For those people who were wondering what on earth happened during the week the blog went silent…. it wasn’t as sinister as it may have felt, and had more to do with the limitations of technology than with actual disaster, although things did get fairly tense for a few days in the middle.
This was the timeline:
10 July: the team finished the Mazeno Ridge and camps at Mazeno Gap – where the ridge meets the main massif of Nanga Parbat. That day has been very long, 11 hrs of complicated climbing to get through the pinnacles, the crux of the entire ridge.
11 July: we wake up late and get going late, only leaving the camp around 10.30. We climb up to about 7200 metres where we camp again, anticipating using this as a high camp from which to do a day trip to the summit.
12 July: we leave camp around 01.00. In the dark we take a line that is too directly up (we should have been traversing left) and reach the ridge between the Diamir and Rupal faces at dawn. Now we have to traverse the ridge leftwards, not at all an efficient way to head the for the summit. It is a very windy night and morning (we’d know this from meteo reports but felt we didn’t have the food and gas – or motivation – to wait another day). At 07.00 I’d had enough, being very cold, very tired and worried about making a mistake on the tricky rock-climbing, and I descended with Lhaka Nuru. The other four climbed on. Rangduk and Zarok reached about 7950m, the base of the summit pyramid and then turned back, concerned about having enough time to get back to camp. Rick and Sandy meet them around 11.00 (after 10 hrs of climbing) and reluctantly agreed that it was sensible to turn round. R&S got back to camp around 19.00 – an 18 hr day, having taken 8 hours to return to camp. The general agreement was that we would all descend the next day via the Schell route.
13 July: Sandy decides he wants to try for the summit one more time. Rick agrees to join him. The rest of us stick with our decision to descend. I leave Sandy with my sat phone – which is the phone where I lose my ability to update the blog and twitter feed. Sandy and Rick spend the day resting at the camp. I descend with the three Sherpas. We follow the Schell ridge down, knowing that at some point we have to drop off the ridge to the east. We climb the lower section of the ridge in light snow and mist and in the process miss the east exit. The ridge finally forces us off to the west. Rather than climb back up we continue to descend in the western bowl (in the process I am hit by ice while taking a photo and my camera is destroyed – and all my photos from the ridge lost). Nuru and Zarok make it out of the bowl onto the safety of the moraine below but Rangduk and I (we are climbing roped in pairs) are still in the bowl in the dark at 22.00 when Rangduk falls and twists his ankle. We pitch camp directly below a cliff, the only protection in the bowl which is threatened all the way along the top by vast hanging seracs.
14 July: at 05.00 a vast avalanche sweeps down the entire bowl. Only our rock stops our tent being swept away. We climb down onto the moraine to join the other two and at 10.30 another vast avalanche fills the bowl. If one such had come down the afternoon before all 4 of us would have been killed. We spend the rest of the day down climbing the edge of an enormous glacier before finally rejoining our base camp staff who had moved down the valley to wait for us at the Schell route base camp site.
Rick and Sandy set out on what is meant to be a summit bid. They take a stove, some food and a gas canister, but leave the tent, expecting to reach the summit and then descend straight down the Diamir Face, with one bivi on the way down. They find it take them much longer than expected and they end up digging a snow cave at 7700 metres, still on their way up to the summit.
15 July: the rest of the team walk out to Tareshing and then travel by jeep to Chilas, where we start the wait for Sandy and Rick (who we assume are already descending). They meanwhile climb up to the summit, getting to the plateau at the top around 14.00 but not finding the true summit until 18.12. We receive the news via text on the sat phone (they have my sat phone, I have Rick’s sat phone which was left at base camp). They climb back to their 7700 metre snow cave. Either that night or the next morning (Sandy was unclear on this) they can’t get the lighter or the matches to work, so they can’t light the stove and therefore have nothing to drink. They won’t get to drink again until the middle of the day on the 18th.
16 July: we wait at Chilas. I try to send out news for the blog by sending texts to a friend but it seems he never received them.
Rick and Sandy has assumed they would descend all the way to around the site of camp 1 on the Diamir Face that day, but in fact they only got down 300 vertical metres to about 7400 metres, where they dug a very poor snow cave. The snow was very deep and difficult and there was a lot of avalanche activity. Rick was in a bad way. In the middle of the afternoon they called Ali of Adventure Pakistan (our ground operator) to discuss helicopter reduce, but they were too high to be reached. They agreed to keep climbing down and Ali would send high altitude porters to try and reach them.
We got this news in Chilas that afternoon. That evening staff left from Chilas to drive to Halal Bridge and walk in the Diamir base camp through the night. We knew that the climbers would only reach Rick and Sandy late on the 17th at the earliest and that only if Rick and Sandy kept climbing down.
Rick and Sandy has said they’d call back at 21.00 but they didn’t – the battery ran out on the phone. From then on we had no idea where they were or what state they were in until the morning of the 19th.
17 July: Rick and Sandy kept climbing down, Rick feeling a bit better. They still set off avalanches as they climbed and were having to break trail in very deep snow. They got down to around 6500 metres, just above the technical down climbing required on the Kinshofer wall. Unsure of the route due to poor visibility, they had an open bivi on a ledge, Rick sitting up, Sandy managing to lie down. By now both had frost nip on their toes.
In Chilas we continued to wait with now further news available.
18 July: Rick and Sandy were up early due to the cold and climbed down to the site of camp 2 on the Kinshofer route. They would see people climbing up below them and assumed it was the high-altitude porters sent to help them. In it wasn’t, it was members of the Czech expedition led by Marek Holecek. Rick and Sandy met Marek at the top of the Kinshofer Wall. He gave them some food, drinks from their flasks and a lighter to get their stove going – their 1st liquid in 3 days. They abseiled down the Kinshofer Wall and arrived at camp 1 at 22.45, where they slept in the tents of the Czech team. The high-altitude porters sent to meet them caught up with them there.
19 July: they were up at 05.00 and with the help of the high-altitude porters they reached the Czech base camp at 08.00. This was 18 days after they left our base camp. They rested there for the day.
In Chilas we got the news that morning, the first news we’d had since we heard they were in trouble on the afternoon of the 16th.
20 July: they walked out to the road head and arrived in Chilas around 20.30.
21 July: we drove to Islamabad from Chilas, a 14 hour drive.
22 July: Sandy and I flew to London, 23 July Rick and the Sherpas all flew home.
Some more photos will follow later today.