In the reconstruction of postwar Austria's national self-esteem, sporting achievements in the mountains played a predictably significant role. During the 1950s, as transport and equipment improved, climbers scrambled to conquer the world's 14 mountains that top 8,000 metres. Austrians would reach the summits of five of them.
In 1957, Marcus Schmuck, who has died aged 80, led the first successful expedition to Broad Peak, in Pakistan's Karakoram range. At 8,047m, the mountain is the world's 12th highest, located on the border with China, just south of the vast, alluring pyramid of K2. Schmuck was one of the first two men to reach the summit, but his moment of glory was overshadowed by the death of his team-member Hermann Buhl, then the most famous mountaineer in Europe.
Born in the village of Maria Alm, just outside Salzburg, Schmuck had been conscripted during the war, serving and being captured in Normandy. After his repatriation, he trained as an electrician and married, pursuing his passion for the mountains as a hobby rather than a career.
Yet despite limited holidays and scant resources, Schmuck became one of the most impressive climbers in Austria. In 1949, he led the way on the east face of the Fleischbank, in the Wilder Kaiser, a route that Buhl himself had attempted with almost fatal consequences, after he fell 50m from the critical section. The route is still known as the Schmuckkamin, or Schmuck's Chimney.
By the time the two men met, at the Gaudeamus hut in Schmuck's beloved Wilder Kaiser mountains, Buhl was already a hero, following his ascent of Nanga Parbat. A mutual friend described the event as like a "summer storm", as the two men swapped stories from their years in the mountains, sniffing round each other to judge if their reputations were deserved. Very soon, they formed a formidable climbing team.
Buhl was arguably the first modern climber, hunting sponsorship deals and making his living through books and lectures. It was in his interest to garner attention. Schmuck, on the other hand, remained an amateur, who was only interested in raising funds for trips he could not afford. He was also motivated by curiosity to travel, rather than by a quest for sporting achievement.
Schmuck had already explored Morocco, and, in 1955, did a number of new routes in Spitsbergen. Inevitably, his thoughts turned to the Himalayas. Climbing a big mountain was the obvious challenge, and by then there were only five of the 14 8,000m peaks left. With an Austrian expedition already committed to attempt Gasherbrum II in 1956, Schmuck settled on Broad Peak in Pakistan.
It was not in Schmuck's nature to imitate the large-scale expeditions of the 1950s, relying, as they did, on teams of porters carrying tons of supplies, not just to the bottom of the peak but to well-stocked camps on the mountain. His idea was to raise a little money, head off with his new friend Buhl and climb above base camp alone. Buhl might have been a star, but he had fallen out with Austria's climbing establishment in the process.
Schmuck's suggestion of a lightweight and cheap expedition offered him the chance to go back - this time on his own terms - to a mountain that had defeated the glitterati of Austrian climbing in 1954. As the two men laid their plans, they gathered enough cash to bring a third member, so Schmuck invited Fritz Wintersteller, a friend from Spitsbergen. Wintersteller was prodigiously strong - his family were known locally as "the bulls" - and happily good-natured. Later, as more cash flowed in, Buhl's literary collaborator, Kurt Maix, persuaded them to take Kurt Diemberger, a young student and rising star.
Their first attempt ended in failure at the mountain's fore-summit, and, in the aftermath, it became clear that the team had profound differences. According to their diaries, Schmuck and Wintersteller felt Diemberger was not pulling his weight. It also transpired that Buhl and Diemberger, who idolised the hero of Nanga Parbat, had privately agreed to climb to the summit together.
Despite a sense of betrayal at Buhl's behaviour, all four climbers returned to the mountain in early June, battling the thin air and steep slopes to reach the summit on June 9. Schmuck and Wintersteller reached the top first, at 5pm, followed by Diemberger an hour later, and Buhl later still. They had succeeded with a method of climbing that was revolutionary, but that would only be regarded as the ideal in the late 1970s.
After the climb, Buhl and Diemberger left on what they said would be a photographic mission but was, in fact, a secret attempt to climb a slightly lower peak, Chogolisa. Close to the summit, Buhl, who had been plagued with ill health, stepped through a snow cornice and fell to his death. Inevitably, given his fame and ability, the mercurial Buhl's disappearance overshadowed Schmuck's achievement, and he never received the credit he deserved. While Buhl and Diemberger had their versions of the expedition translated into English, and Buhl's posthumous reputation grew, Schmuck and Wintersteller were forgotten.
Schmuck continued climbing for the next 45 years, leading more than 70 expeditions all over the world - from Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, to China and north Africa - only stopping, at the age of 75, on the advice of his doctor.
In later years, he cared for his ailing wife Heidi, who survives him, along with their two sons and daughter.
· Marcus Schmuck, mountaineer, born April 18 1925; died August 21 2005
Autor: Ed Douglas
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