– 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).
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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Soon we wanted to pick our own routes:
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 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.
Rappelling from the Drei Zinnen.
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.
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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