VS Heiligkreuzkofel Mittelpfeiler 1.0

onsight, alles geführt
Niklaus Fähndrich
4 von 13 SL
Kletterzeit: 4:30 h
Versuch, Mayerl-Verschneidung bis Mittelband

I was at a dead end. We were in deep shit. I had majorly underestimated the route, and as always, if you don’t show due respect to the mountain, the mountain kicks your butt.
I had known that during the last two pitches, but I really hadn’t wanted to descend that way. I felt that the safe way out was up. Darkness wasn’t dangerous in itself; I had climbed many routes in the dark. But darkness paired with icy wind and especially with the uncertainty of what was to come felt much different.

He said, “Let’s call them” and I didn’t really put up a fight.

I had gotten him into this situation. I always got up and got down everyone safely, that was my job, and in that moment I couldn’t. I couldn’t really get up, I couldn’t get us down without additional risk, I could only offer to spend a very, very cold night and continue in the morning.

My cell phone battery was below 20 %. I hadn’t brought an extra down jacket. I had eaten next to nothing all day, which was my usual tactic on multi-pitches, but the cold burned everything even more quickly and I was shivering in the wind. The thought of retracing our steps scared the shit out of me – I had wrongly expected safety on the ledge, and what I got was an unprotectable first bit where I had difficulty building a belay, a very narrow, exposed traverse on loose rubble, big patches of snow that we had to change shoes to get across, and darkness before we reached the second part of the route.

We agreed later that had the route just continued up for a couple more pitches, we would have just gone on and climbed the rest in the dark. But in fact, these are two different routes, and the first bit until the ledge had been but the approach for the second.
Had I been in possession of a topo of the upper part of Mayerl Verschneidung, I might have continued up that way right away (and at least ticked a different route to the one we were trying), since it left only four pitches as opposed to a whole new route with several complicated traverses.

But there we were, in the middle of the ledge traverse, and the couloir that had looked like an easy escape route in the setting sun was almost impossible to make out twenty minutes later when I got there and turned out to be two structureless repelling walls.

There were many uncertainties which all added up to feeling like a threat. Were we even going to find the route? Were our (multiple) headlamp batteries going to last the whole night? If we got up, would we even be able to get down in the night? Or: was there really a cave-like shelter to cower in for the night?
We weren’t ill prepared, but we could have done better. And we could have turned back much earlier. Reinforced the first sketchy belay and descended the approach route in daylight. I guess what drove me up just as much as “I don’t turn back” was “I don’t want to go back down that way”. The main problem was that our communication sucked. I felt responsible.

I was leading and took all the decisions alone,

while simultaneously waiting for my partner to say “Let’s rappel” from the first belay. Usually, it was the other who said that, I never had to. Turning back just wasn’t my thing. And the further we climbed up, the less appealing it was to go back down that way.
My partner was already deadbeat after the approach but didn’t say so. At that moment I wasn’t ready to turn back, I wanted to start the route, disregarding the fact that it was already 1 PM.
But maths was never my thing and I liked to ignore these “mundane” techniques like counting hours because they seemed to be made for regular people who were afraid of the dark. I wasn’t. I just started and never stopped climbing. And the way down usually found itself, in some way or another. Well, it did too, but not in the way I had planned.

I almost couldn’t bring myself to push that call button,

and the moment I did, guilt hit me harder than the relief of someone coming to get us.
I was supposed to sleep in a bivy and freeze my ass off all night. I was supposed to climb in the darkness, no matter the grade or the protection. I was supposed to push everyone else and push through the night. Just the week before I had said to a friend, “Never would I call the helicopter if one of us wasn’t majorly injured”. But I did.

We were on a big ledge, in no immediate mortal danger, at 7 PM (well, in February), it was only going to be about minus 3°C that night, we had light, we had phones, we had some food and water left, and an emergency bivouac bag. We had options.
Most of them weren’t appealing and half I considered dangerous, such as rappelling 4 times off sketchy belays, the first of which we would have to climb up to first because it was above the ledge, then leaving several metres of sling as reinforcement, and then descending the extremely steep approach “path” through lots of snow, which by now would have been in even worse conditions than that morning.

Or maybe I was just being a pussy?

I came down from the polished overhanging chimney-couloir I had wanted to escape through and seen no ways to protect, and said to my partner, “I guess it’s either the bivy or the helicopter”.

I left him with a choice, and he took the safer one. Maybe on a personal level I did the right thing, but the first thing I regretted was not pushing him more to cross over to the maybe-cave and settle in.
They came quickly; they had already been half-waiting for our call because someone down in the valley had seen our headlamps on the wall. They were incredibly quick, smooth and efficient; the darkness posed no problem to them and ten minutes after hearing the noise of the rotor blades, we were down in the valley.

I couldn’t sleep that night, in my warm car. I felt like a failure. Only beginners and losers called the rescue if they weren’t in mortal danger. People like this weren’t supposed to be in the mountains.
People who needed help weren’t proper alpinists. Alpinists always solved their problems on their own. If you took misguided decisions and got yourself into a shitty situation, it was your job to get out of it too.
I had failed. I was meant to spend a night in the snow, and I just took the easy way out. Making use of an option which should only ever be the last resort. It wasn’t an emergency, really. I had misjudged the route, the timing and the conditions. But I prided myself on always solving my own problems. And this time I didn’t. I called for help.

It’s easy for everyone to say: “The most important thing is that you both got down safely”.

But it doesn’t do my mental battle justice.

I feel like I failed. I feel like everyone secretly thinks that I am, clearly, ill-equipped to do this project. That I shouldn’t be in the mountains. This is something I cannot do undone. It feels like a stain on my alpine history.

Especially at this point of my project. First route: walk in the park, second route: free solo, third route: helicopter. Not exactly a linear development.

Of course, I’d rather call the rescue than die. Of course, I’d rather regret calling them than regret not having called them. But we weren’t about to die. And the voice in my head is very loud that says:

You were just scared. You were just cold. You gave in to fear. You didn’t keep your shit together. Who are you when you can’t do that? This is what you do: you always keep your shit together. But now you didn’t. You failed.