He tamed the foul-tempered princess in his 6th attempt and became the 12th climber in the world to complete all the 14, 8000ers without supplementary oxygen. Only now was the great Himalayan saga of the quiet ace climbing brothers Blanc and Kuntner truly over.
Annapurna, May 2005: three teams are on the mountain in a joint summit push. Somewhere between camp 2 and camp 3, a big serac breaks off. The falling ice plummets past the climbers located higher up, and heads straight for Christian Kuntner and Abele Blanc.
"Six grown men sat around him crying" wrote Brendan Cusick about Christian Kuntner’s last hours.
Late May Abele was recovering in Kathmandu, in shock, unable to recognize companions, but alright.
Everyone knew how hard the loss of Christian was on him. During one of their attempts of Annapurna, when he watched his mate fight for his life on the slope, a note in his diary showed how deeply Abele had feared something like this.
“All the ifs and buts of life rained down around me compelling me to shed bitter tears of compassion," Abele wrote. "All my certainties were just rubbish in front of the possible loss of a beloved friend and the pain I would have brought to their loved ones.”
"We have lived like real men"
Abele Blanc first came to Himalaya in 1982. He waited a decade for his first summit in 1992, Mount Everest. It would take another seven years before he found his perfect climbing partner, Christian Kuntner.
With similar climbing skills and the same attitude towards mountaineering, the 1999 season in the Karakoram, when they climbed both GI and GII, was the beginning of a long friendship.
They were both pursuing Annapurna's evasive summit to finish the Fourteen Great ones. In 2002 by the East Ridge. The next year via the South Face, in a climb that inspired one of Abele's memorable diary notes:
“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 [...], because only the Mountain can perform miracles."
Taming the princess and losing a friend
When they attempted Annapurna for the third time in 2004, they had made already four expeditions together. They returned again in 2005.
Notorious for its avalanches, Annapurna is the deadliest of the 8000ers and you don't even have to do something wrong. Just being there shrinks your chance of survival. In their fourth year on the peak, Kuntner simply ran out of odds.
Blanc returned in 2006 but another tragedy, the loss of a son, forced him to leave prematurely for home.
It took four years before he came back to Himalaya. He went straight to Everest, becoming one of the few to summit it without oxygen. The victory was what he needed to find strength to return to Annapurna.
And so, at last, on April 26th this year, Abele tamed the foul-tempered princess in his 6th attempt. He became the 23rd climber in the world to complete al the 14, 8000ers, and only the 12th to do so without supplementary oxygen.
"We'll open the bottle anyway"
Only now was the great Himalayan saga of the quiet ace climbing brothers Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner truly over.
The soul of the two mountaineers' climbs remains, summarized in Abele's final dispatch from Annapurna in fall 2003. After yet another failed attempt, Abele wrote:
“This evening, once again reunited in the big tents of base camp, we’ll open the bottle of champagne anyway."
"It was supposed to celebrate the climb to the peak, but as this is now precluded, we’ll celebrate what has brought our group close together in an extraordinary way, and this adventure that we have shared.”
The accomplished climbers were not so well known among the international climbing community, or the general media. Both Kuntner and Blanc were rather shy, avoiding widely advertised expeditions and big media fuss.
Abele Blanc has an aura of old-time chivalry about him. A mountain guide by heart and breed – he was born in Aosta Valley, at the foot of Mont Blanc – his character is similar to those described in the old, epic mountaineering novels from the first half of the twentieth century about heroic mountain guides in the Alps. His online diary is full of deep impressions and beautiful descriptions of the experiences he lives and the places he’s passed through.
Also this year, Mingma Sherpa, 32, became the first Nepali to summit all 14 8000ers. Unfortunately Mingma also became involved in an ugly climbing situation that was later denied, although not entirely convincingly, by the victim.
Previous Awards in 2011
Adrian Ballinger: Manaslu ski descent
Erden Eruc: Indian Ocean row finish
Arjun Vajpai: youngest on Lhotse and Manaslu
Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry: kiting the NW passage
Erik Boomer & Jon Turk, Ellesmere Island
Irena Mrak and Mojca Svajger, Nanga Parbat Diamir face
Christian Eide, South Pole Speed Record
Ueli Steck - Shishapangma speed climb
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2011. 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 6 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.
By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
#Mountaineering #topstory #choice
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