Christian's climbing followed a classical trail:
Beginning in the Alps, continuing to the Peruvian
Andes, then an attempt to Broad Peak and GII, then
Cho Oyu. There he enjoyed his first 8000+ summit,
learning the ropes from his climbing mate, the Polish
lady climber Wanda Rutkiewicz. Next year he'd climb
Manaslu with Krysztof Wielicki, and at the dawn of
the new Century, Everest was summited.
Perhaps due to the influence of the most powerful
climbers of the time, or his alpine climbing background,
Kuntner was a convicted supporter of light expeditions:
small groups of friends, no high altitude Sherpas
and no supplementary O2. Silvio Mondinelli, Marco
Bianchi and Stephan Andres were among his climbing
In 1999, Christian found his perfect climbing partner:
Abele Blanc. With similar climbing skills and the
same attitude towards mountaineering, the 1999 season
in the Karakorum, when they climbed both GI and GII,
was the beginning of a long friendship. They were
both pursuing Annapurna's evasive summit to finish
the Fourteen Great ones. When they attempted Annapurna
for the third time, they had made already four expeditions
Although shy, Abele Blanc has
an aura of old-time chivalry about him. Mountain
guide by heart and breed – he
was born in Aosta Valley, at the foot of Mont Blanc – his
character is similar to those described in the old,
epic mountaineering novels from the first half of
the twentieth century about heroic mountain guides
in the Alps. His online diary is full of deep impressions
and beautiful descriptions of the experiences he
lives and the places he’s passed through.
Kuntner had climbed all 8000ers
without supplementary O2 or Sherpa support. Abele
Blanc had summited all
but Everest and Kangchenjunga without bottled oxygen.
They attempted Annapurna south face through the south
side in 2003. Kuntner had attempted it in 2002 as
well. However, high Himalayan Mountains were not
the pair’s only passion. In 2002, they climbed
64 of the Alp’s 84, 4000ers. Bad weather conditions
prevented them from climbing them all, but Christian
expected to finish the call this summer.
The accomplished climbers were not so well known
among the international climbing community, or the
general media. Both Kuntner and Blanc were rather
shy, avoiding widely advertised expeditions and big
Like Messner, Kuntner, 43, was
born in Stelvio meadows (South Tyrol). But while
Messner has become a world-wide
famous mountaineering star, Kuntner rejected the
notion of being a climbing celebrity (or even talking
to journalists). On the rare occasion that he went
on record, he used as few words as possible. He muttered
to an Ansa.it journalist last month, “I climb
for myself, not for anyone else. I don’t have
anything to prove.”
2003 - an intense year
2003 was an intense year for Christian. During the
spring, he climbed a new route on Kangchenjunga.
Summiting late in the day in bad weather, there was
no time to enjoy the achievement. His concern would
soon turn into worry when the Spanish climber Carlos
Pauner disappeared during the descent. Two days after,
they declared their companion as missing. But then
Carlos appeared like a ghost, alive and kicking.
Just a few months later, Christian was ready for
his third attempt on Annapurna, and chose no other
side that the impressive south face.
long will this Mountain want to fight me?"
At 7500m, they ran out of ropes
to fix. Christian described the climb as a 60-90
degree ice wall, and
rock sections of about V raising 3km from the void. "It
was late, already 12:30, but I wanted to keep on
climbing, and to get to the top. My friends said
no, the descent in the middle of the night would
have been too dangerous. Even so, it was hard to
accept their arguments." Finally the decision
was taken; they were too tired to stay another night
in C3, they had to abort the summit bid at 7550m.
Back in BC, a desolated Kuntner
would write "How
long will this Mountain want to fight me? In 1997
it snowed without a break during a whole month. Last
year we had more of the same. This year (2003), for
two days, I thought that, at last, Annapurna was
holding its hand to me in friendship. Just before
starting to abseil, I raised my head and looked at
the summit, muttering to myself: I'll come back,
and, this time, please let me have you."
Donatella, his bike-partner on the Silk route, got
to know the shy climber better than most. She wrote
a poem, reproduced on Christian's web site, titled
Wer bist Du? (Who are you?). Here is a (rough) translation.
Who was Christian Kuntner? We'll never really know.
But a mountaineering poem gives a good clue.
Wer bist du?
In the Blue of the glacier,
The color of my eyes,
In the haul of the wind,
In the symphony of
In the uproar of avalanches
My unquiet heart,
In the crystal glitter of
Snow my clear mind,
In the darkness of the underground
In its beauty
In its inhospitableness
The sweat of my
In its realm
In its silence
In its immeasurable
Widths my liberty, in its eternity
The mountain - my life.
Christian Kuntner (South Tirol, 1962) climbed 14, 8000+ mountains: Cho Oyu
in 1991, Manaslu in 1992, Broad Peak in 1993, Dhaulagiri in 1994, Everest
through the North West Ridge 1995, K2 in 1996 by the Japanese route through
North face, Shisha Pangma in 1998 (descent on Skies), GI and GII in 1999,
Makalu in 2000, Nanga Parbat in 2001, Kangchenjunga by a new route in 2003,
Lhotse in 2004 and finally Annapurna in 2005. Christian returned for his
ultimate climb after former attempts in 1997 (north side), 2002 and 2003
(south side). In 2005, the mountain became his final climb. Christian died
on Annapurna's North side today, on May 18, in an ice avalanche after descending
from the summit with Gnaro Mondinelli.
Abele Blanc summited his 13th
8000er, Dhaulagiri, in 2001. Christian Kuntner
summited his 13th, Lhotse,
on the 15th of May, 2004. This spring they joined
forces again to attempt Annapurna through the North
Side, and thus complete the 14 8000ers’ list.
Image of Abele Blanc (left) and Christian Kuntner
(right), courtesy of Christiankuntner.com