Live and die on Nanga Parbat


Traduzione G.C. Agazzi


Nanga Parbat is the most western and the cruelest of the Himalayan peaks, a true obsession for mountaineers. To remind us of this three new books t have just come out with stories of tragedies and hope.

Nanga Parbat is a particular 8000 meter peak. Geographically speaking it is still considered part of the Himalayan ridge, even it is actually a vital link, as from there on the great Asian ridge changes direction: the main axis, tending towards East-West, from about that point it steers towards North-North West to form Karakorum.

Although Nanga Parbat is from there no longer Himalayan, it is not yet Karakorum. Its history is singular, marked by the German attack in the thirties, with tens of deaths, which began again and was completed with Hermann Buhl's solitary conquest in 1953.

I discovered Nanga Parbat when the Messner brothers were completing their first crossing in 1970: and as we know Günther died on the mountain.

Among the celebrations that followed, there were some official appointments in Turin, presumably at Monte dei Cappuccini that is still nowadays the social headquarters of the Italian Alpine Club.

My father has always been very involved in the Turin Italian Alpine Club and was in a way also involved in these appointments, as usual for him. He used to take me with him, even if at that time i was only 9 or 10: he would say it would do me good, in a way it was my apprenticeship.

Well, in this situation, in which I had no particular role, I found myself shaking hands with Reinhold Messner. I remember him very well, as if it happened yesterday morning: untidy, blond auburn hair and beard, and his skin was also quite red  as sunburnt. His hand shake seemed forceful, but not as strong as Walter Bonatti's on very different occasions.

We were seated at a table outside a bar, in the center of Turin. It was a break between the official appointments. I, obviously, was the only boy among the various officials, both of CAI Turin and of national CAI. What I recall of Messner is that he was not ease when having to chat, his difficulty with the Italian language certainly didn't help either, especially when in front of 60 to 70 year olds as were the head representatives of CAI.

My father took a photo of us, me and Messner, sitting side by side. Unfortunately this much treasured photo can no longer be found, which is strange because my father had very well organized files

This was my approaching Nanga Parbat (Carlo Crovella).


Live and die on Nanga Parbat

By Leonardo Bizzaro

(published in Venerdì di Repubblica, December the 13th. 2019)


They climbed together, helped, hindered and hated each other. Nanga Parbat through them once more became the protagonist of the last Himalayan climbing seasons. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest peak on earth and for some months - even a year - was more in the lim light than Everest and K2. Now the attempts and successes on the most western Himalayan peak of these climbers have arrived in bookshops, even if what remains of two of them are only written pages and photographs. Daniele Nardi and Tomasz Tomek Mackiewicz, nicknamed Czapkins, remained there.


The Nazi conquest


Nanga was the protagonist among mountain lovers and filled newspaper pages when mountaineering even on the Alps was at its beginning: the British Albert F. Mummery, pioneer of mountaineering without guides, was the first to reach the Diamir face in 1895. A visionary project for the time. He and two Gurkha porters that accompanied him did not come back, but European mountaineers  considered it the start of new fronters, at the time it seemed fantasy. It would take at least twenty years for the first timid attempts to manage to reach the colossal 8000 plus peaks.

English climbers kept trying to climb Everest, while Italian climbers aimed at  reaching K2, known as "Italians' mountain", Nanga a German issue, to be precise a nazi one - it was the counter attraction, at 8000 meters, of the Eiger Northern face- and from the Naked Mountain, in the local Urdu language, becaming known as "Killerberg", the killer mountain. Thirty-one were the deaths before Hermann Buhl succeded in reaching the 8126 meter peak. Books came out, Nanga became a good name in order to sell cameras and electric torches, perhaps in an attempt to brighten that dark period, its shape became the path of table games where the finishing point was marked with a swastika.

Then in 1953 there was Buhl's solo climb during which he desperately had to spend a night without a tent nor sleeping bag, but standing up on a stone. And later, in 1970, the Messner brothers ' climb without the expediton leader's permission, and which broght them to the top in perfect "alpine style", but which turned into a tragedy during the descent, when Günther, the youngest of the two, was burried by an avalanche while Reinhold reached the bottom of the valley in almost a trance.


The colossals of Earth


Nowadays, as for the other 8000 peaks, it is now fortunately no longer just for national expeditions, but  represents  the latest Himalayan challenge for individual climbers too. Nanga has become over the last period the most popular winter goal.

In 2016 the second to last over 8000 peak was reached during the cold season between 2018 and 2019 after being continously attempted by the most determined climbers ready to risk their lives. To tell the recent history story three books came out in two months, while another couple have just come out, and one is about to. Nearly all of them were published by great editors who had in the past little to do with mountains, but evidentely interest has been increasing in these topics.


Nardi, remained on the mountain


Over the last weeks the writer Alessandra Carati - an excellent ghostwriter writing also for Fabio Volo and the biker Danilo Di Luca,  to mention just a few - has been travelling  around Italy to present Daniele Nardi's "The perfect way" (Einaudi). He is no longer alive. His body and that of his partner Tom Ballard will be returned in who knows how many years by the Nanga glaciers. They had wanted to get to the top along the Mummery spur, the name is obviously that of the English climber who was the first to try and whose body is also on Nanga. Nardi, the climber from Sezze in the province of Latina, who when aged 43 succeeded in establishing himself on the international scene lost his life with Ballard the thirty year old ice specialist who from Derbyshire had moved to Fassa valley Dolomites, son of the great himalayan climber Alison Hargreaves, who in 1995 was blown away by a snow storm on the K2 peak. The two had arrived at over 6000 meters, following a route that Nardi had alredy tried alone and that everybody had considered impossible, including Messner who had himself come close to this goal, when he lost his brother. The writer had been asked by Nardi to write the book. They had climbed up to the Nanga base camp together, after which she came back to Italy, where she received an almost prophetic email :" Should i not return from the expedition, i would like Alessandra to continue to write this book, because i want the world to know my story".

His story explains the reasons why a boy born far away from the capitals of mountaineering, in respect   to geography and mentality, decides to prove himself on them. The reconstruction of the tragedy, which will never be known, is not explained, but Nardi's joining Scientology  was probably what pushed him towards his last tragic expedition.


Moro, the winter master


Simone Moro's autobiography, Dreams are not in descent (Rizzoli), is completely different. It came out last 26 november 2019 in Milan with the announcement of a new expedition, the Gasherbrum I and II winter climb, following Messner and Kammerlander's  summer 1984 route, when they succeded in crossing two 8000 peaks for the first time. Moro did not need to prove anything, having multitudes of faithful admirers who call him " the winter maestro"- being the only climber to have reached four of the  fourteen 8000 peaks in winter with almost about the same number of detractors.

But top mountaineering, and more so Himalayan mountaineering needs supporters. Sponsors want them and so he does his best to provide them, assisted by a powerful communication office in the sector. He had already dedicated a book to Nanga after his first climb during winter 2016, but his latest book returns to this topic. It might not reveal more about the events and problems that arose during that climb, but it is pleasant reasant and explains the new Himalayan frontiers.


Tomek, from drugs to peaks


Finally Tomek's version (Mulatero), or Tomasz Mackiewicz, who arrived on the great mountains from a Polish province, after wasting a good part of his youth with drugs. The book is written by Dominik Szczepanski, based on Tomek's diaries provided by his wife and with the technical supervision carried out by Emilio Previtali.

A different, but true character and another protagonist of the last winter seasons on Nanga. In January 2018 together with the French climber Élisabeth Revol, he climbed towards the peak, oncemore following the way outlined by Messner and also Hanspeter Eisendle who had imagined, but never attempted it. Tomek and Élisabeth succeded, but during the descent Tomek was the first to surrender, due to fatigue. Élisabeth continued, descending to 6000 meters, while she kept on asking for help via satellite. The Polish expedition  engaged in the winter K2 attempt moved to the Nanga base to try to rescue them. The Polish climbers Adam Bielicki, Peter Tomala and Jaroslaw Botor, with the Russian climber Denis Urubko, were able to reach and save her, but Tomek is still on the mountain.