Aftermath to: Broad Peak and the 1957 Austrian Karakoram Expedition

Bill Buxton
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

Complaint about the final draft not making it into print

Conditions of Use vs a Contract

There are other errors, but Buxton ignored objections that did not fit into his frame ...

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

The Buhl Diaries

.. there is no complete bibliography


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.