Italian climber Daniele Nardi
Italian climber Daniele Nardi

ISLAMABAD/GILGIT: Ground rescue teams want to perform one last search and rescue mission on Thursday before officially calling off efforts to find two mountaineers who went missing on Nanga Parbat on Feb 24.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) said on Wednesday that Italian climber Daniele Nardi and British climber Tom Ballard may have been hit by an avalanche.

Daniele Nardi, 42, and Tom Ballard, 30, went missing 10 days ago from the Mummery Spur, 6,300 metres high on Nanga Parbat.

There have been multiple search missions for them using military helicopters with trained mountaineers, mountain rescue personnel and drone cameras.

Helicopters had spotted avalanche debris and a destroyed tent above 6,000 metres on Nanga Parbat, which was buried under fresh snowfall during the last week.

Ground search called off Wednesday, but team leader asks to fly over Mummery Ridge before heading back

Teams on the ground were unable to reach the spot where the two climbers are believed to have gone missing due to bad weather, and the aerial search was obstructed – particularly after airspace was closed due to tensions between India and Pakistan.

Nardi’s Facebook page, the official source of news on this expedition, said that climbers Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara, Felix Criado and Rahmatullah Baig searched the area between camps II and III, and then used drones to go as high as 6,500 metres but found no sign of the climbers.

One of the three drones they brought with them was also lost in the process, and they did not find tents where Camp III was supposed to be located.

British climber Tom Ballard
British climber Tom Ballard

The ACP said a team led by Alex Txikon searched the Mummery Spur this morning and managed to reach Camp II.

“Although the idea was to get up to Camp III, the plan was dropped given the very low temperature and the very high risk of avalanches. The rescue team reportedly used drones as well to facilitate the search, however, no sign of the climbers was found,” ACP Secretary Karrar Haidri told Dawn.

Given the conditions on the route along the Mummery Spur, the ground team opted to continue through the Kinshofer route, the ACP said.

“The Kinshofer route is equipped with ropes fixed to the wall and could have been potentially chosen by Daniele and Tom to descend,” Mr Haidri said, adding that the team returned to base camp after failing to find any sign of the missing mountaineers.

The aforementioned Facebook page said that the search on the Kinshofer route, which is to the left of the Mummery Spur, did not bring positive results. The team has also analysed the Mummery Spur from base camp using telescopes.

While the Spanish rescue team called off its ground search efforts Wednesday afternoon and is waiting to be airlifted back to the K2 base camp, the ACP quoted veteran Italian mountaineer Simone Moro as saying: “I guess now we are searching for bodies.”

Simone Moro is the first mountaineer to summit Nanga Parbat in the winter, as of 2016, along withAlex Txikon and Ali Sadpara.

Ali Mohammad Saltoro from Alpine Adventure Guides, the tour operators managing the Nanga Parbat expedition for Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, told Dawn there was still hope.

Alex Txikon has also asked to fly over the Mummery Ridge for around 10 minutes before heading back to Skardu. Having searched the Mummery Spur extensively by foot and drone, he now wants to investigate a certain part of the Mummery Ridge.

“He wants to make sure in a last ditch effort that they did not miss a spot before calling off the search for the missing climbers and to be able to tell the families that they did their best. An aerial reconnaissance sortie would help a lot,” Mr Saltoro said.

This is Tom Ballard’s first attempt to scale Nanga Parbat in the winter, while his partner Daniele Nardi attempted to do so for the fifth time.

Nanga Parbat is believed to take its toll on climbers every year. When it was summited by Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz and French climber Elisabeth Revol last year, they suffered frostbite and snow blindness.

Elisabeth Revol was rescued by Russian climber Dennis Urubko – who was attempting to scale K2 at the time – but Tomek Mackiewicz was presumed dead.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019