Berchtesgaden and Hohe Tauern Alps 2008

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Mountain vagrancy and Klettersteig amongst the backdrop of the Berchtesgaden and Hoher Tauern Alps. Event-full moments included be-nightment and bivuacking on the Watzmann south Summit. Breakfasting on raw bacon, brocken spectre geists, breakfast steins, thanking God for iron ancres of the Gross Glockner Summit Ridge, Steve falling in a huge crevasse on the Gross Venedigger and general defacement of King Ludwigs castles to the soundtrack of Gotterdamerung and Tannhauser.

The day we nearly died....

We had set of in bad weather against the advice of the local hut warden to climb the Gross Venedigger. We summited in a silent pure white snow fog that felt as if we were violating the place and should not be thier some how.

We felt jubilant and triumphant like true berg fuhrers. Only, in our haste we did not take heed of the dangerous situation we were walking into as we decended the desolate glacier. We felt secure and biont roped together as a unit.

The problem came from not probing the wet snow with our ice axes for unseen dangers that lurked below. And we were rushing back to the prospect of good beer, warm german food and good times in the hut we were planning to sleep in that night.

With this in the forefront our minds and not the gravity of our situation. Suddenly CRACK, SLIDE, SLIP, SHIT, FUCKING HOLD THE ROPE JOHN!

Steve had fallen straight through a concealed snow bridge in to a huge gapping crevasse and was dangling from his rope 15 meters down in the icy depths. I had managed to hold his fall and had dug my crampons deep into the snow and plunged the ice axe in to wrap the rope round to hold him. This was no secure stance. All the time we were slowly losing grip and slipping nearer our icy abyss. John did the same as me and we could hold Steve's wieght for the moment.

We needed to secure Steve to an belay fast. I started digging through the snow to find solid ice to put an ice screw in to be able to tie off the rope. The ice was shattered and like sugar and every screw I put in kept being pulled out when I secured it to the rope with a prussic. This was not good. I began to become really fearfull and prayed to God at this moment to give me the strength to come through.

The wind was howling and I was worried Steve had fallen badly and hurt himself and would be getting cold. I shouted to see if he was OK. Muffled replys came back I couldnt understand. So Me and John tried to pull him up. He shouted out in pain STOP! We were pulling him against his chest to the wall and he couldnt breathe because he had turned 180 degress in his fall. That wouldnt work and in our haste we had slipped nearer the edge.

I decided we now had to concentrate on making a safe anchor for the rope at all cost. I told John to stop wailing and dig like he had never dug before to get to solid ice. I dug too. Thank the Lord!, We found some un shattered ice with few rocks in it. I could get in 2 ice screws. We tied the dangling rope to these. He was secure for now, But they didnt look very strong so I dugg another screw in as best as I could, and then untied from the rope to walk near the edge and see if Steve was still ok? I could just about make out that he was cold and had dropped his ice screw whilst trying to secure himself. He was 2 feet above a week snow bridge which wouldnt have held us all if we had been dragged in, Im sure we would have gone all the way down to the icey depths of the mountain.

What next? Remeber, Alex, what you were tought on all your climbing trips from more experenced guides about how to pull someone out. I needed to make a pully system with the the crabs and special prissic knots I had with me to double back the rope to form an S shape then pull him up gradually. I got confused and was very exhaused at this point as over an hour had passed being at full adrellenin, İ felt weak and shaky. I put the system together as best I could. John, couldnt help as he had never done it. He was from Tasmania, on his first climbing trip. They dont even have snow in Tazzy!

We started pulling, it worked, yes. Then the knots got twisted and locked up. I couldnt losen it my hands were freezing. We got him up a few more inches and we were pulling his neck agains the rope and ice wall, Steve was in agony shouting. This wasnt working. I traid again to untwist the ropes and it seemed to work. We could pull him up gradaually. But every time we did this we were probably tightening the rope round Steves chest so he wouldnt be able to breath.

Would this ordeal never end? I was cursing and John and I were saying that was it, were never gonna climb again. There was only one thing to do now, We had to get help, as Steve was stuck and couldnt climb up then. İf we pulled him up we could injure him. I gave my mobile a try, no reception. I gave John all my warm clothes and some food. He may be out all night if the storm didnt clear. I had decided I was going to go down the glacier on this mountain alone and get help from the hut as they had a radio. I shouted this to Steve, he didnt like it, John thought it was the best thing to do. So I took a running jump and cleared the crevasse Steve was in. I knew I could follow our tracks down. And I was long jumper at school. So every time I suspected and saw another hole, I ran and lunged over it landing hard on my crampons frequently. This was not wise as I was well aware, should I go down a hole, no one would know, where I was and now one would come looking for John and Steve either. Such thoughts I put to the back of my mind and prayed again. It had worked so far so why not?

After another hour I was below the mist and could see the valley, boulders and path to the hut. Dont fall now, when so near. So I was steady to not slip comming of the Glacier snout that had no snow and was like a polished ice rink at 45 degrees. And I was off it, thank the Lord. Crampons of, in bag, run to the hut pronto, dont have an athsma attack, bang open the door.

Mien hutte warden, Hilfe miene frunden ist krank, und lost auf dem bergen, Wir needed eine, Bergrettendiest Helecopter, Schnell, Schnell.

My german has never been brilliant but they got the idea. I was given the radio and called out the mountain recuse helecopter expalining the situation. I gave the grid refernece. They came in so fast, these guys are amazing. İt landed at the hut. İ told them where my friends were, they went to look for them. It came back, no sign of them. I gave a more deatiled map to the head resuce guy. The problem was the storm was comming in and visiblity was very low. They did another sweep. I waited anxiously. Then the unmistable sound of vumpf, vumpf , vumpf came back. He landed. I saw Steve's shocked looking face. I ran up and hugged him. He went into the hut past the small crowd of onlookers. The chopper took off and went back for John. He landed and got out and said never again dude. You climber boys are mad. He was wearing my fleace but looked happy to be down.

We went into the hut with our rescuers. They said we had been very lucky, no one else had gone up thier that day and we shoundnt have been out in such conditions and those crevasses were huge and unsafe for navigation. We felt like lucky but silly boys. The chopper had only just been able to land. When it got their. John had lowered down some slings he had to make anther rope to pull Steve out. He had used his axe to clamber up the snow wall and brocken through the snow roof that was caging him in. Just as the rescue arrived. Great timing!

We were all badly shook up and Steve probably had mild hypothermia. I smoked my only ciggarete ever to calm my nevrves and the lovely hut wardens served us schnapps and a huge cheese and salami platter which John hated as he'd been on the cheese for weeks so I gave him some of my soup and we were happy chappys. The rescuers took our insurance details to pay for the 7000 Euro rescue. Never leave home to climb without the insurance of the Austrian Alpine Club.

Now I feel very aware of the fragility of our lives and how live is a gift to us, we must never sqwander. I returned to climbing but I dont take so many risks now and I always make prayers for safe passage in the hills.