat. One special thing about their expedition was that it was completely carried in alpine style; no deposits were made, no higher camps were set, no rope was fixed (only used rope to pass on seracs), the mostly relied on bivouacs.
“We were at 7200 meter, and next day we were going to attack summit, my nose froze today. It was extreme cold; temperature was around -50 degrees, hard to measure with wind. There comes the night, and cold becomes worst, with cold there comes the feeling of being so far away in unknown world. The next morning we woke up, we prepared ourselves for summit, we were feeling good. We reached 7800 meter and only final ridge was left to be climbed when sky started changing over our heads and wind strengthened. My heart was craving for the summit; I could feel my toes pushing me to summit. It was such a hard decision to make; we had to turn back after being just 300 meter short of summit.”
Timeline of Elisabeth-Tomek Expedition:
Dec 24 : reached base camp and spent one two there.
Dec 26 : camp 1 at 5100 meter.
Dec 27 : went a little higher and came down to base camp.
Dec 28 : started again from base camp, night at camp 1.
Dec 29 : started from camp 1, reached 5400 meter, could not find a way on glacier to reach the foot of Messner 2000 route, and spent night at 5400m.
Dec 30 : came down to base camp with all the gear and decided to go for original Messner route, which lies on right of Mummery rib. Spend one night at base camp.
Jan 01-Jan 03 spent three days on the original Messner route, Climbed little higher than 5300m and decided to go back to Messner 2000 route, there was incalculable risk on original Messner route due to seracs.
Final assault on summit:
Jan 09 : Left base camp and spent night in camp 1.
Jan 10 : spent night in camp 2 under Ganalo peak, found a way to connect with the way that leads to the foot of Messner 2000 route.
Jan 11-12 : ascend to camp 3 at 6200 meter, at the foot of Messner 2000 route. Jan 11 was also spent here due to fast wind.
Jan 13 : started further ascend and established bivouac at 6500 meter. They had to ascend slowly due to acclimatization factor, and they were carrying supplies for 10 day.
Jan 14 : continued ascend and set another bivouac at 7000 meter.
Jan 15-17 : continued ascend and set another bivouac at 7200 meter. The next day, they went up to 7500 and came down to camp at 7200 meter. Jan 17 was the day when they launch final assault on summit from 7200 meter, they reached 7800 meter when wind strengthened, weather turned back and they had to retreat to 7200.
Jan 18 : Descend to base camp, unfortunate accident took place, when a ice bridge broke and Tomek Fell into a crevasse, and Elisabeth rescue him, and they both descended to base camp.