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South America, Bolivia, Cordillera Real, Hampaturi Group, Serkhe Khollu (5,546m), Southwest Face, The Birthday of the Broken Leg

Hampaturi Group, Serkhe Khollu (5,546m), southwest face, The Birthday of the Broken Leg. Frozen gusts of thin air painfully escaping our weary lungs. Infinite stars splashing over dark velvet. “Happy birthday!” Robert Rauch screams into the Andean storm as I lean on my ice axe, panting. “Thank you,” I want to tell him, but my words are violently ripped from my mouth and spiral high up into the air before they slowly drift down into silent insufficiency, somewhere between frozen cracks and ice shining with the reflection of southern stars.

It was my birthday indeed, and no words could explain what it meant to me to watch once again the Bolivian Andes merge into the night. Exactly one year before, I had been climbing Ala Izquierda when one single second tore me apart from life. My imagination of the future was shattered along with my bones 300m below.

I spent the following two days and nights between my exposed bones and ghastly apparitions from the realm of hypothermia while I crawled over the ice. And yet I knew I was going to return to the magic world of ice.

I knew I had to return despite the doctors’ verdicts. “You won’t ever climb again,” they would keep telling me. One year, 10 surgeries, and infinite sessions of painful physiotherapy later, there I was, emerging from the slightly overhanging last pitch of “The Birthday of the Broken Leg.”

That day daylight had found us hiding my specially adapted “climbing crutches” in a cache before we ventured into the realm of verticality. The ice was hard as stone. The first ice shower that Robert sent down from above felt uncomfortable after such a long off-time. Then it was my turn.

On a small plateau in front of a majestic blue serac, Robert and I devoured some candy. Another 80m of steep, hard snow took us to an uncomfortable ice traverse that led to the face’s last great obstacle, the final 95° ropelength, while daylight began to wane. As I followed Robert over the dreadfully hard overhanging ice, my admiration for him kept on soaring, not so much because of his ability to lead sucha hard pitch without hesitation, as for his unprejudiced capacity to trust a climber on crutches. Topping off on Serkhe Khollu marked the end of our new route, “The Birthday of the Broken Leg” (TD+/ED-), dedicated to Peter, who didn’t return from Ala Izquierda. But for me it also sealed a friendship.

However, another big challenge was yet to come: After walking down the normal route there remained an authentic crutch quest. I didn’t doubt that we would find our cache—simply because we had to find it. I needed my crutches for the descent because the horizontal dimension does not grant my foot as much freedom as verticality does.

Isabel Suppé, Germany/Argentina