Broad Peak 1957: Austrian First Ascent
Broad Peak 1957: Austrian First Ascent
In 1957, a team of four Austrians: Marcus Schmuck, Hermann 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, Hermann Buhl became the first person to make 2 first ascents of a mountain over 8,000 metres.
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 a nearby peak, Skil Brum (7,420 m) in pure alpine style. Starting from base camp at 4900 metres, they camped at 6,060 metres, then made the summit the following day. They returned to their 6,060 metre camp that night, and then descended to their base camp in the 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, as exemplified later in the climbs by Messner and Habeler.
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 Skil Brum by Schmuck and Wintersteller, Buhl and Diemberger made an attempt on Chogolisa (7,654 m). It was on this attempt that Buhl was killed. Thus, the legacy of one of the most stunning expeditions in history of the Himalaya has been dominated by the shadow of Hermann Buhl’s death rather than by its stellar accomplishments.
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, "Broad Peak: The Austrian Karakoram Expedition 1957", in the 1958/59 edition of The Mountain World. The second was in his 1971 book, Summits and Secrets. It is interesting to compare these two texts, especially in light of the controversy around the history of this climb, and Diemberger's role in it.
Both of these Diemberger accounts are relatively short (25 vs. 28 pages, respectively), and in many ways similar. Rather than telling the story of the expedition as a whole, each is more an account of Diemberger's own personal experience during it. This is especially true in the Summits and Secrets version. For example, Schmuck and Wintersteller do not figure much in either of these accounts by Diemberger. On the one hand, this is understandable. Diemberger was telling his own story. On the other hand, this means that there was no full account of the expedition in English. We shall come back to this. What I want to touch on first has to do with what is different between the two versions, what is left out, and what changes between the two.
First, despite frequently reusing much the same text, these two versions are very different in style. The version in The Mountain World is written in a somewhat objective style, one that you would expect in a mountaineering journal. The later version moves to a far more emotional style of writing - one which is far closer to the language of a poet or writer of romantic fiction, rather than that of the prototypical calculating mountaineer. The other thing of note in this second telling is the stronger role played by Buhl – perhaps more accurately, the role played by Diemberger's relationship with Buhl. This is manifest in comments like, "Hermann Buhl was well-disposed towards me, I knew it from frequent small touches, such as suggestions he might throw out, and I was glad. He would often explain to me, in a paternal manner, ..." What Diemberger glosses over in such statements are the arguments that he and Buhl had throughout the expedition. Perhaps most significantly were those that occurred while they were on Chogolisa. For example, Buhl's diaries of June 23rd – 4 days before he died – recount two serious arguments that saw them tent-bound in bad weather, and not on speaking terms.
To be fair, at high altitude, the way that your otherwise best friend rolls over in their sleeping bag can cause an explosive argument. This is not always obvious to armchair mountaineers at sea level. But nevertheless, Buhl’s diaries contradict the story of bliss that pervades Diemberger’s accounts, and so warrant mention.
The other thing that Diemberger does in this second version is add comments that build up Buhl's role at the expense of others. For example, "Hermann had handed over the over-all leadership of the expedition to him [Schmuck]. " This is a statement that speaks to events that occurred before Diemberger was on the team, and therefore can have no direct knowledge. It is also a statement that does not accurately reflect the documented evidence. Rather, it confirms that Buhl did no such thing; rather, Schmuck was leader because the Austrian Alpine Club (especially Buhl's Innsbruck section) refused to contribute financing if Buhl was the leader. Perhaps a small point, or a quibble. However, it is out of such small points, even when innocently intended, that later controversies often arise.
There are two other points that I think are worth noting in comparing these two texts by Diemberger.
The first may be perceived as also falling into the "small quibble" category. It has to do with how seemingly simple facts change from one account to the other. For example, while both accounts share almost identical text in describing the summit day, the account from 1958 has Buhl and Diemberger returning to high camp about 30 minutes after midnight (which corresponds to the accounts of Schmuck and Wintersteller), while the 1971 version has them coming back an hour later. One other change that struck me was how the weight of Diemberger's pack on Chogolisa had grown by 20 lbs in the 13 years between 1958 and 1971.
This brings me to the second point that I want to bring up in my comparison. It concerns the two excursions that occurred after the summiting of Broad Peak (Skil Brum and Chogolisa), and if/how they are described in Diemberger's two accounts.
In the 1958 Mountain World account, there is no mention of Schmuck and Wintersteller's successful ascent of Skil Brum, and in neither account is there any commentary on the style in which this ascent was done. What there is in both accounts is an emphasis on the style that Diemberger and Buhl chose to use on Chogolisa - what we now call "alpine style." This was something that was far from the norm in those days, especially when combining the heavy gear of the time with mountains that were over 7,000 metres. In his article in The Mountain World, for example, Diemberger draws attention to the style and its novelty by titling the section, "The camp that walked." In Summits and Secrets, he writes, "The solution was daring: a single transportable high camp - a ladder of camps consisting of a single tent."
To be fair, Diemberger is not alone in highlighting the style in which he and Buhl attempted Chogolisa. In their book, Hermann Buhl: Climbing Without Compromise, published in 2000, Messner & Höfler wrote, "Although Diemberger and Buhl did not reach the summit of Chogolisa, the climb they made was a work of genius. It pointed the way to the future [of the ethic of the alpine style]". But here is the problem. First, Diemberger and Buhl did not go strictly alpine style. They made a preliminary climb to establish a high dump, descended for the rest of their gear, and then made their attempt. Perhaps this is yet just another small point. But my second point is not. What none of these accounts point out (including Messner & Höfler) is that the ascent of Skil Brum by Schmuck and Wintersteller - on which they climbed higher than Buhl and Diemberger did on Chogolisa - was done in the purest of alpine styles. And they made it both up and down without incident. Contrast then, which is the more significant achievement with which is the one whose style has been most celebrated. For sure, the style of Diemberger and Buhl is to be admired. But by the same token, that of Schmuck and Wintersteller is unfairly and improperly ignored, given its precedence.
It is to other accounts that the reader in English, at least, needs to turn to gain a bit more understanding. The next account of the Austrian Karakoram Expedition of 1957 was a very brief one found in Baum's 1978, Sivalaya - the 8000-Metre Peaks of the Himalaya (which gives a good brief summary of the mountain's history). Due to its brevity, this version still left a large gap in the literature, a gap that did not start to be filled until the appearance of Chris Bonington's 1981 book, Quest for Adventure. (Note, the Broad Peak story did not appear in later editions of this book.)
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 accounts, 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 the already mentioned, Hermann Buhl: Climbing Without Compromise, by Messner & Höfler, 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 Hermann 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 him. One can reasonably assume that there would be differences in how the two present the events of the expedition. The handwritten diaries have not been made public. However, a transcription of them has just appeared in German in the 2005 reissue of Buhl's classic Achttausend drüber und drunter (more on this below). 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 these excerpts, Buhl makes only two brief references to any discord amongst the team. In the first, he expressed annoyance that Schmuck and Wintersteller set off early on summit day. Buhl writes, “Actually I am a bit annoyed; we had agreed to set off together. But Marcus and Fritz always do it like that. They never wait and just set off ahead. Normally that doesn’t matter, but at 7000 m and more, it is difficult enough to make up the time difference even when it is only a quarter of an hour.”
In the second, he comments that "...Quader [sic.][the Pakistani liaison 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 [Skil Brum] 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. Nevertheless, it is worth going into a bit more detail on both of these complaints.
Concerning Wintersteller and Schmuck leaving early, Buhl writes a bit later, “Then the snow gets deeper. It is light powder and wind-blown drifted snow. It takes us hours to catch up with Fritz and Marcus.” There is a puzzle here. How can it take hours to catch up to two people who only have a 15-minute lead, when the two ahead are breaking trail in powder snow? The answer that first comes to mind is that the ones following are not fit. If so, that would beg the question of whether the root of Buhl’s anger was Schmuck and Wintersteller leaving early, or Buhl not being able to keep up with the others? There may be other explanations, but there is something not right here.
Buhl’s second complaint had to do with Schmuck and Wintersteller going to Skil Brum. When I asked them about it in November 2005, both Qader Saeed and Fritz Wintersteller contradict what Buhl says in this second passage. Qader emphasizes that he gave permission for Schmuck and Wintersteller to go to Skil Brum. As for clearing camps, this version by Buhl gives the impression that Schmuck and Wintersteller were not pulling their weight, and that he and Diemberger had 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 equipment, 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 summiting they descended to base camp leaving their gear on the mountain. Consequently, after resting, they had to re ascend to high camp to clear their share.
So, while Buhl was understandably upset that Wintersteller and Schmuck went off to climb Skil Brum without Diemberger and him, it is equally understandable that Schmuck and Wintersteller did so.
There are a few reasons that I say so, based largely on my conversations with Fritz Wintersteller and Qader 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 aggravated 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 in the day. As to the former point, this meant that if all four were to go to Skil Brum, 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, Qader 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 performance 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 clearer by their not clearing camps on the way down) was simply not up to the lightning ascent that would be required in order to get up and down Skil Brum before the weather changed. However, Wintersteller made one other thing clear to me when asked the direct question: if Diemberger and Buhl had been at base camp, and if they had both been fit enough to keep up, they would absolutely have gone as a foursome, despite the previous problems.
Returning to the literature, the next account of the 1957 first ascent of Broad Peak 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. 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). Nevertheless, Sale’s UK Publishers, (HarperCollins), changed his text prior to publication on Diemberger's insistence. Furthermore, they did so without informing him.
I have photocopies of the originals of both the December 26, 1999 contract that Diemberger had provided HarperCollins in order to secure the use of his photos, as well as a letter of January 8, 2003 from HarperCollins to Richard Sale explaining the reasons for their actions. Diemberger’s contract included the following clauses (material in italics signify direct quotes):
3) because even the best writers continue to make factual errors and mix-ups on what happened on Brad Peak, Chogolisa, Dhaulagiri, K2 , I will grant the use of my pictures only if the author does send me the few actual pages of his text, which shall be illustrated with my pictures, in time to tell him such factual errors … it remains his free will to correct or not.
4) inclusion of three of my books onto the bibliography page: a) Summits & Secrets” (Hodder & Stroughton), b) “The Endless Knot – K2, mountain of dreams and destiny” (Collins) and c) “The Kurt Diemberger Omnibus” (The Mountaineers & Baton Wicks)
Despite this contract, here is what HarperCollins wrote to Richard Sale:
… Just as we were about to go to press (you’ll remember things got very tight towards the end of the schedule), we received a fax saying that unless we changed certain specific captions and text, and inserted references to his own books within the text, Herr Diemberger would revoke all permissions to use his photographs and instigate legal proceedings against HarperCollins. As the corrections concerned events in which Diemberger was personally involved, we had no option other than to take his view and make the changes that he requested. These changes were made under our contract with you allowing us to make changes that in our opinion are liable to end up in legal action by a third party.
There are a few obvious things to note here. First, the last phrase of clause 3) makes clear that Diemberger did not have the contractual right to change the text – just make suggestions. Second, despite his later insistence, the contract stipulated only that Diemberger’s three books appear in the bibliography, not that they be cited in the text. Third, Sale and HarperCollins did conform to the contract, as signed, and it is clear by the events that Diemberger did get copies of the proofs of the relevant parts of the book. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, keep in mind that it was Diemberger’s contract. It came from him. He is the one who initiated it and he signed it..
To break his own contract and threaten legal action, Diemberger must have really wanted to change Sale's text. But whatever his reason, the version of the 1957 expedition in this book is Diemberger's, not Sale's - making it his third in English. On seeing the account when it was published, believing it was what he had written, Wintersteller and Schmuck contacted Sale to register their sense of betrayal in that appeared was not consistent with what they had told him, nor with what he had said he would write. (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. Since it is the first book-length account of the expedition, I have chosen to devote a separate article to it. Hence, the interested reader is directed to the companion to this essay, my review of Sale's book.
There are two other things that I want to mention before you "leave", however.
First, interested readers are referred to the official site of the Austrian OEAV Karakoram Expedition 1957: http://www.broadpeak.org/en/. This includes a slide show of photos taken on the first ascent, biographical information on the team, diary excerpts, etc.
Second, I want to make some comments about Buhl's book, Achttausend drüber und drunter (published in English as Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage - The Lonely Challenge). While the original manuscript was written by Buhl, the text that appeared in print was heavily edited by Kurt Maix. In fact, in their book, Messner and Höfler state:
We could find many examples of how Kurt Maix had not only edited but also in parts re-written or even written from scratch. Maix goes so far as to admit this himself in a letter to Generl Buhl [Hermann's wife] dated 6 December 1958: "I respected those people and mountaineers who were fond of this lovable and sensitive Hermann Buhl. I respected those people and mountaineers who were fond of this lovable and sensitive Hermann Buhl. I was proud to be able to edit his work, and I carried out this task carefully without wanting to suppress him. But I removed everything that might be harmful to him and rewrote certain parts. I protected Hermann - from himself and from the evil world - as I had always done. Thus I chose to change whole chapters and even to write some of them anew from my own perspective." (Messner & Höfler, 2000, pp 193-194)
Maix's attitudes, reflected in this passage, reflect the times. Clearly, for him, our heroes could not be seen to be human. They need myths cast around them, and even to be protected from themselves. The current view, and some might call it revisionist history, is that people who do great things, but who have human weaknesses or failings, are all the more worthy of respect, precisely because - like you and me - they are human. That Buhl's diaries from Broad Peak and Chogolisa have finally become available in the new 2005 edition of Achttausend drüber und drunter is a great contribution to the literature (and one hopes that they will appear in English translation sooner than later). However, there is a certain concern that - despite the publisher's best intentions - the transcription of the handwritten diaries might in some way be edited in the Kurt Maix tradition.
Here is the issue. In the new edition of Buhl's book, there is only one page of the handwritten diaries reproduced in facsimile, and therefore, there is only one page from the diaries from which the reader of the volume can compare the transcription with the original. The problem is this: in this one page, page 314 of the book, there is an important mistake which causes the meaning to differ significantly from that in the transcription found on page 337.
In the handwritten original, Buhl writes, "Mir ist hundsmiserabel, vielleicht von der Kälte, habe keinen Appetit und..." (I am disabled by sickness, perhaps from the cold, I have no appetite and ...). The German word, "hundsmiserabel" used in this extract is really significant. Literally translated into English, it means "dog sick". But in German it means that you feel really, really bad - both physically and psychologically. You feel like you could just lie down and die.
Yet, in the transcription, this passage appears as "Mir ist links miserabel, vielleicht von der Kälte, habe keinen Appetit und..." (I feel left sick, perhaps from the cold, I have no appetite and ...). There is a big difference in how the two versions read in German, and "links miserable" makes no more sense in German than "left sick" means in English (which makes the transcription all the more surprising - despite the difficulty in reading Buhl's handwriting). In drawing attention to it, I am not suggesting that either the publishers or the person doing the transcription intentionally distorted the meaning in the way that Maix consciously edited Buhl's text. Rather, what I am suggesting is that a lot of the controversy and lack of trust around this expedition will disappear when the originals of all of the diaries and associated documents are made available to all serious writers. That, with luck, will help keep a good story wonderfully told from getting in the way of the truth - as it can best be reconstructed from the evidence.
If one looks at the reproduction of the handwritten version, and looks at the word in question in isolation, it is easy to see how “hunds” could be mistaken for “links”. First, this is a diary, after all, and the script is not all that easy to read. Secondly, there is clearly what appears to be a dot above where the “i” in “links” would be. However, one has to look at the whole page. What one also needs to know is that there was an earlier form of German script called Sütterlin. In it, one put a mark over the “u” in order to differentiate it from the “e”. Many people, including Buhl, carried this practice over, even when writing in modern script. This can be clearly seen on the same page, such on over the “u” in “Marcus” or in the word “und” that appears at the end of the section that I translated. But there is yet another clue that makes it all the more clear that the transcription is wrong. There is a hyphen after the “word” in question, making it clear that this is one word broken over two lines, not two words. So, even if one first thought that the first part was “links”, this would not be possible since the compound word "linksmiserabel" has absolutely no meaning in German. While knowing S ütterlin might take someone over 50 years of age, this hyphen, and hence the error, should have been caught by any conscientious native German speaker doing the transcription.
All five members of this expedition, Schmuck, Buhl, Wintersteller, Diemberger and Saeed deserve a better legacy and more complete and accurate history that they have gotten thus far. If the original documents had been freely available years ago, much of the current controversy could have been avoided. The recent publishing of the Buhl diary transcriptions in the new edition of his book, and of material from Schmuck and Wintersteller on the Broad Peak web site, is a very welcome move in this direction. None of the expedition's participants need anyone else to "protect" their legacy, especially at the expense of others. They did something remarkable and worthy of being understood and recognized. For some of them, such recognition has been far too long in coming. It is time for this to be rectified, for the whole team's sake.
I would like to both thank and acknowledge Fritz Wintersteller senior and junior, Reinhold Schmuck and Qader Saeed for their cooperation in researching this essay as well fact checking. Richard Sale has also offered help with comments, as well as supporting documentation. Finally, one of my oldest friends, Wolfgang Bautzmann has helped me with all matters concerning understanding the German language and its history. Any errors that remain are mine, and are there despite their best efforts.
Baume, Louis. (1978). Sivalaya - the 8000-Metre Peaks of the Himalaya. Goring, England: Gastons-West Col.
Bonington, C. (1981). Quest for Adventure. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Buhl, Hermann (1954). Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage - The Lonely Challenge. Seattle: The Mountaineers
Buhl, Hermann (2005). Achttausend drüber und drunter. München: Malik, Piper Verlag.
Diemberger, K. (1959). "Broad Peak: The Austrian Karakoram Expedition 1957". 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. Seattle: The Mountaineers
Messner, R. & Höfler, H. (2000). Hermann Buhl: Climbing without Compromise. Seattle: The Mountaineers
Sale, Richard (2004). Broad Peak. Hildersley: Carreg Ltd
Sale, Richard & Cleare, John. (2000). Climbing the World's 14 Highest Mountains. Seattle: The Mountaineers.
Schmuck, Marcus (1958). Broad Peak 8047m: Meine Bergfahrten mit Hermann Buhl. Salzburg/Stuttgart: Verlag "Das Bergland-buch".
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