A few days ago, the penultimate 8,000m peak to be conquered in the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first ascent – or rather the Swiss, Austrians and Nepalis did. Dhaulagiri I, the seventh highest mountain in the world, was first climbed by a Swiss/Austrian/German/Nepali team on 13th May 1960 – almost seven years after Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reached the top of Mount Everest.
Austrian mountaineer, Kurt Diemberger, was part of the expedition that was led by Swiss Max Eiselin, and he came to Nepal to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of this first ascent.
Dhaulagiri I was not the only 8,000m peak Diemberger first ascended. In 1957, he and his fellow Austrians Hermann Buhl, Marcus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller became the first people to stand on top of Broad Peak, the 12th highest mountain in the world in Pakistan.
Diemberger is known for his pure mountain climbing, photography and film making and he has become a household name in Himalayan mountaineering. He is the only person alive today to have made first ascents of two of the world’s 8,000m peaks.
Good old days
During his visit to Nepal, the honoured guest also took the time to speak to the media and I was very excited to get invited to a press conference during which Diemberger gave a short account of what climbing was like in the ‘good old days’.
“We did not have all the luxuries of today’s expeditions, however, we did take a plane to 5,700m on the mountain, which is still an aeronautical record,” he said.
To cut down on time and expense, the expedition leader Max Eiselin wanted to try using an airplane. He recruited two Swiss pilots, Ernst Saxer and Emil Wick, to fly a Pilatus Porter plane nicknamed “Yeti”. The pilots had logged many hours of mountain flying, including landing on glaciers
“It was certainly interesting and due to the high altitude, we had to throw the chickens down on to the Northeast saddle of the mountain, which was a bit of a challenge as we wanted them to survive.”
However, on its 17th take off from 5,700m, the Yeti crashed. The pilots were safe, but the plane could not be fixed. It remains to this day on the mountain.
Diemberger, who is still sparkling and full of energy at 78, continued telling the audience how they were raising funds for the expedition. Instead of corporate sponsorships, the team set up a bank account for donations with the promise to send a postcard from Nepal to anyone who contributed.
“We had to send 16,000 postcards and it took us more than a week to sign them all – that was one of the most difficult jobs after the expedition,” he remembered.
When the team came up with a plan to set up the highest post office in the world and send the postcards from the Northeast saddle of Dhaulagiri I at 5,700m, the Nepali government said they had to post them from the post office in Kathmandu.
“When we took our 16,000 cards to the post office they told us that they did not have sufficient staff to stamp them, so we found some hospital workers to help us. I still think it would be a great idea to send postcards from such a high location – that would be very special.”
Proof of climbing
Diemberger also commented on the commercialisation of Mount Everest and even though he is not opposed to the way the highest mountain in the world is climbed nowadays, he is a strong believer that the clients should provide some proof of their mountaineering experience
It is a very fair comment as an increasing number of people go to Everest with very little climbing experience and such a regulation would certainly cut down the number of accidents.
When one of the journalists asked Diemberger, who is 78 years old, whether he did not want to go back to Everest to become the oldest person to summit, he just shook his head in disbelief.
“I don’t do things for records and I would not be interested. I don’t believe in speed records either. I think going slow and steady is the secret to success.”
I would like to thank my friend Richard Bull for taking these photographs.