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perfect climb

 

ಇದು ಆನಂದವರ್ಧನ ಅವರು ಬರೆದ ಲೇಖನ. ಚಿತ್ರ ಸಮೇತ ಓದಲು ಈ   Perfect Climb ananda ಗುಂಡಿಯನ್ನು ಕ್ಲಿಕ್ಕಿಸಿರಿ.

We have seen the movie “Perfect Storm” and at Intel we strive to do a “Perfect Job” and recently while I was on a work assignment at Intel Ulm, Germany I had the pleasure of experiencing a “Perfect Climb” combined with “Perfect Job”.

Peter just above the ski lift drop of area. You see the peak peeking into the sky at the back, Just straight up!!

My two biggest passions are work and the outdoors. In Germany, on my 10KM hike to work daily I had the pleasure of seeing the wondrous Alps in the horizon. The Intel office in Ulm is a small campus of about 50 people, and quickly I found out the only other person as obsessed with the outdoors as me was the most senior manager at the site – Peter Horn.

Now at Intel we have this open door policy so I opened Peter’s door (unlike US offices managers have concrete walled offices with real solid doors) and was greeted with a series of superb ice climbing photos and panoramic views of the Alps. I knew I had come to the right place. We outdoor nerds are people of few words. All I asked was, “Peter, can we hike over this weekend?” He said, “be ready at 5:45AM outside your hotel fully geared for a snowshoeing trip”. That’s it, our arrangements had been made.

Sunday morning, being the over prepared and punctual person that I am, I come out at 5:38AM and was embarrassed to find Peter waiting out in the cold. Just to be on the safe side he had come at 5:30AM!! I hop in his Mercedes and we zoom off at 200KMPH (125MPH) towards Alps. 80MPH is a speed I am comfortable and 125MPH was making me bit nervous. Peter could sense my discomfort so he casually said today the roads might be a bit icy hence he was driving bit slowly and cautiously!! That is only possible when a German is driving a German car on a German road. Logically speaking, if everything is according to spec, then nothing should break, and that logic held true in Germany.

They jump off and ski down on virgin snow. The squiggly tracks can be seen to the left

7AM on the dot we arrived at the parking lot and unloaded our gear from the car. As I was getting ready, Peter took out a bunch of equipment that was completely foreign to me. He gave one blinking gadget and told to fasten that to my body and never to remove it. That was the avalanche transceiver. “Whoa! Whoa! Wait wait…” I said I know nothing of this, what do I actually do when the avalanche comes? Peter said, “the gadget will allow your travel mate to detect you below the snow and dig you out” I did not know what to say and was frozen with the decision of whether I should join him in this adventure or turn back before it was too late.

But then all my dedication and passion for the outdoors drifted away with the wind. Then he added “Here take these crampons too in case you have to take an off track route back …” I had a light backpack and suddenly it was loaded with all sorts of equipment and gadgets. Now I felt like a real mountaineer off to conquer Everest.

We were at the foot of Rhonenspitze, 2000M(6600 foot) mountain in Austria. The first 2000 feet of the climb was vertical steep ski trail and Peter took off at a steady pace on the groomed trail with hard packed snow, and I followed, pleased at my ability to keep pace. When we reached the top of the ski trail, and stood looking down, panting into the thin mountain air, it occurred to me that we could have taken the ski lift up to here and then began our climb up the mountain. I asked Peter “How come we walked up”, he said without batting an eye, “those lifts starts at 9AM, by climbing up we’ve saved 1 minute and gotten a good warm up.” “How much more?” was the question which naturally comes as you stand in front of a snow wall stretching into the forest!! Peter said “Just 2000 feet in the forest and once we are out of the timber line another 2000 feet, just 4000 more to go.

We continued on, and I followed in Peter’s footsteps. Not his metaphorical footsteps, but his literal ones. We we were in loose snow and every step sank a foot or more. He took the extra burden of compacting it for me. My Costco brand snowshoes were no match for Peter’s platinum tipped mountain rescue equipment. The benefits of design and quality began to emerge. We were walking on 8 inch snow ledges with the mountain to one side and just couple of thousand foot precipices on the other. After climbing for 1000 feet on that terrain I was exhausted. With my Costco gear I had to exert counter balance to avoid slipping away to white glory. I called for a break.

Peter knew I wanted to sit, and he gallantly took out a cold resistance snow mat and dug a neat sofa for me with his shovel. That is what I call a perfect host out in the wild as I was able to sit in a soft snow sofa munching on an energy bar!! Another 1000 feet dragged on and Peter kept assuring me that once we are out of the timberline then there will be rocks and hard surfaces which will make it easier to hike up.

Ananda at the very top at the foot of the cross!!

Finally we emerged out of the forest and sure enough there were rocks, but what he had not told was it would be very icy too!! He removed his snow shoe and said I am just going to walk up!! I was horrified, I could not imagine at 4000 feet 60 degree slope walking up an ice rock surface. I said “No Sir, I am very happy with my snow shoe I will trudge up with that” and that is what I did. “Crack!!” Yes that was the sound you just heard as my Costco hiking pole broke!! Here I was at 5000 feet on an ice rocky surface with snow shoe and a broken hiking pole!! How bad can it get? But remember I am with a professional, he just hands me one of his poles. “Take this, this is platinum tipped pole as old and tough as me …” That pole was a life saver; I would not have made it that day without it!! I still don’t know how I made it but suddenly I found myself at the foot of the lord!! Yes literally foot of the lord!! In Germany on all mountains they mount a huge cross, like 25 foot massive cross. I clung on to the warm wood and breathed a sigh of relief finally all the ordeal was behind me and I had done it. Well, well well not really!! We passed the cross and found a flat surface on the top and found a long line of people ready to jump off the cliff. Like lemmings they stood with their skis, ready to leap.

People getting ready to jump off!!

Peter said, “This is the real Alpine skiing … people climb up 6000 feet dragging their skis all the way to top and jump off the cliff!! Whole day they get to ski only once but it is a life time experience when (if I said to myself) they reach down”. Yes I saw them free fall 100’s of feet over perpendicular cliffs and then ski off to glory. So as they took the leap of faith we sat, to be fair, I sat and had my lunch.

On our way back just after the most gruesome descent. Peter and Ananda

As I gnawed on the hard German bread the ordeal of descent started gnawing at me. I asked Peter I don’t think I can make it down the path we came up, it would be suicidal for me. Peter said “no problem” and took out his paper map!! It has been a while since I saw someone actually referring to a paper map and make sense out of it. Peter said “We came up the north face and I have climbed this umpteen times but always descended the same route. However I always wanted to try the south face, let me study the map”. That reminded me of the saying “An unknown angel is better than a known devil” or was it the other way? My muddled brain could not get it straight. Whatever, I had no option other than to follow Capt Peter with whom I had placed my dear life. He told me “Going down with snow shoes on rocks, it is too dangerous …” So I packed my snowshoe and followed in his footsteps on knee deep snow. We trudged along a narrow ridge of the mountain and then started the sheer vertical wall descent. Many places I had to sit and slide as it was too slippery, and by then my other stick had also broken and we both had but a single hiking pole on the way down!! Then we came to a sheer wall surface where luckily they had provided a cable to grapple down. We were on the rocks for nearly an hour and finally came down on the soft snow and reasonable slope. On our way down we witnessed the same jumping off the cliff from bottom. Down down and down I walked, slid, rolled and finally by 4PM made it back to the parking lot in one piece. 9 hours of hiking with an elevation gain/loss of 12,000 feet. It was sad that we never used all the gear we carried. What impressed me was Peter had more confidence in me than I had on myself. Moral of the story is go with a pro if you want to do the impossible.

Ananda clinging to his dear life at the top of the rusty old cable!!
All photo Courtesy: Peter Horn

 

 

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