Erhard Loretan dies guiding in Switzerland

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 01/05/2011
Erhard Loretan

One of the greatest mountaineers of modern times, the Swiss Erhard Loretan, was killed on the 28th April whilst guiding in the Bernese Oberland.

Loretan and his client, a 38-year-old Swiss woman resident in Geneva, had been climbing in the range since the previous weekend, and spent Wednesday night at the relatively remote Finsteraarhorn Hut (3,048m).

This is not the usual starting point for the Normal Route on the 4,043m Gross Grünhorn. the goal of the party, but the pair set off at 6am the following day and reached the col north east of the Grünegghorn (3,800m), where they deposited skis.

The South West Ridge, the Normal Route, rises less than 300m from the col and gives a nice scramble in summer (PD+), with sections of UIAA II and III.

The Swiss pair had reached an altitude of ca 3,800m, when, at around midday and for reasons unknown, they fell 200m down the North West Face. Another party raised the alarm but mist prevented a helicopter flight. Rescue teams approached on ski and located the victims at 4pm.

Loretan was found to be dead, but the client was still alive, though in a serious condition, and with multiple fractures and internal injuries. She was later airlifted to hospital, where last reports infer she remains critical but conscious.

The accident took place on Loretan's 52nd birthday.

Erhard Loretan started climbing when 11 and in 1981 became a guide, a profession that remained his passion.

His cutting edge ascents in the mountains are too numerous to mention in full. After new routes in the Cordillera Blanca during 1980 (Ranrapalca, Caraz I, Palcaraju) he turned to the 8,000m peaks of the Himalaya. In 1984 he made the historic first traverse of Annapurna, in alpine-style, via the first ascent of the long East Ridge and down the North Face.

In 1986 he made a continuous winter traverse of the high peaks of the Valais in 19 days, and in the summer, with Jean Troillet, his now famous alpine-style ascent of the North Face of Everest via the Japanese Direct/Hornbein Couloir in a round trip of a little over 40 hours, glissading much of the descent.

In 1988 he climbed a new route on Trango Tower with Voytek Kurtyka, and the following year linked 13 Bernese Oberland north faces in 13 days.

In 1990 he made two outstanding alpine-style new routes on summits over 8,000m; South West Face of Cho Oyu and South Face of Xixabangma Central, both with Kurtyka and Troillet.

In 1994 he made the first ascent, solo, of the high Mt Epperly in Antarctica's Sentinel Range, and in 1995 climbed the main summit of Xixabangma, and then Kangchenjunga, to become only the third person to climb all 14 8,000m peaks and only the second to do so without supplementary oxygen. Later that year he returned to the Sentinel Range to make the first ascent, solo, of Peak of Kindness.

In 2002 he made the first ascent of Pumori's North Ridge from Tibet. In between these great ascents he had also made many alpine-style attempts on some of the greatest walls in the world, such as K2's West Face and Jannu's North Face.

Erhard Loretan was awarded the prestigious King Albert Medal of Merit in 1996 for his distinguished contribution to mountaineering.

Link to obituary in the Guardian.


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