Publish Date: 25.10.2011

Category: News from the University

An exceptional achievement by Slovenian climbers Mojca Švajger and Irena Mrak – the Slovenian Route on the ninth highest mountain on earth

Mojca Švajger in Irena Mrak

The third Himalayan expedition of the University of Ljubljana was completed on 25 August with the climb attempt at the 8125 m high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.
The leader of the expedition was docent Dr. Irena Mrak, a faculty member at the Department of Geography of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana.
"We left Ljubljana in two groups on 15 and 24 July, setting up base camp under the Diamir face of the mountain at 4250 m. This year, four expeditions preceded us: German, Kazakhstani, Spanish and Czech. Their goal was a repeat of the classic Kinshofer route, but unfortunately none managed to reach the summit. Up until August 10, we performed a few exploration and acclimatisation climbs on the rock face itself and on surrounding peaks. On that day, four members left the expedition and headed home.”

Irena Mrak

The greatly reduced team was thus comprised of Mojca Švajger, Himalayan veteran Viki Grošelj and Irena Mrak. We judged the traditional method of climbing the mountain, that is by setting up camps and fixing ropes, to be virtually impossible because of the lack of snow and the consequential great danger of rock fall. The only viable option was to attempt an Alpine style climb.
On 11 August, we studied the possibility of climbing the Messner route, from 1978. The three of us explored the lower part of the route up to a height of 5500 m and judged it was worth a try. We descended to the bivouac at 4750 m. Grošelj returned to base where he was to follow our attempt as we had agreed. Mojca and I were supposed to start the climb the next day. Unfortunately, the weather turned ugly and we had to descend to the base as well.


Viki Grošelj

The weather only improved enough to allow us to climb on 17 August. The first day, we slept at an altitude of 4750 m. The next, we reached 5800 m by noon. There we were caught by bad weather; a blizzard forced us to set up bivouac. Due to the continuous sliding of the fresh snow, we had to wait for the whole of the following day and night.
On 20 August, we continued the climb up to the height of 6700 m, where we set up a fourth bivouac. On 22 August, we failed to find a passage through the icy rock barrier on the left at 7350 m, a passage that would allow us to proceed towards the summit of Nanga Parbat. We returned to the height of 7200 m and spent a sixth night there. The next morning at 6 am, we began to climb directly up towards the edge of the Diamir face and reached it at 13:30, at an altitude of 7590 m. Our route covered 3120 m of altitude between the Diama glacier at 4470 m and the edge of the rock face. It was a combination of the Messner route from 1978, his descent route and a first ever attempted climb. The steepness of the exceptionally icy route is 45-60 degrees (70 degrees). We named it the “Slovenian Route”. That same day, we descended back to the bivouac at 7200 m and spent our seventh night there. On 24 August, we continued to descend. In the most dangerous section, the Messner 'serak' (huge blocks of broken up ice), we both slipped and fell. The fall ended luckily, some 150 m down, without any fractures but a lot of bleeding. At 5800 m, we spent our eighth night in a bivouac. On day nine of our expedition, 25 August 2011, we finally reached base.


Nanga Parbat

Every day of our climb and descent, we had support via satellite telephone from Viki Grošelj at the base, who was a priceless psychological support. We are both exceptionally grateful to him. Although we did not manage to reach the summit of Nanga Parbat, Grošelj deems our climb to be:
‘The absolute summit of Slovenian women’s climbing in the Himalaya and one of the greatest achievements in women’s climbing in the world. They climbed the route in a wholly alpine style, in complete agreement with the most modern vision of climbing in the Himalaya. They displayed astounding perseverance, determination and courage, for they knew that at 4700 m they could not expect anyone’s help. They spent the whole nine days on the slope of the huge mountain by themselves. I follow Himalayan climbing and achievements quite closely and as far as I can recall, no pair of women or solo woman climber ever managed anything of the kind.
Although this is Mojca’s and Irena’s great achievement, the University of Ljubljana can also be proud of it, as we were climbing under its patronage. The Alpine Association of Slovenia, Slovenian mountaineering, Slovenia as a whole and indeed the world’s women’s mountaineering elite should also celebrate it. Such an achievement is always a great encouragement to raise the bar on what is possible.’
On 26 August, we left base camp and headed home. Viki Grošelj arrived at the Ljubljana airport on Tuesday, August 30 at 15:00. Mojca and I also returned via the Ljubljana airport but only on Saturday, 17 September, due to my study and work obligations in Pakistan.
At the end, all three of us would like to extend our gratitude to all those who helped us in any way in realising the Nanga Parbat 2011 expedition. We would like to thank the Pakistani agency K2 International and its director Shujaat Ali for their exceptional logistic support.”