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In Memory

Steve Untch


K2, Amical Alpin Expedition and the Death of Steve Untch. Our international expedition included New Zealander Rob Hall. Finn Veikka Gustafsson, Frenchmen Dr. Philippe Arvis and Alain Roussey, and Germans Henning Paschke, Rodja Ratteit, Axel Schlönvogt, Michi Wärthl and me as leader. We were amazed to find the Base Camp at the foot of K2 so clean, though that was not always the case on the mountain itself. There was a cat’s cradle of fixed rope above 7000 meters. At places, there were 12 parallel fixed ropes. In excellent weather. Hall, Gustafsson, Wärthl, Schlönvogt and I worked our way to Camp III on July 7, too rapidly for all but rugged Gustafsson and Hall, who arrived acclimated from his recent Everest and Lhotse climbs. While Hall and Gustafsson continued on [see above], we three descended. After a period of bad weather, we climbed in a single day, July 17, back to Camp II, but the weather turned bad again and we descended. Exhausted by previous efforts, only Schlönvogt, Wärthl, Gustafsson and I from our expedition, joined by Australian Michael Groom, set out on the next foray. On the second day, we got to Camp III and found our tents, pitched in a protecting crevasse, under two meters of snow. This meant three hours of hard labor at 7300 meters to dig it all out. We marked the way to Camp IV at 7850 meters the next day with 50 bamboo wands. At midnight on July 23, we set out for the summit under a nearly full moon. The previous stormy weather had hardened the surface and so we reached the Bottleneck in good time. Groom and I fixed 250 meters of rope diagonally up 70° ice to the right of the Bottleneck. At five A.M., we continued up the 50° slope. Our anticipatory joy of getting to the top was dampened as we perceived the bodies of two of the Ukrainians hanging on a rope above us. Twenty minutes later, we had to climb past them. Because of this, we hardly wanted to go further, but we were so close to the top. Groom, Schlönvogt and I broke trail in turn. At 8500 meters we had a short ice pitch of 55° or 60°. At about eleven A.M., we all stood on the summit. We had made it without artificial oxygen. Gustafsson called home by radio and statellite telephone, but when I called, I got the answering service only! We knew the descent would call for all our strength and concentration. The weather deteriorated. By the time we passed the corpses, it was snowing hard with zero visibility. After we had descended the fixed rope beside the Bottleneck, we came upon one leg of the third Ukrainian. I was nearly nauseated. We crouched for the night in ourbivouac tents on the Shoulder. The next morning at seven o’clock, a lull let us see one of the bamboo wands 50 meters below us. We were away in minutes, groping our way down the steep slopes from wand to wand. Below Camp III, the fixed lines showed the way, but they were iced and required care. While Groom and Schlönvogt halted for the night at Camp II, we other three descended to Base Camp. Groom had twisted his knee just before Camp II so badly that the next day he could hardly put any weight on it. For that reason, his American friends climbed up with pain-killing medicine to help him down. Steve Untch had carried Groom's pack and belayed him down past House’s Chimney nearly to Camp I. A Korean climber was moving up a solid fixed rope. Not wanting to wait, Untch began to rappel down one of the old ropes, which broke under his weight, and he hurtled 800 meters down the steep ice slope to his death. A final attempt by other members of our expedition was stopped by bad weather at Camp IV on the Shoulder.

Ralf Dujmovits, Amical Alpin, Germany