May 20, 2005 11: 10 EST
Previously published May 19, 2005 10: 31 EST
Italian news sources are reporting today that Abele is recovering in Kathmandu. He is still in shock - unable to recognize companions, but he got up from bed today for a short while and the docs seem to think he'll be alright.
"We have lived like real men"
Everyone who knows Abele understands how hard the loss of his companion is on him. In 2003, the pair attempted Annapurna in fall. The summit team endured an agonizing stay at Camp 3 amid gale force winds that ripped up their tents and nearly blew them off of their perch on the edge of a crevasse. The team decided to return to Base Camp.
Just before leaving the mountain for home, Abele wrote in his debrief dispatch:
“For two months we have lived like real men, courageous, loyal, in fraternity, solidly and idealistically, it was worth it.....! Only one certainty remains, from tomorrow we will go back to being the usual selfish bastards who fool friends and play with other’s emotions, because only the Mountain succeeds in performing miracles.”
“All the ifs and buts of life rained down around me "
The climb had been very hard, and Abele had stayed behind for the last summit push. He watched in anguish as his team mates including Christian continued to ascend toward Camp 3 on the 8,091m peak: “All the ifs and buts of life rained down around me compelling me to shed bitter tears of compassion, all my certainties were just rubbish in front of the possible loss of a beloved friend and the pain I would have brought to their loved ones,” he wrote.
The soul imprinted in the Himalaya
Yesterday, Abele's worst nighmare came true. On the same cruel mountain where he had penned the words two years back, he now watched a serac fall over his best friend. An hour later, Christian died in his arms. A brief moment in time had come to an end - the great Himalayan saga of the shy ace climbing brothers Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner was over.
And yet the soul of the two mountaineers' climbs remain, a great example to others of the true spirit of adventure and real men. Summarized in Abele's final dispatch from Annapurna in 2003:
“This evening, once again reunited in the big tents of base camp, we’ll still open the bottle of champagne. It was supposed to celebrate the climb to the peak, but as this is now precluded, we’ll celebrate what has brought our group close together in an extraordinary way, and this adventure that we have shared.”
In 1999, Christian Kuntner found his perfect climbing partner: Abele Blanc. With similar climbing skills and the same attitude towards mountaineering, the 1999 season in the Karakorum, when they climbed both GI and GII, was the beginning of a long friendship. They were both pursuing Annapurna's evasive summit to finish the Fourteen Great ones. When they attempted Annapurna for the third time, they had made already four expeditions together.
Although shy, Abele Blanc has an aura of old-time chivalry about him. A mountain guide by heart and breed – he was born in Aosta Valley, at the foot of Mont Blanc – his character is similar to those described in the old, epic mountaineering novels from the first half of the twentieth century about heroic mountain guides in the Alps. His online diary is full of deep impressions and beautiful descriptions of the experiences he lives and the places he’s passed through.
The accomplished climbers were not so well known among the international climbing community, or the general media. Both Kuntner and Blanc were rather shy, avoiding widely advertised expeditions and big media fuss.
Image of Abele Blanc (left) and Christian Kuntner (right), courtesy of Christiankuntner.com