Skip to content


A foreshortened view of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat (8125m). After climbing loose and dangerous ground below and through the rock buttress (A) facing the camera, the Schell Route (ca. 4500m, Gimpel-Schauer-Schell-Sturm, 1976) more or less follows the left skyline, though in the upper section it lies on the far side of the ridge. [Photo] Doug Chabot

A strong Polish expedition, hoping to make the first winter ascent of any 8000-meter peak in Pakistan, has accepted defeat, forced to abandon its attempt on Nanga Parbat (8125m) primarily due to fierce winds. The eight Poles, led by the world’s most accomplished high-altitude winter mountaineer, Krzysztof Wielicki, included the old stalwart Artur Hajzer (first winter ascent of Annapurna) and the younger but accomplished Dariusz Zaluski (previous winter expeditions to Makalu, Shishapangma and Nanga Parbat). Also in the team were Pakistan 8000-meter climbers Gulam Rasool and Hassan Sadpara, plus the Everest summiteer and photographer, Tommy Heinrich from Argentina (Heinrich was asked to cover the expedition by National Geographic, which provided significant sponsorship).

The expedition was attempting the southeast (Rupal) side of the mountain via the Schell Route (ca. 4500m, Gimpel-Schauer-Schell-Sturm, 1976), which broadly follows the spur forming the left edge of the Rupal Face, arguably the highest single sweep of steep rock and ice in the world, until it reaches the vicinity of the Mazeno Col at ca. 6940 meters below the final section of Nanga Parbat’s west-southwest ridge. After its first ascent (and fifth overall of the mountain), the Schell Route became quite popular for a number of years, becoming the “standard route” until a reputation of being desperately loose and dangerous in the lower section (plus the inability to loose height quickly from the summit) persuaded climbers back to the Damir (northwest) face, where the

Kinshofer Route (ca. 3500m, Kinshofer-Low-Manhardt, 1962) has completely taken over as the “voie normale.”

The south-facing Schell Route has obvious advantages in winter and the planned route from the top of the spur was not to traverse left toward the Mazino Col but cut up right to the crest of the final ridge at ca. 7500 meters, following the line taken by Ronald Naar on his successful repeat in 1981.

The expedition arrived at their 3500-meter base camp on December 9 in 40 centimeters of new snow. Camp 1 was established with some difficulty a few days later at 5100 meters, but the team was dismayed to find so much snow on the mountain. A traditional approach was planned, with the climbers fixing 3000 meters of rope and placing well-stocked camps. On December 23, after a very trying day in temperatures below -30 degrees C, Jacek Jawien, Hadjer and Zaluski set up Camp 2 at 6100 meters. Wielicki, who made the first winter ascents of Everest, Lhotse and Kangchenjunga, and was 57 during this Nanga Parbat expedition, pushed out ropes as far as 6800 meters in early January (the team had been forced to buy more static, brought in by a visiting Simone Moro, who was attempting to acclimatize for his solo winter attempt on Broad Peak and K2). Camp 3 was later established at this point by Przemyslaw Lozinski and Robert Szymczak but severe wind prevented any further progress and on January 17 the decision was made to throw in the towel.

There have been several genuine (i.e., calendar) winter attempts on the mountain to date, the best by a Polish expedition to the Damir Face, where on February 11, 1997, Krzysztof Pankiewiez and Zbigniew Trzmiel retreated just 250 meters below the summit with severe frostbite. The nearest success on any of Pakistan’s 8000-meter peaks dates back to March 6, 1988, when Maciej Berberka climbed solo to what he thought at the time was the summit of Broad Peak (at the time blowing snow obscured onward vision). Only when he was later shown photographs did he realize that he had stopped at the ca. 8030-meter rocky foresummit fewer than 20 meters lower than the main summit.

A fine view of the upper ca. 1400 meters of Nanga Parbat, as seen from part way along the Mazeno Ridge to the west southwest. The red line approximates the route taken by the Dutch expedition in 1981, when Ronald Naar reached the summit alone via the 1976 Schell Route. The blue line shows a common variant, which traverses left to reach the Mazeno Col at 6980 meters (hidden), then slants up the left (Diamir) flank of the ridge to meet the red line in its upper section. This winter the Poles were hoping to follow the Dutch line but their high point was 6800 meters, roughly on the sloping shoulder toward the bottom of the picture.
[Photo] Doug Chabot