Aftermath to: Broad Peak and the 1957 Austrian Karakoram Expedition
June 19, 2007
In the 2006 issue of the Canadian Alpine Journal, I published an extended article on the first ascent of Broad Peak, an outstanding climb that was undertaken by a team of four Austrian climbers, Markus Schmuck, the leader, Fritz Wintersteller, Hermann Buhl and Kurt Diemberger. The climb was outstanding in that it was the first 8,000 metre peak to be climbed without the help of porters, with no supplemental oxygen and where all members of the team summitted. It was also time that someone (Hermann Buhl) made the first ascent of a second 8,000 metre peak.
The catalyst for my article was Richard Sale's book on the climb. While Sale's book drew attention to this too neglected feat of mountaineering, it also stirred up more than a little controversy. Having met Sale, Wintersteller, Schmuck's two sons, and the expedition's sirdar, Qader Saeed at the Banff Mountain Festival, I decided to try and understand what the controversy was all about, and write as objective an account as I could of the climb.
In so doing, I had contact with all of those mentioned above, and shared drafts of the manuscript with them as I progressed, in order that they could provide comments and corrections. My rule was that I would not write anything that I could not support with documentation.
Diemberger was not happy with all that I wrote, largely because I would not make some of the changes that he wanted. However, I did make changes on points that I felt were either unimportant, or where he made a good point. Unfortunately, as we shall see, a couple of these changes did not make it into the version printed. This was too bad, but he carries some responsibility for this, due to the length of time that he took in writing, despite knowing that the publication deadline was looming. I did want the final verson of the article to be available, however. Consequently, that is the version that is on my web site.
Not happy with this, as is his right, Diemberger wrote a letter to the Canadian Alpine Journal, which was published, along with some comments from the journal editor, on page 163 of the 2007 edition. A copy of this letter and the comments can be seen by clicking here.
The following are a few comments and points in response to Diemberger's letter.
Reply to Diemberger's Comments
Comment that I did not send him a copy of the printed article
- I can document that I scanned and sent a copy of the article to Diemberger (and Helge Bieber) within hours of receiving my copy of the CAJ.
- I also included a letter of apology for the final changes not making it into the printed version, I identified which ones these were, and also informed him that I had already mounted the proper final version on my web site so that it would at least be available there.
- Diemberger's letter to the CAJ makes it clear that he was aware of this, yet he wrote this regardless.
- I was going to send Diemberger a physical copy, but before having had that chance to do so, he forbade me to have any further correspondence with him. I can document this as well.
- Therefore, Diemberger's comment is disingenious, to say the least.
Complaint about the final draft not making it into print
- As Diemberger says in his letter, his final comments were "roughly two months before the journal's appearance." Someone with his experience in publishing knows perfectly well that that is extremely late in the publication cycle. His slowness of response in our correspondence played a significant role in the final draft not making it into print.
- As stated above, I did put the final draft up on my web site immediately upon realizing what had happened.
- Regardless, I can live with the draft that was printed. The changes that didn't make it into print were issues that were important to Diemberger, but did not compromise my analysis of things, based on the documented evidence. Hence, I was comfortable making the changes.
Conditions of Use vs a Contract
- The greatest cause of concern to Diemberger is that in the earlier drafts, I referred to an agreement that he broke as a"contract".
- Since it mattered so much to him, I changed the word "contract: to read "conditions of use." My point held in either case, so I was comfortable with the change.
- The relevant part of my article referring to this is around footnote 13.
- In order to help the reader form their own opinion, let me supply copies of the following two documents:
- The letter of agreement stating the terms and conditions of use of Diemberger's photos in Sale and Cleare’s, Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Mountains: The History of the 8000-Meter Peaks, published in 2000.
- A letter from HarperCollins explaining why they permitted Diemberger to change Sale's text.
- Furthermore, in terms of Diemberger's stated claim that John Cleare said that Diemberger "did the right thing" in rewriting Sale's text, here are John Cleare's written words:
But there is no way that I would - or could - have promised to alter the text. Not only was it not in my power to do so but I'm a professional, I've worked with authors on many books besides writing several of my own and I know how things are done. Also as a photographer I'm all too aware of copyright, indeed I live by it, and I would no doubt have pointed out that while the copyright in his photographs was his, the copyright in the text was yours [Sale's]and yours alone while the copyright on the complete compilation - text, illustrations + layout - would belong to HarperCollins.
- At no time was Cleare aware that Diemberger was going to rewrite the entire Broad Peak text and add material that in no way could be considered “corrections of errors” nor was he aware of, nor did he condone, Diemberger’s insertion of self-promoting material, including material about previous climbs by him or citations of his previous books (none of which were part of the original text, none of which he had the right to do by his letter of agreement, and as stated, none of which were corrections.)
- I have documentation to support the above statements, but out of respect for John Cleare's privacy, I will not drag him further into this debate.
- In terms of Diemberger's outrage at my describing the agreement that he broke as a "contract", in the importal words of Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
There are other errors, but Buxton ignored objections that did not fit into his frame ...
- I was meticulous in the research for my CAJ article and I believe that there is nothing in it that I cannot support from original documents and the established literature. In contrast, there is no point in the article that Diemberger has provided documentation that shows it as false, unfair, or misleading. Nor did he do so despite the ample time and opportunity provided to him during its preparation and prior to its publication.
The Alpine Journal editors are very welcome to compare reports about things that happened in 1957 with the text of chapters of my Ominibus ... and no less with the new 2005 edition of Hermann Buhl's book, now including his diaries
- Diemberger's account of the climb is well reviewed and discussed in my article.
- If you relied upon Diemberger's written accounts, you would be hard pressed to know that Schmuck and Wintersteller were even on the climb.
- Yet, I do not criticise him for this in my article. Just the opposite.
- This does highlight, however, how his account is somewhat sparce in details not pertaining to him or in his interest - to say the least!
- As for the new edition of Buhl's diaries, I read them and cite them. The irony is that one of the things that Diemberger chided me for in his comments on earlier drafts of my manuscript was quoting passages from these very same diaries that were unflattering to him.
- Diemberger is the only climber on the expedition who did not keep a diary. Furthermore, he has not read the diaries of either Schmuck or Wintersteller, nor has he interviewed them, nor Qader Saeed for anything that he has ever written on the climb. I repeat, there is nothing that I write that I cannot document. This is more than Diemberger can say. Granted, I was not there. But then, Schmuck, Wintersteller and Saeed were, and I consulted their archives and interviewed the latter two for my article - and as Diemberger's letter makes clear, I also consulted him.
The Buhl Diaries
- About these diaries, Diemberger states, "... that in spite of the assertions at the Banff presentation of Sale's book, nobody did steal them."
- At no place in my article do I assert or suggest that anyone stole Buhl's diaries.
- At no place in Richard Sale's book does Richard assert that anyone stole Buhl's diaries.
- At no time in during the Banff Mountain Festival session on Sale's book did anyone assert that anyone stole Buhl's diaries.
- What is reported is that in the heat of the moment, Schmuck made that assertion in his diaries.
- If Diemberger took the time to actually read these diaries, or what I wrote, he would know this.
- This comment by Diemberger is a total red-herring, intended to discredit my scholarship. This form of debate is unworthy of further attention.
.. there is no complete bibliography
- Diemberger knows perfectly well that my article had a complete bibliography, as it was included with every draft of the manuscript that he saw.
Diemberger is an important climber. He is also an extremely compelling writer and story teller. What he does not seem to be able to do is differentiate those accomplishments from his stature as an historian, something he decidedly is not. He was not the only climber on the mountain. Despite the volume of his writings and the vigor that he brings to his attacks of views that are not consistent with his own, his version of the expedition is not the only one, nor (according to my research) the most accurate.
What I wrote in my CAJ article was respectful of Diemberger, and repeatedly gave him the benefit of the doubt. While writing it, I gave him every opportunity to provide documentation that contradicts that on which I had based my writing. Furthermore, I was very strong in my criticism of Sale for some of what he said about Diemberger. But my responsibility is to accuracy and the evidence as it presents itself.
In his old age Diemberger should be able to hold his head high because of his accomplishments. But he should also be able to do so without that being at the expense of his climbing partners, or historical accuracy. Based on his speech in Salzburg at the recent 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain (which told the same old story of Diemberger and Buhl, with virtually no mention, much less acknowledgement of Schmuck and Wintersteller), it is sad to say that he seems incapable of doing so.
And in telling his heroic and romantic story of his time with his "mountain father" Buhl, the other thing that Diemberger will never face up to is what Buhl wrote in his diaries about him on Chogolisa, four days before he died:
... in Zelt, spreche nichts mehr mit Kurt, der Fall ist für mich erledigt.
So is it for me as well - I am just not in a tent with him.