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Leaving a son with Nanga Parbat

BY JAMAL SHAHID

ISLAMABAD: “A life is not measured by quantity, but by its quality,” says Hubert Wischnewski as he reminisces about his son Joel, who died while trying to climb the feared Nanga Parbat over two years ago.

Mr Wischnewski spent the last week travelling to Pakistan from France with his wife and two daughters to pay their respects to Joel. After landing in Gilgit, the family hiked 13,000 feet to the Herrligkoffer’s Alpinists Cemetery, near Nanga Parbat Base Camp, where Joel Wischnewski now rests.

“This is the first time we have been able to visit his grave,” said Myriam, the late climber’s sister.

The journey had been a special one for the family, Myriam explained. She said that it meant a lot to them that her brother’s body had been found and given a proper burial.

“We are indebted to locals from the Rupal Village for bringing him down and burying him along with their prayers,” Myriam told Dawn.

Hubert Wischnewski, the father of Joel, poses with his family. – Photo by Khurram AminHubert Wischnewski, the father of Joel, poses with his family. – Photo by Khurram Amin

Joel Wischnewski had arrived in Pakistan in December 2012, like many other ambitious climbers who fancied a winter attempt at summitting a major peak. He spent the next two months acclimatising, setting up camps 1 and 2 and climbing as high as 4,350 metres – almost the height of Mont Blanc in the Swiss Alps.

The 29-year-old climber was attempting to summit the ninth highest peak in the world, also known as the ‘Killer Mountain’, from its Rupal Face. Very few mountaineers have ever dared to ascend this way and none have ever succeeded.

“Moving up from camp 2 at 4,300 metres. I’ve got three days. Bye, take care and thanks for following,” were the final words published on Joel’s website on Feb 6, 2013 and are today chiseled into his tombstone. Concerns about his safety arose when he did not reconnect after three days. As the radio silence grew longer, a search and rescue operation was launched on Feb 16.

Due to adverse winter conditions, search efforts remained intermittent and rescuers could not go above camp 2. An aerial search couldn’t be realised either and no trace of the young French climber could be found despite repeated attempts.

But when conditions changed in summer, Joel’s boots were spotted and in September, locals from nearby villages saw the body and notified the French embassy, who in turn reached out to the Wischnewski family.

“This is where Brig M. Akram Khan of Adventure Foundation Pakistan came into the picture. He organised one last expedition to bring my brother down. A team of helpful villagers went up and brought Joel’s body back on October 10, 2013,” Myriam said.

Judging from the way his body was found, Myriam said it was possible her brother was hit by an avalanche. “He had his ice axe in his hand and was probably moving between two camps.”

“It is a moment of contentment for us when he has eventually buried gracefully at the foot of the mountain he loved so much,” Myriam said, adding, “For my brother, going to the mountain was like going home”.

Though this journey was a sad one for the Wischnewski family, they brought joy to the lives of others. As a gesture of their gratitude towards local villagers, the Wischnewskis brought with them solar energy panels that now illuminate nearly 40 houses in Rupal Village.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2015

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