Drama on the King of the Mountains

Drama on the King of the Mountains 

Drama on the King of the Mountains
The dot within the circle is actually the rescued mountaineer.

Nanga Parbat, also called Diamir, the King of the Mountains, has the highest rack and ice wall in the world. With its three vast faces and a height of 6124 meters (26,660 feet), it has attracted-and destroyed-climbers for over a hundred years. 

In August 2005, it seemed as though the King of the Mountains was about to Clam yet another victim: the Slovenian Tomaz Humar a globally respected Cimber and a mountaineering legend in his own country, who had set off on 2 solo ascent on 1 August in what he knew was uncertain weather.

Humar had been waiting in Base Camp for weeks for bad weather to Lift, but conditions remained relentless, and on his blog, he wrote that it would be madness to set off in such weather. Then American climber Steve House and bus charming partner arrived at Base Camp. He too was determined to top out*, having climbed the infamous, uncharted Rupal Face, a 14 800-foot vertical nightmare of stone, snow, and ice. 

His rival's plans to ascend via the same route pushed Humar into starting his ascent, despite the far from ideal weather conditions. All went well for a couple of days. As House bided his time at Base Camp Humar Climbed well, but then fog, drenching snowmelt, and avalanches stopped his progress at 600 meters. He could neither ascend nor descend and so dug himself into a snow hole.

On 5 August Humar radioed Base Camp and asked Nazir Sabir, President of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, for a rescue helicopter. As news of Humans, dangerous predicament flashed around the work, all eves were on Pakistan to save the Life of this Slovenian alpinist-superstar. Sabir and Colonel Manzoor Hussain briefed the Pakistani Foreign Minister and it was agreed that no effort should be spared in effecting a rescue. But the weather remained resolutely against the courageous helicopter pilots. Despite coming within 40 meters of the stricken climber, high winds, mist, cloud, and snow twice forced the rescuers to abandon their dangerous mission. Humar remained trapped for the fifth day, his rations running dangerously low and his spirits dampened by hearing the helicopters disappear, driven away by the ferocious winds. He spent another night huddled in his sleeping bag. 

Humans fully expected the next day to be his last, but his uneasy sleep was broken by the sound of a helicopter and his radio link told him that another rescue attempt was underway. The helicopter came close but was unable to hover safely in the thin air, and Humar’s hopes were again dashed. But with a truly dazzling display of skill and courage, the pilots of a second helicopter managed to hover, with its blades only a few feet from the rock face. Three ropes weighted with rocks dangled from the chopper skids, and they came closer and closer to Humar as the two pilots maneuvered the helicopter gently back and forth. They passed oxygen masks from one to the other as avalanches crashed past and they maneuvered amidst the spin of turbulence. Finally, Humar managed to hook one of the ropes with his axe and attach it to himself. 

Now the pilots were faced with yet another serious problem. The steel ice screws by which Humar had attached himself to the mountain were still holding fast: the helicopter was, in effect, tied to the mountain face. Humar had prepared a knife to cut the rope, but his hands were too frozen even to locate it, let alone use it. Swinging in the propeller gusts, he waited for the rope to snap-or else the helicopter would lose power and crash. The elastic ropes stretched, putting increasingly ferocious pressure on the helicopter until suddenly the screws snapped, the helicopter swung precipitously, and Humar was catapulted into the air. He was now swinging free at the end of the rope where he remained until the mission returned safely to Base Camp. The two pilots, Lt Colonel Rashidullah Baig and Major Khalid Amir Rana had risked their lives to rescue Humar, as had the pilots whose rescue bids had failed. 

No one denied Humar’s safe return was a triumph for all those who had been part of the rescue efforts, but not everyone was delighted for him. Climbers everywhere acknowledged the Slovenian’s monumental climbing achievements: he had descended the 25,770-foot Nuptse in the dark after his partner had been blown off the summit in 1997; he had pushed a new line up the south face of Nepal’s 26,795 foot Dhaulagiri in 1999. But concerns were expressed, as by a prominent American climber. 

‘The intensive media interest in climbs, and the technology which allows minute by minute Internet reporting of them, puts too much pressure on the climbers,’ he said. ‘There’s a danger that climbers will concentrate on creating a good Internet story rather than on the climb. Also, there’s the psychological effect on the climber of knowing that a helicopter rescue is possible in the Himalaya. We’ve been coptering* climbers off Mount McKinley* for decades, but the Himalaya was the last bastion where rescue was not possible. Now Humar has set off in bad weather, determined to beat his rival, and called for a helicopter as soon as things went wrong. Climbers should not ask others to risk their lives to save their own. Think of Messner*-he vanished into the mountain for five days without a shred of publicity or any chance of rescue. Now that’s true alpinism.’ 

‘Self-reliance is the essence of Himalayan alpinism,’ said another climber. ‘Now any ill-prepared egotist whose ability falls short of his Himalayan ambition can radio fo: help and expect others to risk their lives to save him, and there is one less place in the world where there is no safety net. I’m not knocking* the staggering skills and bravery of those rescuers, but now any Himalayan ascent is worthless because the perception of risk has been altered.’ Meanwhile, back in Base Camp, unabashed Humar was reading thousands of emails from his fans and consulting with his team about future attempts. Steve House and his climbing partner who had stayed put when Humar had set off on his foolhardy ascent, made their attempt when the weather improved. 

They returned to Base Camp a month after Humar’s rescue, having established the first new line on the Rupal Face since the ascent of the Messner brothers 35 years previously. Alpinism had been redeemed. 

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