Thursday, August 28

The Matterhorn

Or 29 hrs and 27 rappels.

Been reluctant to talk about this considering the events of this past week. Anyhoo ...

Got out from the glacier and very fast back to Zermatt. Recovered for one day in which the weather was absolutely perfect and just fit to climb the Matterhorn. As it was, we were resting. Of course. I will remember that perfect thursday for as long as I live, I guess. This is because we started for Matterhorn on Friday. I had to be out of Zermatt by midday Tuesday or else I'd miss my plane again. Three people had died on the Matterhorn those two days but I didn't care. One took the wrong turn into oblivion and two others did not put on their crampons and slipped off the mountain.

After three hours of heavy carrying uphill from the cableway station, we got to the Horli Hut, at an altitude of 3260m. 1700m more or less of climbing left till the summit of Matterhorn. The weather was very good and we were very anxious to climb. Vlad was going to be our support team.

That is until evening came and the weather went bad. We had a very powerful drizzle that night.

Saturday I was lost in depression. I couldn't eat, cried for the entire morning. The vision of my empty bank account, the hours of training, the 9 years of obsessing about Matterhorn, and the total feeling of helplessness were killing me. Bah. That evening it snowed and rained heavily and intermittently. We spent it 4 people crammed in one tent, laughing and telling silly mountain stories in the guys' attempt to make me feel happier. When we went to bed that night I was reconciled with my luck, decided to wrap up everything and call it a day.

By some sick act of faith I had left my alarm clock on. So it rang at 2 am. I woke up and realized that outside there was no sound of rain. Stayed some more in my sleeping bag then finally decided to have a look. The night was wonderfully clear. The sky was full of stars. The Matterhorn was .... snowed, but you could see to the top of it!!! OMG!!! OMG OMG OMG! I slipped quietly back in my sleeping bag. Marius asked a grumpy "how is it". I told him. After maybe 5 minutes more he asked: "do we have enough water?" (to make tea). And so begins the nightmare.

Tuesday, August 26

I am perking up, I am!!

Things have been quite low for me these days, with Sebi's death and all. I look at the pictures of Matterhorn and still can't believe that it could kill someone I know and used to be very close to. It sends shivers down my spine, especially since I was seriously considering soloing it. Now I just don't know anymore.

Ran Army Half Marathon this Sunday. Had a time of 1hr 54 minutes (thought it was a bit better, around 1:50, but nvm). It was my first half marathon for this year, so I think it is still quite ok. Next year I want to be in the top three. Pretty ambitious, but then again I am pretty ambitious too!

This was my first race in which I seriously considered stopping and going back. I was around the third kilometer, doing sub 5 minutes per km, going up hill, so turning around and going back was not only appealing but possible (since I was so close to the starting point). I also started to think about Sebi, about how there's nothing left of him such that in order to identify him they have to take a DNA sample from his mom, about why they were not tied up, about what's the point of all of this if you end up unidentifiable and clearly fuck up those that you leave behind, about how tired I was all of a sudden. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I had woken Marian up at 5 am in order to come with me to the race, and if I went back now, his lost sleep would have been for nothing. So I kept running and after the 5 km mark I was well again. I guess my first 5 km are indeed my worst.

This year Marian and I will run the marathon together. I am so proud of him that he decided to embark in such a quest, woo hoo!

Friday, August 22

Just found out that somebody I knew (and once considered a good friend, but we drifted apart) died on Matterhorn. They had attempted before 2 years back but had been airlifted. Just now only two of them climbed. They were unroped. Sebi (Sebastian Verga) apparently was overtaking somebody when he slipped or dislodged a rock or a flake the size of a closet and fell. They found him at the base of the Mountain mountain.

Later edit: unidentifiable. I wish I could say more, but words still refuse to form in my mind.

Wednesday, August 20


So here we were, in the storm. And here was I, depressed as hell, even crying at some point. Try this: empty your bank account and leave a big fat ZERO dollars in it, hop on a plane to go to some remote destination to climb a mountain. Before that, train for it in Singapore, where there are no mountains. Get to your remote destination to climb the mountain of your choice, only to find that the weather is so fucked up that you can't even TRY to climb it.

The next day, though, to my utter happiness, the bad weather broke. Our tent was a bit covered in snow and people coming from Italy to the Margarita Hut did take it for a way point*, but life was good.

The Regina (quuen) Margarita hut is the highest building in all Europe. It stands at an altitude of 4554m, on top of the Signalkuppe summit. So we headed towards it with a cup of hot coffee in mind. The winds, they were horrific, as you can see in this picture. Marius was also walking very slowly for some reason.

We finally got to the hut where we enjoyed 4 Euros worth of instant coffee, and some tea and some vegetable soup, Radu's treat since the summit was his first over 4000m peak.

We also got our oxygen saturation level measured and blood pressure taken and lungs listened to by a doctor from Zurich. She was performing a study on AMS. My respiratory rate was 12 per minute, Radu's 20 per minute and Marius's 25 per minute. Marius beat the hell out of us with an oxygen saturation of 85% while we clocked a mere 78-79. The doctor asked me if I smoked. I said that I quit. Then she said that my lungs were extraordinary clear. I don't know if I should be happy or freaked out. I wonder if I have a big hole in my lung if it sounds the same as if they are clear. Should ask Nita.

From the window's hut we saw another summit. I went and asked the caretaker what was the name of the summit and, after giving me a funny look, he said it was Zummsteinspitze (4563m). We went and did that one too. It has a pretty amazing corniced snow ridge.

The next day Marius decided to take a rest to prepare for Lyskamm so Radu and I went to do Parrotspitze (4432m). It was standing right there in our backyard, so, why not? It would be my first time ever leading a ridge too.

Now the ridge wasn't hard at all, just that it was very narrow and the wind was very strong. Radu got a bit freaked and asked me not to take any more pictures, so I don't have that many pictures of the ridge drop.

However, while we were on the summit, one team gave up their intention to cross. Maybe they had forgotten something at the hut.

Next to Parrotspitze there was another summit, Ludwigshoe (4341m). Easy peasy, it was over in 20 minutes. Next to it there was yet another one (you can see it behind me), but I decided not to go, because we were going for Lyskamm the next day.

*This meant that a lot of people were coming towards our tent and thus Radu could not pee because of the crowds.

Monday, August 18

Prizes, I like ...

Yesterday morning I ran the RUN NUS 2008 race! It's a 10km, very very uphill route (maybe 50% of it was uphill?) and we started off at 09:30. It was damn hot, people!! Which left yours truly huffing and puffing and waiting for those water points which never came. Oh, they came all right, but not at 2km intervals as advertised. Anyhow, ended up with a pathetic 1hr:06minutes for my run. And third place, woohooo! In ladies NUS category, mind you, me and about 82 other runners. 100$ Reebok voucher and some other stuff that I'll talk about in a sec.

First of all, I didn't expect to be staying around for long after the race so I just walked to the starting point, planning to walk back. No phone, no umbrella, no nothing. It wasn't raining when we ran, it was damn hot, but after 2hrs of waiting for the prize ceremony (2 HOURS) it started raining. So I had to walk home through the rain, seeing how I didn't have any means (smoke signals could not have worked either) to let marian know that I was drowning.

The other half of the prize is made up of Kotex products. Yup. I mean bloody hell (no pun intended), this is ridiculous, I can supply every girl I know in Singapore for 2 months with tampons!! I have tampons for night use, day use, lunch use, shopping use and what not. Then they put all the stuff in one big, pink paper bag. Which started to tear when it was faced with the rain through which I was walking home. Imagine me, walking home and hugging the damn bag to me to prevent the tampons from falling down on the street. Brr...

In other race related topics, dried apricots are a GREAT food to have before the race. They are not very sweet to make you puke and they have a very low glycemic index - which means that they will give you energy for a long time. It's just that ... if you have them on an empty stomach, after the race you'd better be VERY close to a toilet. Enuf said.

Wednesday, August 13

I know I am unlucky but this is ridiculous

So, after I'd missed my plane the worst that could happen was for me not to meet Vlad in Zurich. Thank god that at least I had told him the wrong date of my arrival and thus he was happily waiting for me when my plane landed. It was the first time I had seen him in ages but boy was I happy to see him! We got train tickets (very expensive, about 150 SGD, 75Euro, 116 CHF one way Zurich-Zermatt), I got myself a Swiss sim card (to deal with singapore airlines) and we were on our way, woohoo! Of course we spent the whole 4 hrs journey in the train restaurant, drinking beer and coffee and catching up. We arrived in Zermatt around 2 and got to the campsite. The campsite is managed by an old guy who used to be a matterhorn guide. His son is now a guide too and whenever you go to his office to buy beer or ask about toilet paper (let's say), you get greeted with mountain stories, especially if you have the face to prove you can take them (i.e. if your face is burned).

Marius and Radu were already there, trying to recover from the long drive (2000km) from Romania to Switzerland. We talked and talked and sorted the gear for the next day. I highjacked Vlad's Gore-tex pants because they were smaller than mine, so now watch out for the midget wearing blue gore-tex pants. You see, I bought my pants (technically they were given as a present) when yours truly was a bit on the "if you push me downhill I roll" - side. So now they are a good fit for Marian and I at the same time. This is why I steal pants, whoohooo!

Day 2 found us making our way up to a rocky plateau above Monte Rosa Hut where we would be camping for the week. This week was supposed to be for acclimatisation and in preparation for Lyskamm and Matterhorn. I won't talk about the trek from the train station to the campsite. Just to say that it was long. And hard.

It took us about 8 hours because we were carrying heavy bags (as usual) with the whole camp and food, food food. And gas tanks (they will prove quite important).

I find that a long approach makes for good training, and it did. And at 57 CHF (30 eURO = 60 SGD) a night at the Monte Rosa Hut, with 10Euro (20SGD) a meal, it is damn affordable too! Without that camp site I don't think I would have been able to see those mountains, so it's a bliss that I'm fit enough to carry. To say nothing of the amazing views of Matterhorn that we had ... Vlad was having a hard time because of the sudden altitude change and because of his back.

We spent the next day resting. There was nothing we could do because the weather was acting up. Marius, Radu and I went up the Glentz glacier just to take some photos and practice self arrests and all that. Radu, while an extremely fit trekker and carrier of loads, had absolutely no technical experience. This would later prove very important. Vlad did not join us because he was feeling very very bad. He had headaches, was nauseous and his heart was feeling funny.

The following day (day 3) Marius was the one to rest and Vlad, Radu, and I went towards Dufourspitze on the Monte Rosa glacier. That morning while we were having our breakfast, an English guide came to our camp and asked who was the leader. We pointed to Marius and he started saying: "You sir are a bloody idiot. A irresponsible, bloody, stupid idiot." In the meantime Vlad and I were asking him "Why?", while I was trying to move somehow in between Marius and Vlad and him, wondering who will be the first to launch the first punch (Marius or Vlad). Thankfully that guy said "Your people are dying up there and you sit here ..." ... In the end we got it sorted out without problems: apparently there was a very large Lithuanian team up on the glacier with no gear, no crampons, not tied in, no sunglasses and with absolutely no idea where they were going, with their leader waiting in camp. He must've thought the leader was one of us and got even more infuriated when he saw us peacefully eat and have fun. We gave him some tea and he was on his way. I don't know how it ended, he did say that he had called the Zermatt police (we saw them in the helicopter evaluating the area).

It was either that evening or the next one when we realized that Marius had bought the wrong gas tanks for his MSR stove. Yes, it sounds stupid but the bloody tank lid was covered with a plastic cap and there were the two types close to one another and then disaster struck. With no gas it would be impossible for us to go further on the Glenz glacier. The base camp for Lyskamm starts somewhere on a plateau on the Glenz glacier at around 4151m. We were at 3100m, preparing for the next day to go up the remaining 1000m difference on the glacier. After much consideration of what the proper thing to do would be, Radu and I went down to the Monte Rosa hut just to check whether they had any gas tanks for sale. Highly unlikely, and after 20 minutes trek down some boulders on which I hopped like a goat and Radu hobbled after me, we found out that indeed they did not sell them. Marius would have to go back down to Zermatt the next day then come back up with new tanks. While we, the rest of the team, decided that we deserve a good meal and the next midday found us in the Monte Rosa hut enjoying a hot coffee and a plate of Swiss Rosti.

Marius came back with vegetables, fruits and bratwurst!! Woohoo! We had a good meal and the next day we were ready to go.

We started very early, around 7 o'clock, after we packed up the camp. After about 1hr Vlad stopped us to say that he could take it anymore and that he wanted to return. I did try and try to make him change his mind considering that I knew that he could make himself walk: he climbed Ojos del Salado, almost as high as Aconcagua, when he was feeling really really bad, he climbed Matterhorn 2 years ago, etc. But he wouldn't. This meant only that I would be carrying the rope and that Marius (a big man), Radu and I will be sharing a two person tent.

A good thing that he didn't, because it was a loong, loong hard trek up that bloody glacier. And when we arrived at the plateau we ended up in a fucking storm.

Marius and Radu immediately started to dig up a hole in which we could place the tent, taking turns with the shovel that Marius had carried. I on the other hand had nothing to do and I started to freeze. Marius made me sit on a backpack and put the tent foil on me to prevent me from turning into hypothermia. At one point they erected the tent and made me go inside only to make me come outside 15 minutes later and switch the position of the tent.

Finally when Marius was satisfied with his urban development urges, we huddled inside, with me sleeping between the guys, facing the opposite direction (my feet at their heads, their feet at my head). It was quite ok if I slept on one side. This is how our tent was buried the next day.

Wednesday, August 6

Things teach me.

I think that it was definitely trying to tell me something. When it arrived to the 6th floor with a jolt only to go back without opening the doors presumably to the 5th floor. It was showing "1" but I knew better. Then up again to the 6th. Then down all the way to 1st floor. With me inside waiting for it to stop such that I could press a button. Any button. And then at the 1st floor to stare back at people staring at me. Then up again nice and easy to the 6th floor, and me finally out.

Good things come to those who wait.

I just wish I knew what the good things are. And when do they plan on coming. I hate defeat.

Monday, August 4

In which I miss the plane

Yup. I kid you not. If you had any, and I mean, ANY doubts that I might be light-headed, eerie and downright stupid, well ... Here is the answer to your doubts. My plane ticket said that I was leaving for Zurich on Monday, 14 July, at 01:05. I will say it again: Monday, 14 July, at 01:05. Check out the date of the entry entitled 13 just below this one. Yup. I was happily blogging away when my plane was already out of Singapore. Why?! Because I AM STPID. YES. S.T.U.P.E.E.D .
No wonder I couldn't do the online check-in on Monday since my bloody plane had already left!!!!! I had told Vlad I was meeting him on Tuesday, 15 July in Zurich, so at least he didn't wait in vain for me. This is what actually caused the miss-hap.

There is no excuse for this. And no comment either. Damn I'm stupid.

Luckily* I was flying Singapore Airlines, a local airline. This ensured that a) they did have somebody to answer Marian's call about my missed plane at 8pm (I was busy howling in the bathroom and nearly banging my head on the doors) b) they had an open office in the airport at 22:00 on Monday night. Luckily* they had an empty seat in the next plane. I payed a no-show fee and they put me on a waiting list for a seat with no extra charge on the plane 2 weeks from then (my ticket had gotten canceled by the no-show). Luckily* somebody bailed out.

* This luck is entirely Marian's: had it been just for me, the whole thing would have cost me 500 SGD (250E) more. But Marian is just plain lucky, and some of his luck washes over me too!