Kurt Diemberger wins Piolets d'Or lifetime achievement award

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 05/04/2013
Kurt Diemberger with Chogolisa in the background. Bernard Vaucher Collection/Piolets d'Or

After Walter Bonatti (2009), Reinhold Messner (2010), Doug Scott (2011) and Robert Paragot (2012), the fifth Piolets d'Or lifetime achievement award has been bestowed on Austrian mountaineer Kurt Diemberger.

Born in March 1932, Diemberger belongs to an extremely elite club. Only three men have made the first ascent of two 8,000m peaks, Hermann Buhl, Diemberger and Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa.

A first ascent of Manaslu with Japanese in 1956 made Gyalzen Norbu the first, having climbed Makalu with the French expedition the previous year.

When Buhl made the first ascent of Broad Peak in 1957 (with Diemberger, Wintersteller and Schmuck) he became the second, having made the first ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953. Diemberger became the third (and final) with his first ascent of Dhaulagiri in 1960.

His climb of Broad Peak was a landmark ascent: the first time an 8,000m peak had been climbed in lightweight style, without the use of high-altitude porters and oxygen.

After this ascent Buhl and Diemberger made an alpine-style attempt on the then unclimbed Chogolisa. Retreating in poor visibility, Buhl tragically walked through a cornice.

In his youth Diemberger spent his summers in the Alps, starting in the Western Alps when the ice was in good condition and ending in the Dolomites.

He quickly amassed an impressive list of alpine achievements and first ascents, notably on the great ice routes.

Those who have read his classic book, Summits and Secrets, perhaps one of the first to break away from the traditional mould, will remember his graphic account of the North Face of the Konigspitze, with its "whipped cream roll".

By 1958 he had climbed the three great north faces of the Alps - Eiger, Matterhorn, and Grandes Jorasses - a highly notable achievement for the era.

During the 1960s he became and mountain guide but continued to climb hard and explore the Greater Ranges.

He made a number of trips to the now little-frequented Hindu Kush, driving from Austria in a VW bus. First ascents included Nobasium Zom (7,070m) and the magnificent Tirich West IV (7,338m), both in 1967 and both in the Pakistan section of the range.

In 1974 he made the first ascent of Shartse II (7,457m) to the east of Lhotse Shar.

In 1978 he climbed Makalu and Everest with Pierre Mazeaud, and the following year Gasherbrum II. Later he was joined by Julie Tullis on several trips, including a repeat ascent for Diemberger of Broad Peak. Their expeditions, on which they acted as a two-person film crew, culminated in 1986 with their well-known ascent of K2.

Trapped on the Shoulder in a storm, in which Tullis and Alan Rouse, amongst others, succumbed, Diemberger and fellow Austrian Willi Bauer were the only climbers to survive the descent, though both suffered severe frostbite which resulted in amputations.

By this time Diemberger taken part in many filming projects and more or less become the number one, high-altitude cameraman of that era. But he continued with his quest to explore remote and largely unknown mountain areas, particularly in China. More recently he has visited deserts and the Poles.

He has now penned half a dozen books, made many films, and is still a prolific speaker/lecturer.

Diemberger received his honour at the 21st Piolets d'Or in Chamonix.

Currently, the Piolets d'Or technical committee, together with this year's four-member international jury, are discussing nominations for 2012 ascents that best celebrate the organization's charter; high level, progressive alpinism, and the commitment, spirit and values it encompasses.



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