Nanga Parbat, known locally as Diamer (دیامر), is the ninth-highest mountain in the world at 8,126 metres (26,660 ft) above sea level.
Located in the Diamer District of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, Nanga Parbat is the western anchor of the Himalayas. The name Nanga Parbat is derived from the Sanskrit words nagna and parvata, which, when combined, translate to “Naked Mountain”. The mountain is known locally by its Tibetan name Diamer or Deo Mir, meaning “huge mountain”.
Nanga Parbat is one of the 14 eight-thousanders. An immense, dramatic peak rising far above its surrounding terrain, Nanga Parbat is known to be a difficult climb, and has earned the nickname Killer Mountain for its high number of climber fatalities.
Nanga Parbat forms the western anchor of the Himalayan Range and is the westernmost eight-thousander. It lies just south of the Indus River in the Diamer District of Gilgit–Baltistan in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. In some places, it flows more than 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) below the high-point of the massif. To the north is the western end of the Karakoram range.
To the south, Nanga Parbat has what is often referred to as the highest mountain face in the world: the Rupal Face rises 4,600 m (15,090 ft) above its base. To the north, the complex, somewhat more gently sloped Rakhiot Flank rises 7,000 m (23,000 ft) from the Indus River valley to the summit in just 25 km (16 mi), one of the ten greatest elevation gains in such a short distance on earth.
Nanga Parbat is one of only two peaks on earth that rank in the top twenty of both the highest mountains in the world, and the most prominent peaks in the world, ranking ninth and fourteenth respectively. The other mountain is the famous Mount Everest, which ranks first on both lists. Nanga Parbat is also the second most prominent peak of the Himalayas, after Mount Everest. The key col for Nanga Parbat is Zoji La in Kashmir Valley, which connects it to higher peaks in the remaining Himalaya-Karakoram range.
On the Tibetan Plateau Nanga Parbat is the westernmost peak of the Himalayas where as Namcha Barwa marks the east end.
The core of Nanga Parbat is a long ridge trending southwest to northeast. The ridge is composed of an enormous bulk of ice and rock. It has three faces: the Diamir, Rakhiot, and Rupal faces. The southwestern portion of this main ridge is known as the Mazeno Wall, and has a number of subsidiary peaks. In the other direction, the main ridge arcs northeast at Rakhiot Peak (7,070 m or 23,200 ft). The south/southeast side of the mountain is dominated by the Rupal Face. The north/northwest side of the mountain, leading to the Indus, is more complex. It is split into the Diamir (west) face and the Rakhiot (north) face by a long ridge. There are a number of subsidiary summits, including North Peak (7,816 m or 25,643 ft) some three kilometres (1.9 mi) north of the main summit. Near the base of the Rupal Face is a glacial lake called Latbo, above a seasonal shepherds’ village of the same name.
As a result of its accessibility, attempts to summit Nanga Parbat began very soon after it was discovered by Europeans. In 1895, Albert F. Mummery led an expedition to the peak, accompanied by Geoffrey Hastings, and reached almost 6,100 m (20,000 ft) on the Diamir (West) Face, but Mummery and two Gurkha companions later died reconnoitering the Rakhiot Face.
In the 1930s, Nanga Parbat became the focus of German interest in the Himalayas. The German mountaineers were unable to attempt Mount Everest, since only the British had access to Tibet. Initially German efforts focused on Kanchenjunga, to which Paul Bauer led two expeditions in 1930 and 1931, but with its long ridges and steep faces Kanchenjunga was more difficult than Everest and neither expedition made much progress. K2 was known to be harder still, and its remoteness meant that even reaching its base would be a major undertaking. Nanga Parbat was therefore the highest mountain accessible to Germans and was also deemed reasonably possible by climbers at the time.
The first German expedition to Nanga Parbat was led by Willy Merkl in 1932. It is sometimes referred to as a German-American expedition, as the eight climbers included Rand Herron, an American, and Fritz Wiessner, who would become an American citizen the following year. While the team were all strong climbers, none had Himalayan experience, and poor planning (particularly an inadequate number of porters), coupled with bad weather, prevented the team from progressing far beyond the Rakhiot Peak northeast of the Nanga Parbat summit, reached by Peter Aschenbrenner and Herbert Kunigk, but they did establish the feasibility of a route via Rakhiot Peak and the main ridge.
Merkl led another expedition in 1934, which was better prepared and financed with full support from the new Nazi government. Early in the expedition Alfred Drexel died, likely due to high altitude pulmonary edema. The Tyrolean climbers, Peter Aschenbrenner and Erwin Schneider, reached an estimated height of 7,900 m (25,900 ft) on July 6, but were forced to return because of worsening weather. On July 7, they and 14 others were trapped by a storm at 7,480 m (24,540 ft). During the desperate retreat that followed, three famous German mountaineers, Uli Wieland, Willo Welzenbach and Merkl himself, as well as six Sherpas died of exhaustion, exposure and altitude sickness, and several others suffered severe frostbite. The last survivor to reach safety, Ang Tsering, did so having spent seven days battling through the storm. It has been said that the disaster, “for sheer protracted agony, has no parallel in climbing annals.”
In 1937, Karl Wien led another expedition to the mountain, following the same route as Merkl’s expeditions had done. Progress was made, but more slowly than before due to heavy snowfall. About 14 June, seven Germans and nine Sherpas, almost the entire team, were at Camp IV below Rakhiot Peak when it was overrun by an avalanche. All sixteen men died. The search team found that the tents had been buried by ice and snow rather than swept away. One of the victim’s diaries read “our situation here is not quite safe from avalanches”.
The Germans returned in 1938 led by Paul Bauer, but the expedition was plagued by bad weather, and Bauer, mindful of the previous disasters, ordered the party down before the Silver Saddle, halfway between Rakhiot Peak and Nanga Parbat summit, was reached.
Heinrich Harrer, an expert alpinist, was a member of the SS Alpine unit. The unit practised on Eiger mountain in Switzerland in 1938. When the group returned to Germany, Adolf Hitler met with them.
In May 1939, Harrer was selected by the German Himalayan Foundation to take part in a new expedition to the Nanga Parbat, under the leadership of Peter Aufschnaiter. Their goal was to scout new ways to ascend the north-western face. They explored the Diamir Face with the aim of finding an easier route. They concluded that the face was a viable route, but the Second World War intervened and the four men were interned by the British in Dehradun, India. Harrer’s escape and subsequent wanderings across the Tibetan Plateau became the subject of his book Seven Years in Tibet. Some evidence of this expedition is kept in the National Archives of Washington, D.C.
Nanga Parbat was first climbed, via the Rakhiot Flank (East Ridge), on July 3, 1953 by Austrian climber Hermann Buhl on the German–Austrian Nanga Parbat expedition, a member of a German-Austrian team. The expedition was organized by the half-brother of Willy Merkl, Karl Herrligkoffer from Munich, while the expedition leader was Peter Aschenbrenner from Kufstein, who had participated in the 1932 and 1934 attempts. By the time of this expedition, 31 people had already died on the mountain.
The final push for the summit was dramatic: Buhl continued alone for the final 1,300 metres (4,300 ft), after his companions had turned back. Under the influence of the drug pervitin (based on the stimulant methamphetamine used by soldiers during World War II), padutin, and tea from coca leaves, he reached the summit dangerously late, at 7:00 p.m., the climbing harder and more time-consuming than he had anticipated. His descent was slowed when he lost a crampon. Caught by darkness, he was forced to bivouac standing upright on a narrow ledge, holding a small handhold with one hand. Exhausted, he dozed occasionally, but managed to maintain his balance. He was also very fortunate to have a calm night, so he was not subjected to wind chill. He finally reached his high camp at 7:00 p.m. the next day, 40 hours after setting out. The ascent was made without oxygen, and Buhl is the only man to have made the first ascent of an 8,000-metre (26,000 ft) peak alone.
The 1953 documentary film Nanga Parbat 1953 was filmed and directed by Hans Ertl, who participated in the expedition. Buhl’s climb was also later dramatized by Canadian film director Donald Shebib in the 1986 film The Climb.
The second ascent of Nanga Parbat was via the Diamir Face, in 1962, by Germans Toni Kinshofer, Siegfried Löw, and A. Mannhardt. This route has become the “standard route” on the mountain. The Kinshofer route does not ascend the middle of the Diamir Face, which is threatened by avalanches from large hanging glaciers. Instead it climbs a buttress on the left side of the Diamir Face. In 1970, brothers Günther and Reinhold Messner made the third ascent of the mountain and the first ascent of the Rupal Face. They were unable to descend by their original route, and instead descended by the Diamir Face, making the first traverse of the mountain. Günther was killed in an avalanche on the Diamir Face, where his remains were found in 2005.