At the ridge|A comic tale of naivety and terror

at the ridge crap cover

It was scary this time!

Seems funny how just few minutes ago, everything was under control and I believed nothing bad will ever happen to me. Words like those of the Italian alpinist from the previous day sounded so wondrous. What was he thinking telling me: “I can’t believe you people came here with summer clothes?” The look in his eyes – dead serious! I couldn’t understand him then, on the wall, assuming he’s somewhat dumb, a coward, or just too weak to imagine my world of endless bravery. Our plan with my partner was to run quickly through the remaining 20+ pitches of the Cassin route on Piz Badile and then rapidly descend to the tent at the beginning of the ridge. A summer storm wasn’t expected, nor was a significant temperature drop. The elements seemed friendly and we trusted them completely, no need for plan B. That was two days ago…

Now I was wandering through the boulders of the ridge, being careful not to step into some of the nasty holes between the grass tufts. This seemingly pleasant surface to walk on could easily twist your ankles, or worse. It was our last night under the “Badile”. We wanted to spend some more time in this beautiful setting and regain the energy spend during the 30 hour ascent, rappelling and hiking adventure. My partner decided to cook some pasta for dinner, using the last supplies of water. This time it was my turn to go and fill a couple of fresh bottles. I took them and a headlamp, and went for the snowdrift up the ridge. Everything was fine, it was supposed to take no more than ten minutes; the source was close but it leaked extremely slowly, so I waited patiently for the drops to collect.

At some point, I was ready, stood up and turned around – now, from this perspective, everything was completely different… not a trace of the tent, no lights or anything… absolute silence. I remembered how we had organized our camp deep between the boulders to be safe from the winds. My target was supposed to be down there, unless I was struck by some sci-fi plot device like being teleported to another dimension or something. My head was full of such ideas to the point where they started to seem realistic.

The nightmare began unbelievably simple. After I had walked long enough to have come by the camp, without reaching it, the red light started blinking in my head – ALERT! ALERT! It was not fear yet, more like a pack of healthy concerns. The terror was about to hit later. I was walking and walking, shouting for my pasta-cooking friend to direct me, but the rocks around me, combined with the tufts on the soft ground, seemed to absorb all the waves my voice was able to produce. Hunger was occupying my thoughts, together with the awareness that my portion will be all cold when I finally find the right way. Just minutes later, none of this would matter anymore. It was pitch dark, temperatures where dropping and I was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and a nice pair of sandals. I started to realize that I had fucked up the water supply mission, and now I was in great danger, unless I quickly find the path.

Darting left and right for fifteen minutes, I failed to recognize anything familiar, only grass and boulders. I became aware of the fact I had the wrong trajectory down, so I started to move diagonally to my left, following one of the narrow natural paths between the stones. Not long after that decision I found myself in front of a deep gully, I could hear the sound of a river many meters below me. “Where the fuu…?” but I had no time for frustration.

I headed down the ridge immediately, as a form of sure escape. Soon the boulders got smaller and smaller, the view behind me transformed – the silhouettes of Piz Badile and Piz Cengalo changed their size. Now I was definitely far from the camp and my chance to think about directions was withdrawn, since something big was moving in the bushes. Was it a wolf or some mad alpine ram?

Mystic fears filled my soul and I felt sorry for all the horror stories I used to read, their suggestions just weren’t what I needed in the nocturnal mountain. All these rustling noises made me flee instantly from the edge of the gully. I was moving very gently, being careful not to attract the beast’s attention.  “In the worst case scenario, I will go to the hut, half an hour down the ridge, and take the well-known path to the tent,” I was thinking. However, in thirty minutes I didn’t reach any hut and the landscape behind me changed dramatically, no familiar peaks, no nothing… Now I was horribly lost and it struck me hard:

“Lord, I’ll be on the news like a fuckin’ idiot!”

My partner was already supposed to be looking for me so I kept screaming “Echo! Do you hear me?” repeatedly. At that point I started to go up again, hoping to spot the right perspective to Piz Badile, that will prove I’m getting close to the tent. I knew from the movies that I need to keep going by any means, and if necessary to retreat in a warmer part of the mountain. That last option was everything I wanted to avoid, since it represented the biggest disaster I was able to imagine. It meant no communication with my man for hours and possibly, a rescue mission. I visualized the helicopters, felt the shame, and after all that, the serious threat of the bill. “Remember that mountain insurance you didn’t buy?” No, I couldn’t afford this! But if I stay so high in the wilderness I would probably get hypothermia and die until the morning.

I was thinking such thoughts and moving all around trying to recognize something in the shapes of the boulders, something that will bring me to my camp with the clothes, the pasta, and all the other precious things. God, how hungry was I! The hypothermia was about to come much faster because of the starvation… I was doomed.

Locked in the strong clutches of paranoia, I started to recognize the first familiar silhouettes like visions in the dark. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Gradually I saw that big stone pyramid on the way to our camp and, like it was there the whole time (it actually was!), the wonderful yellow color of the tent peeped behind the stones, reflecting the beam of my torch. I was saved!

My guy was sitting there on the grass, smoking a cigarette with the empty pot of pasta beside him.

“Where the fuck were you, I’m thirsty here?”

“Uh… ahhh… nowhere,” I said. “I just wanted to take a final walk around.”

Yeah, right! He was looking at me as if I was mental, like “Are you sure you haven’t been abducted by the aliens, you retard?” Totally knowing I got lost at the ridge.

“Uhm… here’s your water,” I said and handed him the backpack, avoiding contact with his mocking eyes.

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