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Lindsay Griffin

Zdenek Hruby (left) and Marek Holecek at Talung base camp after their successful ascent this spring. Marek Holecek

Zdenek Hruby, current president of the Czech Mountaineering Association, has died in a fall while attempting a new route with Marek Holecek on Gasherbrum I.

Holecek and Hruby attempted a first ascent on the southwest face of Gasherbrum I in 2009.

Their proposed line followed the broad couloir on the left side of the face, left of a long rocky spur separating the couloir from the main face. This couloir was first climbed in 2008 by Russians Vikor Afanasiev and Valery Babanov.

At the point where the Russians veered left, eventually exiting the face at 7,200m and moving up to join the 1977 Slovenian route on the west ridge, Holecek and Hruby continued up right to the head of the couloir and then crossed the rocky spur to reached the upper section of the main southwest face.

Here, they were above the point where the original Kukuczka-Kurtyka route on the main face makes a long traverse to the right.

The two Czechs planned to make a higher, rising traverse and finish more or less directly through the mixed ground to the summit.

In 1983 Kukuczka and Kurtyka tried twice to penetrate this mixed ground before giving up, descending a little, and traversing right to a south-facing spur, from where they gained the summit by climbing snow slopes on its right flank.

Holecek and Hruby reached 7,500m in 2009 before Hruby ruptured a gastric ulcer, was unable to take in food and water, and almost unable to move. Holecek managed to get him off the mountain and Hruby made a perfect recovery.

In spring this year the two Czechs achieved outstanding success by completing the first ascent of Talung’s north face in alpine style.

They hoped to continue by making two more significant first ascents this year, one being the previously tried route on Gasherbrum I.

In July a four-man Czech team arrived at base camp, from where late in the month two of the group, Marek Novotny and Tomas Petrecek, climbed to the summit via the Normal Route up the Japanese Couloir.

Early this month, the other two – Holecek and Hruby – made their attempt on the southwest face, climbing for several days until for reasons that have not been completely confirmed at this time, they decided to retreat.

An official statement delivered by the Alpine Club of Pakistan states that as the two were down-climbing the face on August 9, base camp members, viewing their progress through binoculars, suddenly saw that one had vanished.

Shortly after, Holecek, communicating with base camp, reported that Hruby had slipped. He later confirmed that he had reached the lifeless body of Hruby, the latter having fallen 1,000m.

Hruby, 57, had climbed in nearly all corners of the world and was perhaps the Czech Republic’s most accomplished, living, 8,000m peak collector, having summited eight and attempted several more.

He began in 1994 with Cho Oyu, and finished in 2012 with Nanga Parbat. In 1997 he climbed both Gasherbrum I and II.

A former cross country skiing champion, Hruby had also been presented with  notable honours; for saving lives of fellow mountaineers at high altitude, and four Czech “climb of the year” awards.

Away from climbing Hruby also had an illustrious career. Graduating in Cybernetics and Economics, he later held a number of important national positions.

These included being chairman of the supervisory board of CEZ, the biggest public company in Central and Eastern Europe involved with energy generation, and advisor to the Govenor of the Czech National Bank.

He also served three years as the Republic’s Deputy Minister for Finance, and was on the Board of Czech Telecom and Czech Airlines.