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I always wanted to visit the Himalayas in Pakistan. The mountains are legendary: Gasherbrum I,Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and, of course, K2. The view from the confluence of three glaciers at Concordia is live postcard few get to see in person. In the summer of 2006, along with a team managed by Field Touring Alpine (FTA), I attempted Broad Peak (26,401') and planned to make a good effort on K2 (28,250').

I reached 21,000' on Broad or Camp 2 before abandoning the climb due to weakness that resulted from a severe bug I contracted on the trek in. The Karakorum ranges was magnificent and I was very lucky to have unbelievable weather for the month I spent there.

I sent frequent dispatches using a system that includes a digital camera, PDA and sat phone.

Click here for the dispatch home and videos

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Austrian Leader dies near Summit of Broad

Posted on July 9, 2006 06:47 AM U.S. Mountain Daylight Time

I was deeply saddened to read of Markus Kronthaler’s death this weekend. According to Wilco’s site, Markus died after returning from the summit and spending the night in a snow cave.

I had met Markus at our BC a couple of times. He struck me as a determined person. Tall and stoic I first met him after one of their summit attempts. He dropped by with a teammate to ask about Joelle. His face was deeply tanned and had the look of stress that comes from climbing an 8000m Hill.

The facts of what happened will come out over time but this is what is reported at this time: he and a teammate were forced to stay overnight in a snow cave on their summit bid. After the summit, they returned to the same snow cave and requested emergency help from other expeditions due to exhaustion and dehydration. No HAPs were able to reach them. Polish climbers found the pair and descended with one of them. Markus was apparently dead.

Climbing to the summit above 26000’ is exhausting. It is difficult to eat or drink enough. Almost every climber becomes weak and dehydrated. And that is in good conditions. As you know this year, there has been deep snow, crusty tops and exhausting trail breaking. Even when teams have created a route, winds obscured them causing the next team to start all over.

Everyone I spoke to this year upon their return from the summit was empty. This included Ryan who had just summited Cho Oyu and JJ who had almost climbed to 8000m on Everest. Even the fittest commented on the difficulty of Broad. Over the radio, Mick reported the enormity of their effort as they stayed at C4 instead of the lower and safer C3.

It is easy to see where Markus being completely spent made the decision to bivouac in the snow cave to try to regain his strength. Perhaps he simply fell asleep and then it was over.

Broad Peak has been anything but an “easy 8000m mountain this year – or last year for that fact. The snow has been deep above C4 and dangerously soft below C1. When I left crevasse danger was increasing at both ends of the Hill. The Australians did a great service by warning everyone of an emerging crack near C4 and it was obvious of the growing crevasses near the start of the fixed ropes. A Spanish climber apparently fell in one of these but was successfully rescued with Wilco’s aid.

The Austrian team reflected confidence and determination – probably characteristics of their leader. They were one of the first teams on Broad in 2006. Along with the Australians they established high camps early. One of their members, Jochen, contacted us to coordinate fixed lines back in March. They were very generous by loaning Joelle a pair of climbing boots that fit her when they learned of her late arriving bags.

Climbing any mountain is a risk but an 8000m Hill has its special situations. The weather is unpredictable. The snow conditions are variable. Even though you think you know the routes, the ice moves and routes change. And of course there is the altitude.

Climbers know all this when they leave home, this is why there are months, if not years, of preparation. They usually climb in teams. Have the best gear and think through contingencies.

But there is the goal – the reason for climbing – for some. The summit. It is easy to be focused on it. I would never begin to presume the motivations, conditions or decision making of any other climber. It is only fair to say that deaths happen each year on big and small mountains. Some can be explained others simply happen.

I can only image the state in Basecamp today. Shock beyond belief. Sadness. A new sense of the dangers. A new sense of human frailty. A new context on their own aspirations. Some will quit. Some will go on. Others will simply freeze. All right. No judgments. No coaching. This is when mountaineering becomes even more personal. It is between you and the Hill.

I am deeply saddened by Markus’s death. I did not know him personally but he was a fellow climber. He did his best. Climbed a difficult mountain with strength and confidence. He clearly died doing what he loved. I sincerely extend my condolences to all his family, friends and fellow climbers.