In what will undoubtedly be one of the mountaineering highlights of 2012, Sandy Allan and Rick Allen reached the summit of Nanga Parbat at around 6pm on the 15th July, having made the much-coveted first complete ascent of the Mazeno Ridge.
The complete west-southwest or Mazeno Ridge is a monstrous undertaking: over eight summits to the junction with the 1976 Schell Route, then via the upper section of this to Nanga Parbat’s summit.
The Mazeno is the longest arête on any 8,000m peak; a staggering 13km from the Mazeno Pass at 5,377m to where it joins the south-southwest ridge or Schell Route, then another two kilometres up this (via slopes on the Diamir Flank) to the summit.
It is a totally committing venture, as escape on either flank seems impossible until reaching the Mazeno Col, where the Schell Route comes up from the Rupal flank.
The concept of traversing this immense crest was probably first conceived by Frenchman, Louis Audoubert, famous for his long, multi-day, Alpine ridge traverses in the 1970s. Audoubert and partners reached the first summit on the ridge in 1979 (First Mazeno Peak, 6,800m) but an Alpine-style continuation along the crest looked too daunting.
It subsequently became Doug Scott’s passion and with various partners he made three expeditions to the ridge (including Sandy Allan in 1992). On the last, in 1995, the strong partnership of Rick Allen, Voytek Kurtyka and Andrew Lock, on their fifth attempt (Scott had to retire due to illness), reached the third Mazeno top at around 7,000m, a little over half-way along the crest.
This proved to be the furthest point reached until 2004 when, fresh and well acclimatized from climbing in the Charakusa Valley, Doug Chabot and Steve Swenson found excellent conditions and made an alpine-style traverse of all eight summits - Mazeno Peak, the sixth and highest, is 7,120m - to reach the Mazeno Col (ca 6,940m).
The crux had been the last section of ridge from final peak to col, the pair having to cross many pinnacles, generally descending by rappel.
At this stage ominous clouds began to cover the sky and Swenson was unwell with a chest infection, so the two decided to descend the Schell Route, which had probably not been climbed for 25 years.
They left gear at the col, hoping to return and complete the ascent to the summit, but the descent proved harrowing (The Schell route is notoriously loose and objectively dangerous in the lower section) and once down the two had no desire to return. Even so, it was a magnificent achievement, carried out in exemplary style.
This summer, after establishing base camp in mid June on the Rupal side of the mountain at 4,900m and going through the usual acclimatization process, Allan and Allen, with South African Cathy O'Dowd and Sherpas Lhakpa Nuru, Lhakpa Rangduk and Lhakpa Zarok set off up the ridge on the 2nd July.
Conditions were not perfect, with deep snow and misty weather slowing progress. The team carried eight days food, which they felt might be stretched to 10.
After an arduous crossing of the pinnacles, the climbers finally descended to the Mazeno Col at 6,940m. From this point they continued up the ridge towards the summit before making their last camp at ca 7,200m. All six then made a summit attempt on the 12th, despite a forecast of strong winds.
Leaving camp at 1am with Lhakpa Nuru in the lead, the team got off route in the dark and spent some time overcoming tricky loose rock to get back on track.
At around 7am O'Dowd, tired and cold, decided to abandon her attempt, and returned to camp with Lhakpa Nuru. The others continued, but eventually ran out of time just below the summit pyramid at 7,950m. They made it back to camp after an 18 hour day.
The plan had been to go over the summit and descend via the Normal (Kinshofer) Route on the Diamir Face, known ground for Allan and Allen, who had summited via this route in 2009.
Despite being on the mountain for nearly 12 days, these two decided to give it one more shot, while O'Dowd and the three Sherpas began a successful descent of the Diamir Face (exact line currently unknown).
It appears Allan and Allen then must have rested the next two days before making their summit climb on the 15th and descending to the site of the top camp on the Kinshofer Route.
They are reported to have reached base camp below the Diamir Face at around midday on the 19th, after a remarkable exhibition of endurance and tenacity.