Articles - Obituary: Tomaž Humar
Tomaz Humar. Photo: humar.com
Chris Mair - Posted on 17 Nov 2009
Born in the Slovenian district of the former Yugoslavia in 1969 Humar was a latecomer to climbing, progressing from the beams in his parent’s house to the local crags at the age of 18, his first harness fashioned from an old Fiat seatbelt.
He joined the local Kamnik climbing club, part of the Slovenian Mountaineering Association and soon began to flourish under the supervision of some of the country’s most revered climbers, many of whom were veterans of expeditions in the high altitude mountains of the Himalaya. This gave Humar a taste of what he thought was possible, but the club system was riddled with rules and policy was followed strictly, and by the letter. This sat badly with Humar who felt rules belonged in the office and not in the mountains.
When he was 20 the army came calling and with Yugoslavia on the verge of meltdown Humar was packed off to Kosovo. His time in the army fundamentally changed the way he thought and felt about life and when he returned to climbing his ambitions were vast and his fear washed away. He started to climb outrageous routes on the local crags, on sight climbing, solo and with no aid, his level of acceptable risk raised, his perceptions of what was possible altered.
The way Humar climbed brought him fame and fortune, but it also brought him derision and criticism. Many accused him of being irresponsible, a stunt climber who endangered the lives of others and who climbed for a love of money and media success, not for the purity of the climb. Others called him a genius, an enigmatic climber who straddled the fine line between bravery and madness with just the right balance in order to climb routes no others dared solo.
Humar's list of climbing successes is an impressive catalogue including the first solo ascent of Dhaulagiri’s south wall, the first ascent of Annapurna 1’s south face, a new line on Ama Dablam which won him the Piolet d’Or and a 15-day ascent of the Reticent Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan.
Outside of the climbing community Humar was most famous for getting himself in to difficult situations, most notably on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in 2005. Humar had arrived at the mountain with a web technician, camera crew and, according to one other fellow climber, an ‘aura reader’. Despite worsening weather he began his attempt at the first ascent, solo or otherwise, of the central pillar of the face. At 5,900m he struck rotten ice and rock, unable to move up or down. Trapped in an ice cave on the permanently avalanching slope he sat for six days as his film crew and web team engrossed the whole world. Suddenly this was no longer a ‘solo’ climb, but an international incident which eventually involved phone calls to and from heads of state to organise a rescue.
Humar was lucky and two ridiculously brave Pakistani helicopter pilots managed to push their craft to the very edge of its capabilities and pluck him from the mountain, but the incident led to Humar being ridiculed by the climbing community for the way he had conducted his expedition.
In response, Humar did the only thing he could do. He arrived at the foot of Annapurna 1’s south face in August 2007, and climbed it solo. A world first and no one even knew he was there. The knives came out and he was accused of lying about the climb.
In the highly unpredictable world of high altitude mountaineering, Humar’s death was entirely predictable. Chris Bonington once said that if you got to the high mountains once you will likely survive, but if you continue to go back, eventually your luck will run out.
Last week at just under 6,000m on Langtang Lirung, the worlds 99th highest mountain, Humar’s luck finally ran out.
Humar will be remembered by many as a bag full of crazy, a mountain tragedy in the making. He will be remembered by many others as a brilliantly talented and outrageously brave climber who pushed the boundaries of possibility, sometimes beyond the limit of his ability.
However he is remembered, Humar stood out in the most extreme of all extreme sports.
He is survived by his ex-wife and two children.