The year of 2009 will go down as one of the darkest in mountaineering history. The latest climber to die is 40-year-old Tomaz Humar, a Slovenian alpinist who fell during a solo attempt on the immense unclimbed South Face of 23,711-foot (7,227-meter) Lantang Lirung in northern Nepal. Humar's body was recovered from the world's 99th highest mountain early Saturday morning by rescuers.
Humar contacted his base support team last Monday, reporting that he had fallen and suffered a broken leg and spinal injury. Asian Trekking's Dawa Sherpa, who coordinated the rescue effort, detailed Humar's communications in an email to ExplorersWeb: "On the evening of November 9th, Asian Trekking received an emergency call from BC crew member Jagat: Tomaz had had an accident at approximately 6,300m and requested immediate rescue... [Tuesday] at 10:00am was also the last time Tomaz called Jagat. The conversation was very short. Tomaz seemed to be in a very critical condition and his voice was very weak. He said: 'Jagat, this is my last!' There was no further contact with Tomaz after that."
Sherpa rescuers searched the area on Tuesday and Wednesday by both foot and air but were unable to locate Humar, then heavy snow on Wednesday and Thursday hampered the rescue effort because of avalanche danger. On Saturday morning his body was spotted, although a couple thousand feet lower than expected. "He had clearly fallen during the climb and broken his spine and leg," says Dawa Sherpa. "He was climbing alone with no guides or porters." Humar's body was recovered by a crack helicopter rescue crew from Air Zermatt in Switzerland.
Gerald Biner with Air Zermatt released this statement earlier today: "We just got a call from our rescue team in Kathmandu. The rescue was made just a few minutes ago. Pilot Robert Andenmatten and rescuer Simon Anthamatten could get Tomaz down from Langthang Lirung. Unfortunately Tomaz did not survive. All our thoughts are with his family and friends. Tomaz was found at 5600 meters on the south wall. Robert decided to use 25 meters of static rope to bring Simon to the accident site. Robert, who was with a Nepali captain, first flew Tomaz to basecamp and went up again to get Simon. Tomaz was further down then expected and had a broken leg. Our team is not sure if he had fallen further up the wall."
This is not the first time that Tomaz Humar had to be rescued from a high peak. In 2005 he attempted a solo ascent of the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat, the ninth-highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan. Humar was plucked from the face in a daring helicopter rescue after four days on a snowy ledge at 19,600 feet high on the mountain. The two Pakistani army pilots who saved him were awarded with Slovenia's highest military honor for bravery.
Humar was probably the greatest active mountaineer in the world today. He emulated Reinhold Messner's tactics of climbing fast and light in a pure alpine style, carrying no oxygen and only basic equipment. He first gained notoriety after his 1999 solo ascent of the South Face of Dhaulagiri. In 2007 he soloed the South Face of Annapurna.
Tomaz Humar's website outlines the creed he lived by: "He was never a man of rules. He decided very early on in his life that his story with the mountains would be his alone and that his journeys would be set by nobody but himself. He denounced classical Himalayan expeditions where one has to follow the rules of a leader and became the master of his own destiny."
Humar also wrote: "Every mountain has its soul. If the mountain doesn't accept you and you don't submit to her will, she will ruin you." Now Lantang Lirung owns his soul. Tomaz, climb in peace among your beloved mountains.
Photographs above: Top: The South Face of Langtang Lirung, the 99th highest mountain in the world. Bottom: Tomaz Humar hard at work on vertical ice. Photographs courtesy Ahtih/Wikipedia and Tomaz Humar.