After the spectacular drive up the Fairy Meadows jeep track, we still had to hike another hour or two up to Fairy Meadows itself. At several points, we get a glimpse of Nanga Parbat, at 8126m the ninth highest mountain on the planet. A small settlement at around 3300m, it offers lodging but also counts regular inhabitants. The huts we stay in even have a stove, and as the sun drops, so does the temperature, so we make sure to light a good fire before going to sleep. Together with a few others, I am up early next day to walk to a nearby pond from where we see the sun rise over the mighty slopes of Nanga Parbat. The reflection in the perfectly still pond make the early rise more than worth it. A little later, we are on our way up, and from the first viewpoint, see mighty Raikhot glacier and the Nanga Parbat monster. It is not for nothing that, while meaning Naked Mountain in the local language, it has acquired the nickname Killer Mountain. The tales of those brave people who have made it to the top are harrowing to say the least. Many met a tragic death on the slopes of this beast.
Further up, we have a tea rest at Behal campsite. The trees here are changing into autumn colours, making the already splendid scenery even more spectacular. Nanga Parbat is still glimmering in the fierce sunlight: we have another perfect blue sky day. We walk through the woods, until we reach another viewpoint. Here, we not only see Raikhot glacier, but also Chongra Peak at 6830m. The yellow trees and red-and-yellow vegetation, the white-and-grey glacier, the intense white of the peaks: the colour schemes make the scenery fantastic. The trail dips down a little bit, towards the glacier, and we cross several streams on rickety wooden bridges before we climb up another slope to reach a protected area where to our surprise, we find grazing cows. It would seem the perfect Base Camp spot, but it is not; in any case, we take a break and enjoy the sun which is surprisingly hot, considering the altitude. From here, it is another steep climb to Base Camp at around 4000m.We find a collection of memorials, not only of climbers who died, but also a cleaning expedition, as well as Hermann Buhl, the first to reach the summit in 1953.
While marvelling at the mighty mountain (the actual summit is not visible from here), it is easy to see why this is considered one of the hardest mountains to climb. Then, as if to underline that thought, we hear thunderous noise, and see a large chunk of overhanging ice tumble down the incredibly steep mountain slope. There you have it: avalanches have killed many climbers here, and with the massive amount of ice on the mountain, it seems like disasters are waiting to happen. Actual ascents actually take place from the Diamir Face, or western side. After enjoying the views around, it is time to head back to Fairy Meadows. The light only gets better now, and when we reach the last viewpoint, we stay for sunset. Clouds move in, turned orange by the setting sun, and for the last time that day, we savour the views of Nanga Parbat for the last time: the western anchor of the Himalayas. At the same time, a terrible mountain, inevitably cursed by many, but also of irresistible beauty.
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