Shisha Pangma Avalanche Takes Dynafit Athletes Zambaldi & Haag

Post by blogger | September 25, 2014      

I was saddened to hear just a short time ago that the Dynafit Double8 expedition has experienced a grievous tragedy. Two of the climber/skiers were making a summit attempt and were caught in an avalanche yesterday (Sept 24). Sabastian “Basti” Haag and Andrea Zambaldi were killed. Expedition members Benedict “Beni” Bohm and Ueli Steck are fine; they were not caught in the slide.

I’d skied a bit with Basti a few years ago during a Europe trip, and seen him a few times since. He was always a happy and spirited guy who seemed to love just being out in the mountains. Our hearts go out to Basti’s good friend Beni, and Basti’s family. We do not know Andrea but of course offer our sympathies nonetheless.

Dynafit offical information from their website, lightly edited and condensed.

“The afternoon of 23.09.2014 at 16:30, Benedikt Boehm (37) and Ueli Steck (38) started from Basecamp (5.600m) for a summit attempt of a speed ascent on Shisha Pangma 8013m. The plan was to reach the summit in the morning of the 24.09.2014, together with the team mates Sebastian Haag (36), who was starting from Camp 1 (6.300m) and Andrea Zambaldi (32) who started from Camp 2 (6.800m).

Benedikt and Ueli met Basti Haag at C1 (6.300m) as planned at 20:00 and paired up. At the same time Andrea Zambaldi left from C2 (6.800m). All climbers paired up below C3, at approx. 7.100m at 01:00 on 24.09.2014, reaching C3 (7.300m) at exactly 02:00.

The team had to continuously break trail through rough conditions. At 06:50 the team was only one hundred vertical meters below the summit. At 06:55 Sebastian and Andrea were caught in an avalanche at 7.900m, 100m below the summit and were dragged for 600m vertical, over steep glaciers, into another section of the mountain.

Benedikt and Ueli immediately called basecamp for help and assistance, while descending to C3 in order to traverse to the avalanche zone and search for the two climbers. They tried to reach the avalanche deposition for more than four hours, but turned around due to there being no access. Sebastian and Andrea disappeared with the avalanche and their bodies could not be found.

Our deep sympathy is with the families and friends of Sebastian and Andrea.”

Dynafit backcountry skiing.
Myself with Sabastian “Basti” Haag (right) in Austria, 2008

Source for initial reporting, Montagna TV


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32 Responses to “Shisha Pangma Avalanche Takes Dynafit Athletes Zambaldi & Haag”

  1. Lisa Dawson September 25th, 2014 7:20 pm

    Very sad news. The Dynafit folks are very close, like family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of them.

  2. Mark Worley September 25th, 2014 8:49 pm

    Sorry to hear of such a tragedy. Reminds me of the Shisha Pangma expedition on which Dave Bridges and Alex Lowe perished in 1999. Prayers to all affected.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 September 26th, 2014 6:45 am

    Mark, I was thinking the same thing and just didn’t have the heart to add more reminder of tragedy to the blog post. From my heart, I can share that it really hit me hard that I’ve now known two skiers who have died on Shish, Alex and Basti. I’ve got all sorts of conflicting emotions and opinions about that. At this point inappropriate to share much. I did do a post about Alex based on one of my old Couloir Magazine columns… not sure how appropriate to share but I’ll take the plunge. Perhaps I should move it to a real blog post so folks can comment.

  4. Clyde September 26th, 2014 7:33 am

    Same mountain but very different accidents. Alex and Dave were down low and hit from high above. These guys were a team of 5 that was near the top when 3 of them were swept away about 600 meters. Uli and Beni tried to reach them but wasn’t safe. The one who survived managed to self evac to high camp and is being brought down by Sherps.

  5. Joe Risi September 26th, 2014 8:03 am

    Lou, thanks for sharing the earlier article. I had a long discussion last night about several choices one must make to live out their life.

    It really is a timeless piece.

    Safe travels home to the rest of the expedition team.

  6. Kristian September 26th, 2014 8:55 am

    It’s long past time to ignore and shun so called speed records.

    It’s artificial dangerous meaningless nonsense.

  7. Ralph September 26th, 2014 1:31 pm

    Kristian – All mountaineering goals are artificial, and meaningless, except to those who pursue them. We are all “conquistadors (sometimes) of the useless”. It does a dishonor to the deceased to belittle their aspirations and dreams by artificially parsing out a subset of mountaineering goals and deeming them not worthy of pursuit.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 September 26th, 2014 1:59 pm

    Ralph, I’d mostly agree with you, however even in recreation and other “pointless” activities there is always a line where the common wisdom holds that on one side is “reasonable” and the other side is “out there” or whatever term you want to use. Personally I think speed ascents such as Double8 are on the reasonable side in terms of the overall mountaineering ethos, but could cross the line if being pushed to hard (I have no specific opinion about that at this time).

    Another important point in all this is one has to accept the more likely death of yourself or your friends when you aspire to the upper limits of alpinism, that’s just reality of a sport that does get into a pretty risky set of statistics. But you can push into the risk zone anywhere, really, when it comes to avalanches especially. In other words, you don’t have to be speed climbing 8,000 meter peaks to get into the risk zone…

    Me, personally, I’ll admit I’m having a tougher time every year doing what I do for a living and knowing so many people who die doing the sport that otherwise brings us all so much joy and self actualization, if not spiritual insight. What helps is indeed looking at the bright side, but some analysis of what’s appropriate is also eventually a smart approach — as I always say, a good way to honor those who are gone is for ourselves to try and improve.

    As for when it’s appropriate to start offering opinions about these sorts of events, who knows. There is no hard and fast rule. Me, I just vary it with the situation. In this case I’m more comfortable just thinking about Basti and his bright alpinist soul, and thinking about what his friends and family have lost…

    Even so, if it helps anyone out there to process this with some discussion, so long as we keep it civil and respectful I believe it’s appropriate.


  9. Kristian September 26th, 2014 2:01 pm

    Ralph – Every time a mountain is climbed, it is a different mountain. Keeping scores is best left to past times like Golf. It is well known that athletes are risking their lives to keep and attract sponsors. Even worse are when athletes risk the lives of others to break trail for them, fix lines, etc. in the pursuit of their personal financial goals.

  10. EC September 26th, 2014 2:09 pm

    Kristian – I think it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that someone else put these athletes at risk in pursuit of a financial goal unless you are intimately involved in the situation (I’m not – so I won’t speculate). I think it is also silly to dismiss speed/competitive climbing as a less worthy pastime. Who are you to say what is or is not worthy? If that brought these guys passion and meaning, more power to them.

  11. Charlie Hagedorn September 26th, 2014 3:40 pm

    Well said, Lou.

    Our thoughts are with Basti and Andrea’s family and friends.

  12. See September 26th, 2014 4:42 pm

    I don’t know what the hopes and dreams of the individuals killed this week on Shisha Pangma were. I do know they were exceptional talents who probably have family and friends who will miss them terribly.

    Exceptional talent attracts sponsorship, which enables athletes to pursue their sport in exchange for promotional consideration. I don’t think it’s possible to separate the dreams from the commercial interests— the cream can’t be unstirred from the coffee.

    For me, however, what I see in the ads and the videos bears little resemblance to the sport I know and love. Somewhere along the way, inspiration became aversion.

    Condolences to all those effected by this tragedy.

  13. JasonH September 26th, 2014 9:42 pm

    Kristian, I agree with you and thank you for having the courage to voice a touchy subject. Would these young men have been on this expedition if no commercial gain/sponsorship was involved? I don’t think so. I am terribly sad for their family and friends but I am sick of seeing young, exceptional athletes pursure such shallow goals. I’d much rather read about skiing in unexplored areas of, say, Patagonia, than follow these risky trip up another ( yawn) Himalayas trip. Yeah, I might sound harsh but I choose to applaud those whose trips are interesting adventures (yes, you Cooper, Louie and Skyler get my vote for as exceptional mountaineers in the purest sense if the word. Explorers that live to pass in the story. That’s was I think is highly commendable.

  14. Fernando Pereira September 27th, 2014 12:03 am

    Many (most?) of us had close calls in the mountains, in the pursuit of what the great majority of outsiders would consider trivial, self-indulgent goals. A teeny difference and we would be casualties too. Still we keep at it, at whatever level our strength and skills take us (low in my case), for whatever that challenge gives us. I can’t presume to judge the motivations of a mountaineer or the worth of a mountaineering pursuit, I can only judge my own in the light of my values and my duties to my loved ones and society at large. I can mourn the passed mountaineers, feel for their loved ones, and maybe try to learn something of value from their lives and deaths. But judging them? Who am I to judge?

  15. ptor September 27th, 2014 12:42 am

    The greater value of ‘conquering the useless’ is always setting the example of pursuing ones dreams outside the value system of a global society that, for the most part, has lost it’s way. Way better dying on a mountain than in yet another stupid war totally set up for the financial/industrial restructuring desires of a demonic elite class. Talk about useless or selfish?… lets get some perspective here. Ski more wherever/however you want…with pride and wisdom!

  16. Ted September 27th, 2014 3:17 am

    The trend with speed climbing on 8000 meter peaks has just started. The polish skimountaineer Andrzej Bargiel recently broke Beni Böhms record on Manaslu and Kilian Jornet will probably give Everest a try in the near future. From a skiing or alpinist perspective these records are rather meaningless but for endurance athletes there might be a challenge to run up and down trade routes. The real adventures begins when you leave your Suunto Ambit at home!

  17. Ted September 27th, 2014 4:13 am

    ptor, When people who are parents leave their children at home to “pursuing ones dreams outside the value system of a global society”, it is just plain stupid and selfish. And when big companys like Salomon are paying the bills it gets even more stupid and cynical.

  18. aemono September 27th, 2014 6:57 am

    While the speed climbing fad will undoubtedly seem a bit silly to many, that’s not really the point here, is it? As Lou already pointed out, you don’t need to be running up an 8000er (or a 4000er, for that matter) to get yourself into trouble in the mountains. Commercial motivations are more clearly questionable, but even there, as See said, “the cream can’t be unstirred from the coffee”. The problem really is the old “human factor” we make decisions and our capacity to correlate our decisions and our individual responsibilities.

    There’s no general human tragedy here, let’s face it, a couple of cats dying here and there in the mountains is no big deal..there’re 7 billion of us, we’re expendable. But at a personal level we have multiple responsabilities..”duties to our loved ones” for instance. Üli Steck is very congruent on this when he states that, doing what he does, it would be immoral for him to have children. Greg Hill was quite honest about how stupid he had been in nearly getting himself killed last May – Lou too..back in the 80s, but Lou at least had no kids then (i think?) – Greg has two children and probably would be pissed off as hell at the idea of not coming home to them.

    The other day Beni Böhm apparently sent a text from 7850m saying: “fighting, fighting, fighting. Heaps of snow and high risk of avalanche … Frustrating!!” So they were clear about the risk – as clear as you can be with a fuzzy altitude-affected, goal-driven brain at near 8000m (the summit so close!), plus having retreated from 7700m days before, plus commercial interests, plus some other guy’s just broken your last record..? – and they decided to go on..

    The reason why “global society, for the most part, has lost it’s way” is that the human ego is not very good at finding its way..we are slow to learn. It’s probably also true that the pressure of numbers within species, intense competition for “survival” etc, has readjusted downwards the perceived value of individual human life ..and maybe we should be more concerned about the deaths of elephants or orang utans?

  19. Lou Dawson 2 September 27th, 2014 8:49 am

    Ptor makes a good point, though the futility of most war is probably a pretty extreme example of a useless and risky endeavor. A better example might be the many times a year some random guy in a belly shirt says “here, hold my beer” and becomes a statistic.

    At least in alpinism we have clear-cut goals and a supporting culture of positive values; aesthetic values, spiritual values, etc. The family factor is a big deal to most of us as despite our pretensions we tend to adhere to traditional values when it comes to parenting. On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that when a parent is lost in a situation of purpose (rather than a random tragedy) it is much easier for children and loved ones to adjust. But still, these tragedies tend to resonate in families for years, decades, lifetimes.

    As for myself, I did have a career as an alpinist doing pretty risky stuff for a while. I did get too crazy, but also made a conscious commitment to doing what I did. I did not have a wife or children at that time, but remember that eventually, especially when almost getting killed in avalanche, I became hyper aware of my family and friends and realized I didn’t want to leave the planet just yet, I totally changed my approach to things after that, still an alpinist for many years now, but quite a bit more conservative and thoughtful, though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that just plain odds are stacked up against me due to the amount of time I spend in avalanche terrain. To mitigate that I’m sometimes more cautious than would seem appropriate to a younger and more carefree person. Different phases of life…

    With all due respect to any climber on the 8,000 meter peaks, it’s not judgemental or unkind to say it is indeed a risky endeavor and I’d hope those involved in any of these expeditions put their affairs in order before leaving on a trip, and that their personal philosophy of recreational risk etc. is in line with their family values.

  20. Kjetil September 27th, 2014 9:05 am

    Gotta say I agree with Aemono on this one, even though it’s quite cynical. They were clear about the risk and still pushed on. At least for me I get conflicted about what to feel. I’m sad they passed, but annoyed that they pushed on knowing the elevated risk. It’s maybe wrong to speculate about their motivation to go on; was it just the personal goals or was it the pressure from sponsors or whatever? But reading about these kind of tragedies it is impossible to not speculate either…

  21. Lou Dawson 2 September 27th, 2014 9:13 am

    Speculation is fair… especially in the case a promoted/sponsored event designed to garner attention. Along with that we need to be respectful of everyone involved, and honor them by turning any inspection to introspection that might prevent other tragedies. Discussion of philosophy and values is always a good thing if it doesn’t turn into negativity and personal attacks. Me, I just know I want myself and my loved ones to be extra careful out there, so we can get the positive parts of alpinism and hopefully avoid the tragedy. Steve Romeo’s death hit me pretty hard, as does this. Both seem to be guys just charging up into dangerous avalanche situations, due to unknown but apparently powerful motivations. I want to be gentle out there and hopefully avoid doing the same thing. But I’m only human…

    Today, is a beautiful fall day here in Colorado, we’ll spend it working on our mountain cabin in preparation for winter, and as a way to spend time together as a couple, celebrating life, and I’ll pause a few moments and think of Basti and others who’ve are gone. Lou

  22. Lou Dawson 2 September 27th, 2014 9:33 am

    Someone mentioned the kind of trips we cover here on WildSnow. Indeed, we do try to shift attention more to the overall adventure travel experience, on the other hand we do have some pretty extreme stuff that’s focused on how difficult the project is, SkiTheBig3 being the best recent example. Even so, I’ve got mixed feelings about how much we cover extreme ski alpinism, as after Steve Romeo I’m uncomfortable with the “mercenary” aspect of someone making a living (or even getting free skis) taking more physical risk than what would be “normal” in a given sport. Our editorial policy with all this is a moving target, but I can honestly say that you’ll continue to see more emphasis on culture and overall adventure here at WildSnow, rather than specific extreme objectives. (We’ll have that as well, but we’ll keep trying to temper it.)

    Also, in many cases we’ll tend to report after the fact, rather than announce objectives beforehand. That takes the pressure off us and others who are blogging, and in my opinion results in an overall publishing ethos much more to our liking.

    No value judgements on the above, it’s just where I personally want WildSnow to trend. Other websites will no doubt do it differently, and that’s the beauty of the internet.

  23. Joe Risi September 27th, 2014 10:17 am

    Appropriate retrospective featured today in the Canadian National Post on the 2003 Selkirk Mountain Durrand Glacier Avalanche.

    Another look into the human condition at work in backcountry skiing.

  24. Matt Kinney September 27th, 2014 10:18 am

    There is a difference in an alpine goal such as Shisha Panga, SkiTheBig3 and a “stunt”. From my experience, climbing a peak as fast as possible is nothing new as there are very good reasons to doing a summit as fast as possible. I also think that many alpinist(outside the ski world) who work on angles to steep to slide perhaps underestimate the hazard or lack the experience of the serious work of stability assessment. Most alpinist I have know have never taken an avalanche course, but these folks according to lou were very experienced skiers. Even in this story, they walked into fresh fallen snow that had been wind driven by a pretty good storm. These are red flags to me, but I wasn’t there and this is just from what I read about the incident on the web this am.

    As I recall from the Everest tragedy earlier this year was the fact that they were rigging the ice fall for an attempt to fly off Everest in a wing suit. There was a lot of “sponsor” pressure to get the guy up there for the stunt. I think the stunt team was the first through the icefall that day. Though timing was bad, one can’t help but think of the pressures put upon the Sherpa and guides by GoPro Inc. “to get it done.”

    My sympathies to the families of these alpinist. They were brave, tough athletes, not stuntmen.

  25. arnie September 27th, 2014 12:04 pm

    Firstly, condolences to family and friends of those lost, for what it’s worth we feel your pain, understand your suffering and know that (eventually)you will find (a kind of)peace with what has happened.

    As many have said when I look back I’ve got away with a lot, pushed it too far, too fast, too soon…. and lost friends along the way. All before sponsorship, endorsement and “GoPro”. The FIRE was there before all these things. Maybe they fan the fire but the desire has to be there inside you in the first place.

  26. See September 27th, 2014 4:52 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the goal was to climb and descend one peak, then run and bike to the next peak and climb and descend it, all in 7 days.

  27. Stano September 28th, 2014 12:14 am

    Clearly, some commentors above, think that going up and down a mountain as fast as possible must be all for money and is meaningless. I never ran up Everest but those peaks that I did I sure didnt do it for money but for a personal reason of wanting to know how fast can I do it. It also had a meaning beacause the journey to that D day was always a huge learning process, and mostly mentally and emotionally.

    Now, do I think athletes get themselves under pressure especially on these expensive expeditions? I think yes, but isnt that the same with a tourist sheddin $80k to climb Everest? I bet you he is freakin motivated to get up there at least as much. Does it have any meaning? Or does climbing a mountain have a meaning? Totally not unless you understand why it does 😉

  28. See September 28th, 2014 10:44 am

    I don’t believe that going up and down a mountain fast is necessarily mercenary or meaningless, but I also don’t think “a tourist sheddin $80k to climb Everest” is evidence that all is well with the culture of alpinism.

  29. Lou Dawson 2 September 28th, 2014 1:05 pm

    I’ll go on record to say that IMHO speed climbing is a legit branch of alpinism, if “legit” is the right word.. How appropriate it is for a given individual in a given situation is another question. I’m not sure it’s fair to even hint that “speed climbing” had anything to do with this accident. I don’t know much about it, but it sounds like typical Himalayan climbing, in terms of the hazards that were encountered. Look at other recent epic disasters such as Manaslu or K2, speed climbing had nothing to do with those. Problem is that “typical” climbing on the 8,000 meter peaks is statistically not pretty. Lou

  30. Pablo September 29th, 2014 5:03 am

    Even, tipical climbing on such altitudes is in fact more dangerous than speed climbingis.
    You’re far more exposed to natural hazards such as avalanches, altitude disease, freezing, etc..
    So, be fast is not dangerous itself. You’ve got to do it rigth cause there’s no range to fail but it’s not more dangerous.

  31. Kristian July 24th, 2015 9:14 am

    Uli Steck has yet another partner killed in his entirely meaningless enchainment speed record attempts – Martijn Seuren, a 32-year-old Dutch mountaineer on the Aiguille de Rochefort in the Mont Blanc massif.

  32. Lou Dawson 2 July 24th, 2015 7:54 pm

    Hi Kristian, sorry to hear that! Thanks for keeping us informed. Lou

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