Swiss mountaineer Erhard Loretan, one of the few climbers to have summited all 14 of the world's peaks above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), died in a climbing accident on Thursday, his 52nd birthday.
The Associated Press reported that Loretan was leading a Swiss client up the summit ridge of the Gruenhorn, in the Bernese Alps, when the pair fell for unknown reasons at a height of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) up the 4,043 meter (13,264-foot) peak. Police from the Swiss canton of Valais said that Loretan died at the scene, while his 38-year-old client was flown to a hospital in serious condition.
Loretan, originally from the canton of Fribourg, began climbing at age 11. He ascended his first 8,000-meter peak, Pakistan's Nanga Parbat, in 1982. It took him 13 years to climb the other 13, summiting the Himalayan peak of Kangchenjunga in 1995.
Loretan was the third person, behind Italian climber Reinhold Messner and Polish mountaineer Jerry Kukuczka, to summit all the 8,000-meter peaks.
Loretan was also renowned for his 1986 ascent of Mt. Everest in only 40 hours, climbing by night without the use of supplementary oxygen.
Loretan's acclaim was marred by the tragic 2001 death of his 7-month-old son, who was killed when Loretan shook him to stop his crying. Loretan pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter and was given a four-month suspended sentence. The case's notoriety led to new research showing that infants can die from being shaken.
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: Erhard Loretan in 1998. Credit: Associated Press / Keystone / STR