Mariano Galvan and Alberto Zerain are presumed to have died in an avalanche at around 6000 meters on Nanga Parbat (8125m). The two climbers had gone missing on June 24 while attempting the second ascent of the long, technical Mazeno Ridge.
Galvan, 37, of Argentina, and Zerain, 55, of Spain’s Basque region, had a wealth of experience in the Greater Ranges. Zerain had attempted the Mazeno Ridge in 2011 with Juan Carlos “Txingu” Arrieta, but they retreated early because of weather. A team of six climbers made the first complete ascent of the ridge to the summit of Nanga Parbat the following year. As a team of two, Galvan and Zerain were attempting the second ascent of the ridge in a lighter style.
“It is arguably the longest ridge on any of the 8000-meter peaks, variously quoted as 10 to 13 kilometers,” Lindsay Griffin wrote in the 2013 American Alpine Journal.
The Mazeno has an approximate total elevation gain of 6500 meters, and it involves committing climbing around eight sub-peaks. It is so long–as Griffin explained in a July 2 report for TheBMC.co.uk–that teams must plan on being pinned down by storms for at least some of the time. No weather window is likely to last long enough for a complete ascent.
According to Griffin’s TheBMC.co.uk report, Galvan and Zerain started shuttling supplies to the base of the ridge on June 15. They launched their attempt June 18 and climbed more than 1000 meters on June 19 to about 5600 meters. There they waited out a storm until June 23. On that day, they moved up to around 6000 meters. By then, the climbers had reported wet snow and warm temperatures, which created more dangerous snow conditions.
Zerain was carrying a GPS tracker that indicated movement to around 6270 meters over a six-hour period on June 24.
“Yet about an hour later the tracker’s position was 180 meters distant from this point and almost the same number of meters lower, at 6,112m,” Griffin wrote. “For the next 15 hours the tracker sent a good signal from exactly the same location until it shut down.”
A helicopter search was delayed by storms until July 1. On that day, Griffin reported that “a helicopter was able to make two outings along the ridge in good visibility, reaching an altitude of 7,400 meters. Unfortunately, it was clearly seen that the location of the tracker was in an area of avalanche debris, [with] the trigger point [farther] up slope towards the crest of the ridge.”
Dario Rodriguez, who took a portrait of Zerain before he left for the expedition, wrote on desnivel.com:
This morning we received the news that we all imagined but none wanted to accept: an avalanche has taken Alberto Zerain and Mariano Galvan as they ascended the Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat. With them we lost two great mountaineers and, above all, two very good people: simple, close, discrete. Such were Mariano and Alberto.
Alpinist will update this story as more details become available.