15 Injured when lightning hit climbing rope during Via Ferrate or Klettersteig Expedition in the Berchtesgaden Alps in Bavaria, Germany

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(Wandergruppe auf einem Klettersteig bei Berchtesgaden von einem Blitz gestreift)

On Friday 6th July 2012 a group of 15 alpine wanderers on a ‘Klettersteig’ expedition were injured when lightning hit the secure rope which was connecting them. At around mid-day the group was on the Isidor-Klettersteig on the Grünstein mountain in the region of Schönau near the Königssee.

Before I provide more details about the incident let me just explain something about what a Klettersteig expedition is. The german word means climbing path but its Italian name ‘Via Ferrata’ meaning iron road is more indicative of the potential source of the problem. These routes have an assortment of fixed (including steel) cables, steps, ladders, and stemples (wooden steps usually set between notches in rock walls) which allow climbers to access routes which may otherwise be inaccessible.

The Isidor-Klettersteig on the Grünstein mountain is well-known. Berchtesgaden has its own Klettersteig schools and the area has a number of certified Klettersteig Guides (zertifizierten Berg- und Klettersteigführer). Below is a map of the region:

If you are not familiar with the region the following video will give you a flavour for the kind of countryside and activities this part of the German/Austrian alpine border (Berchtesgaden) is famous for:

Although the above video provides a short clip of people involved in Klettersteig activities the following video shows an expedition in more detail. This video is taken from the Grünstein mountain where the lightning incident occurred. From this it will become clear why steel ropes can be an important part of the infrastructure necessary to pursue these activities.

It should now become apparent how a group of 15 alpine wanderers could all be affected by lightning striking the (presumably steel) rope which was connecting them. 13 of the climbers are being treated by cardiac specialists in hospital where they are undergoing tests to determine if they have heart rhythm abnormalities. This is normal after lightning incidents or electric shocks.

This injured group included a number of soldiers from Holland as well as a 10-year-old boy.

It would appear that the lightning occurred suddenly and a bolt directly hit the climbing rope. This is how the climbers came into contact with the powerful electric discharge. Some of them were hurled away from the rope and some had burn marks on their hands. A police spokesperson reported that many experienced what they described as a kind of electric shock. However all injured persons were able to make it on their own to the Grünstein Mountain Hut to secure help. The Alpine Emergency services were immediately activated.

The manager of the Grünstein Mountain Hut together with 6 helpers brought the injured persons down to the valley in four vehicles where they received first aid and the 13 were taken from there to the hospital.

Clearly this incident will be the subject of a formal investigation to understand exactly what happened and what lessons can be learned. If I become aware of anything of interest in the Alpine press I will share it with regular readers via my website. As with the article I published last week about the three ladies who were killed by lightning in a golf shelter this incident highlights the vigilance necessary when embarking on outdoor activities in rapidly changeable weather conditions. If you are interested in the advice I presented for anyone confronted with a sudden occurrence of lightning my article from last week can be found here.

Don’t let this incident put you off enjoying our beautiful countryside; just make sure you take appropriate advice, consider sensible precautions and don’t take inappropriate or unnecessary risks.

Pfiad di ! (as they say in this part of the world)

Chris Duggleby.

A grey day - but the Alps are still stunning!
A grey day – but the Alps are still stunning!

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