What a view he must be having.
Waiting for his sure death.
Tucked in a snow cave at 7200m-just underneath the summit dome.
He must be smiling up at ‘her’ and looking down at us with a smooth calm and unwavering peace.
He had done miracles for himself before, walking into the Base Camp like a ghost when he had been presumed dead and missing for 21 days.
Carrying bulk loads of deposits all by him. Going back and forth countless times on Nanga.
This time around, however, he can’t walk and can’t even see.
Of whatever little I have known of Tomek Mackiewicz, he must be a happy man lying alone at 7200m waiting for the unavoidable.
This was his seventh consecutive attempt to stand on top of the “Killer” and only the first that he ever made it to 8000m mark. Though there are unconfirmed reports of a summit success on this final attempt but his pilgrimage to Nanga in all these years was far from summits and medals and acclamation.
For Tomek, Nanga was his peace, his freedom, his liberation.
I first met Tomek at Diamir Base Camp on January 2016, when, out of nowhere, he popped into our kitchen tent asking for “garam Chaye” (hot tea). It had hardly been a day when we have established “Pakistan Explorer Reporting Room” right in the middle of four international expeditions at Diamir Base Camp. Initially it was challenging for the team to acclimatize to 4800m in six feet deep snow and temperatures close to -20 Celsius.
We instantly struck a chord with this burly straw-haired fellow presenting a true depiction of climbing bums of the Hippy era, always with a sunny disposition and a warming smile to greet the onlooker. Our kitchen tent was standard tent not made out to withstand the extreme conditions we had subjected it to, but with the kerosene stove always on fire, it was warm and cozy and embracing. We smoked and laughed and had a lot of tea before he left to report the boss and climbing partner Elizabeth Revol (Eli).
Next morning Tomek and Eli left for more deposits on higher camps and Tomek promised to meet us in Islamabad on his way back. I have a vivid memory of a bright full moon night when we were close to village SER on our way back. We turned around hoping to have a glimpse of maybe a headlamp somewhere near the summit, clearly failing to establish the scale of the massive Nanga Parbat.
Tomek and Eli returned to Islamabad after two weeks, when they had outrun their supplies at the Base Camp and they both stayed at our Bed & Breakfast in Islamabad. Eli had a short stay while Tomek stayed for almost a week, including that “dreadfully historic” day when Nanga was captured in winters for the first time in 30 years.
Tomek was shattered and broke.
He was in complete disbelief.
He refuted the claim citing clear deviation of Alex’s tracker which had gone wayward several times around the summit dome.
His tweets and reactionary posts created quite a controversy where he refused to accept it as a summit success and demanded photo and videographic proofs.
He left with a broken heart. An altogether different Tomek.
This year when he decided to return for the seventh attempt, I feared this will end in a disaster.
It was hardly the same Tomek who would walk down from 6000m trapped for days in a snow cave.
He was not the Tomek who would carry 30kgs of rucksacks to high camps all by himself.
He was not the Tomek who had a brilliant funny bone and who was always smoking like a steam engine.
This was a lost Tomek.
A lover without his beloved.
A Poet who has forgotten to write.
A ship without sails.
Since the beginning of his last venture on Nanga I somehow knew that if Tomek came anywhere close to 8000m mark, he would throw-in everything to stand on top risking his life and limb.
They were last spotted at 8000m mark by the Base Camp crew claiming they were moving further up before it went cloudy and they were not visible anymore. They not only reached the base of the summit dome but they have been half way up the trapezoid for the first time in seven years. It was inescapably a defining moment for Tomek to reach out and grab the summit. We still wait for the confirmation from Eli whether the devastated duo made it all the way to the top.
“when everything disappears, the time, death, life, problems……… because when you are very close to the death… you are very close to the end… every problem disappears”- Tomek during an interview to Pakistan Explorer Feb 2016
I got a call yesterday from Sawal Faqeer- a senior guide who has seen countless expeditions on Diamir face and have known dozens of deaths on the Killer Mountain.
He broke down listening to the news.
“Ghani” a good a friend and a porter, must be shattered and broke over the loss.
People of Diamir loved Tomek and Tomek loved them too.
Less of a climber, more of a friend and a genuine human being.
Enjoy the view mate and Rest in Peace!
By: Naveed Abdul Bari
January 29, 2018