Edi Koblmüller (1946-2015)

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 20/04/2015
Mount Kazbek from the southeast. Peter Nasmyth
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The well-known Austrian high altitude mountaineer and guide, Edi Koblmüller, died in a blizzard whilst leading a group on Kazbek in the Georgian Caucasus.

Koblmüller and eight clients were making a ski ascent of the 5,047m summit towards the eastern end of the Caucasus

Descending, they met with a fierce blizzard, and one of the team, a 59-year old woman from Vienna, was unable to keep with the main group.

Koblmüller stayed with her whilst the rest of the group battled with the elements, eventually to reach the safety of the Betlemi Hut.

Koblmüller did not arrive and on the following day a helicopter search found both bodies, frozen to death, at 4,700m.

Whilst Koblmüller climbed five 8,000m peaks, it is his new routes on some of the biggest faces in the world for which he will be remembered.

In 1968 he made first ascents of several big peaks in the Afghan High Hindu Kush and in 1970 travelled to Pakistan, where he made the first, and to date only, ascent of K6 (7,281m), via a committing route from the Nangma Valley in the Karakoram.

At the time it was considered one of the most difficult unclimbed 7,000er in the range.

In 1972 he climbed a big new route on the huge east face of Huascaran in Peru's Cordillera Blanca

In 1975 he led the expedition that made the first ascent of the southwest (and highest) summit of Chogolisa (7,665m) in the Karakoram.

Another impressive ascent took place in 1983 when with three companions he climbed a new route on the huge south face of Batura I (7,785m) in the Karakoram.

Well acclimatized two of this group, Koblmüller and Fred Pressl went immediately to Nanga Parbat and more or less in an alpine style ascent spread over eight days climbed the Schell Route on the south face, Koblmüller reaching the summit alone when Pressl turned back 150m from the top.

In 1985 he and Pressl were back in the Karakoram, first climbing Diran (7,266m) by the normal route, then making the first descent of its difficult north ridge, before making an alpine-style first ascent of neighbouring Rakaposhi East (7,010m) via the north ridge.

But Koblmüller's most significant contribution to mountaineering took place in 1978, when with Alois Furtner he climbed a new route on the southeast face of Cho Oyu, to make only the fourth claimed ascent of the mountain (the third is still considered rather dubious).

The pair approached the mountain with nothing but a trekking permit, and although they fixed some rope on the face, their ascent was truly lightweight, if not pure alpine style. At the time a number of people doubted their claim, but not the Nepalese, who banned them from the country for the next five years.

Koblmüller's style on this tricky and undoubtedly dangerous face of an 8,000m peak was progressive for the era, and remains something of a benchmark in Himalayan climbing.

The famous German climber Reinhard Karl would be killed in an avalanche trying to repeat the line in 1982, while the following winter Messner would fail on a winter attempt.

In 1996 Koblmüller climbed Dhaulagiri with his son Michael, but tragically the latter would be killed three years later when caught in an avalanche on the notoriously dangerous slopes of Diran.

Then in 2003 Koblmüller's wife of more than 30 years, Elizabeth, fell from an indoor climbing wall, suffering fatal head injuries.

Kazbek, the third highest peak in Georgia and the seventh highest in the Caucasus, is the scene of a number of events this year as local climbers and guides gear up to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its first ascent, in 1868 by Douglas Freshfield's party using the route normally followed today, and the one on which Koblmüller lost his life.

There is currently only one hut on the mountain, the Betlemi, and at over 3,600m it is a long haul from the valley. Too long in fact, causing many would-be summiteers serious altitude problems.

There is a proposal to build a new "Freshfield Hut" at 3,000m, and an appeal for this is being supported by the Alpine Club, Freshfield being one of its illustrious past presidents.


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