Biting cold. Blinding fog. You’re lucky if you can see where you need to put your foot next. When the weather is nice, the Nebelhorn is a fantastic destination for an outing, but on days like this, the mountain becomes a really inhospitable place. However, far away from any pleasant hiking trails, men are hanging from ropes extending along a 600-meter vertical wall, defying these harsh conditions. Extreme climbers? Adventurers? Wrong! Construction workers from the Tirol-based civil engineering company HTB are fighting both mountain and weather–at a height of nearly 2,224 meters.
SCALING THE NORDWANDSTEIG
Scenes like this one were a common sight at the Nebelhorn, which is close to the Bavarian village of Oberstdorf, between April and December 2016. Fifty construction workers have etched a new hiking trail into the mountain surrounding the summit, the Nordwandsteig or north face trail, while at the same time crowning the mountain with a new panorama restaurant. Just in time for the 2016/17 winter season, tourists are now able to walk along the Nordwandsteig for more than a kilometer on their way to the summit restaurant. Once there, they can not only enjoy the fantastic view, but they can even see the cross on the summit. Previously, the view of the cross had been blocked by an old mountain hut.
EXTREME CONDITIONS? NO PROBLEM.
FOG BY THE SECOND
One of the summiteers is Bernhard Ladner. The 34-year-old was a foreman on the Nebelhorn mountain construction site. He has been pursuing a specialty in special civil engineering for six years. The native of Tirol is a real outdoorsman. He has already worked at extreme construction sites on a number of occasions. Nonetheless, even for him there was nothing routine about work on the Nebelhorn: “Anything but normal,” says Ladner. “The name says it all. In a matter of seconds, you are surrounded by fog. You can’t even imagine what that’s like.” The logistical challenges posed by such a mountain are just as unimaginable. More than 1,500 helicopter flights were needed in order to make concrete work on the new summit station possible. On occasions where the weather refused to cooperate, the construction workers needed to demonstrate a high degree of flexibility: “It was possible for us to work in the fog, but if the helicopter can’t get though, then even that doesn’t help,” says Ladner. “Sometimes we had to stop and couldn’t get back to work until the weather settled back down.”
“WHEN YOU’RE 2,224 METERS UP, YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO RELY ON WHAT YOU HAVE.”
GOOD MATERIAL IS ESSENTIAL TO SURVIVAL
In many cases, the men each secure one another at these dizzying heights – everything has to work. The material needs to be just as reliable as the construction workers. Be it gloves, hard hats, work boots or tools: material wear under these conditions can be life-threatening. Work on the mountain is subject to the constant danger of falling boulders or slipping on unstable ground. “Under these conditions, you need equipment you can trust,” emphasizes Ladner. Würth supplied a great deal of this equipment to the Nebelhorn, for example: power tools, handheld tools and protective clothing, as well as anchors and screws. And it proved itself to be a capable partner in the process. “On the one hand, the products had to be able to withstand a lot, and on the other, we constantly needed fresh supplies – gloves for example. We were always able to count on Würth, both their products and on-time deliveries,” says the man from Tirol.
WHEN THE MOUNTAIN REWARDS YOU
Bernhard Ladner enjoyed work the most when the sun was shining of course, when he could enjoy the view–and had to be careful not to burn his nose. Good thing that Würth also supplied sun protection. Of course, work on the panorama restaurant progressed the most smoothly when temperatures were above freezing and the skies above the Nordwandsteig were blue. “When the sun comes out and you look down into the valley–those were the moments you felt rewarded for all of the hard work,” says Ladner passionately. Thank God we had our share of good days: this meant we were able to stay on schedule. Even though things can be brutal on construction sites like the one on the Nebelhorn, at the moment Ladner would not even consider working on more “benign” sites. Doing something that not everyone can do, that seems impossible to many, appeals to him. Ladner is a child of the mountains, he loves his home in the Alps, quoting an old proverb: “Life in the mountains is hard but beautiful.”