Touches of Death on the Iceberg

Pubblicato 5.6.2019

A few years ago Blanka, the manager of camping La Marmolada, run the Marmolada Super Vertical. It was such a strong experience that she wrote a chapter of her last book: Dreams Come True.
Following you'll find an extract of the english version of the book:

In the past I have often heard about wind, lighting or
avalanches killing mountaineers or alpinists on the only
iceberg in the Dolomites, the one that covers the top of
the highest mountain, Marmolada. I used to hear these
stories but I didn’t really listen to the dozens of catastrophic
news stories fed to us everyday by the media.

After all, that place was really distant, remote. These days
I live here, directly under the iceberg, a kilometre and
a half above sea level. The mountain is within an arm’s
reach. I take in the regular flights of emergency helicopters,
stories of Alpine guards and headlines quite differently
today. No, I am not afraid of the mountain, rather I
am aware of my condition — we are here, it isn’t happening
somewhere else, somewhere far, or just in my mind.
The heliport is just 300 metres from our house and paramedics
come daily to have a coffee in our bar. 

I know more but this does not mean that I am calmer. I have
repsect, a perfect respect that cannot be exacted. Respect
for the mountain, for the people who risk their own lives
to save others, for people who lived here hundreds and
hundreds years before us without a road to the mountain,
cut off from the world, yet happy nevertheless, managing
to create values that we want to build upon. Perhaps we
are not so skilled, perhaps we’ll fail but we fight hard.
I have been living here for some time. I went down to
the village today and bought special spurs from a friend
who runs a shop for mountaineers. I bought running
spurs and a few other things necessary for everybody
who comes here with a certificate from a doctor saying
they are able-bodied, able to run three and a half thousand
metres with an elevation difference that pushes
you to the ground, tears your lungs to pieces, crushes
your self-confidence, and your heart, turning your legs
into stones, kicking your ass and pushing it to the gravel
whenever it likes! I have a feeling I rather climb than run.
When my husband competed for the first time over
a hundred kilometres thirty years ago, he met another,
very successful runner. His idol. He asked him how he
coped. How can you run on your own, how do you cope
with loneliness and pain for dozens of hours on indefinite
runs across giant mountains, the desert or on the
road where even cars get fatigue syndrome? And the man
replied simply, “It is about morale, the inner morale of
the ultra-stayer.” My husband and I often talk about this
topic. Well, in my case this morale evaporated after the
first few hundred metres.

I fell in a trap because of my hubris, pride and a feeling
that I could do it, that I could cope with any track and
would always succeed. I failed because of my unwillingness
to get ready, because of my ignorance and the fact
that if I ever spoke about my respect for the Mountain, it
was too little respect or insufficient. I failed and realised
it with full force after the first kilometre of the climb to
Lake Fedaia.

It is one of the most demanding mountain runs in
Europe. Not a metre downhill or on flat land. Here there
is an elevation difference which, in my view, would
distort the rotor blades of a helicopter if it were to come
here. This elevation difference causes the danger of falling
somewhere down beyond the limit of normal human
perception, running with sticks for legs and a stabbing
pain in the heart. You may even end up running
on all fours with dizziness as if in a carousel, climbing
over rocks grazing both the body and self-confidence, a
vain attempt to pee, being sick, bent on turning back. I
imposed a ban on turning back on myself. Who knows
what effect it would have had if I had seen the lake below,
which I passed an hour ago, a lake where gravel shifted
with a humming sound and disappeared somewhere.

Somewhere. You can’t see the top either. You don’t want
to. The finish is not drawing near, the tilted head with
lack of oxygen helps one to lose balance along with the
last remainders of will and self-discipline.

I lose faith in myself.

Then some people stop you. They have helmets on their
heads, seat harnesses and ropes. I can’t see their faces
because of the sweat burning in my eyes. Am I trembling?
No, I am shaking. My whole body vibrates on the brink
of fatigue spasms and the wish to give up. What? A wish
to give up? No, this is not true, I wrote this by mistake. I
didn’t want to give up, I didn’t want to betray the mountain
or those around me. I wanted to overcome them. Or
at least to overcome myself, the little coward that we all
carry inside, we don’t know about him for years and then
the little monster sticks out his head when we you need
it least. But how come this word ever crossed my mind?!
To give up.

Take the spurs, Blanka, capisci, mi comprendi, dai, su,
you’ll cope, listen, you’ll manage, it’s just… the iceberg.
At the checkpoint it is compulsory to put on spurs and
gloves and when I raise my eyes (by mistake) I can see,
or rather imagine, somewhere on the top of the iceberg
a little black dot. The finish flag, I breathe in relief. OK,
posso partire, sono pronta, I keep running, I confirm the
use of compulsory gear and the ability to perceive. I raise
my eyes to the flag for the last time. There were hundreds
of them on the way from the start, as they marked the
course of the run. No, oh God, it is not a flag, it is so far a
away, it is the top station of the cable car. God, it’s so far.
My knees buckle, I can no longer give to the world, my
face distorts in a spasm. People take the cable car to go
to the top of Marmolada for 30 euros. It has two stops to
cope with the elevation difference. We run. And we paid
even more to experience this horror.

I take some salt, drinking from a bottle someone gave
me and am sick. Again. I catch a glimpse of one of the
guards, wondering if I am OK? Will I cope?

Now I run just for life.

I run because I never give up. I will never give up without
a fight until the last breath, the last moment that I can
move! The fight is mine. It’s just me and my fight. I will
never give up voluntarily, please let me run to the top
across the blinding iceberg which multiplies the power
of the sun shortly after noon. The sunglasses don’t help,
drinking doesn’t help, sticks don’t help, even an attempt
to breathe properly is an attempt that stabs a knife in my
lungs and turns it in the wound several times. It doesn’t
help that my husband is waiting at the top, it doesn’t
help that we are watched by people from the cable car’s
mid-station, from the cabins, that they have their binoculars
and cameras, that they support us at every step. I
don’t perceive them. I can’t lift my legs.

I want to wipe snot running from my nose but I miss
it, my hand can’t even approach my face, hell, I’m going
to die here! Lips glued by salt from the refreshing station,
dried by the wind and the sun, I can no longer speak, I
pant like a pregnant woman bent forward, oh God, how
much I would rather give birth again and again, even on
the motorway, where I gave birth to E-lisa. Or anything
else. Just not to be here. H.e.r.e!

My hands shake so much that I stab my sticks around
me like a drunk, madwoman, my hands can no longer
move in rhythm with my legs, this must be a sexy sight
indeed, a woman in her forties at the very end. I am last,
the only one.

I had never been last but once before. I seldom missed
the rostrum and Pavel always told me in the finish that I
looked the same at the end as I did at the start, and then
he would always kiss me. Today it wouldn’t have been
possible even if he had been blind or had enormous will.
Salt, maps of sweat, dirt, sun cream,the remainders of a
ion bar, sots and something like saliva, when I tried to
spit, all of this gave me the mask of a perfect monster, a
troll laughing at herself.

“Apricot, fuck, Apricot, you’ll do it, just a little way.”
I want to look to see where the voice is coming from.
Where is it? Is this my husband? Is he around? Is he
seeing this? If I had tears I would cry, but I am dried by
the sun and the wind like a cod. And, moreover, my body
and my mind are not capable of any feeling, I don’t rejoice
that I can hear him, I don’t cry with joy that I can see
him, because I don’t see him. My eyes would focus. I shift
forward, I hope that it is forward and the only thing I
want is the end.

I don’t want to die on this damn mountain but to
conquer it. To finish this hellish challenge.

“And now it’s Bianca getting to the finish, ragazza dalla
Repubblica Ceca, che vive qua, sotto la Montagna, the girl
who has moved from Czechia to our mountains, only a
few hundred metres, Bianca, sei brava! Megaphone, the
organiser, the finish line somewhere above me, reality.”
I stop perceiving the movement of my body. The slushy
snow of the iceberg surface moves me back a little with
every step, my body is like mud, like slush, not a single
muscle remaining in place.

I no longer worry about being at the end of the field.
That there is only a single runner behind me. I don’t see
it as shame. I dare someone to say something!
The Mountain knocked me down on my knees, it let
me raise my head, for a second, just to breathe, then it
grabbed me firmly by my neck and slammed my face
to the ground. It didn’t let me die though, to get rid of
my pain, effort and loss, but lifted my tortured body by
some invisible force and crushed it saying, “You ignorant
show-off.” Then it threw me against stones telling me, “I
will teach you humility, absolute humility, I will test you,
you forty-year-old, if you are not afraid of me! Had you
had it, you would have sat down there in peace, drank
Aperol Spritz and bounced your youngest daughter on
your knees. Now, you swellhead, I will break your knees,
you will shit in your pants with pain, you’ll get a blow in
your kidneys, one more blow to your solar plexus, I will
smother you, s.m.o.t.h.e.r. you so that you remember well
who the Master is here. Who the queen of life and death
is in this land.”

I strain, grabbing the last of my strength from somewhere
beyond and when I feel the breath of people around
me, I open my eyes. No, I don’t fall, I don’t lie down on the
finish line, not at all, you are the Master here, Mountain,
but you won’t see me on my knees, I may even die standing!
I am here! I am on the top! I am at the end!

I can see scraped legs, but they are not mine. Pavel has
fallen at the edge of the iceberg trying to find a good place
to take a picture. But I will learn this later. How I must
look, I say to myself.

Two days later I collapse physically. Not immediately
the second day but the day after. I feel sick after lunch,
my body refusing to function, my breasts unable feed
my baby. Sorry Mia. I can’t even walk to the bedroom. I
lay down in the kitchen and pray to survive. Thank you!
Thank you for your lesson Mountain. I know who I am
and where my place is. I won’t disappoint you. I will never
ever again go to a race without a training, let alone thinking
I have the right to finish or even to get to the rostrum.
I always knew one had to work hard to achieve the best.
And I was successful, so I don’t know why I thought it
would be different today… I stand firmly on the ground.
I have woken up. Thank you, Mountain.