Mountaineer speaks as missing friends’ bodies found in Himalayas after 30 years

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A mountaineer who spent weeks searching for two friends who disappeared in the Himalayas more than 30 years ago has spoken of his relief after their bodies were finally found.

Steve Aisthorpe, 55, was part of an expedition to Pumori with Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson, who were last seen alive at a height of 21,650ft on October 18, 1988.

The remains of the two 27-year-old Icelandic climbers were discovered last month by an American mountaineer at the edge of a glacier on the Nepal-Tibet border.

Mr Aisthorpe, a mission development worker for the Church of Scotland, said it is likely the pair fell from the face of the  mountain and their remains were slowly carried down by a retreating glacier over the last 30 years.

The bodies were brought back to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, by a group of local climbers and a cremation service was attended by relatives, who then took the men’s ashes home to Iceland.

Kristinn on lower part of West face of Pumori (Steve Aisthorpe/PA)
Kristinn Runarsson on the lower part of the west face of Pumori (Steve Aisthorpe/PA)

“It has also brought people together and I pray will help with greater closure and, in time, peace.

“My diary of the expedition reminds me of how, as someone who had only recently embraced the Christian faith, I found comfort and guidance as I turned to God in prayer.

“In the midst of the desperate tasks of searching and then leaving the mountain alone, the words of a psalm were a personal reality – ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’.

“I plan to go to Reykjavik in Iceland to meet their families soon and pay my respects.”

Steve Aisthorpe
Steve Aisthorpe, whose two friends died during an expedition he was on in the Himalayas (Steve Aisthorpe/PA)

During the four-man expedition up the challenging 23,494ft neighbour of Mount Everest, Mr Aisthorpe had begun to suffer from gastric flu and, along with another ill mountaineer, descended to the village of Pheriche to consult a doctor.

He was told that it would take a week for him to recover, so he sent a message back to the camp suggesting that Mr Runarsson and Mr Gudjonsson “should feel free” to make a summit attempt without him.

They set off and were never seen again.

Kristinn Rúnarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson's empty tent
Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson’s empty tent (Steve Aisthorpe/PA)

“As I worked my way upwards, I desperately hoped that Kristinn and Torsteinn had descended safely and were now lying in their sleeping bags in the tiny red tent camp.

“As it came into view, I called out at the top of my voice – my calls echoed from the rocks and ice before fading.

“But the silence was palpable.

“Even as I finally reached and then unzipped the tent, I still nurtured a hope that the boys would be lying there, comatose, sleeping off the climb of their lives.

“But it was empty and I scanned our route up the steep face above, but nothing moved. It was then that my guts started to twist and a cold sweat began.”

Mount Pumori
Mount Pumori, where the mountaineers died (Steve Aisthorpe/PA)

He added: “A couple of weeks later I left the area, convinced that Kristinn and Torsteinn must have fallen somewhere high on the face and their remains swallowed by the cavernous crevasse below.

“This was what I explained to their families and friends on a visit to Reykjavík shortly after my return from Nepal.”

Described by their friends as a breath of fresh air, Thorsteinn and Kristinn were considered to be Iceland’s leading exponents of Himalayan climbing at the time and were well-known for their open, easy-going personalities.

However, the tragedy did not put Mr Aisthorpe off Nepal or mountaineering and over the following few years he returned to the country each spring and autumn to guide on some of the smaller peaks before moving to the country for 12 years with his wife Liz and two sons, John and Scott.

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