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Calgary climber who died after reaching top of Everest knew risks: fiancee

CALGARY - Frank Ziebarth never had much use for the so-called Everest tourists, people with lots of money and little experience who scaled the forbidding peak with teams of Sherpas lugging their satellite phones and tents and oxygen bottles.

CALGARY - Frank Ziebarth never had much use for the so-called Everest tourists, people with lots of money and little experience who scaled the forbidding peak with teams of Sherpas lugging their satellite phones and tents and oxygen bottles.

"He was a very simple person and he didn't want to go there and use and abuse Sherpas," his fiancee, Christina Ziegler, explained Tuesday.

"He wanted to do it by himself - him and the mountain."

But despite his convictions and his experience, the 29-year-old died on Mount Everest on May 21 after making it to the summit on the Tibetan side without the use of oxygen.

Ziebarth was last seen at 8,700 metres determined to descend under his own strength.

"Very sadly, Frank could not make it back to high camp, suffering from hypothermia and obvious lack of oxygen," his climbing partners, Alexandre Pare, Manuel Pizarro and Anna Baranska said in a statement posted on EverestNews.com.

"It was later confirmed by fellow climbers that his body now rests peacefully at the bottom of the third step, high on Mount Everest."

Ziebarth was an accomplished high-altitude climber who already made it to the top of at least three other peaks without the use of oxygen.

Ziegler said she spent days in communication with base camp after Ziebarth was reported missing. Finally, a call came in that another climber had spotted a body.

"(He) came down and they showed him a picture of Frank on a digital camera and he confirmed the body up there was Frank's," she said.

A rock-climber but not a mountaineer, Ziegler said she and Ziebarth had been together for six years. Two years ago they moved to Calgary from Germany.

"I think I have a pretty good understanding of why he has to do it," she said. "When we started dating, he was already into mountaineering and had his life planned. Everest was his ultimate goal. I couldn't change that."

She said they both knew there were risks.

"He knew if something happens to you up there - and it could be as simple as you twist your ankle - there is not going to be any help."

But that didn't prepare her for the phone call saying he had died.

"It's unreal," she said. "You never think it will happen to him."

There are reports that Ziebarth was the fifth person to die on the world's tallest peak this climbing season. About 300 people reached the top of the 8,849-metre high mountain this year - many of them in the last few weeks.

Veteran mountaineer Sharon Wood of Canmore, Alta., didn't know Ziebarth, but said climbing the iconic mountain is becoming so commonplace that some attempt more difficult routes with fewer resources - including trying to reach the summit without oxygen.

The idea is to make the climb as pure an experience as possible.

"Climbing Everest without oxygen is related to style," she said. "You are going for the maximum amount of efficiency. If you don't have a lot to back you up you have to be very proficient - that's good style."

Wood was the first North American woman to summit Everest in 1986, and used oxygen to do so. She said some mountaineers want to separate themselves from less experienced climbers by making an already dangerous task even more challenging.

But more challenge means more risk.

"There is a saying in the world of high-altitude alpinism that when you make it to the top, you are really only half-way there," Wood said from Canmore, Alta.

"The most difficult part of climbing an 8,000-metre peak is getting back down again. You've given it everything you had to get to the top but you have been too high, too long. That is the problem."

Ziegler said both she and her fiancee knew the risks very well, adding she and her parents warned him continuously that something bad could happen.

She at least takes some comfort that he died knowing he had achieved the summit, something she described as his dream and his goal.

"I'm proud of that," she said. "But I'm also mad and angry that he left me and his parents like that."

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