Next year, climber Marek Holeček will try to conclude the story he started writing 11 years ago on the eight-thousand-meter Nanga Parbat with a climb that should go down in climbing history. What makes the world's ninth-highest peak so fascinating to him?
The first time he stood below that majestic wall was in 2011. With awe and a fascinated expression on his face, he looked up at the perpendicular wall, partly lost in the clouds and under a layer of ice. The Rupal Wall on the south side of the eight-thousander Nanga Parbat has an elevation gain of more than 4,500 meters from its base and easily tops the list of the highest walls on the planet.
Marek Holeček, today one of the best climbers in the world, knew even then that he had to return here one day. "It's a scary wall, much bigger and higher than you can find on K2 or Mount Everest. What's more, you start climbing here at an altitude of 3,500 meters, where the grass is green, and it's hot, and it can be minus 70 degrees at the top," smiles the Czech climber.
He knows what he's talking about because he stood at its peak a year after his first encounter with Nanga Parbat. At that time, he and his partner Zdeněk Hrubý climbed the west wall, the Diamir wall, in alpine style to adapt to the high altitude. But they climbed so fast that after a few days, the acclimatization hike surprisingly turned into a successful ascent.
The next drama about the passage of the new route in the Rupal Wall took place in 2017. That time he and his partner turned back after a seven-day battle less than 300 meters below the peak. A growing hurricane with a speed of 130 kilometers per hour did not give the climbers the slightest chance to complete their dream. Holeček was not successful a year later. He believes the fourth attempt, which he has planned for late summer 2023, will be successful. And this time, Chronotechna watches will be there - Marek Holeček will be wearing a watch from "his" limited edition SeaQuest Dive Nanga Parbat as our ambassador on his wrist.
"I have always had a soft spot for mechanical watches. It's like I'm carrying two hearts to the top. Mine, given by fate, and the other on my wrist won't stop as long as I'm in motion. It's a beautiful symbolism for me," smiles the successful climber.
But why Nanga Parbat? With an altitude of 8,126 meters above sea level, it ranks sixth out of 14 eight-thousand-foot peaks from the highest Everest. Yet, due to objective difficulties, it is one of the most challenging peaks to reach, with a far lower success rate than Everest. What about the peak in the eastern Himalayas fascinates him so much that he keeps returning to it?
"It's a unique hill," Holeček daydreams. "It towers over the surrounding peaks by a thousand meters. It looks desolate and lonely; it stands out and is beautiful to see from all sides. That's why the weather is also pulling it down. There are unpredictable conditions at the top, which make great technical skills already necessary for the ascent. You don't just climb to the top, and most attempts to climb it fail, so climbers don't flock there."
After all, the statistics bear this out. Despite Nanga Parbat being the first eight-thousanders that man attempted to climb back in 1895, it took 58 long years for the first climber (Austrian Hermann Buhl) to succeed in 1953. By then, the mountain had claimed the lives of 31 climbers.
For Marek Holeček, perhaps that is why climbing Nanga Parbat via the challenging Rupal Wall has been one of his dreams since his childhood, when he devoured the stories of the legendary climber Reinhold Messner with bated breath. He did climb the Rupal Wall in 1970, but on the way down from the summit via the west face, he lost his brother Günther, who was buried by an avalanche and whose body wasn't found until 35 years later.
"It's a powerful story that completely changed Messner's approach to climbing. As a young boy, I was amazed by it. It was as unimaginable as reading the stories of ancient sailors like Fernão de Magalhães," says Marek Holeček.
His fourth expedition to Nanga Parbat next year could be similarly significant in the rich history of climbing. There are several reasons. Only a dozen climbers in the history of humankind have reached the peak via the dreaded Rupal Wall. Still, most of them have chosen the expedition style of climbing when they use the support and facilities of a large expedition. Marek Holeček climbs in the so-called alpine style, which symbolizes the purest concept of the passage to the top that a person can achieve with his skills and will. The ascent is often done in two, without support from other climbers, oxygen devices, etc.
No one has ever climbed Nanga Parbat in such a way and with a combination of ascent on the south face and descent on the west face. "I see an unanswered story there. It's a unique idea; if it were done, it would be a bomb," Holeček says. He also admits that if successful, the climb becomes a hot candidate for the most prestigious climbing award, the Piolet d'Or. This price is awarded annually as a global prize. He's already won it in 2018 and 2020, including several nominations over the last two decades. "Awards have never motivated me, nor is it why I climb. It is recognition from the climbing guild for realizing a dream that has come to fruition. In itself, it's praise for executing a style, an idea to find something new and thus contribute to moving forward, which is gratifying," he adds.