The bodies of British mountaineer Tom Ballard (30) and his Italian climbing partner Daniele Nardi (43) have been found. The pair went missing during an attempt at a first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat's (8126m) Mummery Ridge on the Diamir face. A rescue mission was launched on 27th February after no contact with the pair had been established since the 24th February, when their last known position was somewhere around 6300m. Severe weather conditions and high avalanche risk hampered rescue efforts and the subsequent search for bodies. Those involved in the expedition and rescue efforts believe that the pair were hit by an avalanche, which was audible to villagers within a radius of some miles.
On 7th March, Basque climber Alex Txikon managed to spot the bodies of the two climbers by telescope. This followed an exhaustive and dangerous search mission by a small team of climbers.
Ballard, Nardi and their team had arrived in Pakistan in late December and were initially joined by two mountaineers from Pakistan, Karim Hayat and Rahmat Ullah Baig. They later withdrew from the expedition.
Due to ongoing tensions in the Line of Control between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, initial attempts to launch military assets for a search and rescue operation were thwarted due to the temporary closure of Pakistani airspace. The Italian Ambassador in Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, managed to obtain authorisation for a Pakistan Army helicopter flight on the morning of the 28th, which was delayed by bad weather.
The Écureuils later picked up three Pakistani climbers, Ali Sadpara - who made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat alongside Simone Moro and Alex Txikon in 2016 - Imtiaz Hussain and Dilawar Hussain from K2 Base Camp in Skardu and dropped the team at Nanga Parbat Base Camp. Reconnaissance missions located a snow-covered tent at 5500m, believed to be the Camp 3 tent that was originally pitched at around 5700m, but found no sign of the climbers.
Two Pakistani helicopters were due to collect four Russian mountaineers led by Vassily Pivtsov from K2 Base Camp to assist with the rescue mission, but poor weather and high avalanche risk meant that rescue coordinators instead opted for drone searches led by the Basque mountaineer Alex Txikon, who is leading a winter expedition on K2. His team of four climbers including Felix Criado, Ignacio de Zuloaga and Dr. Josep Sanchis were collected from K2 Base Camp on 3rd March, but weather conditions prevented drop off at Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
On 4th March, the team was flown to Nanga Parbat. Two helicopters deposited Alex Txikon and Rahmat Ullah Baig at Camp 1. Having accompanied Ballard and Nardi earlier in the expedition, Baig was able to point out the exact route taken by the pair. Aerial reconnaissance yielded no results. Txikon was dropped at Camp 1, where Ali Sadpara joined him after climbing from Base Camp. The Kinshofer route and the Mummery Spur were key search zones.
On 5th March, searches resumed around Camp 3 including drone operations. Meanwhile, intermittent avalanches threatened the rescue operations as temperatures increased. After an extensive search of the Kinshofer route, the team descended.
Although the rescue mission was eventually called off, the Spanish team continued a recovery search using a telescope and a drone. A GoFundMe page was set up to assist in the rescue/recovery mission, raising €142,174 of their €150,000 goal in just four days.
"Alex Txikon and his team with Ali Sadpara are in Skardu at the moment. Alex would be on his way to K2 BC tomorrow" said Shamyl Sharafat Ali, who has been keeping us up to date on the search.
"Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara (alongwith Imtiaz and Dilawar) took significant risks in looking for Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard. On the second day of his arrival at Nanga Parbat, Alex, Ali and Dilawar went up just above Camp-II. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to go any higher as the area was dangerous and avalanche-prone. Alex flew his drone from this point looking for the disappeared climbers. Unfortunately, a serac fell around 500 meters above and triggered an avalanche. The rescue team had to take evasive action to save their lives and in this process the drone got crashed. The team descended down to Camp-II and Ali managed to recover the crashed drone and they tried once again but couldn't spot the climbers. Another smaller serac later fell as well starting a smaller avalanche. This basically assured the rescue team that it was extremely dangerous to keep on going up the Mummery Spur. From Camp-I, Alex Txikon used his telescope extensively but couldn't find the climbers.
"On the last day at Nanga Parbat (7th March), Alex made a positive visual identification of the bodies of the two climbers using his telescope from mid-way between Base Camp and Camp-I. The bodies are a little bit over Camp-III (roughly around 5900m). The reason the bodies couldn't be identified from Camp-I was that the camp is just way too close to the Mummery Spur and the bodies were behind a rocky spur. The bodies could only be visually identified going away from Mummery Spur and looking at that spot from a different angle, which is exactly what Alex did. Various photos were also taken by Alex which also show the rope fixings around the bodies.
"Given the current location of the bodies, any mission to retrieve the bodies would be an extremely dangerous endeavor. The weather has changed with temperatures rising which is resulting in multiple avalanches per day. The area between Camp-II and Camp-III is avalanche-prone as experienced personally by Alex and Ali, and would entail massive risk for any team to retrieve the aforementioned bodies. Unfortunately it won't be possible before next Winter season.
"My deepest condolences for family and friends of Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard."
This was Nardi's fourth winter attempt on Nanga Parbat. In 2012/13, Nardi and French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol - who was rescued from the mountain last winter - attempted the Mummery Rib and reached 6450m. During the following winter season in 2013/14, Nardi made a solo expedition on the Mummery Rib, reaching an altitude of around 5450m before retreating. That same season, he also attempted the Kinshofer route on the Diamir side. In 2015/16 Daniele partnered Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara, but left the expedition early.
Daniele Nardi received recognition from the Piolet d'Or jury for two exploratory projects; one in Pakistan (a new route in Charakusa Valley, named 'Telegraph Road') and a new route on Monte Rosa in Italy. He summitted seven 8,000m peaks (Everest (8848m), Cho Oyu (8188m) Broad Peak (8047m), K2 (8611m), Nanga Parbat (8125m) and Shisha Pangma (8027m)) but utimately became focused on more technical climbs at high altitudes.
Tom Ballard was the son of the late Alison Hargreaves, who became the first woman to summit Everest unaided and without supplementary oxygen in 1995. In August that year, she died aged 33 while descending from K2. While pregnant with Tom in 1988, Hargreaves climbed the North Face of the Eiger and went on to become the first person to solo all six great north faces of the Alps in summer in 1993. Twenty-six years later, Ballard became the first person to solo all of the six great north faces of the Alps in a single winter season in 2014/2015 (UKC news). The faces and routes, in the order that Tom climbed them, were: Cima Grande (Comici), Piz Badile (Cassin), Matterhorn (Schmidt), Grandes Jorasses (Colton-MacIntyre), Petit Dru (Allain), Eiger (1938 Route). In 2016, he claimed the world's first D15 dry tool route, establishing A Line Above the Sky at Tomorrow's World, Dolomites. Ballard also represented Great Britain on the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup circuit.
In August 2017, Ballard and Nardi attempted the North East face of Link Sar (7041m) in the Pakistan Karakoram (UKC news). Despite a bold effort in the face of heavy snowfall and avalanches, the pair were forced to retreat due to bad weather after spending three days at 5700m.
When asked about his passion for soloing committing alpine faces by UKC's Nick Brown for our Digital Feature Starlight and Storm in 2015, Tom responded:
'When you're soloing you have to become more of a part of the mountain itself; you feel more a part of the rock, part of the ice. instead of working against the mountain you're working with it. You become a moving bit of rock or a moving piece of ice.'
Thanks to Shamyl Sharafat Ali for his regular updates on the rescue mission.