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Adventure Sports

with Stefan Nestler

Not without my jeans

Bernd Kullmann

Bernd Kullmann has a unique place in the annals of Mount Everest. When he stood on the summit on 8850 meters on October 17,1978, he wore an original Levi’s blue jeans. „I wasn’t only the first, but probably the only one, who ever did it”. Kullmann, now aged 58 years, said, at that time it was common to wear knickerbockers in the Alps. „We as young people wanted to provoke. We climbed the north face of Eiger in Jeans. So I found it logical to use Jeans on Everest too.” Above Camp 3 at about 7000 meters Kullmann covered his jeans with padded overtrousers. „We had not enough money for down garments. I didn’t even have long johns beneath.” Kullmann wore his jeans for all seven weeks they spent on Everest – with consequences: „In Kathmandu I could put it literally in the corner of my hotel room.” Kullmann didn’t dispose his durable trousers even then. „Later it was washed and I used it again. Jeans were simply my favourite garments.” 

Three pillars 

Ten years later Kullmann returned to the 8000-meter-peaks for a double expedition in Tibet. In spring 1988 he climbed Shishapangma in Tibet. A little later on Cho Oyu he had to turn back below the summit due to a storm. „Afterwards the issue 8000-meter-peaks was settled for me,” Kullmann said. He was not only focused on mountains. „My life is based on three pillars: family, job and climbing. None of these may suffer, because in this case my whole life would suffer.” Kullmann can combine job and sports. He is managing director of the outdoor company Deuter in the city of Augsburg. „I myself can test all the products we are selling.” On average he is still spending about 80 days per year on climbing or hiking in the mountains.

Ten guardian angels 

Kullmann said, that he had become more careful. Not without reason. At the beginning of the 1980s he fell seriously when he did a solo climb, „in a period, when we thought nothing could happen to us. We were slightly arrogant.” He spent one and a half year in hospital and in a wheelchair. Afterwards he started climbing again. „Often there was plenty of luck involved”, Kullmann said. „ And sometimes I needed not only one, but ten guardian angels.” 

Commerce kills good style 

The „jeans-climber” is still watching what’s happening on Everest. „Today I wouldn’t like to climb there.” Kullmann said, adventure had got lost. “In 1978 I stood on the summit alone and in a storm, with fear of climbing down. It was an incredible situation. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.” A picture of him on the summit of Everest doesn’t exist.

Kullmann said, that day Everest was tied up with ropes. Everywhere guides and sherpas were leading up their clients. „Today they must queue to reach the summit.” Due to improvements of gear, sports medicine and training methods in his opinion all climbers should try to climb without supplementary oxygen. „Exactly the opposite happens. Commerce has killed the good style. But where a demand exists, a market develops. Unfortunately this happened on Everest too.” 

P.S. Bernd Kullmann has also given his statements concerning the 60-years-jubilee of the first ascent of Mount Everest. You can read and hear his words on the Everest-60-pinboards on the right side of the blog.


21. February 2013 | 18:35