Broad Peak Book
Broad Peak by Richard Sale, published by Carreg Ltd, Ross-on-Wye, 2004 First Edition, ISBN 0953863115, 208 pages, signed by the author.
Nominated for the Boardman Tasker Award 2005 and finalist in the Banff Mountain Book Festival 2005 in the category best mountain literature.
The book is illustrated with previously unpublished photographs from Marcus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller.
Limited Time Offer € 35,00 including delivery
The ascent of Broad Peak, the world's twelfth highest mountain in 1957 was one of the most important climbs in the history of climbing on the great peaks. A team of four Austrians, carrying their own equipment and dispensing with bottled oxygen, took the climbing ideas of the European Alps to the Himalayas/Karakoram, an advance in tactics which laid the foundations for many of the great ascents which followed. As well as being a landmark, the expedition also resulted in the death of Hermann Buhl, at that time the most famous climber in the world.
The book written by Marcus Schmuck, the leader of the expedition, was never translated from its German original, so the Broad Peak expedition was known chiefly from the account of Kurt Diemberger who has been Buhl's companion on his last climb. Now, for the first time, using the original climbing diaries of Marcus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller, and previously unpublished material from Hermann Buhl, as well as the recollections of both Diemberger and Qader Saeed, the team's Pakistani liaison officer, the full story of the Broad Peak expedition is told.
Kurt Diemberger protested to provide the book a forum at the Banff Mountain Book Festival 2005.
To the credit of its director, Bernadette McDonald, the Festival did not back down. On the other hand, those involved took these protests seriously, and did everything to make sure that this session was handled in a fair and objective manner. One consequence was that Bill Buxton spent much more time than expected in his library, as well as in the archives of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Preparation and literacy seemed to be the best foundation for treating this topic fairly.
Buxton, William (2006) Broad Peak and the 1957 Austrian Karakoram Expedition. Canadian
Alpine Journal, 89, 176-183 is the result of Bill Buxton's research on this topic. In 2007, he amended his article after he met Kurt Diemberger at the Golden Jubilee of Broad Peak First Ascent in Salzburg. Broad Peak Aftermath is a follow-up on this article, including Kurt Diemberger‘s comments and Bill Buxton's response to them.
Broad Peak 1957: Austrian First Ascent.
Review of Literature by Bill Buxton (check for up-date of this article at the author's website)
While Schmuck and Diemberger have both written books in German covering the expedition, the only accounts that have appeared in English by one of the participants are those by Diemberger. The first was an article, "Broad Peak: The Austrian Karakoram Expedition 1957", in the 1958/59 edition of The Mountain World. The second was in his 1971 book, Summits and Secrets. It is interesting to compare these two texts, especially in light of the controversy around the history of this climb, and Diemberger's role in it.
Both of these Diemberger accounts are relatively short (25 vs. 28 pages, respectively), and in many ways similar. Rather than telling the story of the expedition as a whole, each is more an account of Diemberger's own personal experience during it. This is especially true in the Summits and Secrets version. For example, Schmuck and Wintersteller do not figure much in either of these accounts by Diemberger. On the one hand, this is understandable. Diemberger was telling his own story. On the other hand, this means that there was no full account of the expedition in English. We shall come back to this. What I want to touch on first has to do with what is different between the two versions, what is left out, and what changes between the two.
First, despite frequently reusing much the same text, these two versions are very different in style. The version in The Mountain World is written in a somewhat objective style, one that you would expect in a mountaineering journal. The later version moves to a far more emotional style of writing - one which is far closer to the language of a poet or writer of romantic fiction, rather than that of the prototypical calculating mountaineer. The other thing of note in this second telling is the stronger role played by Buhl – perhaps more accurately, the role played by Diemberger's relationship with Buhl. This is manifest in comments like, "Hermann Buhl was well-disposed towards me, I knew it from frequent small touches, such as suggestions he might throw out, and I was glad. He would often explain to me, in a paternal manner, ..." What Diemberger glosses over in such statements are the arguments that he and Buhl had throughout the expedition. Perhaps most significantly were those that occurred while they were on Chogolisa. For example, Buhl's diaries of June 23rd – 4 days before he died – recount two serious arguments that saw them tent-bound in bad weather, and not on speaking terms.
To be fair, at high altitude, the way that your otherwise best friend rolls over in their sleeping bag can cause an explosive argument. This is not always obvious to armchair mountaineers at sea level. But nevertheless, Buhl’s diaries contradict the story of bliss that pervades Diemberger’s accounts, and so warrant mention.
The other thing that Diemberger does in this second version is add comments that build up Buhl's role at the expense of others. For example, "Hermann had handed over the over-all leadership of the expedition to him [Schmuck]. " This is a statement that speaks to events that occurred before Diemberger was on the team, and therefore can have no direct knowledge. It is also a statement that does not accurately reflect the documented evidence. Rather, it confirms that Buhl did no such thing; rather, Schmuck was leader because the Austrian Alpine Club (especially Buhl's Innsbruck section) refused to contribute financing if Buhl was the leader. Perhaps a small point, or a quibble. However, it is out of such small points, even when innocently intended, that later controversies often arise.
There are two other points that I think are worth noting in comparing these two texts by Diemberger.
The first may be perceived as also falling into the "small quibble" category. It has to do with how seemingly simple facts change from one account to the other. For example, while both accounts share almost identical text in describing the summit day, the account from 1958 has Buhl and Diemberger returning to high camp about 30 minutes after midnight (which corresponds to the accounts of Schmuck and Wintersteller), while the 1971 version has them coming back an hour later. One other change that struck me was how the weight of Diemberger's pack on Chogolisa had grown by 20 lbs in the 13 years between 1958 and 1971.
This brings me to the second point that I want to bring up in my comparison. It concerns the two excursions that occurred after the summiting of Broad Peak (Skil Brum and Chogolisa), and if/how they are described in Diemberger's two accounts.
In the 1958 Mountain World account, there is no mention of Schmuck and Wintersteller's successful ascent of Skil Brum, and in neither account is there any commentary on the style in which this ascent was done. What there is in both accounts is an emphasis on the style that Diemberger and Buhl chose to use on Chogolisa - what we now call "alpine style." This was something that was far from the norm in those days, especially when combining the heavy gear of the time with mountains that were over 7,000 metres. In his article in The Mountain World, for example, Diemberger draws attention to the style and its novelty by titling the section, "The camp that walked." In Summits and Secrets, he writes, "The solution was daring: a single transportable high camp - a ladder of camps consisting of a single tent."
To be fair, Diemberger is not alone in highlighting the style in which he and Buhl attempted Chogolisa. In their book, Hermann Buhl: Climbing Without Compromise, published in 2000, Messner & Höfler wrote, "Although Diemberger and Buhl did not reach the summit of Chogolisa, the climb they made was a work of genius. It pointed the way to the future [of the ethic of the alpine style]". But here is the problem. First, Diemberger and Buhl did not go strictly alpine style. They made a preliminary climb to establish a high dump, descended for the rest of their gear, and then made their attempt. Perhaps this is yet just another small point. But my second point is not. What none of these accounts point out (including Messner & Höfler) is that the ascent of Skil Brum by Schmuck and Wintersteller - on which they climbed higher than Buhl and Diemberger did on Chogolisa - was done in the purest of alpine styles. And they made it both up and down without incident. Contrast then, which is the more significant achievement with which is the one whose style has been most celebrated. For sure, the style of Diemberger and Buhl is to be admired. But by the same token, that of Schmuck and Wintersteller is unfairly and improperly ignored, given its precedence.
It is to other accounts that the reader in English, at least, needs to turn to gain a bit more understanding. The next account of the Austrian Karakoram Expedition of 1957 was a very brief one found in Baum's 1978, Sivalaya - the 8000-Metre Peaks of the Himalaya (which gives a good brief summary of the mountain's history). Due to its brevity, this version still left a large gap in the literature, a gap that did not start to be filled until the appearance of Chris Bonington's 1981 book, Quest for Adventure. (Note, the Broad Peak story did not appear in later editions of this book.)
In telling his version of the expedition, Bonington clearly spoke to Diemberger and Schmuck. As a result, Bonington told a far more complete story of the expedition than did Diemberger. It was in Bonington's account that (in the English literature, at least) Schmuck and Wintersteller first came out from the background and emerged as the strongest members of the expedition. It was also in Bonington's account that the discord amongst the four team members first appeared in the English literature. In saying this, I am not being critical of Diemberger. At the time that he wrote his accounts, it was simply not considered appropriate to air one's dirty laundry in public. Furthermore, Reinhold Schmuck, Marcus' son showed me the original of a letter from the then governor of Salzburg (and later Chancellor of Austria). It asked Marcus not to write or speak publicly about any of the differences amongst the team. So, if Diemberger's account reads like the expedition was one happy team, that is understandable, and he cannot - in my opinion - be criticized for that.
The next account of the 1957 Austrian expedition to Broad Peak to appear in English was the already mentioned, Hermann Buhl: Climbing Without Compromise, by Messner & Höfler, published in 2000. The bulk of the account that appears here is made up of selected excerpts of a 7-part report on the climb prepared by Hermann Buhl while in base camp.
Note that this report is distinct from Buhl's climbing diaries. The former was typewritten and intended to be read by others. The diaries were hand-written and were personal, meant for him. One can reasonably assume that there would be differences in how the two present the events of the expedition. The handwritten diaries have not been made public. However, a transcription of them has just appeared in German in the 2005 reissue of Buhl's classic Achttausend drüber und drunter (more on this below). It was the report, not the diaries that are quoted in the book by Messner and Höfler. It is important to keep this in mind.
These excerpts from Buhl's report are augmented in the Messner and Höfler book by commentary by them. In these excerpts, Buhl makes only two brief references to any discord amongst the team. In the first, he expressed annoyance that Schmuck and Wintersteller set off early on summit day. Buhl writes, “Actually I am a bit annoyed; we had agreed to set off together. But Marcus and Fritz always do it like that. They never wait and just set off ahead. Normally that doesn’t matter, but at 7000 m and more, it is difficult enough to make up the time difference even when it is only a quarter of an hour.”
In the second, he comments that "...Quader [sic.][the Pakistani liaison officer] had already told Fritz [Wintersteller] that morning that it was not right to leave us [Buhl & Diemberger] to clear the camps, while they went off climbing without our knowledge - to a mountain [Skil Brum] we had always talked about climbing together." Over all, the account by Messner & Höfler suggests none of the serious discord found in Bonington's account. Nevertheless, it is worth going into a bit more detail on both of these complaints.
Concerning Wintersteller and Schmuck leaving early, Buhl writes a bit later, “Then the snow gets deeper. It is light powder and wind-blown drifted snow. It takes us hours to catch up with Fritz and Marcus.” There is a puzzle here. How can it take hours to catch up to two people who only have a 15-minute lead, when the two ahead are breaking trail in powder snow? The answer that first comes to mind is that the ones following are not fit. If so, that would beg the question of whether the root of Buhl’s anger was Schmuck and Wintersteller leaving early, or Buhl not being able to keep up with the others? There may be other explanations, but there is something not right here.
Buhl’s second complaint had to do with Schmuck and Wintersteller going to Skil Brum. When I asked them about it in November 2005, both Qader Saeed and Fritz Wintersteller contradict what Buhl says in this second passage. Qader emphasizes that he gave permission for Schmuck and Wintersteller to go to Skil Brum. As for clearing camps, this version by Buhl gives the impression that Schmuck and Wintersteller were not pulling their weight, and that he and Diemberger had to do an unfair share of the work. This is simply not an accurate representation of the facts, as I understand them. Bonington's account is consistent with what Fritz Wintersteller told me, namely, that all four had agreed that they would clear their own personal gear, as well as their share of the expedition equipment, such as tentage. Schmuck and Wintersteller did this on their descent from the summit. Buhl and Diemberger (apparently due to fatigue), did not. Rather, after summiting they descended to base camp leaving their gear on the mountain. Consequently, after resting, they had to re ascend to high camp to clear their share.
So, while Buhl was understandably upset that Wintersteller and Schmuck went off to climb Skil Brum without Diemberger and him, it is equally understandable that Schmuck and Wintersteller did so.
There are a few reasons that I say so, based largely on my conversations with Fritz Wintersteller and Qader Saeed. First, as Bonington points out, the relationship between the two teams was very bad even before making the final successful summit attempt. This was further aggravated by Schmuck and Wintersteller's anger that Buhl and Diemberger had not cleared their gear on their descent, and that they had taken unjustifiable risk in going to the summit so late in the day. As to the former point, this meant that if all four were to go to Skil Brum, Schmuck and Wintersteller would have had to wait around in base camp for a few days while the other two went back up to do their share of stripping the camps. Second, Qader had gotten a report that said that the window of good weather was short, so if they were going to go, they could not wait. (The weather that Diemberger and Buhl encountered on Chogolisa is a testament to the accuracy of this report.) Third, based on Diemberger and (especially) Buhl's performance on summit day on Broad Peak, Wintersteller and Schmuck would not have gone with them even if they had been in camp. Their performance and fitness level (made even clearer by their not clearing camps on the way down) was simply not up to the lightning ascent that would be required in order to get up and down Skil Brum before the weather changed. However, Wintersteller made one other thing clear to me when asked the direct question: if Diemberger and Buhl had been at base camp, and if they had both been fit enough to keep up, they would absolutely have gone as a foursome, despite the previous problems.
Returning to the literature, the next account of the 1957 first ascent of Broad Peak was in Sale and Cleare's Climbing the World's 14 Highest Mountains: The History of the 8000-Meter Peaks, published in 2000. In preparing the section on Broad Peak, Sale spoke with both Fritz Wintersteller and Marcus Schmuck. He also included photos from Kurt Diemberger. The inclusion of the photos was contingent on an agreement that Diemberger could check the text for errors (but not have the right to make changes). Nevertheless, Sale’s UK Publishers, (HarperCollins), changed his text prior to publication on Diemberger's insistence. Furthermore, they did so without informing him.
I have photocopies of the originals of both the December 26, 1999 contract that Diemberger had provided HarperCollins in order to secure the use of his photos, as well as a letter of January 8, 2003 from HarperCollins to Richard Sale explaining the reasons for their actions. Diemberger’s contract included the following clauses (material in italics signify direct quotes):
3) because even the best writers continue to make factual errors and mix-ups on what happened on Brad Peak, Chogolisa, Dhaulagiri, K2 , I will grant the use of my pictures only if the author does send me the few actual pages of his text, which shall be illustrated with my pictures, in time to tell him such factual errors … it remains his free will to correct or not.
4) inclusion of three of my books onto the bibliography page: a) Summits & Secrets” (Hodder & Stroughton), b) “The Endless Knot – K2, mountain of dreams and destiny” (Collins) and c) “The Kurt Diemberger Omnibus” (The Mountaineers & Baton Wicks)
Despite this contract, here is what HarperCollins wrote to Richard Sale:
… Just as we were about to go to press (you’ll remember things got very tight towards the end of the schedule), we received a fax saying that unless we changed certain specific captions and text, and inserted references to his own books within the text, Herr Diemberger would revoke all permissions to use his photographs and instigate legal proceedings against HarperCollins. As the corrections concerned events in which Diemberger was personally involved, we had no option other than to take his view and make the changes that he requested. These changes were made under our contract with you allowing us to make changes that in our opinion are liable to end up in legal action by a third party.
There are a few obvious things to note here. First, the last phrase of clause 3) makes clear that Diemberger did not have the contractual right to change the text – just make suggestions. Second, despite his later insistence, the contract stipulated only that Diemberger’s three books appear in the bibliography, not that they be cited in the text. Third, Sale and HarperCollins did conform to the contract, as signed, and it is clear by the events that Diemberger did get copies of the proofs of the relevant parts of the book. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, keep in mind that it was Diemberger’s contract. It came from him. He is the one who initiated it and he signed it..
To break his own contract and threaten legal action, Diemberger must have really wanted to change Sale's text. But whatever his reason, the version of the 1957 expedition in this book is Diemberger's, not Sale's - making it his third in English. On seeing the account when it was published, believing it was what he had written, Wintersteller and Schmuck contacted Sale to register their sense of betrayal in that appeared was not consistent with what they had told him, nor with what he had said he would write. (Wintersteller had also written to Höfler to contest the accuracy of the account, based on Buhl's report, found in the Messner and Höfler book.)
This incident led to the most recent account of the expedition, Richard Sale's 2004 book, Broad Peak. This is by far the most extensive account of the expedition. And while it is very consistent with the account by Bonington, it is nevertheless, turning out to be the most controversial. Since it is the first book-length account of the expedition, I have chosen to devote a separate article to it. Hence, the interested reader is directed to the companion to this essay, my review of Sale's book.
There are two other things that I want to mention before you "leave", however.
First, interested readers are referred to the official site of the Austrian OEAV Karakoram Expedition 1957: http://www.broadpeak.org/en/. This includes a slide show of photos taken on the first ascent, biographical information on the team, diary excerpts, etc.
Second, I want to make some comments about Buhl's book, Achttausend drüber und drunter (published in English as Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage - The Lonely Challenge). While the original manuscript was written by Buhl, the text that appeared in print was heavily edited by Kurt Maix. In fact, in their book, Messner and Höfler state:
We could find many examples of how Kurt Maix had not only edited but also in parts re-written or even written from scratch. Maix goes so far as to admit this himself in a letter to Generl Buhl [Hermann's wife] dated 6 December 1958: "I respected those people and mountaineers who were fond of this lovable and sensitive Hermann Buhl. I respected those people and mountaineers who were fond of this lovable and sensitive Hermann Buhl. I was proud to be able to edit his work, and I carried out this task carefully without wanting to suppress him. But I removed everything that might be harmful to him and rewrote certain parts. I protected Hermann - from himself and from the evil world - as I had always done. Thus I chose to change whole chapters and even to write some of them anew from my own perspective." (Messner & Höfler, 2000, pp 193-194)
Maix's attitudes, reflected in this passage, reflect the times. Clearly, for him, our heroes could not be seen to be human. They need myths cast around them, and even to be protected from themselves. The current view, and some might call it revisionist history, is that people who do great things, but who have human weaknesses or failings, are all the more worthy of respect, precisely because - like you and me - they are human. That Buhl's diaries from Broad Peak and Chogolisa have finally become available in the new 2005 edition of Achttausend drüber und drunter is a great contribution to the literature (and one hopes that they will appear in English translation sooner than later). However, there is a certain concern that - despite the publisher's best intentions - the transcription of the handwritten diaries might in some way be edited in the Kurt Maix tradition.
Here is the issue. In the new edition of Buhl's book, there is only one page of the handwritten diaries reproduced in facsimile, and therefore, there is only one page from the diaries from which the reader of the volume can compare the transcription with the original. The problem is this: in this one page, page 314 of the book, there is an important mistake which causes the meaning to differ significantly from that in the transcription found on page 337.
In the handwritten original, Buhl writes, "Mir ist hundsmiserabel, vielleicht von der Kälte, habe keinen Appetit und..." (I am disabled by sickness, perhaps from the cold, I have no appetite and ...). The German word, "hundsmiserabel" used in this extract is really significant. Literally translated into English, it means "dog sick". But in German it means that you feel really, really bad - both physically and psychologically. You feel like you could just lie down and die.
Yet, in the transcription, this passage appears as "Mir ist links miserabel, vielleicht von der Kälte, habe keinen Appetit und..." (I feel left sick, perhaps from the cold, I have no appetite and ...). There is a big difference in how the two versions read in German, and "links miserable" makes no more sense in German than "left sick" means in English (which makes the transcription all the more surprising - despite the difficulty in reading Buhl's handwriting). In drawing attention to it, I am not suggesting that either the publishers or the person doing the transcription intentionally distorted the meaning in the way that Maix consciously edited Buhl's text. Rather, what I am suggesting is that a lot of the controversy and lack of trust around this expedition will disappear when the originals of all of the diaries and associated documents are made available to all serious writers. That, with luck, will help keep a good story wonderfully told from getting in the way of the truth - as it can best be reconstructed from the evidence.
If one looks at the reproduction of the handwritten version, and looks at the word in question in isolation, it is easy to see how “hunds” could be mistaken for “links”. First, this is a diary, after all, and the script is not all that easy to read. Secondly, there is clearly what appears to be a dot above where the “i” in “links” would be. However, one has to look at the whole page. What one also needs to know is that there was an earlier form of German script called Sütterlin. In it, one put a mark over the “u” in order to differentiate it from the “e”. Many people, including Buhl, carried this practice over, even when writing in modern script. This can be clearly seen on the same page, such on over the “u” in “Marcus” or in the word “und” that appears at the end of the section that I translated. But there is yet another clue that makes it all the more clear that the transcription is wrong. There is a hyphen after the “word” in question, making it clear that this is one word broken over two lines, not two words. So, even if one first thought that the first part was “links”, this would not be possible since the compound word "linksmiserabel" has absolutely no meaning in German. While knowing S ütterlin might take someone over 50 years of age, this hyphen, and hence the error, should have been caught by any conscientious native German speaker doing the transcription.
All five members of this expedition, Schmuck, Buhl, Wintersteller, Diemberger and Saeed deserve a better legacy and more complete and accurate history that they have gotten thus far. If the original documents had been freely available years ago, much of the current controversy could have been avoided. The recent publishing of the Buhl diary transcriptions in the new edition of his book, and of material from Schmuck and Wintersteller on the Broad Peak web site, is a very welcome move in this direction. None of the expedition's participants need anyone else to "protect" their legacy, especially at the expense of others. They did something remarkable and worthy of being understood and recognized. For some of them, such recognition has been far too long in coming. It is time for this to be rectified, for the whole team's sake.
I would like to both thank and acknowledge Fritz Wintersteller senior and junior, Reinhold Schmuck and Qader Saeed for their cooperation in researching this essay as well fact checking. Richard Sale has also offered help with comments, as well as supporting documentation. Finally, one of my oldest friends, Wolfgang Bautzmann has helped me with all matters concerning understanding the German language and its history. Any errors that remain are mine, and are there despite their best efforts.
Sale, Richard (2004). Broad Peak. Hildersley: Carreg Ltd.
Book Review by Bill Buxton (check for up-date of this article at the author's website)
This is an account of the 1957 Austrian Karakorum Expedition that made the first ascent of Broad Peak. The expedition, made up of made up of Marcus Schmuck, Hermann Buhl, Fritz Wintersteller, and Kurt Diemberger, was quite significant since it was the first 8,000 metre peak to be climbed without the aid of porters on the mountain - the climbing team did all of their own carries.
Furthermore, they did so without the aid of supplemental oxygen. It was also the first time that an 8,000 metre peak where the whole team made the summit on the same day.
While the accomplishments of the expedition were outstanding, there was also a down side. First, there were interpersonal problems amongst the team. Second, this was the expedition on which Hermann Buhl lost his life.
One of the strongest aspects of this book is that it is the first book in English (or any other language) to draw on all three diaries kept by team members (Buhl, Schmuck and Wintersteller – Diemberger did not keep a diary, which is significant given the amount that he has subsequently written about the expedition). It also draws on interviews with Schmuck, Wintersteller, Kurt Diemberger and the liaison officer, Qader Saeed, as well as Broad Peak 8047m: Meine Bergfahrten mit Hermann Buhl, the book that Schmuck published after the expedition (which has only been published in German).
The best known English account of the climb, which appeared in Diemberger's Summits and Secrets, is more of a personal reminiscence. Sale's book is an attempt at writing a history of the expedition as a whole. One of the most welcome consequences of his having done so is the emergence of Marcus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller, who had remained in the background of Diemberger's account. Neither are well known in the English world, and given the role that they played in this ground-breaking expedition, Sale is to be thanked for making them better known to us.
So what of Buhl and Diemberger, the two characters in the foreground in Summits and Secrets? The characterization of Buhl is very consistent with that found in the Bonington account: a man who is struggling with frustrations due to sickness, fatigue, the aftermath of frostbite from his time on Nanga Parbat, and ultimately, the difficulty of being one of the worlds' most famous climbers, and yet not being able to keep up with the younger Wintersteller. But the portrayal is not disrespectful. To the contrary. Rather, it highlights the strength of character that got Buhl to the summit, despite these problems - problems that would have caused almost anyone else to turn back. Buhl appears exceptional, but human. If anyone is going to level criticism at Sale for Buhl's portrayal in this book, my view is that they must direct their criticism at Bonington's as well. And, in so doing, I think that they would be wrong.
The person who comes out the least well in this account is Diemberger. In many ways, how could he not? Given that the most read previous account in English is his own, it is not surprising that it was not self-critical. To be fair, nor was it critical of anyone else. First, his tale was the reminiscence of a young star-struck climber on his first major expedition, where things go wrong and his hero is killed when the two of them are of on a climb together. Second, the expedition members had been instructed by the governor of Salzburg (where Diemberger, Schmuck and Wintersteller were all from) to write a unified positive account. While this letter was sent to Schmuck, it reflected the times, and Diemberger wrote accordingly.
Diemberger is an exceptional writer, and much of his text reads almost like poetry. His approach and purpose could not be further from that of Sale. Sale set himself the not enviable task of trying to bring the history of the climb out from the shadow cast by Diemberger's compelling story telling. In so doing, Diemberger is brought from his stance as poet, down into the grunt and sweat of expedition climbing – where people are tired, grumpy, critical, and often unreasonable. And in this world, in Sale's telling, and in the diaries of the others, Diemberger was not the famous climber of 8,000 metre peaks that he was later to became known as. Rather he was an outsider, the only one on the team who had not previously climbed with any of the others. He was a beginner at expedition climbing who still needed to get some experience under his belt in order to a mature. In short, Diemberger is portrayed as being human and fallible, rather than the poetic young climber who shared Buhl's last minutes.
On the question of interpersonal discord, the problems began before the expedition even left Austria. The issue that first started to interfere with the relationship between Buhl and Schmuck had to do with leadership. Buhl, who was certainly the best known of the team, felt that he should be leader. However, given the controversial aftermath of the Nanga Parbat expedition, this was not acceptable to the Austrian climbing federation. The eventual compromise was that Schmuck was the overall leader of the expedition, but Buhl was to be the climbing leader.
On the mountain, this didn't work out. As Sale tells it, Buhl was weak (due to a combination of sickness and the aftermath of frostbite on his foot on Nanga Parbat). Likewise, Diemberger is characterized as being weak, sandbagging, and not very competent (his lack of performance in handling a crevasse is one example). Wintersteller was the strongest, and did much/most of the leading, and he was generally paired up with, and out front with, Schmuck. Diemberger generally paired up with Buhl.
After the first failed attempt that got them to the fore-summit, they tried again. This time, all of them reached the summit. However, by this time, the group was climbing as two separate teams of two. Diemberger and Buhl were significantly later reaching the summit than the other pair (it being very questionable if Buhl – who was eventually climbing alone, behind - would make it at all). Diemberger was descending from the summit when he met Buhl, and turned around to accompany him back up to the top.
While the relationship between the two teams was bad after the first summit attempt, after reaching the summit for real, it got even worse. On descending to base camp, Diemberger and Buhl had to go back up to retrieve their personal effects and clear off their share of the tentage, etc. (Schmuck and Wintersteller brought down their share while descending from the summit. Hence, Diemberger and Buhl were not done with their chores until well after the other two.) When they got back, they were both stunned and furious to find that Wintersteller and Schmuck had gone off and bagged another peak, Skil Brum. This was done with the permission of their liaison officer, Qadar Saeed. (Qadar explained to me that he was able to give permission since the mountain did not appear on the map and was therefore not a recognized mountain. By exploring it, Schmuck and Wintersteller would be doing the Pakistani Government a service. And, in fact, they were congratulated for having done so on their return.)
As a consequence, Diemberger went off alone, ostensibly to take photographs. Then, while the others were sleeping, Buhl went off secretly to meet him. What is clear is that Buhl and Diemberger had planned this in advance. They did not tell the others their intention. In material sent to the Banff Mountain Book Festival, Diemberger has written "....but our discussion with Quader [sic.] in the kitchen ended with the permission for that mountain: 'They have their peak, you have yours!' said Quader."
However, when I asked him about this, Qader strongly denies that this conversation took place, and insists that not only did he not give Diemberger and Buhl permission to climb Chogolisa, he did not have the authority to do so, even if he had wanted to. In fact, he claims that as a result of his illegal attempt on the mountain, his final report recommended that Diemberger be banned from Pakistan.
So what about the book?
On the one hand, the expedition deserves a volume dedicated to it – something that did not previously exist - so this effort by Sale is a welcome addition to the literature. This is especially true, given the amount of of new and fascinating details that it presents. On the other hand, the book is not without its flaws. I am going to spend some time on them for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious, because they are there. But secondly, because this book has raised a fair bit of controversy, and my perspective is that (often legitimate) attacks on its weaknesses have overshadowed any reasonable discussion or appreciation of its strengths.
Yes, the book has weaknesses, and someday, in a second edition or some other book, they will be fixed. But in the meantime, as the dictum goes, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." In my opinion, the book is important despite its flaws. But that does not mean that one should not be aware of them, and at least take them into account. So here is what I found wrong with the book:
- The writing is sometimes unclear and in need of a good editor.
- There are mistakes of fact that should have been caught before publication.
- There are a number of cases where the author shows a lack of objectivity that detracts from, rather than helps, his narrative.
- There is no index, making it extremely hard to find things in the text, and no maps.
An example of what I mean by unclear writing can be found on pages 72-75 which describe carrying gear up to base camp from where it was dropped by the porters. I defy anyone to make sense of this in terms of reconciling distances, times and locations. A map would have helped greatly, but the writing is a mess.
Another example is found on page 14, where Charles Bruce's joining Conway is being discussed. By not presenting things in chronological order, the reader will almost certainly assume that Bruce was with Mummary before he was with Conway, which is not correct.
While seemingly small points, these are things that a competent editor should of caught. Furthermore, it is through clarity and accuracy on such things that an author gains the confidence of the reader.
As for mistakes of fact, here are a few glaring examples:
On page 30, Sale has Schmuck in Spitsbergen in 1955 saying, “The Austrian successes on Cho Oyu and Gasherbrum II had pointed the way.” While Cho Oyu was first climbed in 1954, the Austrians did not make their successful first ascent of Gasherbrum II until 1956, the year after Schmuck was in Spitsbergen. This kind of mistake, while trivial on the one hand, serves to discredit the quality of the research elsewhere in the book.
Likewise, on page190, Sale describes Dee Molenaar as “another member of the successful American Gasherbrum I expedition.” This is simply not accurate. Yet again, the details are wrong, and therefore the reliability of the rest of the research is undermined, even when it is accurate.
I have singled out these two errors because Sale and Cleare have written a recent book on the history of the 8,000 metre peaks, and checking facts with his own book would have avoided both errors.
Moving on, as I have stated, there is also an unnecessary lack of objectivity in many places, and this lack of discipline does further damage to the book's positive contribution. Again, let me give some specific examples.
On page 27, Sale is describing a fall by Buhl on the east face of the Fleischbank in the Wilder Kaiser. In his diaries, as quoted on pages 53-54 of Messner & Höfler’s Hermann Buhl: Climbing without Compromise, Buhl states that the fall was due to a hold breaking off. To this, Sale writes, “There were (and are) those who dispute the broken hold claim.” In my estimation, this comes across as relying on unsubstantiated and anonymous climber’s gossip. Rather than establishing any foundation for objectivity, the impression given is that Sale is using innuendo to build up Schmuck’s ability at the expense of Buhl’s. This is simply not necessary. Schmuck’s accomplishments are enough on their own and do not need such help. It detracts from the book and should have been left out.
On the next page, Sale does his case additional damage by stating, without any substantive documentation or discussion, “It is difficult not at least to consider the idea that on Nanga Parbat Hermann Buhl was secretly pleased when Otto Kempter, who was to have been his climbing partner on the summit attempt, failed to get past the Silver Saddle and so left the summit to Buhl alone.” From my perspective, as this stands, this statement is completely without merit or justification.
Yet there is more. On page 39 Sale calls into question the veracity of Diemberger having made his ascent of the mushroom on the Königsspitze. In the absence of any documented evidence that this ascent was disputed prior to Diemberger’s joining the Broad Peak expedition, it should not be included. Again, unsubstantiated climber’s gossip has no place in a serious book. Furthermore, given that none of Buhl, Schmuck or Wintersteller had ever climbed with Diemberger prior to the expedition, it is inconceivable that they would have accepted him onto the team, sight unseen, no matter how much money came with him, if his having done this climb was in doubt at the time. This section just sounds petty and, once again, damages Sale’s legitimate and substantiated points.
Having identified some of the weaknesses of the book, I feel equally compelled to address some of the unfair criticisms that have been leveled at it. First, Sale does not accuse Diemberger of stealing Buhl’s diaries. What he does is state that that is what Schmuck wrote in his diary at the time. Likewise, he does not suggest that Diemberger was in some way responsible for Buhl’s death. Again, Sale simply reported that this is what Schmuck felt at the time, in the heat of the moment, and what he wrote in his diaries. Criticizing Sale on these counts is tantamount to shooting the messenger. What is strange about these particular criticisms is that there is nothing here that Bonington didn't mention in his account 24 years earlier. And, perhaps more to the point, the strongest implicit criticism that I have seen of Diemberger (and Buhl) was a footnote by Othmar Gurtner to Diemberger's first account of the climb, published in the 1958/59 edition of The Mountain World, which said:
The classic view, developed as the result of a century's experience in the Western Alps, definitely calls for the invariable protection of the rope on corniced ridges, especially in bad visibility. The long climbing rope, kept taut, would probably have kept Buhl in Diemberger's tracks by its very pull. If not, Diemberger's instinctive leap in the other direction would have stretched the rope so violently that it would have bitten into the newly broken edge of the snow and might well have held Buhl in his fall over the broken edge. Blind credence in a lucky start was weighed in the scales against prudence. Fate decided the balance. (p. 150)
There is nothing by Sale that is in anyway as critical of Diemberger (and Buhl) as this footnote that was published with Diemberger's own account.
Continuing on, there is one more criticism that has been leveled at Sale: that he suggests that, having stolen Buhl’s diaries, Diemberger may in some way changed them. This is equally inaccurate. What Sale says is that the version of the diaries that he and Horst Höfler have seen is a typewritten transcript, rather than the hand-written originals. He simply states that the accuracy of these typescripts cannot be verified until their provenance is known and they are compared with the originals. That is simply good scholarship (and, based on the one page from the handwritten diaries that is available, this concern is not without some justification). However, far from accusing Diemberger of any misdeeds in this matter, Sale actually makes an argument as to why there would be nothing in the diaries that Diemberger would want to change.
From the previous few paragraphs, it should be clear that this book has stirred up a fair bit of controversy. The reason that this is so disappointing is that much of this could have been avoided if Sale had been a bit more careful in his research, and appeared a bit more objective in his writing. Nevertheless, Sale has done a lot of valuable research, and he has a lot of interest to say. Furthermore, the contributions of Schuck and Wintersteller do deserve being told in English, and Sale is to be congratulated for bringing their story to us. It is just a real shame that the noise around the book is resulting in attention being distracted from the expedition's very real accomplishments. As Barry Blanchard said, with his eyes full of admiration after hearing Wintersteller speak at the 2005 Banff Book Festival, “They climbed Broad Peak! They Climbed Broad Peak! In beautiful style! What else do you want?”
Regardless of the problems with the team, Barry is right. That is the story: they climbed Broad Peak beautifully, and in so doing, led the way to a new style of alpinism. Sale's book has made an important contribution to our appreciation of the full significance of their feat. For that I welcome its appearance, and was glad to read it. I just wish that it had been written in a more objective way, a way that was accurate about the history, but side-stepped some of the unnecessary controversy. In the meantime, despite its problems, this book is an important contribution to the literature, and worth reading. And for those who are all fired up about it, I would suggest reading the Bonington account as well, before dismissing Sale's effort.