A few thoughts on: Risk

In the mountains, risk is always present. The question is: What undertakings are worth taking a risk

Three years ago, I soloed the route “Les Barbares”. The line in the Mont Blanc massif links thin ice smears up a vertical face to a pointy spire above the Argentière Glacier. Even with a partner, this route is a delicate undertaking in continuously exposed terrain. Solo, with only a self-belay, the climb becomes an even bigger challenge.

On the way across the glacier, I had three goals in mind. “Les Barbares” was the most difficult, but also the most appealing. At night, inside my tent, I took a decision: I would give it a try.

Obviously, a series of misfortunes can lead to a fatal end of such an adventure. There is no point in denying that fact. From an outside perspective, it might look like I am risking my life carelessly by heading up a remote face, alone.

There is no logically sound connection that links this perspective and mine. In order to understand my motivations, changing the point of view is mandatory. To me, the commitment that these adventures demand is not pointless at all. It is my willingness to commit that demonstrates the total conviction of my actions.

I knew that this route is difficult. The first ascentionists spent five days on it, and in nine years, it had only been repeated once. I took no bivy gear in order to be as light and quick as possible. My options were to either reach the summit, or bail, a possibility I acknowledged throughout the climb.

At the base, I felt good, self-confident and excited. The climbing was demanding and strenuous, but I stayed focused and always felt that I was in control. On the summit, I started to feel joyful, and the next day – back in the valley – I had one more amazing memory in my collection. The quick solo had let my body and mind into the realm that I had been looking for.

I experienced the exact opposite at the Martinswand near Innsbruck. A few years ago, I started up the “Ostriss”. The difficulties of this classic climb can only be described as mellow, but still, I put a skinny rope in my backpack as a back-up. After the first one hundred meters, I became even more aware that the reward of this mission stood in no relation to the risk I was taking. I rappelled back down.

Objectively, I took greater risks in “Les Barbares” than on the “Ostriss”, and still, I felt uncomfortable from the start on the latter. My only intention had been to distract myself from boredom. It was not worth risking a fatal fall.

Being successful on the mountain of my dreams, Masherbrum in Pakistan, will require an entirely different level of commitment. It is impossible to approach the final goal by making countless attempts. The objective dangers are too great to try just like that. Every attempt requires complete conviction.

Risk is always present. It is paramount to always be committed to one’s own decisions and actions.

Published in Magazin Bergwelten

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