On the edge between life and death

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Trip Report
Monte Rosa, Switzerland, Europe
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jul 12, 2007
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On the edge between life and death
Created On: Aug 20, 2007
Last Edited On: Oct 17, 2007

The narrow edge

Sometimes we have big plans in our life and then something happens and everything gets unimportant – only one thing remains: To become healthy again!

I didn´t think that something like this would happen to me… I was absolutely fit, did so much sports and I was well prepared for one week climbing in the Alps. Even this week should have been a preparation for climbing a 6.000 m peak in the Andes in Peru in September.

But then everything changed…

The plan


At the beginning of 2007 I had contact with my climbing partner Joachim who climbed Mont Blanc traverse with me in 2005. I asked him which mountains he would like to climb this year. He “collects” 4.000 m summits in the Alps and he made most of the Swiss 4.000 m summits. One of the missing summits were Lauteraarhorn and Aletschhorn. As Aletschhorn is a wonderful summit to my mind I told him that we could climb this week together. So he also asked some other climbing friends as a 3rd climbing partner but no one had time in this week. 2 climbers would have advantages at mountains like Lauteraarhorn or Schreckhorn. More climbers would have been better for Aletschhorn. So we decided to go first to Lauteraar hut from Grimsel Hospiz and sleep there for a night and starting to climb the next day with Scheuchzerhorn (3.462 m) or Hienderstock (3.309 m) for acclimatization. After returning to Lauteraar hut we planned to hike to Lauteraar bivouac and to climb Lauteraarhorn in the early next morning. After reaching the summit we planned to decide which other mountain should follow: Aletschhorn, Schreckhorn etc.

07.07.07: Meeting-place Meiringen
08.07.07: Driving to Grimsel Hospiz and hiking to Lauteraar hut
09.07.07: Scheuchzerhorn or Hienderstock, night at the Lauteraar bivouac
10.07.07: Lauteraarhorn and returning to Lauteraar hut
11.07.07: Driving towards Bettmeralp
12.07.07: Ascent to Mittelaletsch bivouac
13.07.07: Aletschhorn, night in the bivy
14.07.07: Back home to Germany

The reality

I drove to Meiringen from Stuttgart by train. But the ICE (InterCity Express) was delayed for 20 minutes. So I did not know for a long time if I will reach the next train in Zürich. Finally I had 3 minutes in Zürich to reach the train to Luzern. After a fast run to the next platform I reached the train just in time! My nerves!!!
But then my holidays started, the trains were punctual and I reached Meiringen without problems. In the hotel I met my climbing partner Joachim.

After a good dinner and a swiss beer we went to bed. When I wake up the next morning I didn´t feel so well. I had a scratching in my throat and I was afraid of getting ill. So I drunk a lot of tea this morning. Nevertheless we drove to Grimsel Hospiz.

But there was also something else which I was worried about: The weather forecast! I checked several weather forecasts in Switzerland, Germany and France and they all said that weather will get very bad and it will snow a lot in the Alps, especially Bernese Alps and Eastern Alps… Bad assumptions!!!

Ok, but we have been there so we said that we will start our week as planned and then we would see…

Hiking to Lauteraar hutAt the beginning of the trail to Lauteraar hut
Lauteraarhorn in cloudy conditionsView to Lauteraar glacier and Lauteraarhorn in clouds
Beautiful waterfall near Grimsel storage lakeWaterfall near the trail to the hut

On Sunday we hiked from Grimsel Hospiz to Lauteraar hut. When we started we had good weather and the sun shined. It´s a lovely hike on the right side of Grimsel lake and really recommendable for hikers. After 1 hour there were more and more clouds and after 2 hours it started to rain cats and dogs. We reached the hut after 4 ½ hours. So we “enjoyed” hiking in the rain for 2 ½ hours – wonderful!!! But the hut compensated those bad conditions! A wonderful hut, only 10 guests, very good meals and very friendly and helpful hut operators!

But there were 2 negative things: My cold and the weather. But we were optimists: The cold was not so bad and Hienderstock (3.309 m) would be possible in rain when the sight would be ok. So we went to bed in expectation of the next morning.

Monday, 09th July 2007:
The weather was horrible: A sight of 100 m and a heavy rain!!! No climb possible! Shit! As the weather forecast said that the weather will be even worse on Tuesday we had no possibility and we decided to hike back to Grimsel Hospiz.
It was a bad return: So much rain, bad sight and the famous Grimsel rock slabs were horribly slippery. I realized this after I laid on the ground after putting one foot on such a slippery slab!!! Don´t imitate!!!
After 3 ½ hours we reached Grimsel Hospiz again. There is an Internet station and we checked nearly every weather forecast in the web!!! But no one had really good news…
The “best” weather was not in the Bernese Alps but in the southern Alps.
Then we thought which mountains in the Monte Rosa area would be beautiful to climb there (and which one was not climbed before by my climbing partner).
And there was especially one great mountain: Lyskamm!
So we made a plan: Driving the next day to Alagna/Italy at the south side of Monte Rosa and ascending to the hut. Then we would have two or three days with good enough weather…

Tuesday, 10th July 2007:
We waked up in the morning and looked out of the window and what did we see? JUST SNOW!!! One more reason that Lauteraarhorn with its couloir would not be possible in the next days. After breakfast we phoned the huts Mantova and Gnifetti. The person in the Gnifetti hut was very unfriendly and told us in good English language: “Sorry, I don´t speak English!” So we decided not to visit this hut with unfriendly hut operators… We called Mantova hut and a very friendly person kept the reservation for us. When we reached the hut the next day we realised that this was a good decision…

Then we started driving via the snowy Grimsel pass to Brig. On the way I bought something for my cold in a pharmacy. Then we visited Brig, a lovely small city. The weather was a mixture of clouds and sun so it seemed that the weather forecast was right: Towards the south the weather will be better. From Brig we drove to Italy via the Simplon pass. Then we reached the beautiful Orta lake. From there we wanted to drive to Borgosesia and then to Alagna. But this was a real problem and we sweared a lot: No signs anywhere or one sign and several possibilities to drive! After a long time (and many, many swears) we found the way…
In the afternoon we reached Alagna which is a beautiful small village with a nice view to the white mountains of the Monte Rosa south side.
There we booked a hotel near the ropeway and had a very good dinner in an old restaurant in the centre of Alagna. My cold was still existing but not very affecting…

Wednesday, 11th July 2007:
Morning impression of Monte Rosa southsideMorning impression
Beautiful contrast between light and shadowwonderful contrasts
Monte Rosa south sidecloudy morning
We drove up with the first ropeway Salati pass (2.900 m) as the ropeway to Punta Indren (3.260 m) was closed because it was not safe any more!

Then we passed Stolemberg with crampons as there also snowed a lot in the last days. We decided to ascent higher than the hut for acclimatisation and descent to the hut later. One possibility was to climb Punta Gnifetti but the clouds were too much so we couldn´t see a track. So we ascended the way to Lys col. At 3.850 m we made a rest and started again to traverse to Punta Gnifetti but conditions get worse. So we decided that this was enough for that day and we descended to the Mantova hut (3.400 m).

The hut was full of people but everything was well organized. The dinner was good and enough and we had a lot of fun with a couple from Russia who lived in the meantime in Germany. Joachim and I asked in the hut for the weather next day. They said that the weather will be cold, windy but sunny. So we decided to climb Lyskamm an when possible to make the traverse.

But something was strange this evening: I had to breath a lot and my pulse was high. I never had any problems with acclimatisation before and as we climbed up to 3.850 m before. But I drunk about 4 litres tea this evening and went to bed early so I was sure that I will be fit the nwxt morning for the Lyskamm climb.

Thursday, 12th July 2007:
First lightFlat Italy in the first light
Gran Paradiso and Grivola in the first lightGran Paradiso and Grivola
Mont Blanc in the first lightMont Blanc touched by the sun
I felt ok when I get up at 4:00 am. After a short breakfast we started in the very cold night. It had about -10°C this morning! The night was clear and it was a wonderful picture to see the lights in the southern lowland. When the first sunlight touched Mont Blanc in the west and Gran Paradiso and Grivola in the south in a wonderful light I felt very happy. These moments are some of the reasons why I go climbing out there! It was a wonderful morning scenery! Then Castor was touched by the sun and then also Lyskamm East! What a great impression… We were happy when the sun also touched us because our fingers and toes were frozen and the sun helped to make them live again! I had no problems with my cold so I was sure that also the Lyskamm traverse would be possible this day.
But at a height of 3.900 m suddenly I felt a strong stab in my heart. First I thought that it maybe was caused by the heavy backpack. But these stabs continued and I had breathing problems. I tried to ignore them when I saw the fantastic beginning of the ridge to Lyskamm East. At Lys col we had to traverse to the beginning of the ridge and it was really hard work! It snowed about 1 metre in the last 2 days and it was very strenuous to make a track as we were the second climbers at Lyskamm after that heavy snowfalls. I needed a longer break because of my breathing problems and those pains in the heart area. But then we started to climb the ridge. What a great experience – very steep ascent, very exposed and a great view!!!
Sitting on Lyskamm ridge

But by the time I needed more and more breaks, the breathing problems became more and more! Then the ridge became delicate because of the much snow! We had to make every step very carefully. The ridge was so sharp that one wrong step to both sides would have been the last… But we continued climbing… Then we reached the final steep flank at 4.400 m. Only 130 hm to the summit but these heavy heart stabs and the breathing problems gave me no choice: I wasn't able to continue as I felt that my constitution would now not be enough for reaching the summit, it was too dangerous as I wasn't strong enough… I had so much problems to breath now and my pulse was extremely high. Even after a break of some minutes the pulse didn´t get down. So I was really hard and sad but the only possibility to come down safely: We had to descend right now…

We climbed slowly and carefully down the right with a lot of breaks. It was really a hard struggle to come down from this mountain and reaching the hut. I hoped that my breathing problems and those stabs would pass when I went down but it didn´t get better. Then we started the way down from the hut to the ropeway at Salati pass. Even this passage needed a lot of time and I was really happy when we had reached the ropeway at 3.45 pm after 11 hours and descending of 1.500 hm with those problems.

In Alagna we took the same hotel like two days before. As we had our complete bivy equipment in the car we decided to cook pasta with the gas boil. We had a nice place next to the small river and a nice view to the mountains. But it was strange: even if I was doing nothing my pulse was high…
Weisshorn, Dent Blanche and more...Weisshorn, Dent Blanche and more
Weisshorn and DomWeisshorn and Dom
Dufourspitze and ZumsteinspitzeDufourspitze and Zumsteinspitze

Friday, 13th July 2007:
After the breakfast we drove home the whole day via Borgosesia and Orta lake (this time we found the way back!!! Yes, we were lucky about this as it was not easy! ;-)), Simplon pass, Grimsel pass to Luzern. From Luzern back to Germany…
At 10 pm I was back in Stuttgart.

But when I told my wife about my trip I had not enough breath for it. I had to make a lot of breaks and my pulse had about 100 beats per minute (normally 55 bpm)! And something else was not good: The heart beated unregularly…

So I decided to go to the doctor on Saturday when it will not be better over night.

Saturday, 14th July 2007:
I woke up and checked my pulse: 100 bpm and unregularly beats, also the same breathing problems… Something is going wrong!
Then I went to the doctor – he checked me and called the hospital immediately! The diagnosis: Myocarditis caused be an virus and by the cold and the strength of climbing it attacked the heart!

After 2 weeks in hospital I´m at home again but still regenerating for some more weeks. The doctors said that I had luck that my heart didn´t stop forever in the days from 12th to 14th July… Thanks God!

Now I mustn´t do anything for 3 months( no strain and stress) and no sports for 6 months – but if I do so I will be totally ok again! Good expectations – so it will be possible to go climbing again next year!!!

Well, it was hard to turn around near the summit but if I would have tried it I maybe would have died because of the myocarditis and the strength. So this time for me it was the bigger performance to turn around than to reach the summit! But I can´t wait for standing on a summit again next year!!!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 41-60 of 89
Joerg Marretsch

Joerg Marretsch - Aug 22, 2007 3:12 pm - Voted 10/10

Good luck ...

... for your recreation period. The mountains are waiting. Good to hear you´re back at home. Take care!



schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 5:05 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good luck ...

Thanks for your wishes! Yes, next year I will reach the summits again! Cheers Thomas


Deb - Aug 22, 2007 3:17 pm - Voted 10/10


Happy that you were diagnosed and are recuperating Thomas. At least you are familiar with your mountain so you can attack it again next year. It must have been very scary and frustrating to feel so strangely in such an intense environment. Glad to have you back!

White Lightning - Aug 22, 2007 3:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Copyright infingement?

I hope you are paying royalties to David Roberts because he wrote "On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined."


MoapaPk - Aug 22, 2007 5:40 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Copyright infingement?

"White Lightning

US Patents 5,472,625 5,670,463 5,885,947 5,988,022
Copyright 2004 - White Lightning Company"


tomi - Aug 22, 2007 4:55 pm - Voted 10/10

you are lucky...

that you survive. Probably your mountaineer's heart was still strong enough to bring you safely down the mountain and back home. Take it easy and rest. I am heart attack survivor and it is hard with damaged heart muscle to do anything without suffering.
Take it easy and you'll be fine after recovery time.
My best to you.
Happy climbs in the future.


schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 6:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: you are lucky...

Thanks a lot for your kind words and wishes! I´m really looking forward to the happy climbs in the future! Also the best for you! Cheers, Thomas

Brian Jenkins

Brian Jenkins - Aug 22, 2007 8:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Great report

Hope your recovery goes well. Nice to know you will be able to recover fully. Enjoyed your report and hope to get to the same mountains in the next year or two. I just married a German woman so I know we'll be headed your way soon. Cheers!


schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 7:04 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great report

I´m glad that you liked the report! Maybe we´ll meet next year on a sharp ridge in the Alps - I´ll look for an american climber with a german wife! ;-) Cheers, Thomas


Manowar2002B - Aug 22, 2007 9:09 pm - Voted 9/10

get back to those peaks!

Hey great story. I am really glad you are ok. Just grab the bull by the horns, hang in there, and challenge those 4000ers, which will be there much longer then we will.


schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 7:04 am - Hasn't voted

Re: get back to those peaks!

Thanks for your wishes!


desainme - Aug 22, 2007 9:13 pm - Voted 10/10

Glad you're ok

Good pix and warning


schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 7:05 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Glad you're ok

I´m glad you like them. I will also add some more spectacular pics in the next days. Cheers, Thomas

William Marler

William Marler - Aug 22, 2007 10:18 pm - Voted 10/10

You are lucky

Thanks for the report. Rest up and get better soon. Sometime we feel we are indistructable. Its easy to ignore symptoms. Cheers William


schmid_th - Aug 23, 2007 7:06 am - Hasn't voted

Re: You are lucky

Thanks for your wishes! In the future I definitively will listen much more to my body! I think that I learned a lot...
Cheers, Thomas

Peak Freak

Peak Freak - Aug 23, 2007 12:25 pm - Voted 10/10

Glad you are OK

Very interesting to read your story. We'll have to meet up in the Alps sometime after you are better.


schmid_th - Aug 24, 2007 4:17 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Glad you are OK

That´s a good idea!
I hurry to get healthy again! ;-)

Peak Freak

Peak Freak - Aug 25, 2007 2:24 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Glad you are OK

Sounds good! I'm on my way back now, so not this trip. Is December too soon? If not, then next June or July. It's funny cause my last trip I couldn't find anyone to go with, so I went solo. Being solo, I met someone in the Alps, which is why I'm coming back so much now. Fred & I welcome other climbing partners! Let me know when you are back at it!


schmid_th - Aug 25, 2007 5:25 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Glad you are OK

December is too soon. I hope to start with sports in January so June or July sounds better! Let´s keep in contact!


swtchback - Aug 23, 2007 2:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Feel Better

Thanks for sharing. Reports like this will help others make better decisions under similar circumstances. I know you will get another chance at that summit. Hope you feel better!!!

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On the edge between life and death

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