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Who are you, Christian Kuntner?
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Jul 13, 2004 17: 11 EST
Keep in mind that he's bagged 13 of the 14 8000+ peaks. With only the stubborn Annapurna to go, Christian Kuntner's name has been somehow hidden to the general public who, in many cases, don't even know where he comes from. Is he German, Swiss, Austrian?

None of the above. Christian Kuntner, 44, is a German-speaking Italian from Western Tirol, born in Prad am Stilfserjoch, the Stelvio Meadows. He can be proud of having reached two very important goals in the big mountains: first, an impressive climbing resume; second, some very good friends to climb with, or to join him for a bicycle ride. In 1998, along with Donnatella Catteruccia, he rode the 10,000km trail of the Silk Road, through high mountain passes and deserts. In 2001 he started a nine month, even longer, BBT trip along the American continent, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

He's not one of those climbers who appears suddenly and, without prior notice or long experience, focuses on climbing 8000+ mountains as fast as possible. Bred in the Alps, taught as a very small child his love for mountains by his father -a park ranger- he is as fond of expeditions as for ski touring traverses or classic North Face climbs.

Step by step

The Alps are beautiful and it would take more than a life time to climb all the routes but for Christian there is also a big world outside, and higher mountains to reach.

Nevertheless, Kuntner followed a very logical progression line: from the Alps, to the Peruvian Andes, then an attempt to Broad Peak and GII, then Cho Oyu. There he enjoyed his first 8000+ summit, and learnt from his climbing mate, the Polish lady climber Wanda Rutkiewicz. Next year he'd climb Manaslu along with Krysztof Wielicki, two rather good masters to start a high altitude climbing career. At the dawn of the new Century, the highest peaks of the Earth 'fell at his feet'. Except one.

Perhaps due to the influence of the most powerful climbers of the time, or his alpine climbing background, Kuntner is a convicted supporter of light expeditions: small groups of friends, no high altitude Sherpas and no supplementary O2. He has been on expeditions along with Silvio Mondinelli and the afore mentioned legends, but also friends Marco Bianchi and Stephan Andres.

Shared challenges

Anyway, in 1999 he found a complementary 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 are both pursuing Annapurna's evasive summit to finish the Fourteen Great ones. Abele would say of Christian, when they attempted together Annapurna for the third time: "It is like having two roosters (him and I) in a henhouse!! And we are on our fifth expedition together; you can see that sometimes it works!"

No doubt that 2003 was an intense year for Christian. During the spring, he climbed a new route on Kangchenjunga. Summiting late in the day in bad weather, there was no time to enjoy the achievement. His concern would soon turn into worry when the Spanish climber Carlos Pauner disappeared during the descent. Two days after, they declared their companion as missing. But then Carlos appeared like a ghost, but alive and kicking.

Dispair on Annapurna

Just a few months afterwards, Christian was ready for his third try on Annapurna, and chose no other side that the impressive south face.

At 7500m, they ran out of ropes to fix. Christian describes the climb as a 60-90 degree ice wall, and rock sections of about V raising 3km from the void. "It was late, already 12:30, but I wanted to keep on climbing, and to get to the top. My friends said no, the descent in the middle of the night would have been too dangerous. Even so, it was hard to accept their arguments." According to Abele, there was a heated exchange of arguments for hours through the radio. But finally the decision was taken; they were too tired to remain one more night on CIII, they had to abort the summit bid at 7550m.

Back to BC, a desolated Kuntner would write "How long will this Mountain want to fight me? In 1997 it snowed without a break during a whole month. Last year we had more of the same. This year (2003), for two days, I thought that, at last, Annapurna was holding its hand to me in friendship. Just before starting to abseil, I raised my head and looked at the summit, muttering to myself: I'll come back in a couple of days and, this time, please let me get to you."

Here he comes again

He wouldn't return in a couple of days. He had started the season on his 'other' account to settle; Lhotse. This time there was no perpetual storm. Kuntner reached the summit. Now there are no other problems to distract him from his goal. Once the monsoon is over, he'll return as promised. It is yet to see if Annapurna sticks to its part of the deal.

Ok, now we know some more about Christian's climbs. Still mountains are not a whole life. Or are they? Donatella, his bike-partner on the Silk route, must have got to know him much better. She wrote a poem, reproduced on Christian's web site, titled Wer bist Du? (Who are you?). Well, here is a (rough) translation, for all to draw their own conclusions.

Wer bist du?

In the Blue of the glacier,
The color of my eyes,
In the haul of the wind,
My breathing,
In the symphony of
Thousand lights,
My voice,
In the uproar of avalanches
My unquiet heart,
In the crystal glitter of
Snow my clear mind,
In the darkness of the underground
My fear,
In its beauty
My happiness,
In its inhospitableness
The sweat of my
In its realm
My modesty,
In its silence
My peace,
In its immeasurable
Widths my liberty, in its eternity
My ecstasy.
The mountain - my life.

Christian Kuntner (Western Tirol, 1962) have climbed 13 8000+ mountains: Cho Oyu in 1991, Manaslu in 1992, Broad Peak in 1993, Dhaulagiri in 1994, Everest through the North West Ridge 1995, K2 in 1996 by the Japanese route through North face, Shisha Pangma in 1998 (descent on Skies), GI and GII in 1999, Makalu in 2000, Nanga Parbat in 2001, Kangchenjunga by a new route in 2003 and Lhotse in 2004.

After former attempts in 1997 (north side), 2002 and 2003 (south side), Kuntner is returning this Autumn to Annapurna, the last of the 14 8000+ for him to summit.

Images on Christian, on top on the summit of Schreckhorn, Along with Abele Blanc (left), during the Trans american MTB traverse and ski-touring, courtesy of Christiankuntner.com. Christian on a high camp on Annapurna south face, courtesy od Abeleblanc.com

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