A place for a

25.04.2015

Lonely alps: How I almost died in the mountains – Part 1

Three hours of exhaustive ascent. I stand tall and erect, my breast protruded and head held high in pride; my head is shaven and with a jeans, jeans jacket and a simple shirt underneath I arrogantly claim the rule of the world. I look down from the Montscheinspitze, a summit of the Karwendel range in Austria, three thousand feet above the place where I kicked off. The sun lingers 2 remaining hours high above the comb of the surrounding mountains and, supported by a slightest fog, strikes light rays down into the valley.

I started out with a pear and two apples. One apple is gone, the other one in my hand. A mouthful of cold and sweet fruit flesh occupies my attention; if a snowball could be warm, it would produce a similar sensation on my tongue.

No folly drove me to sport with so little provisions; I am a man and can do anything I will myself to. I didn’t bring means of communication, no phone, I’m disconnected.

Already out of the season, the rising cold presages the night. I need to get going.

The way down is different to the way up. Carefully I tread as I make my way down a steep rocky path, sometimes requiring the use my arms not to fall. Occasional iron ropes provide a hint of safety. No fear has me, but excitement; coordinating my body in a dangerous environment makes me feel powerful and self-reliant.

Walking the ridge of the mountain, I reach a broad column ingrained into the alp like a deep scar. Were it a tad steeper, a free fall right down to the bottom of the valley would seem possible. A big red arrow points down this path; I don’t like this.

As I make my way down on all my fours, rocks and mud slither away underneath my arms and feet, sometimes I lose grip and slide a few feet. My jeans and jacket soak up light brown liquid that smells like loam.

I find myself at the brim of a plain wet rock; the path continues ten feet below, hidden in snow so deep in the column that the sun had not had enough opportunity to melt it during the whole summer. This is a one-way street.

My limbs start to shake lightly in stress. The shaking is beyond my control, it’s automatic; but the decision is still mine to make. I decide to descend. With effort, I manage not to slip and fall immediately while holding on to a tiniest fracture at the top. The last three feet I jump down, hoping for the snow not to hide nasty surprises. I make it without further injury, but my stomach is irritated. Still not certain whether I have strayed from the path, I wonder, should I have brought ropes? This may be above me.

Danger is not something that happens to me. There’s no happy end, doesn’t need to be, because there is no apprehension of anything to breaks the meaningless if entertaining flow of events that is life. A little excitement will make for a nice story. I like the climbing and maneuvering. I’m here therefore there is a path down the road. It has never been and can not be different. It simply is the truth.

That I know while I continue my way onto a broad, dusty slope covered with little rocks and splinters. I find it impossible to walk, twisting my feet in a sea of stones. Thus I skid down a few hundred feet towards a narrowing of the slope, bringing a cohort of stones down with me. Dust dries my mouth.

A puny stream emerges from some place and flows down a furrow along a lofty cliff on my left. Trying to follow it, I am quickly discouraged as it is becoming increasingly difficult to climb down the high cascades that the stream passes. I look to my right towards further frighteningly steep slopes with occasional growth of grass and cripple trees. That’s my path.

The sun is about to skim the rim of the mountain silhouettes. In their shadow, I see the valley I need to reach. Doesn’t look far. Dear sheep who decided to follow predefined paths; watch me as I carve out my own.

It’s hard to keep the balance. I cannot fall because to fall would mean to lose control and half plummet, half roll down hundreds of feet just to be brutally stopped by a rock or plunge from a cliff. I cling to loose dry roots in the brittle soil. My belly sorely tightens as time goes on. What is this kind of discomfort?

I hear cries, but I see no person.

Dusk has reached the slopes and I am once more following the stream, scrambling down moist rocks. I am still enjoying the adventure, but not the way I used to. Some kind of certainty is gone for good; the lowering of the rocks keeps challenging me almost beyond my skill level.

Slowly I walk up to the next rim. It looks deep behind. My stomach tightens as I get closer. I’m at the edge now. The stream is dripping into a basin sixty feet below. My breath quickens and something is painting the inside of my ribcage with fire and ice. To my left, a small verge of the cliff protrudes over the abyss. A jump to the top of another cliff five feet further promises another uncertain way without return. I step on the verge, my hands holding on to crumbly stone; I have to stand tall, almost bent over the chasm, preparing to leap. My hands and feet start to shake uncontrollably. The shaking has nothing to do with willpower; my willpower is there, but it is not connected to my hands and feet the way it had been.

I notice the creeping cold and the blue haze my vision is turning into.

Rain sets in. I give up.

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