HIGHEST-ALTITUDE BODY RECOVERY IN HISTORY

Posted on: July 25, 2007


Stefan Lackner and Paul Koller move Markus Kronthalerís body from the summit ridge of Broad Peak (8047m), Karakoram, Pakistan/China, on July 20. Fighting a storm that afternoon and the next day, the guides, along with five Pakistani porters, brought the body to Camp 3. The recovery team will continue the evacuation, which marks the highest-altitude body recovery in history, this week. [Photo] Courtesy of www.weltderberge.com

This week a recovery team is entering the final stages of retrieving Markus Kronthaler's body from the summit ridge of Broad Peak (8047m), Karakoram, Pakistan/China. Kronthaler died last year from exhaustion on the descent after successfully summiting the peak via the normal route, which begins on the West Spur and climbs through the foresummit along the summit ridge. The rescue expedition was organized and funded by Markus' brother, Georg Kronthaler. The recovery is the highest-altitude expedition of its kind.

This past Friday, July 20, Austrian guides Stefan Lackner and Paul Koller along with cameraman Hubert Rieger and five Pakistani high-altitude porters climbed above 8000 meters, between the foresummit and the main summit of Broad Peak, to begin retrieving Kronthaler's body. They pulled the bodybag through the snow to the saddle until a storm set in. They left the body under the saddle at ca. 7500 meters and descended to Camp 3, where Georg had stayed due to illness. The next day the guides climbed up again in a horrible storm and brought the body to Camp 3, then descended to basecamp (Georg had descended earlier that morning). Today, July 25, Georg, Lackner and Koller, along with six Pakistani porters, are climbing to Camp 2. Tomorrow they aim to start the descent from Camp 3 with the body.

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Markus Kronthaler's partner on the 2006 expedition, Sepp Bachmair, had struggled to help him to safety, as he too was having difficulty descending. The pair were unable to make it down before night set in. Kronthaler died from exhaustion and dehydration at 6 a.m. on July 8 on the summit ridge. Bachmair, also suffering from these afflictions, continued down alone. Polish climber Piotr Morawski encountered him at 7800 meters and abandoned his summit bid to help Bachmair get back to Camp 3. Spanish climber and doctor Jorge Egocheaga, though exhausted after his speed ascent of the peak, ascended from basecamp to 7200 meters to treat Bachmair and bring him down to basecamp, where he later was evacuated by helicopter.

Having planned the retrieval at the end of last year, Georg commented that "I too will climb Broad peak together with a friend. But there is nothing to celebrate in my ascent. Markus' remains are lying exposed at 8000 meters, in a place all climbers pass by. Many will take pictures I'm sure—this is something my family and I just can't accept. Thus, my goal on Broad will be to take my brother down and bring him back home, where he will be properly buried." The recovery of Markus' body marks one of the more elaborate mountain retrievals in history, and the first from above 8000 meters. Additionally, Georg has conveyed that the expedition members will not climb to the peak's summit, which lies only a few dozen meters away.

In August a similar recovery team will retrieve the body of Christine Boskoff, who recently was found on Mt. Genyen (6204m), Sichuan Province, China, after disappearing with climbing partner Charlie Fowler in November.

Markus Kronthaler, whose body is being recovered from Broad Peak's Camp 3 this week. [Photo] Courtesy of www.weltderberge.com

These two trips set an interesting precedent, as climbers' bodies historically have been abandoned on high peaks. The presence of these bodies is impossible to ignore; in many cases the bodies may be lying on or next to a major route, as Markus Kronthaler was. The ethical questions of how to treat and respect deceased climbers left on the peaks can cast a harsh light on the mountaineers passing them by. Georg Kronthaler is hoping to provoke a shift in some of these common practices. "I don't just want to bring my brother down—I want to change the ethical principles in high altitude climbing." Georg said. "We can't only focus on our sport goals and thus walk literally over corpses—someone who had an accident doesn't deserve to be left there like garbage."

Sources: Menno Boermans, www.prosieben.de and www.mounteverest.net

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