Last winter 2018/19 I was completely fascinated by the cross-country ski run – there was hardly any time or desire left for ski tours. And the snow situation this winter leaves a lot to be desired. The lowlanders are fleeing from the fog into the mountains over the Christmas holidays and all hell is breaking loose on our doorstep. The ski area parking lots at Ibergeregg and Hoch-Ybrig are overcrowded every day and there is regular traffic chaos. So we take our escape to the front and decide to drive to the most remote valley that comes to our mind. Our choice falls on the Safiental.
In our case, remote means getting up early – and that on New Year’s Eve, when staying awake longer in the evening would actually be the order of the day. Already at 5 o’clock the alarm clock gets us out of sleep. So we jump into the already packed car after a short breakfast and at 8am sharp we are already standing at the parking lot of the Turrahus – the starting point for our year-end ski tour to the Tällihorn.
There is still not much going on back here at the end of the valley and almost alone we start our ascent. It is cold here in the shade – the sun has not yet made it over the 3000m mountain range with Alperschällihorn, Pizzas d’Anarosa and Bruschghorn on the opposite side of the valley. And my icy cold fingers torture me once more.
First sunrays over the Safiental
But for the shivering a reward beckons us. After a few hundred meters of altitude we change from the shadow into the light and enjoy a beautiful sunrise above Thalkirch. With the sun behind us it is easier to climb up. A little later we have a break – sun, panorama, bread, muesli bars, tea. And then the rest of the ascent. The slopes facing west are so gently sloped and the track so well laid out that we can let our thoughts wander as we continue our ascent and simply enjoy the landscape.
Ascent over the sunny slopes above the Turrahuus
Shortly before the steep summit slope, a tiny “steep step” is waiting for us – more likely a small step. The track is well laid out and the first hairpin bend still works quite smoothly. The second one is a bit steeper and my head refuses to work. So I’m standing there in a terrain where everybody is just stomping through and I don’t dare to make the next hairpin bend. With a lot of fidgeting and bad mood I get around somehow, stressed psyche included.
A few meters further on the summit slope. The snow here, in contrast to the rest of the tour, is hard pressed and blown off in places, the track is hard and slippery. For the sake of fun we already make our ski depot further down and climb the last meters to the ridge and up to the summit on foot. This is actually no problem, but I can’t really enjoy our year-end summit. The last meters have put me under a lot of tension.
Somehow I’ve known these situations for a long time. The last “technical” tour is probably not only felt, but actually more years than weeks ago and my mountaineering self-confidence has approached the possible low point during this time. Advice from Falko? Can I ignore it in such a stressed and extremely professional way. My communication skills? Unfortunately, in stressful situations on the mountain it is often limited to desperate moaning, which turns into panicky moaning as fear increases.
What exactly is happening in my head?
The Trigger – often a technically and mountaineeringly rather harmless place. Sometimes it is a small ridge, a bit exposed and slippery, next time maybe 30° steep terrain with a blown off, icy track or in summer crumbly rock under my shoes.
The reaction – Actually, there are no unsolvable situations, but often such places are enough to flip this little red switch in my head and make me panic. I immediately get scared and since I am a very imaginative person, the worst scenes take place in my head. Actually always the same picture in front of my inner eye – I am falling. With this thought nothing works at all anymore.
The alternatives – so I’m blocked, and I can’t get anywhere for a while. How am I going to make that hairpin bend? How do I get over that ridge? There are always two alternatives – go on or turn around. Recently I have often started to retreat and give up the rest of a tour, the summit or an entire mountain. This is always frustrating, for me and of course for my tour partners. And it doesn’t exactly help my well-behaved mountaineering ego. Every time the question of ‘why’ and ‘how different’ arises afterwards.
The mental acid test – Blockade situations are getting on my nerves extremely. The mood changes and a great mountain experience turns into havoc. The self-built pressure, my lack of courage and my weak self-confidence cost me far too much strength, which I need for the actual tour.
The confidence – but I’m still not losing. I often think that I have already mastered more difficult terrain on previous tours and that I have done so with far less fear. And practice makes perfect and since no master has fallen from the sky yet, I have decided to become a ‘master’. I must finally put the fear of the fall behind me.
The plan – There will always be situations of fear. So what to do when the fear comes? Become calm again, collect thoughts and concentrate on your own point of view. No whining on my part, no annoyed comments from Falko. Positive encouragement would be great. In focus: the next step, the upcoming hairpin bend or the next grip and then on – slowly, controlled. The thoughts? I can do this, so I can do this. It won’t be easy for the two of us, hotheaded as we both are. But I’m sure it’ll work out.
Somehow the way back is the best part of a ski tour…
Every year and every tour comes to an end once
At some point – and preferably this year – we have to go back down into the valley. On foot, we’ll go back to the ski depot and then to the downhill run. The snow is better than expected on most slopes and we rush towards the Turrahus with grinning faces. The last meters of altitude before we reach the parking lot are a little bit choppy again, because the snow is very scattered down here and also the sun makes it soft and freezes over night. But also this is soon done with burning thighs and we stand again happily beside our car.
Perfect annual accounts 2019 – with lots of potential for next year!
In the evening we will both be tired and happy to sleep through the turn of the year. 😊