Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top mountaineer killed in Nepal's Himalayas

KATHMANDU — A Slovenian climber recognised as one of the world's greatest-ever mountaineers has died after a daredevil solo attempt on a Himalayan peak, his expedition organisers said Saturday.

Tomaz Humar, 40, had been missing on the colossal south face of Langtang Lirung, a 7,234-metre (23,700-foot) peak in northern Nepal. His last communication was on Tuesday, when he radioed to say he had been injured.

"He had clearly fallen during the climb and broken his spine and leg," said Asian Trekking's Dawa Sherpa, who coordinated the rescue effort.

"He was climbing alone, with no guides or porters."

Sherpa said Humar's body was found early Saturday during an aerial search of the mountain, situated north of Kathmandu and close to the border with Tibet.

His body has been flown to the German embassy in Kathmandu, where his family were waiting, he said.

"The mountain that Humar was climbing, Langtang Lirung, is technically tough and not everyone dare climb it," said Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

"Humar was courageous," he said. "It's a tragedy that he slipped and fell. We are very sorry to have lost such a world-renowned climber who had such a deep love for Nepal's mountains."

Humar shot to fame in the climbing world in 1999 with a solo ascent of the massive south face of Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest mountain.

The vertical mixed rock and ice route was the equivalent of scaling eight Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other -- at an altitude where there is less than half the oxygen than at sea level.

At the time, the route was widely seen as near-suicidal -- and Humar's success made him a national celebrity and established him as among the world's top mountaineers.

Humar was hailed by Italian legend Reinhold Messner, the first to climb the world's 14 8,000-metre peaks, as the greatest climber of the modern era.

Humar's exploits also epitomised the way in which Himalayan mountaineering has evolved -- from the big-team, bottled oxygen siege tactics of the 1950's to the 1980's, to purer, "fast and light" alpine-style ascents.

This change was driven by the likes of Messner and the Polish legend Jerzy Kukuczka, and refined further by a host of names including French climbers Jean-Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin, and Humar.

Of these, only Messner is still alive.

Humar's other extreme ascents included a new route, again solo without the security of being roped to a climbing partner, on the imposing south face of Annapurna, the world's 10th highest peak.

His 2005 attempt to solo the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth-highest peak, in Pakistan, ended in high drama with a helicopter rescue from a narrow, snow-covered ledge at 5,900 metres.

The ill-fated attempt on the south face of Langtang Lirung would have established another extreme solo, alpine-style route.

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