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with Stefan Nestler

Auer: “Everything else becomes unimportant”

Route of the Austrian climbers on Nilgiri South

Route of the Austrian climbers on Nilgiri South

Anyone who has ever climbed a very high mountain knows about the dangers during the descent. Not the dangers of the mountain itself, but of your own body. Suddenly all adrenaline is used up, you feel the pain that you have pushed away during the ascent, you are exhausted, only want to get down quickly and run into danger of losing your concentration. It’s not for nothing that many accidents happen on descent – like on the 6,839-meter-high Nilgiri South in Nepal, where the Austrian Gerhard Fiegl fell several hundred meters into depth on Monday of last week and has been missing since then. As reported, the search for the 27-year-old was meanwhile abandoned.
According to the other two team members, Hansjoerg Auer and Alexander Bluemel, the trio earlier had “successfully reached the summit after climbing through the more than 1,500 meter high South Face”. It was the first climb via the difficult wall where several other expeditions had failed in the past few decades. At the summit they noticed that their friend Gerry was “very exhausted”, Hansjoerg and Alex say. Was it symptoms of High Altitude Sickness? Fiegl’s rapid drop in performance might indicate this. At that altitude, oxygen is pressed into the longs with around 40 percent less pressure than at sea level.

Unplanned bivouac

At the summit: Fiegl, Bluemek and Auer ( l.)

At the summit: Fiegl, Bluemek and Auer ( l.)

“At the summit, we were still lying in each others arms and rejoiced over the successful first climb of the South Face”, says Auer. “But within a short time the situation turned extremely tense due to Gerry’s condition.” A few hundred meters below the summit, the three climbers decided to bivouac. Down in Base Camp, the photographer Elias Holzknecht tried to organize a rescue operation. However, strong winds made helicopter flights impossible. The next morning, Gerry’s condition seemed to have improved slightly, the trio continued their descent. Later, at around 2 p.m. local time, Fiegl lost his balance on the Southwest Ridge and fell around 800 meters into depth while his friends were looking on in horror.

Helicopter search two days later

Hansjoerg and Alex climbed down to Base Camp. Heavy snowfall hampered the search that was started immediately, only two days after the accident a helicopter was able to take off. The search for Gerry was unsuccessful. On 1 November the other expedition members returned to Austria. “At the moment when a longtime friend falls to death before your eyes, everything else becomes unimportant”, says Hansjoerg Auer. “Our joint expedition could not have taken a worse end.” As well as Auer, Alexander Bluemel is “very sad about the loss of our friend. But nobody can take me away the memory of the intense time I experienced with Gerry.”


5. November 2015 | 11:05