I think everyone knows this moment when you’ve prepared months for something or your anticipation is higher than the Mount Everest and you reach a point where you most likely have to turn around or let go of your goal. Often Christmas and New Years are those periods when you think about these issues the most, being torn between a feeling of regret and having failed or the feeling of having taken the right decision timely enough. What to do next year? What are my goals? What are my resolutions? Especially when you’re high up in the mountain. Again for New Years a group of young explorers to put the metaphor into practice and spend the last evening of the year in a hut high up in the Swiss Alps.
Despite high spirits, this time it was a very natural obstacle getting up there. Not lack of fitness or too much sweets and booze packed, but simply nature’s forces in the form of avalanches. We basically arrived at our first stop, the cute mountain village of Schuders where the villagers were furiating hearing that we’d want to ascend to the hut. It was indeed a tricky situation as not all of us had the right safety equipment and it was late in the day with snow still coming down. The information we had was conflicting, with the villagers advising us against the hike and elevated risk levels from the internet whilst a local guide we wanted to hire basically told us in the morning, there would be no need for him joining us. We were still waiting for the last people of the group coming up, realizing that at least today there would be no ascend to the hut, so we started asking around where we could stay. After patting some dogs, talking to several villagers, pubs and strangers, we got really lucky. Having anticipated to sleep somewhere in a shed on hay, we were offered to find shelter in the heated church and then even in the local school, which was equipped with a kitchen, fireplace and plenty of floor space to sleep on. So that saved the first night and we even managed to arrange getting safety equipment for everyone. The question of climbing or not, was still not of the table.
At that point, I remembered a time climbing Mount Taranaki in New Zealand with friends on a gorgeous day, no clouds in sight but some puffy balls over the sea far away. The only problem was, that it was already late in the day and just a few months ago an experienced group of climbers got stuck up here and found their eternal piece on the mountain. We knew we did not have the right equipment to go to the peak, but were adventurous enough to replace ice axes with sticks and branches found on the way. When we were under the last summit climb another tramper came down from the peak and advised us not climb. It still was just looking stunningly. Just imagine you climb a cone peak that raises from the sea level, farmland and bushland to gravel slopes and snowy ridges, whilst the sun laughs in your face. Yet, that seemed to be the danger. Our group was unsure, we were really close and when the girlfriend of my mate said it wouldn’t matter if you climb the peak or not, it overcome me and I snappishly said: “You know it kinda does. It’s like having sex. Hiking up the mountain is great, but without the orgasm something is missing.” As much as I loved the analogy I felt stupid for saying it out loud and when she offered to stay behind, I objected and said, that the group staying together and being safe goes over the peak fetish.
So yeah, we were in a similar situation. I mean what are the odds that an avalanche actually comes down when you’re careful, experienced and equipped with safety gear. Well probably small, yet it can always happen. That’s the idea of a risk assessment. Risk is a function of probability and severity of the impact, hence despite it being unlikely the risk is still high has the impact would be tremendous. And how would that feel if an avalanche would just come next to you. Would you be ready and know what to do? Despite being adventurous, arduous and fit, one has to admit that a groups is as strong as its weakest link, and on a personal level you’re only as strong as your greatest weakness in this situation. Long story short: We didn’t go up to the and played the safe card, which was hard because two of us had put so much effort and meticulous planning into getting the hut for New Years and we could only imagine when the sky cleared on New Year’s night how beautiful it must have been there. Last regret of the last year?
The next day we were rewarded with sun and amazing wheather, that allowed us to do a day tour along the safer slopes. Despite already saying goodbye to half of the group and one of our friends being in hospital already for a spontaneous condition, we had a great day and great views from the Huscher peak. On the way down we stopped for a beer at a guys hut for a rest. Another hiker there told us his story of being up in the mountain with 70 other mountaineers that misjudged the risk, and consecutive avalanches led to the death of several hikers and rescuers. Looking at the 1999 avalanche of Galtür it becomes clear, how preparation is all well and good, but sometimes the odds are just against you.
So on my list is, doing a snowschool, become more comfortable in winter situations as well as knowing how to deal with those emergency situations. An advanced first aid or mountain rescue course would be even better. Otherwise I’d feel bad again, holding the others that have the experience back next time. Luckily in the end we all appreciated that it was about spending time together and not ticking a box of our peak list. So.. Happy new years by the way, with best wishes and resolutions.