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Falling: Ines Papert


[Illustration] Melchor Thaler

It was 6:30 a.m. when the accident happened, and the little hut at the base of the cliff still lay dormant. No one would step outside until the front steps were bathing in warm rays of sun. Around 8 a.m. we finally saw someone venture into the morning chill. We started yelling "Aiuto! Aiuto!" Our plea was heard, and another painful hour later the sound of a chopper delivered the promise of a rescue... we watched it near the south face. Unexpectedly, it turned around and left. Clouds were building. What if the weather became too bad to fly?

We were now engulfed in a thick cloud, which seemed to isolate us from the rest of the world and let me sink into an ever-deeper state of terror. By now, the throbbing pain was relentless. My whole body was shivering from the cold. I was starting to loose hope. Then, before I could grasp what was happening, a man hanging from a cable broke through the mist, clipped me into his harness and flew me down to the meadow at the base of the wall.

An X-Ray of Papert's leg after the fall. "My leg seemed to have been reconstructed with no less than two pounds of metal," she recalled.

The initial care took place right there and then. I will never forget the sweet deliverance provided by the painkillers. Stef and I were flown to the closest hospital in Agordo. Neither of us spoke Italian, and communication therefore proved very difficult. By the looks of it, I had a complicated fracture of the lower leg, which needed immediate surgery. Stef had such intense pain in his foot that he could not walk without crutches. But the doctors could find nothing wrong on his X-Rays. They offered him no treatment. Two months later, he would be diagnosed with an overseen fracture of the lower ankle [read "Lightning Strikes Last" in Alpinist 22 for more about the accident and Siegrist's recovery. —Ed.]

With no money—our wallets were in our backpack at the base of the wall—we had no means to call home or figure out how to return to Germany. When I came out of surgery that same night, my leg seemed to have been reconstructed with no less than two pounds of metal. The limb was huge and growing bigger by the minute. It was soon as big as my upper leg.

Meanwhile Stef had returned to the Marmolada to fetch our backpack. He kindly bought me a skirt so I would have something to wear. Then I called my mother to break the news, as gently as possible. Instantly she canceled all her patients and drove to my home in Bayerisch Gmain to take care of my son, Emanuel, who I was due to pick up the next evening from his father.

Nevertheless, I could not brush aside the thought that my leg was getting worse. Since the doctors and I could not understand each other, Stef took me out of the hospital and drove me home. The detailed diagnostic from the hospital in Berchtesgaden stated that a fracture had been overseen.


My mother alleviated the pain and boredom of the two weeks I spent in the hospital following my second surgery. She took care of everything, came with Emanuel to visit daily and massaged my leg for hours to reduce the massive swelling. I was very thankful for her help: the easiest of daily tasks had suddenly become laborious on just one leg.

During that period of forced rest, I came to realize the accident on the Marmolada was not a curse, but rather a blessing in disguise. Destiny had shown me—the hard way—that while I was racing down the road of life at maximum speed, I was missing out on what really mattered. I reconnected with the joy of being a mother and the experience of climbing for the simple things: friendships among nature.

I left part of my soul on the south face of the Marmolada, the part that made me driven by ambition, beyond reason. When I plan a project now, I think details, risks and consequences through more thoroughly, because I could not imagine no longer being there for my son. But Emanuel understands: climbing is my passion, and without it I would no longer be myself.

—Translated from the German by Caroline George

Papert and Siegrist. The two were forever changed by Papert's fall on the Marmolada. [Photo] Ines Papert

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