“No mountain, not even a first ascent, is worth dying for or even freezing a finger off for. With a little distance, everyone will realize that, too,” Luis Stitzinger told me before we set off in 2014 for the previously unclimbed seven-thousander Kokodak Dome in western China. Nine years later, Luis is dead – having died after the 54-year-old scaled the 8,586-meter-high eight-thousander Kangchenjunga in eastern Nepal without bottled oxygen. As reported, a Sherpa search team found him yesterday at around 8,400 meters, lying lifeless in the snow. I couldn’t help but think of his words back then and wonder: was it worth it?
“Of course not,” Luis might reply. “But I was aware that I was doing a risky sport and might not return from the mountains one day. And I died doing what was my life and my passion. And where I was happiest: in the mountains.” Kangchenjunga, writes his wife Alix von Melle today in a moving last (public) greeting to Luis, was his “very big life dream which you still wanted to fulfill so much. Your eyes shone with enthusiasm when you spoke of it.” I feel for Alix – and remember Luis.
Open, humorous, prudent
I am glad and grateful that I was not only allowed to meet him, but also to go with him into the high mountains. According to findings in psychology, it is decided very quickly whether the chemistry between two people is right. Unconsciously, one asks oneself the two questions: Can I trust this person? Can I respect them? In my case, the answer was apparently yes twice without reservation. Because I found Luis likeable right from the start. And that didn’t change during the expedition. On the contrary.
I liked Luis’ open manner, his humor, his helpfulness, his humility before nature, his down-to-earthness. He didn’t pretend, he was authentic. And as an expedition leader, just great: physically extremely strong, with a healthy amount of determination, without losing his prudence. “I don’t want to be to blame for someone running into his or her misfortune,” Luis told me.
“I was insanely happy”
Afterwards, all 16 team members of the German expedition operator Amical Alpin – including Luis as well as the two Nepalese Singi Lama and Chhongba Sherpa, who supported us – stood on the summit at 7,129 meters and have since been allowed to call themselves “first ascender”. I would never have done it without Luis. I owe him my highest summit success and an unforgettable, wonderful mountain experience. And I remember how happy Luis was afterwards, too. “I was insanely happy that everyone was at the summit. With a first ascent, that’s doubly nice, of course. It was a super team effort,” Luis said. “Our expedition went like clockwork.”
Two times on Mount Everest
Even afterwards, I kept in touch with Luis – at least sporadically. Now I ask myself: why didn’t I contact him more often? Probably because I lived my life and Luis his. But when we spoke again after some time, it was as if we had met only yesterday. That’s what friendship is all about. On the occasion of his 50th birthday in December 2018, I asked him if he wasn’t a little giddy in light of the half century he had lived. Luis answered with a wink: “50, that sounds suspiciously close to retirement. But I don’t really feel that way at all.” In any case, he didn’t want to retire. “I still have some goals. I haven’t set myself an age limit, either.”
Later, Luis summited Mount Everest twice, in 2019 via the Tibetan north side, and in 2022 via the Nepalese south side of the mountain. On both expeditions, he led clients of the Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures to the highest point on earth and therefore used bottled oxygen. It was “an absolute priority to accompany all participants successfully and safely up the mountain and back down again,” Luis told me at the time. He made a very clear distinction between his responsibility as a mountain guide and his own ambitions as a climber.
Have a good journey, Luis!
He put his dream of climbing Everest without breathing mask – as he did on eight other eight-thousanders before – on the back burner. On Kangchenjunga, Luis was not a mountain guide, but a climber in his own personal climbing style: without bottled oxygen, his skis in his backpack. And I imagine that perhaps before the ascent – like 2014 on Kokodak Dome – he looked at the weather forecast and said, “We are fit and well prepared. I’d suggest ringing in the summit push.” He reached the summit alone, and a little later he continued to climb the sky. Have a good journey, dear Luis. And thank you for everything!
P.S. A request to all those who think they have to comment now that mountaineering is irresponsible and accidents like this are foreseeable: Just be quiet! You don’t understand us mountain people anyway.