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07.07.2017

A few thoughts on: Weather

Whether it is at the local crag or in the Himalayas: in climbing and mountaineering, the weather often sets the tone. I primarily know this from my expeditions: when the weather is a hot subject, frustration or enthusiasm aren't far.

It is trivial but true, we do not control the weather - we depend on it. More often than not, this truth becomes obvious in a brutal way. Half an hour below the summit it starts snowing, and things go awry. Had we only started half an hour earlier!

The cold, the wet, or the wind: they are not only often annoying for us mountaineers, they influence conditions and our strategy like virtually no other factor. What gear you take, when you start, how long you will be gone and what line you choose - it all changes with conditions, which change with the weather.

Not only makes this climbing mountains interesting, it also makes the subject of "weather forecasts" interesting. More often than not, the forecast indicates where things are headed and decides over success and failure.

In remote regions like the Himalaya, where I have recently been climbing nearly every year, the forecasts are often almost as uncertain as the weather itself. There are almost no weather stations and no reliable data. The meteorologists are facing quite the challenge.

About my last goal, Annapurna III (7555m), the world-famous mountain meteorologist Charly Gabl said that it is "one of the World’s most difficult locations to forecast". This was exactly what we experienced: the weather did as it wanted. One moment, the wind came from the east, the next it came from the west. The only constant was more or less snow in the afternoon.

The weather window that Charly and his colleague Alex Radlherr announced consisted of several days where it was supposed to precipitate less than usual. That ended up not being the case: our attempt to ascend the unclimbed South-East ridge ended at 6500 meters when the weather got a lot worse.

Every forecast leaves room for interpretation: is it worth to try during this window? An attempt always costs energy and nothing is more frustrating than being halfway up the wall just to receive the news that the weather will turn earlier than anticipated.

The meteorologists live with us while we are on an expedition. Like us, they are 100% committed. Wrong forecasts just remind us that complete certainty doesn't exist. Nonetheless, the forecasts are more accurate than our intuition, which can't rely on weather data and professional interpretation. That is why I never ignore a forecast just because my instinct says something else - just like I don't go to a fortune-teller at home before I depart on an expedition.

We have to accept that the weather remains a factor of uncertainty to this day, one that we can't influence with tactics or preparation. Even if we often see this differently when the storm approaches: freak weather is an integral part of alpinism and one of the many things that make it such a beautiful challenge.

Published in Magazin Bergwelten

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