We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2005. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2005.
Today number 5: Ed Viesturs and Christian Kuntner
Only twelve men have stood on the summit of the tallest mountains in the world - the 14, 8000ers. The quest takes a lifetime, if not life itself. Out of the 23 aspiring climbers currently on the 10-13 summits list, 6 have died - 2 only in the past spring.
A great adventure holds equal parts of challenge, danger and heart. While great spirit and technical difficulty can be found elsewhere, nothing beats the 8000ers when it comes to risk.
You can get away with it once, or twice - if weather and conditions are great. But to survive the death zone over and over again is only for the strongest and the boldest - and the lucky ones.
Two men were headed to Himalaya this past spring. Their objective the same - the ultimate summit, to be met on the same mountain - Annapurna.
Within a few weeks, one would crown a 16 year long quest with victory. The other would lose his life, so close to his dream he almost touched it. This ExplorersWeb award cannot go to one, without the other.
Although American mountaineers had accomplished great technical climbs around the world, few had dared to venture into the deathzone. Instead, climbers such as Reinhold Messner, Jerzy Kukuczka, Alberto Iñurrategi, and Carlos Carsolio ruled the top of the world.
Ed Viesturs changed that when he climbed to 8000+ summits 20 times. The first from the United States to enter the prestigious list of all 14, 8000ers, Ed's 16 year long battle ended only this past May on Annapurna 1. Moreover, the American climber became one of only five men in the world to accomplish the quest entirely without supplementary oxygen.
Tyrolean Christian Kuntner was not well known in the international climbing community, never mind the general media. Like Messner, Kuntner, 43, was born in Stelvio meadows (South Tyrol). Unlike Messner, Kuntner rejected the notion of being a climbing celebrity. I climb for myself, not for anyone else. I dont have anything to prove, he said.
Christian's climbing life included mates such as Wanda Rutkiewicz and Krzysztof Wielicki until he met Italian Abele Blanc in 1999. The rope mates became inseparable. Kuntner climbed North Faces and 8000ers with the same zest, in 2002, he and Abele climbed 64 of the Alps 84, 4000ers. Bad weather conditions prevented them from climbing them all, but Christian expected to finish the call this past summer. First however, both headed for their final 8000er - Annapurna - their third attempt on the peak, and fifth expedition together.
The American had much in common with the Tyrolean. It was Ed's third attempt on the peak, his advice to a new generation of climbers; "Climb for the fun of climbing and do it only for yourself."
Ed Viesturs and his long time climbing partner Veikka Gustafsson planned for a swift and light ascent, prepared to find a route and fix necessary ropes on Annapurna once they arrived there. They would pre-acclimatize on Cho Oyu and then go straight up on Anna, to minimize their exposure on her hazardous slopes.
On Cho Oyu the team's camera man became altitude sick and the group split up. Ed helped the climber down, to enable Veikka an attempt for the summit, which Ed had climbed an earlier year. That's when they heard news from Annapurna: An Italian team was in place, fixing ropes. When Ed and Veikka helicoptered to Anna's BC, the Italians invited them to join their summit push. Destiny had decided to lend Ed a hand at the very end: Thanks to the fixed ropes, he and Veikka were able to climb the complex and dangerous north face swiftly.
Before he knew it, Ed was only a day away from the elusive top, sitting out a three day storm at almost 23,000'. "I had told myself that perhaps I'd never summit Annapurna 1," he told ExWeb, but ready or not, it was D-day for Ed. Summit day came cold and windy, 1200 meters remained. The thin air deprived the climbers of strength; the lack of oxygen attacked their mind with confused depression. It was difficult to find courage to survive - let alone to strive.
"I had to stay focused the whole day to push higher and higher," Ed said. "Finally seeing the summit closing in, the surge of adrenalin gave me additional strength."
11 hours later Ed's lifelong pursuit was over; "It took 16 years for me to complete this quest and I had finally achieved it," he told ExWeb. "As we wandered back to basecamp it started to snow and for me it felt like Christmas - I had just received the greatest gift of all - the summit of Annapurna."
Christian: ""How long will this Mountain want to fight me?"
For two months we have lived like real men, courageous, loyal, in fraternity, solidly and idealistically - it was worth it... Only one certainty remains, from tomorrow we will go back to being the usual selfish bastards who fool friends and play with others emotions - because only the Mountain succeeds in performing miracles.
The words Abele Blanc's - in a 2003 closing dispatch on Annapurna, amid the fall season's gale force winds that ripped up their tents and nearly blew them off of their perch on the edge of a crevasse.
The climb had been very hard, and Abele had stayed behind for the last summit push. He watched in anguish as his team mates including Christian continued to ascend toward Camp 3: All the ifs and buts of life rained down around me compelling me to shed bitter tears of compassion, all my certainties were just rubbish in front of the possible loss of a beloved friend and the pain I would have brought to his loved ones, he wrote.
The men survived, but back in BC, Christian wrote a desperate entry in his diary: "How long will this Mountain want to fight me? For two days, I thought that, at last, Annapurna was holding its hand to me in friendship. Just before starting to abseil, I raised my head and looked at the summit, muttering to myself: I'll come back, and, this time, please let me have you."
The men who had fixed the ropes for Ed and Veikka had failed their own summit attempt. May 18, the Italians were attempting Annapurna again and this time, they were joined not by Ed and Veikka - but by Christian and Abele. Two years after their last attempt, both men were back for their ultimate summit. With Ed securing the number twelve position, Christian and Abele were up for number 13 on the prestigious all 8000ers list.
Somewhere between camp 2 and camp 3, a big serac broke off. The falling ice rained past the other climbers and went straight for Christian. The climber died of inner hemorrhages in his friend's arms - only a few thousand feet below their ultimate summit. A brief moment in time had come to an end - the great Himalayan saga of the shy ace climbing brothers Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner was over.
This year's tale of triumph and tragedy on the 14, 8000er list was more than telling of the reality on our world's highest peaks. And yet the soul of the two mountaineers climbs remains a great example of the true spirit of a climbing life. Summarized in Abele's final dispatch from Annapurna in 2003:
This evening, once again reunited in the big tents of base camp, well still open the bottle of champagne. It was supposed to celebrate the climb to the peak, but as this is now precluded, well celebrate what has brought our group close together in an extraordinary way, and this adventure that we have shared.
Ed and Christian stay in our memory for courage, idealism, determination, comradeship and the spirit of a climbing life.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
6. Didier Delsalle and his Mystery Chopper - for pioneering, courage, ingenuity, and magic.
7. Broad Peak SW face - for pioneering, courage, self reliance and persistence.
8. Expedition Siberia - for heart and Shackleton Spirit.
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Marcin Miotk - for his self-sufficiency and courage to speak up.
Minoru Saito - for his humble life of great adventures.
Pavel Rezvoy - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Fedor Konyukhov, the Renaissance explorer - for his pursuit of fairness.
More about the 14, 8000ers
Viesturs became the 12th member of an elite council inaugurated in 1986 by Tyrolean legend Reinhold Messner on the summit of Lhotse. The second 14 summit knight was Jerzy Kukuczka, now considered perhaps the best climber in history. Jerzy made all the 8000er summits in less than eight years, setting a record that has yet to be broken. In addition, most of his climbs were first- or winter ascents, all except one without oxygen. It would take nine years before the next climber completed the list of the 14, 8000ers - that's when Loretan came in, at spot number 3.
Some relatively unknown climbers have astonished the international community when they stood on the summit of their final 8000er. Such was the case for the three Koreans on the list; and Alberto Iñurrategi, who summited them all in elegant style and without O2 when he was only in his early thirties. Viesturs will never forget Alberto. They were together, on Annapurna, when Alberto completed the list by bagging the second-ever ascent of the SE ridge along with Jean Christophe Lafaille. It was a bold climb, so risky that Ed opted to retreat before the definite summit push: Conditions were far from safe.
The first American who summited all the 8000ers was actually from Mexico: The amazing Carlos Carsolio accomplished the goal and became the youngest to complete all 14. He held that distinction until the Basque climber Alberto snatched the title from him. Both were 33 when they completed, but Alberto was a couple of months younger. Carlos climbed all 14 without oxygen, but emergency oxygen on Makalu dropped him from the no O2 list.
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