Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Multi-lingual Rescue Operations

So, there I was enjoying the Switzerland the way it was meant to be enjoyed - climbing up a windy, twisty path in the Alps with a big blue glacier looking down on me invitingly.

That's the glacier!

Lynn and I had just spent an hour hiking to get up here, but she had to turn back at this point, hoping to catch an earlier bus and get back to Geneva in time to take Loki out for a walk (yes, Lynn named her dog after the Norse God of mischief). I kept going, the path quicly turned twisty, windy, narrow, and steeply climbing. I felt this was just fine - I was, in fact, pretty excited about the whole thing. I was just upset that I wouldn't have time to reach the ridge above me and get a glimpse of Mont Blanc... but you can't have everything. Regardless, the path I was happy with. Turns out, not everyone shared in my excitment - the first sign of trouble was when I ran into a Spanish couple hurrying down the mountain and asking me [in Spanish] how far it was to anything down below. My brain initially refused to accept the situation and had to do a double-take - they are not talking to me in French, but I understand, must be English, right? No, don't understand that well - oh, right, Spanish... There's a little restaurant a little ways down below - you can probably get there in twenty minutes, treinta tops! What's going on? Turned out, a little ways up above there was a woman who had broken her leg. I considered the path we were climbing and decided this didn't seem entirely unexpected, unfortunate nonetheless.

By this point, I couldn't climb much further up the mountain anyway if I were to make the last bus back to Martingy, so I settled for simply going up to investigate. I discovered two women, both probably in their 40's or maybe early 50's - one in seemingly good spirits, but with a broken ankle, which was starting to swell; the other seeming a bit frazzled. We chatted a bit - I started with Spanish, they turned out to not be Spanish. Didn't speak any English either, so we were stuck with French - the chatting was rather limited. The frazzled one was on the phone with someone trying to explain where we were - I produced a map and pointed roughly to our location. It didn't seem to help the other end of the line all that much - I wished I knew more French. By now, I figured friends or family, not rescue personnel, had to be on the other end of the line - we started talking about trying to make it down the mountain. I offered that I'd be perfectly happy to take her pack down - I actually think that's all she had really wanted, but through some combination of misunderstandings and my trying to help, we decided to see if she could make it down to the hut-restaurant below herself as well. We tried to come up with some sort of a workable way of getting down without putting any weight on the broken foot, which was a challenge, since the path was tiny, twisty, and steep. Eventually we settled on slow progress with me holding the woman around the waist, while she hopped along on one foot.

By now, I was starting to give up on the bus, figuring I could always hitch-hike my way down to the train station at the bottom of the mountain, so I could play Good Samaritan for a while - maybe learn how to say 'broken ankle' in French. So, we hopped for a while. Not entirely surprisingly, it turned out to be fairly tiring for both of us - we took a break. The frazzled one was worried too. We chatted - they asked about my bus. I, in turn, asked if they had a car taking them down the mountain? No, they were staying somewhere in the mountains and had some sort of a car arrangement (that I wasn't entirely clear on), that would pick them up, if and when they made it down the mountain. Or maybe, they'd send a helicopter... Either way, I should probably go and catch my bus... and see what the Spanish had managed to accomplish down at the hut?

Fine... after a few more assurances of calm and safety, I grabbed her pack, and took off down the mountain. Well, the first thing I actually did was trip myself and watched a rock accelerate at an alarmingly high speed towards my face, but I've still got hands for occasions such as these, so I came away largely unscathed. And proceeded down the mountain, a little more carefully this time. The Spanish were, in fact, waiting down at the bottom of the hill. I tried switching from French to Spanish to explain to them what I had learned, but my brain refused to process language switches quite that quickly - fortunately, they now had somebody that spoke English with them. My brain acquiesced to processing English. A few minutes later, Spanish became acceptable too, so I learned that the Spanish were from Tenerife, and lo and behold, they had been up in the Swiss Alps just last year too, when she had also broken her leg - and had to be airlifted out by helicopter... interesting... Anyway, I headed on down towards my bus, while the English speaker, whom I gathered to be some sort of a guide, hastened up the hill to try and help the two women get down. The people at the restaurant had apparently just shrugged their shoulders at the report of the injury, so a rescue team was probably not imminent. The Swiss seem pretty calm and stoic...

Anyway, I headed down the mountain, reflecting that all I was missing at that point was somebody speaking to me in Russian about what had happened. I've no idea what happened in the end, but from where I had left them, getting down to the little restaurant shouldn't have been all that difficult with the help of the guide. And from the restaurant, they could probably get a stretcher, so she'd be fine, presumably - just a memorable day in the mountains! Probably not even a helicopter ride to add to the excitement... Supposedly, a doctor was coming to see them wherever it was that they were staying.

As for the Alps!

The Trient Glacier stretches for 4.3km in the Mont Blanc Massif, flanked by a pair of snow-capped peaks

I've been to the Southern Alps in New Zealand, and the Japanese Alps in, well, Japan - finally time to see the originals!

Stream of snow-melt heading down from the glacier

Just wouldn't be Switzerland without cows grazing in the mountains, cow-bells ringing

Switzerland, I've discovered, is also rather fond of some utterly random sculpture, like this Minatour in the middle of Martingy

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