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Mountaineer's relief as friends' bodies found after 30 years

Steve Aisthorpe was part of a four-man expedition up Pumori when two climbers disappeared.

Found: Bodies of two climbers missing for 30 years have been found.
Found: Bodies of two climbers missing for 30 years have been found. Steve Aisthorpe

A Scottish mountaineer has spoken of his relief after the bodies of his two friends who disappeared in the Himalayas were finally found, 30 years on.

Steve Aisthorpe, 55, was part of a four-man expedition to Pumori, the neighbour of Mount Everest, with Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson, who were last seen alive 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 took the men's ashes home to Iceland.

Mr Aisthorpe, of Kincraig near Aviemore, said: "The discovery of the remains of Thorsteinn and Kristinn after so many years have inevitably brought many emotions to the surface for all who knew and loved these wonderful guys.

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

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

Climbing: The tragedy hasn't put Steve off mountaineering.
Climbing: The tragedy hasn't put Steve off mountaineering. Steve Aisthorpe

Mr Aisthorpe said further clues about what exactly happened to the men could emerge because two camera films were found in a pocket of a jacket and have been sent to a specialist in Australia for development.

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. "I've never felt as alone as the day I arrived back at our high camp," Mr Aisthorpe said.

"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."

Treacherous: Pumori, where the climbers went missing.
Treacherous: Pumori, where the climbers went missing. Steve Aisthorpe

Mr Aisthorpe said he summoned help and a helicopter search was finally launched five days after the men were last seen.

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 Reykjavik 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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