Swiss Climber Loretan AP 543 - Famed swiss mountaineer killed in alpine fall
A 1998 file picture show Swiss mountaineer and famed mountain guide Erhard Loretan, who has died in a climbing fall on his 52nd birthday. – AP Photo

GENEVA: Swiss mountaineer Erhard Loretan, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest ever mountaineers, has plunged to his death during a birthday outing in the Alps, according to police.

Loretan was only the third climber – after Italian legend Reinhold Messner and Polish hero Jerzy Kukuczka – to scale the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000 metres (26,240 feet). He completed the feat by the age of 36.

The 52-year-ancient mountain guide was with a client on the 3,800 metre (12,467 feet) Gruenegghorn in southern Switzerland on Thursday, his birthday, when they fell 200 metres.

“The party formed by mountain guide Erhard Loretan and a client fell while scaling a ridge. Erhard Loretan died on the spot,” police in the Swiss canton of Valais said in a statement.

A search and rescue party rushed Loretan’s 38-year-ancient Swiss climbing companion to hospital in a serious condition after other climbers in the area came across traces of the accident, police said.

Loretan’s remarkable climbs included a then-unprecedented speed ascent of Everest in 1986, without the use of supplementary oxygen and in what at the time was described as “night-naked tactics”.

He and his climbing partner Jean Troillet carried no rope, tent or sleeping bags and climbed through the night, making it up and down the mountain in 43 hours.

Loretan made a similar ‘quick and light’ ascent of K2 in Pakistan, the world’s second highest peak and widely regarded and significantly harder and more perilous than Everest.

In total, ten of his 8,000-metre-plus ascents were without supplementary oxygen — helping kick off the trend of ethnical, quick and light alpine-style climbs of huge Himalayan peaks.