Best of ExplorersWeb 2007 Awards: Annapurna solo - Tomaz Humar, Himalaya

Posted: Dec 28, 2007 11:25 pm EST

We have covered close to a thousand expeditions in 2007. 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 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 2007.

Today number 4: Annapurna solo - Tomaz Humar, Himalaya

Attempting a new route on the sheer Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, alone and in very bad conditions, the climber was desperately trying to find a way through the maze of black, rotten snow. All of a sudden, a bad whiteout swept the wall.

All exits shutting into dead ends; heavy snowfall triggered avalanches over each rock and couloir. The labyrinth of ice and unsettled snow led nowhere; instead - huge blobs of wet ice fell from the wall. There was no way up, and no way down. Tomaz Humar realized he was trapped. Digging a tiny snow hole on a ridge, little did he know he would spend the next six days crouched in the refuge.

More than 4500m-long, Nanga Parbats Rupal face is considered the biggest wall in the world. Tomaz was lucky. A devoted home team, the internet and hard-core Pakistan pilots saved his butt.

I spent six days in a tiny snow hole, soaked and unable to move like a chicken in a fridge, recalled Tomaz. Prepared for a fast, light climb, I soon ran out of food and gas to melt snow for water. It was claustrophobic there was nothing I could do except for fight despair and wait for a rescue.

Tomaz asked BC for help already the second night in the cave, realizing he wouldn't be able to descend safely. Bad weather prevented the Pakistan Army helicopters to reach him. Pilots all over the world made themselves ready to come to Tomaz rescue, including the Mystery chopper which had just flown a record flight over Everest.

Meanwhile, Tomaz was in permanent contact with BC over radio, reporting his condition and listening to music and supporting emails relayed to him by his BC crew. The radio batteries lasted longer than his food and gas.

In the end, the Pakistan army literally lifted Tomaz off the mighty wall, perhaps the most heroic high altitude rescue by aircraft yet.


But not all were happy for Tomaz. He made poor choices, critics said, driven by media and fame. It was true that world media jumped on the drama of a stranded climber slowly dying on the Killer Mountain while reporting live several times a day! Not since Everest 1996 had a mountain got so much coverage. Humar said his website received over 60 millions hits the day he was airlifted from the wall, hanging from a rope thrown to him by the helicopter pilots.

Internet and media possibly saved Tomaz life. The rescue efforts were slow at first, but accelerated with the increasing coverage. Tomaz was not entirely grateful. Right before the expedition to Nanga, Tomaz had lost his main sponsor. The Rupal face climb was important to him. As the year 2005 came to its close, it was not clear how humbled the Slovenian had been by the experience.


On October 28th, 2007 an email from Asian Trekking dropped down like a bomb. Tomaz Humar had soloed Annapurna, it said.

Due to bad snowfall, this autumn only highly prepared routes on Shisha Pangma and Cho Oyu had been summited. Could this be real? And why hadn't we heard anything before?

A week later, the climb was confirmed by Humar's home team. It was a new route in pure alpine style along the right side of the South Face of Annapurna. He climbed on virgin terrain until 7500 meters where he met up with the East Ridge route which he took to the East Summit at 8047 meters. Humar climbed the route in only 2 days (roundtrip) in the terrible conditions of relentless rain and snow reported by all the other climbers in Himalaya.

"When I started climbing, the wind from north-northwest - called the Jet Stream became vicious, reaching speeds of 100-150 km/h. In 1997 the same kind of wind was the reason for the death of my partner Janez Jeglic, Tomaz said.

He wore no helmet or harness; he carried just bivy gear, some food and gas. He made a bivy at 7200 meters by digging a hole in the ice, in wind speeds greater than 100 km/h. He didn't sleep anyway, and left with sunbreak at 6 am. The juice he carried froze within the first hour. After the East Ridge at 7500 meters, he continued towards the East Summit (8047 meters) where he reached before 3 p.m.

He didn't continue across the ridge to the main summit (8091 m), which he had already summited in his first 8000er success back in 1995.

The wind had grown even stronger. Intense snow fall made the risk of avalanche more extreme. Tomaz began his descent without delay. The shadow of the snow cornice was growing long. As night closed in, Tomaz reached the start of the East Ridge.

"I am very tired and it has been a long time since I have been able to eat or drink," he recalled in his debrief. "It is completely dark and I cannot see any of my tracks. I am lost, but in my soul I know that God is with me. My headlamp is not working due to low temperatures and I have to wait in the cold and dark for the moon to rise before continuing. I reach my bivy at 7200 meters at 8:25 p.m. I am totally exhausted."

Late next day, Tomaz stumbled into base camp. Now, Himalaya offered chance for a little payback and Tomaz took it; before leaving BC the following afternoon - Humar and his crew organized a rescue of three Korean climbers on Annapurna Fang.

Ganging up on Tomaz?

Tomaz had done the coolest high altitude climb in Himalaya this fall, kept a low profile, and shot over a neat debrief.

But now the critics rallied again. All attention was focused on what he didn't do - rather than what he did do. This was a repeat of the Polish route, they said. When that checked out wrong, another route was brought forward - one that few knew anything about.

Basically, the message was that Tomaz lied - about his line at least. And there were other "facts" too. When Messner broke his arm trying to climb to a window in his castle, it was just a funny story. Humar's case was somehow different - editors criticized him for falling off his roof years ago.

A similar climb made by a team on the face some time back was dubbed "one of the greatest" that season. Tomaz instead was called "wimp" on climbing boards.

It was remarkable.

Checking facts

ExplorersWeb made maps, and also interviews with Annapurna south side climbers. They all agreed on two things - Humar's climb was cool, and they knew nothing about the "secret" Trommsdorff route that Humar supposedly had repeated.

The alleged route was described only briefly on Christian Trommsdorff's website, it was not registered by Liz Hawleys Himalayan Database and unknown by either Artur Hajzer, Piotr Pustelnik or Ueli Steck.

ExplorersWeb tried to contact Christian and finally received a reply. Christian said that yes, he had climbed the route. But he couldn't remember when exactly, there was no topo or images available and he referred us to his journalist buddies, one of which "had seen his slide show."

No wonder Humar could not have known about a previous route on this exact part of the face, if there was one such in fact. "Unless other information arrives straight from source; Humar is recognized as climbing a new route, solo and in alpine style on the face," ruled AdventureStats.

Reading the names of success, failure and casualties on Annapurna South is a 'who is who' in mountaineering. During a season that shot most other Himalaya attempts; Humar did the first solo climb on the face, in Alpine style and in one of the very few true solos made on 8000 meter peaks ever.

Fact is, Tomaz Humar came back from Nanga Parbat and he kicked ass. That too is an important part in the Spirit of Adventure.

By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

Previous in the countdown:
5. Silvio Mondinelli - 14 years, 14 summits, Himalaya
6. Dodo Kopold - 3, 8000ers in 4 months, Himalaya
7. Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich - North Pole retrace
8. Hannah McKeand, The fastest trek, South Pole

Special mention:

Jannu West Ridge First Ascent: Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov
Torres del Paine Base Jump: Valery Rozov
In the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan: Tim Cope
NW Passage in ice catamaran: Sebastien Roubinet
Lhotse Shar, G2 NF & Jasemba, Lhotse south near-winter ascent

More about Tomaz:

Tomaz Humar was born on February 18, 1969 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He currently lives in Stranje and works for the Customs Office in Ljubljana. He has been a member of the Kamnik branch of the Alpine Club since 1987, and completed 1500 ascents, 70 of them first ascents at home and abroad.

Tomaz most remarkable climbs have been tough climbs at slightly lower altitudes: New routes on Ama Dablam, Lobuche, Nuptse West, Dhaulagiri (no summit), Aconcagua South face, etc.

#Mountaineering #Polar #Space #Mountaineering #Oceans

Tomaz Humar's self-portrait shot on Annapurna two years back. courtesy of Tomaz Humar (click to enlarge).
Tomaz Humar's view from his second bivouac at 7200 m on Annapurna in 2007 (click to enlarge).
Detail of Annapurna south face (click to enlarge). Images and lines compiled by AdventureStats. Find larger images and descriptions on AdventureStats.
There was no way up, and no way down. Tomaz Humar realized he was trapped on Nanga's huge wall.
Utterly exhausted, Tomaz forgot to unhook his safety rope, which held him to his ice-covered home. The helicopter stretched the rope until it - luckily - tore loose, catapulting Tomaz up in the air he almost hit the helicopter! (Click to enlarge).
If you need climbing gear - Tomaz says to help yourself to this stuff he left in his ice cave on the wall.
The Pakistan Pilots did a heroic rescue, virtually ripping Tomaz off the wall.
Two years later, Tomaz was back. On Annapurna this time, and no media.
Close up of the ridge climbed by Kukuczka and Hajzer. Tomaz route is the snowy part to the right of the crest.
Rock Island (the lower part between 5000 and 5800 m). Insert, Tomaz route in red, Hajzer/Kukuczka yellow.
View from the top of the East Ridge.
Red line: Tomaz Humar 2007. Orange line: Hajzer-Kukuczka 1988. Photo: Tomaz Humar (click to enlarge).
Tomaz Humar just before the East Summit. He did the first solo climb there, in Alpine style and his climb is one of the very few true solos made on 8000 meter peaks ever. Nanga Parbat images courtesy Annapurna images shot by Tomaz Humar.

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