Finding new Everests: The doomed journey up Nanga Parbat, and climbing's endless search for greater highs

Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi were two of the brightest stars of elite mountaineering. Their deaths on Pakistan’s ‘Killer Mountain’ leave a sport reckoning with its own burgeoning popularity, writes Adam Withnall

The bodies of British climber Tom Ballard and Italian Daniele Nardi were found after a two-week search
The bodies of British climber Tom Ballard and Italian Daniele Nardi were found after a two-week search

Tom Ballard will never climb Everest. Before his death on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat was confirmed earlier this month, the prodigious British mountaineer would joke that he had been scaling peaks since before he was born – in a way, it was what he was born to do. Aged just 30, Ballard already had some extraordinary feats on his climbing resume, foremost among them his record for scaling all six of Europe’s most challenging north faces in a single winter.

Ballard’s mother was Alison Hargreaves, the first woman ever to climb Everest solo in 1995 and who, equally famously in the eyes of the press at the time, then died descending K2 the same year, leaving behind a husband, Jim, and two children, Tom and his sister Kate. She carried Tom up the north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps when she was six months pregnant, and after he was born the family moved to Scotland so Hargreaves could practice on the local crags.

Yet while he followed in his mother’s footsteps in his passion for mountaineering, this fatal Nanga Parbat expedition was also his first attempt at any peak above 8,000 metres. Simply scaling the world’s most famous “big mountains” held no excitement for Ballard – or indeed in Everest itself, which was climbed by more than 800 people in 2018 alone. His father Jim said in 2010: “Tom has no interest in climbing K2 in summer, or [any] routes where there are lots of other people.”

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