Beloved Spanish alpinist Alberto Zerain died in a tragic avalanche on Nanga Parbat this week. Though he was not able to return from the mountain in this life, his memory has found a new home in the hearts among those who appreciated his attitude toward the dare of a summit. He is also remembered by those who admired his accomplishments.
Zerain was climbing Nanga Parbat with Mariano Galvan as part of the 2x14x8000 project, which aimed to see 14 of the world’s 8,000 m. peaks climbed twice.
While on the Mazeno Ridge, Zerain gave his last update to the Base Camp team on 24 June. Shortly after, his team lost contact with him. They would announce on 27 June, that they believed he and Mariano Galvan had lost power on their radio communicators.
On 01 July, 2x14x8000 announced that a helicopter search of the Mazeno Ridge revealed signs of a massive avalanche. The team did not believe there was a possibility of survivors. On this day, the search for Zerain and Galvan was ended and the mountaineering world began to mourn, finally letting go of the hope they had so desperately tried to cling to.
Since the announcement was made, thousands of fans, friends, fellow alpinists and families have shown their love of Zerain. They gathered together from all corners of the world over social media to remember and honor a man considered to be one of the greatest Spanish alpinists.
Although he was an expert climber with a plethora of feats under his belt, Zerain was humble, lovable, calm and full of positivity. From accounts of expeditions past, Alberto never put the summit before safety and always proceeded with preparedness.
When it was announced that contact had been lost, I did not think the worst. I thought it was routine until I saw that it had been almost a week since contact had been lost. Then, I thought it could be serious. But I don’t think I ever admitted to myself that this kind of death was what occurred. Even after it was announced that there were likely no survivors, I still felt like he would come down, that he’d been held up in a snow pocket and would come down. I don’t think even now I truly believe it. I don’t know, but I guess the audacity of hope keeps us in a state of denial sometimes. But I am sad, genuinely sad. I thought he was a great climber, an amazing person. I was a big Zerain person. This is a blow. -Cass Légér Editor of BCM
Funeral Services for Alberto Zerain
2x14x8000 announced that this Friday, 07 July, a religious service would be held at the Church of San Miguel Archangel (Vitoria) at 7:30 PM (19:30hr) in honor of Alberto Zerain.
On 04 July, the Board of Spokespersons of the Town Hall of Vitoria-Gasteiz agreed to appoint Alberto Zerain as a favorite son of the city. It is an honor many are sure Zerain would have been proud of was he here to experience it in person.
Alberto Zerain During the 2008 K2 Disaster
Alberto Zerain lived life and climbed mountains in much the same way, with humble sincerity. One of his most character-defining stories takes us to back to K2, The King of Mountains in 2008.
Zerain, lacking resources that other expeditions had, struck a deal with a Sirdar whereby he would work as a porter to earn his keep and secure a site for his tent. He worked hard side-by-side with native mountain workers, something that is a rare sight in mountaineering. His actions earned him the respect of the locals, which said they had never seen a westerner climb like a Sherpa. His skill made him legendary, his humility made him unforgettable.
During that expedition, 11 climbers would die. But Zerain, who immediately noticed the vast case of Summit Fever afflicting climbers, assaulted the summit from Camp 3 and reached the peak first. He descended safely. Only when he reached Base Camp was he notified of the deaths that occurred behind him. That season became known as the 2008 K2 Disaster.
He climbed solo that expedition.
Alberto Zerain, 2x14x8000 & Nanga Parbat
Zerain had previously attempted Nanga Parbat in 2011. This time, he was climbing as part of the 2x14x8000 project that aimed to see Juanito Oiarzabal climb 14 of the world’s 8000 m. peaks twice, with Zerain as his partner. However, his failing health forced Oiarzabal to step out of the project, leaving Alberto Zerain to pick up where he left off.
In the Spring of 2016, Alberto met Mariano Galván, an Argentinian climber with whom he began to climb the project milestones. Both ascended Manaslu that year in separate assaults.
Two months ago, Zerain successfully submitted Annapurna via the French Route, and he proceeded to mark the next mountain on the list and chose Galván as his partner. In June, he and Galván attempted Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno Ridge. This would be their last ascent attempt.
On 24 June, the Base Camp team lost contact with Alberto and Mariano. It is believed that an avalanche swept over the Mazeno Ridge, killing both climbers who were acclimatizing there, sweeping away the camp and the surrounding area.
The deaths of these two great climbers leave a hole in the mountaineering community. Zerain’s memory will forever live on as part of the winds of Nanga Parbat, a mountain which has claimed many, who now act as Guardians of the Mountain. In 2017, we also lost the legendary Ueli Steck during Everest2017.
Nanga Parbat, The Killer Mountain
Nanga Parbat is known as the “Killer Mountain.” In 1970, Reinhold Messner lost his brother, Günther Messner, while on an expedition on Nanga Parbat. The mountain is prone to deadly avalanches. Even so, Messner himself advocates for the mountain to not be named a killer. He says mountains don’t kill people, they are just there. People die from accidents and weather phenomena. The mountain itself isn’t out to kill anyone.
In 2018, Elisabeth Revol was rescued from the mountain; she would lose her partner Tomasz Mackiewicz during their expedition.
In 2019, both Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi lost their lives on the mountain. They were declared dead after two weeks of no communication and image confirmation of their bodies made by Spanish climber Alex Txikon. Both were attempting to make a winter ascent on Nanga Parbat via the Mummery Spur, which has never been climbed.
From the Base Camp Magazine team, we’d like to say, Rest in Peace Alberto Zerain and Mariano Galván.