22 Summits Stories

On the art of overcoming the escape instinct

Klaus Tscherrig, a mountain guide from Täsch, remembers a thunderstorm on the Bishorn: "Many rope teams were on the mountain when suddenly dark clouds appeared. In panic, the inexperienced mountaineers threw ice axes and everything made of metal away from them and sought refuge. Fleeing from such an exposed spot is like jumping overboard from an open boat during a thunderstorm at sea, hoping to reach a safe shore: completely pointless." Tscherrig and his guests crouched down, pulled their hoods over their faces and waited. Lightning struck 100 to 150 metres away. "The electricity in the atmosphere is palpable during thunderstorms. It tingles like you've stuck your head in an anthill. The hair stands on end."

The mountain guide is silent about the extent of the danger. Anyone who is on the move with guests bears responsibility and must look ahead. If the danger is there, it is important to navigate through the situation. Too many words or the wrong words can aggravate a situation because they cause unrest. When danger looms, the mountain guide observes the scene, he listens and looks before making a decision, and this is certainly not an action driven by the instinct to flee. "You have to be wide awake when you're out in nature. And calm," says Tscherrig.

He doesn't know fear, but respect. However, Tscherrig has always gone there more during weather and natural events than to retreat to a safe place. The fascination for the extraordinary was too great. So in the spring of 1991, as a young aspirant, he volunteered, together with fellow mountain guide Yann Dupertuis, to do shift work checking the constantly changing and shifting cracks on the Gufer (rock block) below the Weisshorn, Bishorn and Brunegghorn after the first landslide in Randa. One hour before the second big landslide, in the late afternoon of 9 May 1991, Tscherrig was standing above the edge of the break-off before the western flank of Randa's valley started to move downwards, accompanied by a gigantic dust avalanche - a geological event of spectacular proportions. A total of 48 million cubic metres of rock had slid into the valley. The cone of sedimentation buried 37 farm animals as well as 33 agricultural buildings and holiday homes. No people were injured.

The experience was topped by the Nepal earthquake in 2015, when Tscherrig, his wife Fränzi and his guest Mark Ineichen found themselves at the epicentre of the plate shift. The moraine beneath their feet shook like pudding. They were 20 minutes' walk below Everest base camp. There, 23 people were killed when the ice avalanches went off.

Mountain guide, safety expert, Seven Summits climber

Klaus Tscherrig was born in 1967 and passed his mountain guide exam at the age of 25. The trained metalworker is a full-time mountain guide, ski instructor and hiking leader. He is active as vice-municipal president in his home municipality of Täsch and chairs several commissions. As an expert in security matters, he is active in the regional security service and also works as a mountain rescuer in the Zermatt destination. In 2017, Tscherrig and his guest Mark Ineichen reached the Seven Summits, a series of the highest peaks on all continents.