As part of our work for the Shimshal Climbing School we went in search of local ice climbs where we might be able to take students and teach techniques for longer routes. And of course, we always love to climb a beautiful waterfall. The climb featured here is just outside the village and a beautiful climb. After struggling to get to Shimshal thanks to the Hunza River landslide, we encountered our own issues with rock fall.
In 20+ years in the mountains, this day would be one of my most dramatic. And lucky.
Thanks for checking out my videos and please read Herve's account in word below. It's powerful stuff.
CLOSE TO DEATH by Herve Bermasse
I have always tried to steer away from the topic of death, as if the subject doesn’t concern me, as if somehow I am immune to it’s danger. Yet I know perfectly well the history of alpinism teaches us the exact opposite: for those who spend time in the mountains, death is often not far away. And when if it happens knowing the true cause of the death was just an error of technique or judgment, we give the responsibility for the death to fate or to destiny only because it’s easier to start climbing once again; to turn the page; to return to the mountains as soon as possible.
And what if this climb, the one we are now on, were the end? How many times, before starting a route, have we stopped and considered this possibility? With professionalism and detachment we are always able to rationalize the danger in other people’s ascents while not comprehending the risks that characterize our own.
Shimshal Valley, 22 January 2010.
Cubic meters of rock pass over my head like projectiles. I cling to my ice picks with the last ice screw placed many meters below my feet. I can do nothing but look upwards and hope that I won’t be hit.
Unwillingly, I am in the midst of a war and I am fighting to survive.
I am certain that within a short while I will be dead but at the same time I don’t want to surrender as I try to stay immobile, ready to dodge any strikes, ready to throw myself into the void as a last resort.
I see an avalanche of snow and debris starting. My gaze turns to stone. I clutch the ice axes even tighter, I lower my head to look towards my feet and I wait for the impact that will sweep me away, towards my death.
It is often said that when one is certain they are about to die, visions of their past rushes before them–a film of life, highlighting the most important moments. None of that is true. In that moment there was only room for one thought, “I must live.” And I asked myself, “If the hope of building a future doesn’t exist, what sense is there to have this present moment or even my past?”
With the ruthless will of someone fighting for survival and with all the strength I have in my body, I managed to hang onto the vertical wall and avoid the chaos as pieces of mountain ripped over my head. For a moment all is silent, all is tranquil. The silence is soon broken by the shouting of my partners calling for me to come down as soon as possible. It seems to be all over until I look up and see an enormous piece of rock, the size of a car, coming towards me.
Now I am certain.
Now. It is definitely over.
My body is paralyzed by the chills. The sense of clarity I had up until that moment disappears. Strong jolts of adrenaline don’t allow me to think clearly. I get as close as I possibly can to the wall of ice, gripping the ice axes as hard as I can and, with my eyes closed, I await the blow. Something grazes me, I’m hit by snow. I open my eyes and take a few steps down.
Is the nightmare over?
I’m still alive.
I put a screw into a layer of ice on my left and I quickly descend to my partners who take me into their arms with a maternal instinct and guide me towards the cave that protected them.
I can’t stay still. The adrenaline pervades my body and, in spite of everything, I maintain a brazen attitude. Before the stunned eyes of my friends, I act as if nothing has happened. They definitely must, rightly so, think I am crazy.
Several minutes pass and I am overcome with a sense of emptiness. In silence, confused, I make my way towards Shimshal.