Friday, 23 May 2014

Catastrophe on the Jungfrau

FROM the Jungfrau on Friday, the 8th July, A terrible disaster was reported. Two tourists, Alfred Kuhn, of Strassburg, aged about 45, and Hans Harthold, of Saarbrucken, about 35, set out on the 8th July to climb the Jungfrau, or at any rate to go from the Bergli hut over the Monchjoch to the Concordia hut. They were accompanied by the guides, Alexander Burgener, father, his sons, Adolf and Alois, and the Grindelwalder, Fritz Brawand. They were joined at the Station Eisrneer by the guides Peter lnabnit, and his nephew, Rudolf Inabnit. At the place where the disaster occurred they met guide Bohren; who was preparing the path for those approaching the Bergli hut. Independently of this column there came, only a little behind, the guides Christian and Fritz Bohren, Bleuer and Kaufrnarm, who were carrying provisions to the Bergli hut.

Both the tourists, Kiihn and Harthold, as well as the guides Alexander and Alois Burgener, the old Bohren and the two Inabnits perished; Brawand and Alois Burgener are seriously injured. We publish from the N Zurich Zeitung the following particulars as to the circumstances of the disaster. Christian Bohren, the son, narrated to a reporter as follows..... 

" We four, my brother Fritz and I, Bleuer and Kaufmann, had set out on Friday from Grindelwald and the Station Eismeer for the Bergli hut. We two wanted to bring provisions to our father, who is hut-keeper at the Concordia, and Kaufmann and Bleuer also to the Bergli hut-keeper Kaufmann.The weather was fine. We went roped, and made good progress. We must have been still a good hour off the Bergli, to which meanwhile a caravan, eight men strong, had approached within about ten minutes’ distance. A man was making a track down from the hut for the new-comers. That was our father, who then joined the foremost caravan. Then a mass of snow appeared suddenly to split off, just at the spot where the caravan found itself, or, speaking exactly, a little above it. On the Bergli rocks the mass divided itself; one arm drove straight down; all the foremost caravan disappeared with it. The left arm took a direction straight for us. We dived into the ice-wall of the Bergli rocks, and made ourselves as small as possible, hoping that the avalanche would go clear over us. But it seized us, tore us away with it, and whirled us downwards, so that we no longer knew who was foremost and who last. So it went on-on. A sharp jerk; we were fixed. I found myself on my feet right in front of a crevasse, up to my breast in snow.

Bleuer stuck fast on my right, also up to the breast in snow. My brother Fritz lay in a crevasse, buried up to the head. Kaufmann hung over a ‘Gletschertiissel ’ on the rope. Bleuer and I worked ourselves out, and released my brother Fritz, who was unconscious; the too tightly drawn rope had robbed him of his breath. Kaufmann had meanwhile unroped himself, and sprung clear. We then drew him up again over the ‘Tussel.’ All this did not pass so quickly as I have told it you. The avalanche had surprised us at six in the evening; the work lasted quite three-quarters of an hour. As soon as we were again together, and had inspected the damage, we turned back to our track.

We soon met a rescue column that was coming from the Eismeer; we let them go on further to the head-caravan, and set out alone on the way to the Station Eismeer. We arrived there at half-past eight. We reached Grindelwald this morning. We know moreover that the Bergli hut-keeper, Kaufmann, had just begun to get ready something’ hot for the arriving guests as the avalanche fell.

The disaster had already happened when he stepped out. He took a good mouthful of brandy, and then climbed down to render assistance. He found three still living-Rudolf lnabnit, Fritz Brawand and the son of Alexander Burgener. The other six were dead, and frightfully disfigured. Kaufmann helped, and made such arrangements as he could. Then the above-mentioned rescue column from the Station Eismeer arrived to recover the injured. The son Burgener had a huge hole in the head; one eye is lost. Brawand had his head split; Inabnit, amongst other injuries, a compound fracture of the leg. The leg only just hung on him by the skin, so that he wanted to cut it away; only the strength to do it failed him. On the way to the Eismeer he also, poor fellow, was released from his sufferings through death.

About midnight the rescue column, with the two injured and the dead man, reached the Station Eismeer. Brawand and Burgener (son) were taken as quickly as possible to Interlaken.”

So far Christian Bohrens’ simple narrative.... Quietly did he relate it, a worthy son of the mountains. But nevertheless it will overcome him. All Grindelwald knows that now, at about eight o’clock, the dead are coming in, and Christians' father is amongst them. The same reporter added the following particulars; Alexander Burgener, father, was valued as a guide of the very first rank. He was a powerfully built, weather-beaten man, for many years familiar with the dangers of the high Alps. Whoever went with him might feel himself secure. To add to the security of the party, the two climbers wanted also to take with them the experienced old Grindelwalder, Rudolf Baumann. He had, however, shortly before met with a slight mishap, and had to call off. In his place went the young Fritz Brawaud. The snow must, however, already, near the Station Eismeer, have proved to be in a very treacherous condition, for the caravan was there augmented by the two Inabnits, uncle and nephew. The two went in front, and, as the lighter members of the company, helped to make a track.

Thus the party pushed forward up to a short distance from the Bergli hut, whence Christian Bohren, father, always ready to help, was making a track for the caravan. Then the snow began to move. Whether the making of the track gave the first impulse to it remains undecided. Certain it is, that the coating of new snow, softened by sun and ‘Fohnwind,’ adhering badly to the older snow underneath, no longer held firm, but began slowly to slide away. The place of fracture is as high as a man. The break occurred at a trifling distance from the hut, extended over the whole wall, and detached portions of snow that, so to say, hung near the hut, fell with it. This new snow, that in the last fourteen days had fallen in great masses, gave way at the point of contact with the old hardened snow. Thus it shot away, as if torn off by a giant’s grip, dragging with it the great caravan on the far side of the Bergli, whilst a smaller arm went down in front, and there, as already described, surprised a column of porters four strong.

At the place where the avalanche tore away with it the big caravan, points of rocks everywhere project upwards. Down over these rocks, more than 200 metres deep, the nine were hurled, until they came to rest in a hollow. They were,found almost on the surface, buried only a few inches, with the exception of one who stuck up to his armpits in snow. The hut-keeper, Kaufmann, an old Caucasus guide, after the thunder (of the avalanche), climbed down with incredible rapidity. But also someone at the Station Eismeer, with Zeiss-glasses, had observed the occurrence, and at once directed the three available men to the scene of the disaster. Director Liechti, of the Jungfrau Railway, did still more, for he sent up from the Station Eigergletscher forty men from the staff‘ of guards and engineers that they might, from the Eismeer at least, recover the wounded.

We know already that this rescue work, carried on by acetelyne light under the most difficult conditions, lasted up till midnight. The rescue work was brought to an end on Saturday by a party of Grindelwald guides. That was a difficult bit of work. Over the windows of the Jungfrau Railway, too, masses of snow broke away incessantly into the valley. However, the labour ended without fresh sacrifice of life.”

Translated from Alpina  5th July, 1910.

The Alpina appeals for help on behalf of the widows and children of the victims of this unheard-of catastrophe. Peter Inalbnit leaves a widow and ten children, the eldest only I7;an eleventh child is expected. Christian Bohren leaves a widow and children, with little property. Rudolf Inalbnit was the mainstay of his parents. Donations may be sent to Pfarrer Gottfried Strasser, S.A.C., Grindelwald, or The Editor, Dr. E. Walder, Bergstrasse I37, Zurich.

First published as ‘the Catastrophe near the Bergli club Hut, 8th July 1910.

Herbert Carr: Climbers Club Journal 1910.