Tom Ballard: who was the climber who disappeared on Nanga Parbat with Daniele Nardi - and was he found?

Ballard’s sister Kate will retrace his steps as pieces together his last climb in BBC Two documentary ‘The Last Mountain’

BBC Two will air a documentary in which the family of Tom Ballard, the British alpinist who went missing in 2019 while ascending the ninth highest mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat, will retrace his final climb using footage from his own camera.

Ballard was best known for completing the first solo winter ascent of the six major alpine north faces in a single season, aged just 26.

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The BBC documentary will follow his sister, Kate, as she visits Nanga Parbat and shares family footage and shots from Tom’s solo climbs, including footage from the days before he went missing.

So, what happened to him and what can you expect from ‘The Last Mountain’? This is what you need to know.

Who was Tom Ballard?

Tom Ballard was born in October 1988, the son of mountain climbers Jim Ballard and Alison Hargreaves.

Hargreaves achieved fame both as the first female solo ascensionist of Mount Everest, and for completing the first solo ascents of the six alpine north faces in a single summer season.

Ballard was brought up in Derbyshire with his younger sister, until their mother died while descending K2, the second peak measured in the Karakoram Range, in 1995.

Ballard, aged six at the time of his mother’s death, had waved her off at the foot of the mountain - alongside his father and sister. Following his mother’s death, the family moved to Fort William, a town at the foot of Ben Nevis in Scotland.

Ballard later moved to the Alps and then to the Dolomites, where he would meet fiance Stefania Pederiva.

He began climbing at a young age and reached the summit of Alpine routes in the Alps, the Dolomites, and in the Himalayas.

He climbed a new rock route on the Eiger in 2009, naming it "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and completed the unaided climb of the Eiger winter route "Piola-Sprungli" in 2010, aged 21.

In 2013, he tackled first free ascent in winter of "Olimpia – going for gold" on Catinaccio in the Dolomites, and a new route on the Agassizhorn in the Bernese Oberland that he named "If Gengis can, we can!".

It was his expedition in December 2014  which would put him on the map as a trailblazing alpinist.

Across four months, he completed a project known as "Starlight and Storms", solo climbing the six major alpine north faces - the Cima Grande di Lavaredo, the Piz Badile, the Matterhorn, the Grandes Jorasses, the Petit Dru and the Eiger.

He became the first person to complete this feat in a single winter season unaided, while documenting the climb on camera. The footage was later turned into a film, Tom, which won several awards at international film festivals.

As well as other impressive climbs, he attempted the previously unclimbed North East face of Link Sar in Pakistan with Italian climber Daniele Nardi in 2017.

What happened on Nanga Parbat?

In February 2019, Tom and three other climbers took off on the hopes of scaling Nanga Parbat, in Pakistan.

Among the group was Italian climber Daniele Nardi, 42.

As snowfall began to make the mountain terrain unbearable, two of the climbers turned back while Ballard and Nardi decided to continue on.

Tom and Daniele went missing during a Winter expedition on Nanga Parbat

The last communication with the two climbers was on 24 February, on 28 February they were reported missing and it was thought they had been killed by an avalanche.

Rescue attempts were delayed due to extreme weather and ongoing tensions between Pakistan and India.

Nanga Parbat, Pakistan's second-highest mountain

Approximately €148,000 was raised to support the rescue mission, which involved high altitude drones, specialist mountaineers and helicopters.

On 9 March, Spanish climber Alex Txikon found the bodies on the Mummery Spur trail, described by some as as ‘suicide slope,’ at about 5,900m (19,356ft), after spotting two "silhouettes" using a high-definition telescope.

Pictures from the scene were shown to the families of the missing climbers, who confirmed their identities.

The Italian diplomat to Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, said the recovery of the bodies was "possible" but "dangerous".

Footage published by the Italian ambassador footage showed the two figures close together on a small patch of snow surrounded by jagged rocks.

He said the bodies will be difficult to reach but everything possible would be done to try and recover them.

"I am told by the escorts it is possible [to recover the bodies], there is a technique called the ‘long line technique’, which they can use in this case," he told BBC Radio Derby.

Ballard’s sister, Kate, thanked people for their support, while writing on Facebook: "Tom and Daniele’s bodies will remain with their mountain. Their souls have moved on.

"Tom - Be with Mum."

It is not known whether their bodies were recovered.

What is ‘The Last Mountain’ about?

BBC Two aired a documentary about Ballard’s mother’s climb, back in 1995, including footage from her young children waving her off at the base camp of K2. The film was named ‘Alison’s Last Climb’.

In tribute to Tom, the channel has now created a compelling feature-length documentary about Tom. He died at almost the same age in the same mountain range, The Last Mountain follows Kate on a parallel trip to say goodbye to her brother on Nanga Parbat.

The documentary will use archived footage from 1995, as well as Tom’s own footage taken up until the days before his death, to explore why he and Daniele Nardi continued their ascent after the other two members of the expedition turned back.

BBC Two described the documentary as “combining 25 years of intimate, unseen family archive with footage of the family, the documentary tells the unforgettable story of a family who lived - and were prepared to die for - the love of scaling the icy heights of the world’s highest peaks.

“It explores what it is that drives people to pit themselves against nature at its most ferocious and unforgiving.”

When is ‘The Last Mountain’ on TV?

The Last Mountain will air on BBC Two at 9pm on Sunday 26 September.

The 90 minute long film will then be available to watch on demand, on BBC iPlayer.