Search Called Off for Missing Climbers on Nanga Parbat

The week-long search effort for Mariano Galván and Alberto Zerain, who disappeared on the Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat, ends without success.

By Joe Purtell | July 6th, 2017

Nanga Parbat, the Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 ).” title=”Nanga Parbat, the “Killer Mountain”. Photo: Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi (Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 ).” style=”float: right; margin: 0px 0px 10px 10px;” width=”1000″>Rescue teams have called off the search for Argentinian Mariano Galván (37) and Spanish-Basque Alberto Zerain (55) who disappeared on the Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters) in Pakistan on June 24. The search persisted until July 1, when rescuers in a helicopter determined that the team’s last-known position was in a field of avalanche debris, at which point the rescue effort ceased.

Galván and Zerain were both accomplished alpinists. Galván had summited seven 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, while Zerain had climbed 10 in the same style. Both climbers had completed Everest without oxygen, and together they had climbed peaks such as Manaslu (8,163 meters) and Dhaulagiri (8,167 meters).

Zerain attempted the then-unclimbed Mazeno Ridge in 2011, but was turned back short of the summit by poor weather. The following year, Sandy Allan and Rick Allen completed the first ascent of the ridge—over the course of 18 days. Zerain and Galván still wanted to climb the technical ridge line even without the draw of a first ascent.

The Mazeno Ridge, first attempted by Doug Scott in 1992 (then again in 1993 and 1995), is long, high, and technical—spanning nine kilometers at around 7,000 meters before joining the main body of Nanga Parbat and continuing to the summit. In a 2013 trip report that appeared in the Alpine Journal, Rick Allen describes the ridge as “without any reasonable prospect of escape to north or south.”

Galván and Zerain arrived at base camp June 15, and they immediately began bringing supplies to the base of the ridge. On June 18, Zerain and Galván began their alpine-style summit attempt, leaving advanced base camp with one day of poor weather on the forecast, the British Mountaineering Club reports. The two expected to sit out storms, given the length of the ridge, and proceeded.

The two climbers camped at 5,600 meters on June 19, and prepared to wait out the expected squall. The storm lasted four days rather than one, and the climbers sheltered from the wet, heavy snow until the 23rd before continuing upward.

On June 24, Zerain and Galván reached their highpoint of 6,270 meters, writes the BMC—then the GPS tracker that they carried showed an abrupt 180-meter drop. The tracker transmitted for another 15 hours but neither climber activated its distress signal.

A military helicopter (standard rescue in Pakistan) arrived on the 28th and flew the ridgeline for three hours, although cloud cover obscured the view. Altitude Pakistan reports that, on July 1, the helicopter discovered the climbers’ last location.

Zerain’s team stated: “Last position indicated by the Racetracker of Alberto Zerain, is where they found a plaque of snow detached that ended up forming a avalanche. Situation that, sadly, leads to rule out the possibility of survivors.”

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