Tom Ballard was a striking figure in the solo climbing scene. In his short-lived life, he became the first person to solo climb the six major alpine north faces in just one winter season. Although an avalanche took his life in 2019 on the ninth tallest mountain in the world. Only 100 miles away from the place where his mother lost her life 24 years prior. Leaving behind a legacy in mountain climbing essence.
Despite his young age at the time of his death, he had already sealed quite a reputation as one of the greatest climbers of our time. He was also known for being bold and innovative in his decisions.
Tom Ballard was ‘born into’ mountaineering
Many would argue that Ballard was ‘born into’ mountaineering. Both of his parents, Jim Ballard and Alison Hargreaves, already hold their status as respected mountaineers. His mother, Alison, was the first woman to ever summit Everest without the requirement of assistance of Sherpas. She carried her belongings and did not use bottled oxygen.
Born in 1988 in Derbyshire, England, Tom was often exposed to peaks, base camps and mountaineering expeditions. This often took place when he, along with his sister Kate and their father would accompany their mother on her expeditions through the Himalayas and the Alps.
In 1995, when Tom was just 7 years old, the family relocated to the Scottish Highlands in order to support Hargreaves’ climbing training as she prepared to climb Everest. She passed away later that year during a climbing accident on K2. The same mountain range that would later claim Tom’s life in eerily similar circumstances.
The Alps, the birthplace of a pioneer
Creating new routes
Tom, Kate and their father later moved to the Alps, followed by the Dolomites in 2009. It is noted that it was there that Tom really branched out and carved his status as a pioneer. He became especially known for creating new routes. During his first year of living in the Alps, being 21 at the time, Tom climbed his first of several new routes on the Eiger.
He later named them the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Tom gave an interview with The Alpinist in 2009. He stated that during his first free ascent of the Scottish Pillar, he came to the realisation that there were several inconsistencies in the way that the routes were established and drawn, leading him to create a new one.
The Alps’ North Faces
He said ‘The Eiger is like another family member!’. ‘My ‘experience’ started before I was born – my mum climbed the ‘1938’ Heckmair Route in 1988 whilst six months pregnant with me! In summer 1993 she soloed the Lauper Route as part of her Six North Faces project to climb the six great north faces of the Alps alone, in one season. I was with my father and sister waiting down in Grindelwald.’
The Eiger is like another family member!Tom Ballard
These early-on unique and meaningful experiences regarding the mountains are what most likely fuelled Tom’s future interest in scaling amazing heights of some of the world’s tallest peaks. And it even captured the interest of his sister, Kate. He also spoke to the Alpinist about the time both of them went on an expedition on the Eiger, during which time Kate set herself a new record.
During the time between December 2014 and March 2015, he embarked on a project called ‘Starlight and Storms’. Tom solo climbed the six major alpine north faces, nearly 20 years after his mother – telling the BBC that it was “just a coincidence”. His mammoth feat was documented in a 2015 film by the name of “Tom”. Which went on to win Best Mountaineering Film and multiple film awards shows around the world.
Tom Ballard’s accident on Nanga Parbat
In 2019 it was reported that Tom had gone missing during one of his climbing expeditions in Nanga Parbat while experiencing extreme bad weather. Nanga Parbat is an enormous mountain in Pakistan that has claimed the lives of numerous climbers over the years. Tom attempted a route which is known as the Mummery Spur along with his climbing partner Daniele Nardi. He also accompanied him on his previously unsuccessful attempt at climbing the North-East face of Link Sar in Pakistan.
Prior to their disappearance, Tom posted on Facebook saying that he and Daniele were enjoying their time while waiting for the weather to improve. ‘Basecamp life is becoming, almost, like a holiday while we wait for that elusive weather window,’ Tom wrote on February 19, this being his last post.
A grand-scale rescue mission was launched on February 24. It contained high-altitude drones, military helicopters and mountaineers but it was all altered due to heavy snowfall. And, according to the BBC, the tension between India and Pakistan at that time. Their tent was discovered buried by an avalanche, yet there was still no sign of either of the climbers.
On day 6, with no success in finding Tom or Daniele, the search was shut down. However, the following day a Basque climber reported a sighting of the outline of two bodies strung together on the Mummery Spur. Later, the two climbers were declared dead after images were shared with both families and identified.
Tom Ballard, one of the most adventurous solo climbers
Tom remains known as being one of the most adventurous solo climbers of this generation. And had his time not been cut short, he most certainly would have achieved groundbreaking achievements in the world of climbing.
His life and what he leaves behind were documented in the 2021 BBC film “The Last Mountain”. It covers moments when his sister Kate visits Nanga Parbat. She retraces his last steps and shares family footage. It includes shots captured from Tom’s solo days before his disappearance. The movie honours the great climber, Tom Ballard.