As It Happens

Icelandic climbers' bodies found 30 years after they disappeared in the Himalayas

A mountain climber who spent weeks searching for his two friends in the Himalayas 30 years ago says he feels like things have come "full circle" now that their bodies have been found.

Steve Aisthorpe was with Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson when they began their ascent

The remains of Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson, childhood friends from Iceland, were found earlier this month at the bottom of a retreating glacier. (Submitted by Steve Aisthorpe)

A mountain climber who spent weeks searching for his two missing friends in the Himalayas 30 years ago says he feels like things have come "full circle" now that their bodies have been found.

The remains of Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson, childhood friends from Iceland, were found earlier this month at the bottom of a retreating glacier.

The news hit hard for Steve Aisthorpe, 55, who was with the pair when they first set off on their ill-fated adventure in October 1988.

"It stirred up a lot of emotions from the past," the Scottish climber told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I think I have a sense of things going full circle somehow. I feel more at peace about it now than I have done."

4 go up, 2 come down 

Aisthorpe said they spent a year preparing for their ascent up the Pumori mountain.

One of the climbers on the four-man expedition became ill early on and had to retreat, he said, but the trio carried on. 

"We'd been climbing together, the three of us, and we got past what we thought would be the main difficulties of the climb," Aisthorpe said.

"But when we got to base camp, I fell ill."

Steve Aisthorpe from Scotland was with the pair when they first set off on their ill-fated adventure. (Submitted by Steve Aisthorpe)

He decided to descend to the village of Pheriche to see a doctor, who told him he'd need a week to recover from the flu.

"I sent up a note up to our base camp and said, 'Look, the weather's good, if you guys want to go up to the top, that's fine, don't worry about me."

He never saw his friends again.

'I was shouting — shouting their names'

By the time he returned to base camp, he learned that Runarsson and Gudjonsson had not returned and that nobody had seen them. 

"I was immediately anxious," he said.

He spent two weeks helping to search for his friends, checking camps and crevasses, all to no avail. Rescue helicopters turned up nothing.

"I think, for me, the most difficult moment was the first day I went up and approached that tent up at the advanced camp and I was shouting — shouting their names, and you just kind of hear it echo around the cliffs there," he said.

"The next difficult time was when I had to phone up the family from Katmandu and explain what happened."

Pumori mountain is on the the Nepal-Tibet border in the Himalayas. (Submitted by Steve Aisthorpe)

It's not clear how Runarsson and Gudjonsson died, but Aisthorpe suspects they fell off the mountain and their bodies were carried away by a retreating glacier.

An Australian mountain climber told Aisthorpe he saw them at the summit before they disappeared. 

"In a sense, does it matter?" Aisthorpe said. "I don't think it kind of makes it any less tragic the fact that they got to the top first."

The discovery of the remains has been a balm for Runarsson's father.

"When people were hugging me and giving their condolences I said, 'Congratulate me instead, he's been found,'" Runar Guobjartsson told the Iceland Monitor.

"The important thing is that they were found and we have closure." 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Ashley Mak.

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