Broad Peak 1957: Austrian First Ascent
In 1957, a team of four Austrians: Marcus Schmuck, Herman Buhl, Fritz Wintersteller and Kurt Diemberger made an ascent of Broad peak. This climb was remarkable for a number of reasons, mostly to do with style:
It was without oxygen
They had no porters on the mountain, carrying everything themselves
All four team members summited (a first for an 8,000 metre peak)
By reaching the summit, Herman Buhl became the first person to make 2 first ascents of an 8,000er
And, to make this expedition all the more remarkable, following their ascent of Broad Peak, Markus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller made a flash, ascent of an nearby peak, Skilbrum, in pure alpine style. Starting from base camp at 4900 metres, they camped at 6,000 metres, made the summit the next day, then camped again at 6,000 metres, and then returned to base camp the next morning.
The whole ascent, from base camp to base camp was done in 53 hours!
From all of the above, this 1957 expedition was a wonderful precursor of the new style of climbing that what was to follow, for example, by Messner and Haebler.
But there was a dark side to this expedition as well. It suffered from interpersonal difficulties. By the time of the second successful summit attempt, the members were no longer climbing as a team of four, but as two teams of two: Schmuck and Wintersteller, and Buhl and Diemberger. Further, following the ascent of Skilbrum by Schmuck and Wintersteller, Buhl and Diemberger made an attempt on Chogolisa. It was on this attempt that Buhl was killed. Thus, the legacy of one of the most stunning expeditions in history of the Himalaya is dominated by the death of Buhl rather than its stellar accomplishments.
And, it also ended in tragedy with the death of Herman Buhl.
While Schmuck and Diemberger have both written books in German covering the expedition, the only accounts that have appeared in English by one of the participants are those by Diemberger. The first was an article in the 1958/59 edition of The Mountain World, and the second was in his 1971 book, Summits and Secrets. The latter is less an account of the expedition as a whole, than one of Diemberger's own personal experience during it. For example, Schmuck and Wintersteller do not figure much in Diemberger's account. On the one hand, given that this was an account of Diemberger's personal experience, this is understandable. On the other hand, this means that there was no real account of the expedition in English. A very brief account can be found in Baum's 1978, Sivalaya - the 8000-Metre Peaks of the Himalaya (which gives a good brief summary of the mountain's history). But this particular gap in the literature was not filled until the appearance of Chris Bonington's 1981 book, Quest for Adventure. (Note, the Broad Peak story did not appear in later editions.)
In telling his version of the expedition, Bonington clearly spoke to Diemberger and Schmuck. As a result, Bonington told a far more complete story of the expedition than did Diemberger. It was in Bonington's account that (in the English literature, at least) Schmuck and Wintersteller first came out from the background and emerged as the strongest members of the expedition. It was also in Bonington's account that the discord amongst the four team members first appeared in the English literature. In saying this, I am not being critical of Diemberger. At the time that he wrote his account, it was simply not considered appropriate to air one's dirty laundry in public. Furthermore, Reinhold Schmuck, Marcus' son showed me the original of a letter from the then governor of Salzburg (and later Chancellor of Austria). It asked Marcus not to write or speak publicly about any of the differences amongst the team. So, if Diemberger's account reads like the expedition was one happy team, that is understandable, and he cannot - in my opinion - be criticized for that.
The next account of the 1957 Austrian expedition to Broad Peak to appear in English was Messner & Höfler's, Herman Buhl: Climbing Without Compromise, published in 2000. The bulk of the account that appears here is made up of selected excerpts of a 7-part report on the climb prepared by Herman Buhl while in base camp. (Note that this report, is distinct from Buhl's climbing diaries. The former was typewritten and intended to be read by others. The diaries were hand-written and were personal, meant for himself. One can reasonably assume that there would be differences in how the two present the events of the expedition. However, I have not been able to look at this. The diaries have not been made public. However, they are being prepared for publicaton in German by Piper Verlag in Munich. However, it was the report, not the diaries, that are quoted in the book by Messner and Höfler. It is important to keep this in mind.) These excerpts from Buhl's report are augmented in the Messner and Höfler book by commentary by them. In the excerpts, Buhl makes only two brief references to any discord: annoyance that Schmuck and Wintersteller set off early on summit day, and a comment that "...Quader [the Pakinstani liason officer] had already told Fritz [Wintersteller] that morning that it was not right to leave us [Buhl & Diemberger] to clear the camps, while they went off climbing without our knowledge - to a mountain we had always talked about climbing together." Over all, the account by Messner & Höfler suggests none of the serious discord found in Bonington's account
Note, when I asked them about this in person in November 2005, both Quadar Saeed and Fritz Wintersteller deny Buhl's second point. Quadar emphasizes that he gave permission for Schmuck and Wintersteller to go to Skilbrum. As for clearing camps, this version by Buhl gives the impression that Schmuck and Wintersteller were not putting their weight, and that he and Diemberger were having to do an unfair share of the work. This is simply not an accurate representation of the facts, as I understand them. Bonington's account is consistent with what Fritz Wintersteller told me, namely, that all four had agreed that they would clear their own personal gear, as well as their share of the expedition gear, such as tentage. Schmuck and Wintersteller did this on their descent from the summit. Buhl and Diemberger (apparently due to fatigue), did not. Rather, after summitting, they descended to base camp leaving their gear on the mountain. Consequently, after resting, they had to reascend to high camp to clear their share.
So, while Buhl was understandably upset that Wintersteller and Schmuck went off to climb Skilbrum without Diemberger and him, it is equally understanable that Schuck and Wintersteller did so.
There are a few reasons that I say so, based largely on my conversations with Fritz Wintersteller and Quadar Saeed. First, as Bonington points out, the relationship between the two teams was very bad even before making the final successful summit attempt. This was further agravated by Schmuck and Wintersteller's anger that Buhl and Diemberger had not cleared their gear on their descent, and that they had taken unjustifiable risk in going to the summit so late. As to the former point, this meant that if all four were to go to Skilbrum, Schmuck and Wintersteller would have had to wait around in base camp for a few days while the other two went back up to do their share of stripping the camps. Second, Quader had gotten a report that said that the window of good weather was short, so if they were going to go, they could not wait. (The weather that Diemberger and Buhl encountered on Chogolisa is a testament to the accuracy of this report.). Third, based on Diemberger and (especially) Buhl's perfomance on summit day on Broad Peak, Wintersteller and Schmuck would not have gone with them even if they had been in camp. Their performance and fitness level (made even more clear by their not clearing camps on the way down) was simply not up to the lightening ascent that would be required in order to get up and down Skilbrum before the weather changed. However, Wintersteller made one other thing clear to me when asked the direct question: if Diemberger and Buhl had of been at base camp, and if they had of booth been fit enough to keep up, they would absolutely have gone as a foursome, despite the previous problems.
Coming back to the literature, the next account of the 1957 first ascent of Broad was in Sale and Cleare's Climbing the World's 14 Highest Mountains: The History of the 8000-Meter Peaks, published in 2000. In preparing the section on Broad Peak, Sale spoke with both Fritz Wintersteller and Marcus Schmuck. He also included photos from Kurt Diemberger. According to Sale, the inclusion of the photos was contingent on an agreement that Diemberger could check the text for errors (but not have the right to make changes). Be that what it may, Sale's claim is that his UK Publishers, (HarperCollins), changed his text prior to publication, on Diemberger's insistance, and did so without informing him. On seeing the published account, Wintersteller and Schmuck contacted Sale to register their sense of betrayal that the version published was not consistent with what they had told him. (Wintersteller had also written to Höfler to contest the accuracy of the account, based on Buhl's report, found in the Messner and Höfler book.)
This incident led to the most recent account of the expedition, Richard Sale's 2004 book, Broad Peak. This is by far the most extensive account of the expedition. And while it is very consistent with the account by Bonington, it is nevertheless, turning out to be the most controversial.
In the next part of this essay (to be completed when I have a bit more time) I will go into detail about this book and the issues emerging from the controversy surrounding it. For the time being, the reader is referred to my review of Sale's book.
Baume, Louis. (1978). Sivalaya - the 8000-Metre Peaks of the Himalaya
Bonington, C. (1981). Quest for Adventure.
Diemberger, K. (1959). "Broad Peak". In Malcolm Barnes (Ed.). The Mountain World 1958/59. London: George Allen & Company, 126-141.
Diemberger, K. (1971). Summits and Secrets. In Diemberger, K. (1999). The Kurt Diemberger Omnibus.
Messner, R. & Höfler, H. (2000). Herman Buhl
Sale, Richard (2004). Broad Peak.
Sale, Richard & Cleare, John. (2000). Climbing the World's 14 Highest Mountains
Autor: Bill Buxton, firstname.lastname@example.org
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