Mountains on my mind

– Memories of many adventures in the mountains –

Once again the year’s mountain season is coming to an end for us. While the old snow is finally barely gone the next can fall any day now. Soon we’ll head out to climb our Mt.Angeles a last time this year, and on the way I remember how it all began:

Years and years ago when we were young and indefatigable we would roam the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, France, and often in northern Italy. It was there that we totally fell in love with mountains.

All this happened while we had a professional life for a while. My profession was designing machines and inventing things. And I even left my mark, so to speak, in this crazy field. But I soon found it strangely unsatisfying to contribute to the “mechanization” of the world, to the endless creation of unnecessary things. Instead of making things and changing things I wanted to understand things, and this great investigation really became my life.

Engineering is still in my blood, as it obviously is in the genes of our entire species. But I don’t see the world as a playground to be changed and adapted to our wishes and therefore in need for skills how to do that. Although I secretly never took it very seriously it was a career, and it was my tribute to the ‘system’, my dues to gain freedom from it. Sometimes I remember these years now, designing amazing little machines, dreaming to do important work, so willing to put my heart blood into “things”. (click for more).

In spite of my secret reservations about being a professional engineer all went incredibly well, work was quite exciting and I gave it all I had. But when summer came we were gone.

Six weeks holiday is normal in Europe, and we never wasted a single day. When we came home back to work we were often quite exhausted and actually in need of a holiday, but we were young and by then so saturated with the spiritual energy of mountain air that we hardly noticed it. I was always in great shape anyway because I rode my bike to work. Later, when we started building a house and did it mostly by ourselves (click for more), all the physical exertion got a bit too much and I rode my red Vespa to work.

In the mountains we had our “Grüne Minna” then (click for more) and drove around like gypsies. We parked our little home on wheels at odd places on some high pass or in a little village at the end of a valley and went up into the high lands.

Croda da Lago, Lastoni di Formin, Dolomiti, Italy. Viewed from the foot of Tofana di Rozes.

At first it was mostly hiking. We tramped on all those wonderful “high trails” crisscrossing the Alps, hardly ever descending down into the valleys. Often from hut to hut – the system of shelters and huts in the Alps is amazing – later also with a tent.

We called it “Joch bummeln” = strolling kind of leisurely and aimlessly along high ridges.

The European Alps are densely populated. There is farming and agriculture everywhere even up to fairly high elevations.

 Up on a summit a rest for man and boots.

 The Alps are not wilderness as we know it in America or elsewhere. Whenever up on the peaks you look down on man-made nature, villages, and fields, and from a distance it’s all just lovely.

Dinner P&K style on one of those ridges. Our sense for romantic celebrations has never faded and has become something like a “Leitmotif” in all our adventures.

The Brenta, in the Dolomiti / Italy became our first playground.

We explored it all, come rain, come shine, and got tougher and bolder.

Monte Pelmo is a formidable mountain that looks forbidding and luring at the same time. We found a way to scale it; scary, but incredibly satisfying.

* * *

Then we discovered the Via Ferrata = Klettersteige = iron routes, something pretty unique in the Alps. These are climbing routes through often very demanding vertical rock that are secured with fixed steel cables. When you come with a simple harness and a short rope with a carabiner you can clip into these cables and climb very safely without any other gear or route-finding worries. They are the most wonderful invention to introduce people to serious climbing. However, they were of course never invented for this purpose. These iron routes were built during the First World War as supply routes for soldiers fighting from the mountain tops. The entire region was a spectacular battleground then. You find relics of this war everywhere in the Dolomites. Many mountains there are riddled with narrow tunnels built to get access to better shooting positions, some only for the purpose of putting bombs under such positions then and blow them up. We explored many of these tunnels in spectacular scenery. People would blow up entire mountains to kill each other. Now it’s all history; the region did not see much fighting in the Second World War and is very peaceful ever since.

Going all around the Sorapis on high routes. Christallo in the background.

Punta Anna on the Via Ferrata Giuseppe Olivieri close to the Tofana di Mezzo above the lovely town of Cortina.

* * *

Soon we wanted to pick our own routes:

Early practicing.

Then we picked up a rope and all the stuff. Roped climbing is great, but I never really fell in love with it. It may be quite irrational, but it always felt to me like cheating, unnatural, artificial, distracting from the actual contact with the mountain. I have the greatest respect for people who do it; it certainly opens up experiences that are otherwise impossible. But I don’t like stuff, I don’t like the technical aspect of climbing. I always liked the attitude of Reinhold Messner (who actually comes from this very same region) who coined the term: “Climbing by fair means”. He didn’t mean to never use a rope but to use as few stuff as possible, preferably just your hands and feet.

The Drei Zinnen, one of the most spectacular formations in the Dolomites.

The north face rivals El Capitan in Yosemite. It was out of my league, but we’ve been on the top several times on other routes.

  On top of the Frankfurter Würstel near Drei Zinnen.

 Punta Fanes Sud close to Falzarego Pass.

 Rappelling from the Drei Zinnen.

Rappelling without a proper harness.

Cadini di Misurina, Dolomiti, Italy. Viewed from the Tre Cime / Drei Zinnen. On those incredibly steep scree slopes under the Cadini Group in the distance I learned to “ski” down on my bare boots. You have to run and jump down onto the slope, kicking loose an avalanche and traveling with it at neck-breaking speed, fairly slowly moving your feet in the rolling chaos under you to keep your balance. It’s almost falling all the time but like steering, guiding your fall and transforming it into a dance. It’s a pretty “violent” and dusty affair, you can hurt yourself easily, but absolutely exhilarating. I think the steepness combined with the right size and quite round shape of the rocks is critical; some of these talus-slopes in the Dolomites are perfect for this.

* * *

Soon we went higher and higher and learned our ways in snow and ice too. Here climbing without crampons on solid ice, slightly dusted over; dangerous stuff!

Somewhere in Austria.

  Vertainspitze, Italy

The Ortler is a beautiful high mountain in the north-western Dolomites. In the background the spectacular Königspitze.

I love everything of Parvin, but her hair drove me wild the moment I saw her for the first time.

One day – without any preparation, just coming back from windsurfing on the Atlantic coast –  we climbed Mt.Blanc in France, the highest of them all.

Mt. Blanc, France, on Bastille Day, July 14.

* * *

This was a memorable solo trip along the fantastic Ortler Hintergrat. You can see my own lonely track in the snow.

During the descent on this trip I broke through the treacherous thin cover over a hidden glacier crevasse and barely caught myself with both elbows on the rim of the broken hole, my whole body and legs dangling down into the bottomless black abyss. It happened at a very unusual location not far from the summit where you wouldn’t expect crevasses at all. Mountains are dangerous.

Not long after that I solo-climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland, arguably one of the most beautiful mountains of the world. This was truly a milestone experience; under really challenging circumstances I found a dead climber on this trip (click for more).

This was on the ascent toward the fabulous Bianco Grat (in the top background) and Piz Bernina in Switzerland. The ice was treacherous on that day, to say the least, this was clearly no place to go unroped and a kind of symbolic turn-around point. I never made it all the way to the Bianco Grat but came back very quiet and with trembling knees.

                                                                       Klaus  September 21. 2011

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3 Responses to Mountains on my mind

  1. Klaus Mack says:

    You speak from the heart Klaus. Even I never climbed any peak of my home mountains – but now, far away and unable to return, I realize how much I’m part of them.


  2. hazel says:

    you not only speak from the heart Klaus you live from the heart!

  3. Selma says:

    What an amazing life you have led. I am in awe. You have done things I only dream of. Your photos are wonderful, spectacular. And Parvin’s hair is fantastic. Thank you for telling this remarkable story!

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