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  Nancy Norris: What are you waiting for?

Part Seven: Tragedy

Her trip to Europe in summer 2001 included a huge tragedy that she personally witnessed on the Monch. She's seen up close the raw underbelly of this sport.

Europe - I traveled to France and got a cab at the airport and entered the most picturesque village I have ever seen - Chamonix. It is just like a postcard. My guide came to the hotel and we went over our climbing plans and decided that we would travel to Switzerland and get on the Eiger and Matterhorn before Aiguille Du Midi and Mont Blanc. We traveled by train and more postcards flashed before my eyes as I stared out the window at the most beautiful scenery ever. We make several train changes and finally we are looking out those famous window of the Eiger, I hate to keep repeating this but I can't believe I'm here. We get off the train and are walking to our hut and I'm realizing just how beautiful the Alps are. We get to the hut and again, what a surprise, it's like a nice hotel, far from the huts I stayed in in Ecuador. This place is clean, beautiful and has a chef. This is cush climbing here in the European Alps. We have a nice dinner and decide that we will climb the Monch for a warmup to the Eiger the following day. After a good nights sleep we are up and having breakfast and on out way out the door for our warmup climb. It's a beautiful sunny day and we walk to the base of the mountain and stop to put on crampons and rope up. The climbing that follows isn't difficult but of course has us huffing and puffing. We reach a narrow ridge and we decide to stop because we see three men coming in our direction on their way down from the top and it would make it difficult to pass and since we are in no hurry we wait. As we are watching the men, they are unroped and probably 50 yards from us, to my horror I see something begin to tumble down the mountain. I think it is someone's pack and then I quickly realize it is the last man of the threesome. I can't believe what I am seeing, his body is actually cartwheeling down the mountain. Ramsay (guide) and I stand there frozen in our tracks and hear the shouts from his two companions. Ramsay asks if I think we should try and rescue and I say "of course", so we shout to his friends that we are going down to him and Ramsay makes a call to a rescue unit. I start to downclimb this vertical ice wall and Ramsay follows. I keep looking down at his body, waiting and wanting to see him move. Now we are climbing over blood stained ice and I am horrified and scared. Not scared for myself, but afraid that this is not going to turn out okay. I keep looking down at his body, still no movement.

Ramsay keep asking me if I'm okay and I say I am. We continue down over bloody ice and finally reach the bottom and still no movement. Just as we are walking over to him a helicopter arrives and they quickly jump out and approach him also. I don't get too close but I can see that his head is severely swollen and purple and cut and bloody. I know before the paramedics say the words that this man is dead. They ask us if we saw what happened and we tell them the story. I can't believe I've just seen this tragic accident, I wonder about his family, where he's from, who he loves, who his friends are, I'm in shock of what I've seen. As we round the mountain to make our way back to the hut, his friends are just coming down and they ask us if we are the ones who went to rescue him and when we say yes, they say "he's dead isn't he" and we have to tell them yes [he is dead]. One man sits down and just stares into the snow as he holds his head, the other burst into tears and we try to console them.  After several minutes they thank us for trying to help and start on their way out and we return to the hut.  The authorities question us by phone and of course everyone in the hut wants to know what happened. I don't cry because I think I can't believe what I've just seen. Ramsay had to go into town and when he comes back we talk and he is concerned about how I am and I say I'm fine although I'm numb. I tell Ramsay this is the first time I've seen this happen and that I'm in shock and he tells me that in all his 20+years of climbing and guiding he has never seen it either. Both of us are shook up and finally the tears come to me. I can think of nothing but his family, friends, etc. and my family. I need to get to a phone and talk to them just to hear their voices, but that won't happen for several more days when I'm back in Chamonix. We have a quiet dinner, everyone is quiet, but full of questions, and then we head for bed to a sleepless night of seeing the man tumble down the mountain over and over again. I need to sleep because tomorrow morning we climb the Eiger. 

I want to tell you I still see this man falling, but it's hard to's horrifying but it never made me afraid to climb after that, but it did make me even more aware than I was before, on how important life is and that we should live everyday to it's fullest and always let those that are special to you, know it. Nancy


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