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by : Odhran | written on :29/08/2008 | permalink

The mountain climb from hell

Worst holiday ever

I should preface this badhap with the fact that this is part and parcel of mountain climbing and as a whole, the 'holiday' was great ... but shit happens.

Anyway, myself and my brother like to go to the Alps in northern Italy once a year for a long weekend of mountaineering. This year, we went to attempt the Bernina, which is a 4000m mountain (and the highest peak in the eastern alps). The trek starts at about 1800m and climbs rapidly to 2600m for the first refuge. From there it's a long trek to the second refuge at 2800m and the final refuge is at 3600m, where we intended to stay the night before attempting the summit at dawn.

So we set out at 6am and made it to 2800m by 12pm (exactly on schedule) and proceeded to make our way up to the glacier at 3000m. We started crossing the glacier by 2pm and were making quite good progress. The weather was very changable and it actually snowed the previous night, so all of the crevasses we're covered with snow, making it extremely dangerous. But we were checking the ground ahead for soft spots and jumping the cracks as necessary. All was going well. With about 200m left to climb we could see the ice wall that leads to the final refuge (and our beds for the night). It must have been the awe that set in, or the fact that we were too busy looking at how the hell we were going to get up there, but my brother then disappeared in front of me ... straight into a crevas. Luckily, we were both roped up, so my body weight managed to catch his fall. I hauled him our with all my strength, but he hurt his knee with the fall.

At this stage it was 6pm and darkness would set in at about 8pm. We'd already been crossing the glacier for 4 hours and with his knee, I couldn't see a way that we'd make it to the top. Things were starting to look life threatening.

Now although, my brother has the strength of Samson and the sheer will-power to overcome any pain (and even though he was assuring me he could make it), I decided we had to turn back and that it would be safer to decend on a bad knee than try to climb further. Our party rule is that the safest choice of any one of us is the concensus, so disappointedly he agreed.

So, back we turned. Unfortunately, this isn't the end of our woes. After about 1km, I tripped over a loose rock stuck in the glacier and fell awkardly. My crampon on my left shoe (the spikes attached to my shoe) impaled my right calf muscle. Sheer agony! I had to pull it out and nearly fainted with the pain. Thankfully the damage wasn't terrible and I was able to continue. We pushed on and tried to go as fast as we could across the glacier without any more mistakes, but we still had to find a path through the crevases. Nightmare.

The good news was that we did actually make it back to the refuge at 2800m for about 8:30pm and they had a place for us to sleep that night. I swear I've never had a better night's sleep ... I was literally out for the count.

Funnily enough, there was a party of 3 climbers ahead of us and they had to turn back too because a rock fall hit one of them and broke her arm. That woman was hardy as hell because she covered the way back to the refuge too. Amazing!

So nature certainly taught us a lesson last weekend. No matter how much you prepare, you will succumb to her power eventually.

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