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Daniel Nardi
Daniel Nardi

GILGIT: Two international K2 winter expedition teams have failed to summit the second highest peak in the world, while search for missing climbers at Nanga Parbat — Tom Ballard from Britain, 30, and Daniel Nardi from Italy, 42 — has been abandoned after futile efforts of 14 days.

According to the officials, one of the two teams, led by Vassily Pivtsov from Kazakhstan, started to descend from the base camp 3 on Saturday.

The four-member team was heading to the camp IV on Thursday but weather conditions and lack of visibility prevented them for going any higher.

The climbers pushed towards the peak three times but could not succeed.

Asghar Ali Porik, the tour operator of the expedition, told Dawn the expedition was over.

Another K2 expedition, led by Alex Txikon from Spain and accompanied by a five-member team of Nepalese Sherpas, had begun climbing K2 parallel to the first expedition.

Then the team headed to Nanga Parbat to take part in the rescue operation for the missing climbers.

After the failure of the rescue operation, Mr Txikon is likely to call off the K2 expedition in a few days because winter is almost over and his team’s climb permit date is about to expire.

Four Nepalese Sherpas of his team, who had started fixing ropes from the advance base camp of K2, reportedly returned to the base camp on Saturday.

One week ago, Mr Txikon and his team members had flown to Nanga Parbat base camp to search for Mr Nardi and Mr Ballard, who went missing on Feb 24.

After failing to recover the missing climbers, Mr Txikon had asked to be dropped off at the K2 base camp from Nanga Parbat by helicopter as he and his team members intended to resume their adventure. However, they couldn’t return to the K2 base camp till Saturday.

On Friday, an Army helicopter had planned to fly to Sar village near Nanga Parbat to pick up the rescue team and proceed with an aerial reconnaissance in the area of Mummery Spur, where Mr Txikon reported that he had seen two silhouettes.

Unfortunately the sortie had to return to Skardu for technical reasons.

On Saturday a formation of Pakistan Army Aviation took off from Skardu for a second time on its way to Nanga Parbat.

Tom Ballard
Tom Ballard

The helicopters were supposed to pick Mr Txikon from Sar village in the foothills of Nanga Parbat. However, he had already started moving down by walking on a trail. Because of the nature of the track, it wasn’t possible for the helicopters to pick up Mr Txikon.

The formation flew back to Skardu as they had to get back in daylight.

Mr Txikon said in a tweet sometimes things didn’t go as planned. “Due to different problems with the helicopter, we decided to go down on foot through the Diamir valley towards Juglote. 2 hard days, as we have walked 32 km carrying all the material with us. From here we will go back to Skardu,” he said.

Search abandoned

Meanwhile, Italian Ambassador to Pakistan Stefano Pontecorvo through a tweet announced the end of the search operation for the missing climbers at Nanga Parbat.

“With great sadness I inform that the search for Italian NardiDaniele and British Tom Ballard is over as AlexTxikon and the search team have confirmed that the silhouettes spotted on Mummery at about 5900 meters are those of Daniele and Tom,” the diplomat said.

According to the officials, Mr Txikon and his team with a Pakistani national, Ali Sadpara, are currently in Skardu.

Mr Txikon would be on his way to K2 base camp on Sunday. However, it is impossible for him and his team to summit K2, also because their climb permit date is about to expire.

Nanga Parbat operations

Mr Txikon and Mr Sadpara along took significant risks in looking for the missing climbers.

According to Mr Sadpara, on the second day of their arrival at Nanga Parbat, they went up above Camp-II. But it wasn’t possible for them to go any higher as the area was dangerous and avalanche-prone.

Mr Txikon flew a drone from this point looking for the missing climbers. Unfortunately, a serac fell from above and triggered an avalanche. The rescue team had to take evasive action to save their lives and the drone crashed during this process.

Later, another smaller serac fell down triggering a smaller avalanche.

This convinced the rescue team that it was extremely dangerous to keep on going up the Mummery Spur.

On their last day at Nanga Parbat (March 7), Mr Txikon using a telescope spotted the bodies of the two missing climbers somewhere at mid-way between Base Camp and Camp-I.

Mr Txikon took several photos which also show rope fixings around the bodies.

Given the current location of the bodies, any mission to retrieve the bodies would be an extremely dangerous endeavour.

The weather has changed with temperatures rising, which is resulting in multiple avalanches on daily basis.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2019