Renowned mountaineer Kurt Diemberger to speak in Aspen
October 21, 2011
ASPEN – Ask renowned Austrian mountaineer Kurt Diemberger about chasing his dreams on the world’s tallest peaks, and the 79-year-old will tell you about leaving an unfulfilling life teaching bookkeeping behind. He’ll describe in great detail – and with great enthusiasm – his decision “to be free.”
His curiosity and thirst for adventure endures.
“I was 16 when I climbed my first peak. … It was like a command inside you, like a squirrel always wanting to go up a tree,” Diemberger joked Thursday in a telephone interview with The Aspen Times.
“Bookkeeping was boring to me. … I didn’t want to know what the next year would bring to me. I wanted to discover.”
In the more than six decades since, Diemberger has trotted the globe in search of thrills – from Greenland and the Amazon to the vaunted peaks of the Himalayas. His career, replete with scores of noteworthy triumphs and unthinkable losses, has stood the test of time.
The climber, author and filmmaker holds the prestigious distinction of being the only living person to have logged first ascents on two of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks – Broad Peak and Dhaulagiri.
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This weekend, he will be in Aspen to share those experiences.
Diemberger will take part in two public lectures: “Dhaulagiri: The White Mountain” at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Ute Mountaineer; and “Enigma – Himalayas” at
6 p.m. Sunday in the Mountain Chalet conference room. A donation of $10 for each event is requested.
Saturday’s presentation will feature five minutes of footage captured at the summit of Dhaulagiri in May 1960, which have never been shown in the United States.
“I still like to discover, but it’s not so important that I climb now,” Diemberger said. “I think it’s more important that I [talk about] what I found out and give it on to the young people.”
Diemberger remembers being drawn to the mountains as a young man. His passion for exploration was forged while searching for crystals in the Austrian Alps and scaling rock walls near his hometown of Salzburg.
Naturally, he was eager to test his limits.
“In the end, the mountains were just like big crystals,” he said. “I wanted to know why others go for the top.”
That drive carried Diemberger, along with a team that included mentor Hermann Buhl, to the summit of 26,414-foot Broad Peak, on the Pakistan-China
Three years later, Diemberger also topped out on 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri in Nepal, the world’s seventh-tallest peak.
Both feats were accomplished in true alpine style – a self-sufficient method by which expedition members carry their own gear and are not assisted by fixed ropes, high-altitude porters or supplemental oxygen.
“The summit of Broad Peak was absolutely great. It was great standing in that last place of the day … knowing that we were the first,” recalled Diemberger, whose successful attempt was made in a pair of oversized boots stuffed with paper.
“It also had the feeling that you were at the real edge of being.”
All told, Diemberger has summited six of the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks, including Everest, Makalu and K2.
The trip to K2 in 1986 nearly cost him his life. Diemberger and partner Julie Tullis were stranded with six others at a camp in the “Death Zone” for about a week because of inclement weather. Diemberger and fellow Austrian Willi Bauer were the only climbers to make it out alive.
The tragedy was chronicled in Diemberger’s book “The Endless Knot: K2, Mountain of Dreams and Destiny.”
K2 was not Diemberger’s first experience with loss. Not long after their success on Broad Peak, Diemberger and Buhl attempted to summit Chogolisa in Pakistan’s Karakoram range. Beset by foul weather, the duo was descending when Buhl wandered off line and out onto a fragile cornice, which subsequently collapsed.
His body has never been found.
“It was simply bad luck,” Diemberger said.
“That’s not possible [to let tragedies deter you from continuing on]. You cannot make, say, a farmer give up his life. I had to go back to the mountains. I had to keep going with it.”
That resolve endures today, as Diemberger continues to pursue his passion. Wednesday, he and friend Robert Ader were exploring the mountains near Loveland Pass.
“Being out with Kurt on one expedition and out a couple times in Colorado, it’s amazing how well he understands his limits.” said Ader, who lives in Conifer. “He really knows himself and how much he’s capable of.”
Diemberger said he is eager to make his second trip to Aspen and share the knowledge and experiences he has accrued from a high-energy life lived at high altitude.
He apparently has not given up teaching after all.