Tomaz Humar


Born: 18 February, 1969, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Died: November 2009, on Langtang Lirung, Nepal, aged 40.

SOMETIME between Tuesday, 10 November and Saturday, 15 November one of the greatest mountaineers in history died, alone, high up on the face of a Himalayan mountain, with only a local porter on the end of a satellite phone for company.

Slovenian climbing superstar Tomaz Humar had been attempting yet another dangerous and technically difficult climb on the unknown 7,2276m Langtang Lirung, the world's 99th highest mountain. Almost no-one knew he was even there.

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Humar's approach to climbing brought him plaudits and heavy criticism in equal measure. He was frequently called reckless, even suicidal, by climbers who considered his routes, often new and almost always climbed solo, just too extreme, and far beyond the normal levels of acceptable risk.

These were often the opinions of the world's best high altitude alpinists, men and women who take risks most would consider crazy. Humar stood out as "crazy" in a world of crazy people.

He was also called a genius, a man who inspired many by proving that "impossible" was only a perception; by going to places and climbing routes on mountains from which other climbers, even the very best, would walk away.

His list of achievements is, to say the least, impressive: the first solo ascent of Dhaulagiri's south wall, a climb that very nearly killed him; the first solo ascent of Anapurna 1's south face; winning the Piolet d'Or for his climb with Vanja Furlan on Ama Dablam; and a 15-day solo ascent of the Reticent Wall in Yosemite.

In 2005 he was involved in the most dramatic rescue in high altitude mountaineering history when, trapped on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat for six days, encased in an ice cave underneath a perpetual avalanche path, he was snatched from the grasp of the reaper by two extraordinarily brave Pakistani helicopter pilots, 5,900m above sea level.

It was that rescue that prompted the severest criticism of Humar's style. He was accused of making the wrong choices, ignoring the weather and being motivated not by a love for climbing or self-discovery, but by money and fame.

He answered critics by heading to Anapurna 1's south face, one of the world's deadliest mountains, and soloing it, secretly. He was subsequently accused of lying about the ascent and its success. Both accusations proved unfounded, the climb was a masterpiece and an honest one.

Humar was born in what was then Yugoslavia, and, always an individualist, began climbing as a teenager against his parents' wishes. He was conscripted into the Yugoslavian army and was later deeply affected by the conflicts that saw the country torn apart.

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His army experiences only deepened his distrust of authority, and it was perhaps inevitable that he would come to strike out against the rigid hierarchy and rules of mountain climbing in his homeland.

His short yet ridiculously exciting life finally ended after a fall left him with severe injuries, including a broken leg, high up on the south wall of Langtang Lirung. The route he was attempting was technically demanding and the weather conditions poor, hampering any rescue attempt.

A Sherpa team was deployed to search shortly after Humar had made a call to say he was in trouble, but was unable to locate him. It was an Air Zermatt rescue team from Switzerland that eventually located Humar, lower than predicted at 5,900m. He was already dead.

It was no surprise to hear of his death, but almost surprising that it took so long, given the mountains and routes he chose.

He is survived by his former wife and two children.

Tomaz Humar will be remembered by many as a weapons-grade lunatic, a tragic accident waiting to happen. He will be remembered by many others as a quite brilliant climber who operated in a field of one.

However he is remembered, he will be missed.