Extreme tightrope walk: thunderstorms, hailstorms and a brawl

Travel

After two weeks of heat, the hike over the Augstbord ridge on August 1 seemed to me not only phonetically fitting but also promised a welcome cooling off and even a little thrill with the T4-crawling. In the end, I got more coolness and thrills than I wanted:

The thrill began already in the train when the camera (and the lunch bag) was stolen from a fellow traveler’s backpack and the thief when he was caught in flagrant, smacked the owner in the face. A police detachment was waiting at the nearest station and for both perpetrators and victims, the trip ended at a police station in Berne. For the rest of us it went on to Valais and we thought that we had already had the most exciting part of the day behind us.

Bugle

On the Moosalp we left the famous cream slices and went directly to the ascent. Soon we had reached the wide ridge leading to the first peak of the day, the Violenhorn (2’876 m). From there, one not only had the next summit in sight with the Augstbordhorn but could see the whole ridge to the actual destination of the day, the Thirteenth Horn. The whole area was rocky and barren and especially the ascent to the Augstbordhorn showed clearly that the whole summit chain consists of a single rocky pile of rubble – a circumstance that would still leave traces on my legs.

During the break on the Augstbordhorn (2’973 m) some of the surrounding peaks were already hidden behind the clouds, but according to the weather radar, we should have enough time to continue our hike as planned. The first roll of thunder that passed by, we sat out just off the ridge.

We had just reached the first crawling spots of the Augstbord ridge when the next thunderstorm approached. Quickly the tour guide scared us away from the exposed ridge. We huddled together above a steep slope, deposited the walking sticks a bit away and tried to protect ourselves as well as possible against the onset of rain. That went quite well – until the rain turned into hail and pelted down mercilessly on us and did not seem to stop. I had put on my shorts in the morning, which turned out to be a very bad decision: Not only are hailstones on my skin quite painful, the water ran along my bare legs directly into my hiking boots – the rest of the hike I had the feeling of wading through a lake.

The thunderstorm intensified and twice I had the very unpleasant feeling that the lightning struck the ridge nearby. When I tried to take off the rain cover of my backpack to protect my legs, the backpack slipped out of my hands and – also thanks to the well-sliding rain cover – slowly but unstoppably down the slope and over the rocks. A remount was too dangerous, I wrote it off as a total loss.

viola horn

As the thunderstorm was momentarily distant, we carefully ventured on. The rain and hail had made the rocks on the exposed ridge path slippery. Our tour guide finally found a suitable place where we could finally leave the ridge. The improvised descent led over a loose scree field and we had to be careful not to trigger a stone avalanche. Within a very short time my unprotected legs – which had just recovered from my climbing attempts – were scratched by stones. But the tour guide saved my lost backpack!

It got better when we reached a snow field that we could follow. At the lake in the valley basin, we found the hiking trail again. We were relieved to have left the ridge and the scree field safely behind us, but there was no time for a break: On the one hand, the thunderstorm threatened to catch up with us again, on the other hand, we had to hurry to catch the bus. The long descent led first along ski lifts, later we reached the forest, where the path followed a bubbling Bisse. In fine weather – and at a slower pace – the last part would certainly be a very idyllic hike.

We finally managed a “spot landing” or were almost eight minutes too early at the bus station at the end. Wet, but otherwise unharmed, we got on the post bus. On the long journey home there was enough time to think about predictable and unpredictable changes in the weather in the mountains and about humility towards the forces of nature. After my hiking boots were finally dry again after two days, it was clear to me: I would make up the hike over the Augstbordgrat – in sthe table sunshine!

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