On the afternoon of Saturday, March 8, Polish climbers Pawel Dunaj and Michal Obrycki were avalanched some 400 meters down the Schell Route of Nanga Parbat during one of several attempts on the first winter ascent of the mountain. The 8125-meter peak is one of just two of the 8000ers with no recorded winter ascent (K2 is the other). Saturday’s avalanche quashed the fourth and final summit push by the Polish, known as the “Justice for All” expedition, and marked the closing of this year’s active winter season on the mountain.
After setting out from Base Camp on March 8 to reestablish a high camp, Dunaj and Obrycki planned to unbury tents and ropes in preparation for Tomek Mackiewicz and Jacek Teler’s summit push the following day. The Poles remained upbeat about the outlook of their expedition, despite having spent nearly three months on the mountain. After three failed attempts, the group announced on their blog that, “Our acclimatisation is superb, we have plenty of power. The spirits are high, we had a vote today and everyone said ‘We are staying!'” They extended their visas, intending to stay on Nanga Parbat until March 21. Dunaj and Obrycki had climbed to around 5000 meters when the avalanche struck, sweeping them down the slope. In a phone call to Poland Saturday evening, still high on the mountain, Obrycki explained, “We live, but we are broken, ribs broken.”
Having received word of the avalanche via radio, Mackiewicz and Teler, along with two Pakistani cooks, started climbing toward the injured climbers. After nearly a dozen hours of struggle, the team, along with support from nearby villagers, was able to deliver Dunaj and Obrycki to Latabo Base Camp at 3500 meters early Sunday morning to await further evacuation. Obrycki had suffered a broken nose and a possible broken leg, while Dunaj sustained more serious injuries, fracturing his arm and ribs. Both climbers were covered in bruises.
The injured duo waited for a helicopter evacuation for two days, but because of missing security clearances and poor weather, they were instead carried for two days on stretchers to the village of Tarashing. From there, Dunaj and Obrycki moved to a hospital in Skardu, where they are now doing well, reports Raheel Adnan of altitudepakistan.blogspot.com, who has been following this season’s winter attempts Nanga Parbat closely. He writes, “[W]e knew from the start that a first [winter] ascent would only be possible if someone is super-lucky with a weather window. I mean there were 17 winter expeditions to [Nanga Parbat] before this year, and only one of them had a real chance to grab the summit.”
This season, David Gottler, Simone Moro and Emelio Previtali also attempted the Schell Route, but were shut down by increasing avalanche danger in addition to Moro’s mounting stomach problems. “The Poles kindly offered me tea, milk and food, but they haven’t washed their pot for 90 days and the taste of their drinks is a mixture between rice, cheese, salami, freeze dried food, porridge, milk etc.,” Moro wrote on his website. Before the expedition’s March 3 departure from the mountain, Gottler had reached a highpoint of 7200 meters along with Mackiewicz.
Two other climbers vied for Nanga Parbat’s summit this season: Italian Daniele Nardi by the unclimbed Mummery Rib on the Diamir Face and German Ralf Dujmovits by Messner’s 1978 route. Both aborted their missions because of dangerous conditions on the peak. “It was pleasing to see the climbers returning to the notorious BC,” Adnan said, “Although I have been worried about their safety throughout the season. It’s not so easy to regain faith after the shocking incident of past summer. [Read more in David Falt’s “Fear or Aspiration: The Future of Climbing in the Karakoram?”–Ed.] Ralf quit early. Thankfully Daniele too didn’t push his luck on Mummery Rib.”
The last team left on the mountain, the Poles remained motivated for a success, but a first winter ascent continues to elude hopefuls on Nanga Parbat, the mountain that solo first ascentionist Hermann Buhl called, “…that pitiless domain demanding holocaust and giving nothing in return, luring men into its thrall, never to set them free” (Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage: The Lonely Challenge).