Life After Death

Torres Del Paine

It’s generally considered morbid to think about death too often. However I think it is important to be reminded of our mortality. Fear of failure can hold us back from seeking the things in life we really want but in the face of death this and other fears melt away. Knowing that our time in this world is finite pushes us to make the most of the time that we do have.  I am far more afraid of regret than failure.

It had been five days since I had taken a shower. It was a cold, windy, grey day. The constant drizzle reminded me of England (at least it was a shower of sorts though). After torrential downpours over the previous day and night, much of my kit was wet. Dmitry and I set off early, with more than 20 miles to hike to make it out of Torres Del Paine. I pushed aside my initial frustrations and began to revel in the feeling of adventure as we clambered up and down exposed mountain sides with stunning views all around.

Dmitry and I had met in Puerto Natales a week earlier.  The night before I was to set off for El Calafate I decided to change my plans and spend five days trekking in Torres Del Paine with the giant Russian. Given the unexpected turn of events, it now seems fitting that we set off on Easter Weekend; when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Dmitry and I crossed a deep ravine where a river had carved out a steeply sided valley which flowed down into the Grey Glacier away to our right. We came to a second gorge and took our time descending 30 meters on a metal ladder which lined one side. Standing in the river at the base of the canyon, looking at the other side something was clearly wrong. Neither of us could see the trail that would allow us to climb the far side. Yet it did not occur to us there had been a landslide overnight and the ground was still highly unstable.

Unable to find the path up the far side of the ravine, after ten minutes we chose what we felt was the best spot. Dmitry began to climb, moving slowly and deliberately upwards. He stopped often to kick steps into the sodden mud and to dislodge lose rocks which clattered down into the gorge. The incline was almost vertical and the ground came away under Dmitry’s leading foot often. After what felt like a long time Dmitry reached the trail 30 meters above.

For the previous four days we had hiked through stunning scenery. The highlight for me had been the French Valley. A wide channel carved between mountains, it was a myriad of colours accentuated by the transition from autumn to winter. The white glaciers offset the bright blue sky and turquoise river as I walked through a forest of green, orange and red. Late in the day and late in the tourist season I saw few others walking as I spent hours soaking it all in.

I began to climb, attempting to follow Dmitry’s steps. I had no idea how dangerous it was; if I had I would never have tried. I focused on each step; I wanted to be sure that each ledge was stable before committing to it. But the next thing I knew I was falling. Sliding down the slope, I still did not understand the grave danger I was in.

Rocks began to fly past my head. As I fell, I dislodged more and more stones, some bigger than my head. I looked up and saw a huge rock the size of a football coming towards my face. It took both arms and all my strength to push it away. By now I had picked up considerable speed and was fast approaching the riverbed, a muddle of twisted stone. The full gravity of the situation began to hit me.

The river flows at a sharp angle down to the Grey Glacier so when I hit the rocks in the river I spun head over heels. I don’t know how many times I tumbled over but when I came to a stop I was laying in the river next to a huge boulder. I immediately got as close to the boulder as possible to avoid being hit by the rocks that continued to fall in my wake. My first thought was “I’m not going to die today”.

My hands were bloodied and numb as I climbed back up the river. The adrenaline coursing through my veins prevented me from feeling the full extent of my injuries. Panic set in without me realising. I knew I was in a bad situation and wanted to be out of it as quickly as possible.

What I did next was madness. I began to climb again. I rose up 10 meters but became stuck; unable to go higher or return back down. Then I really felt panic growing in me. Dmitry called out “throw down your pack, think of your life!”. I was reluctant to drop my pack into the river; it contained my passport and money. Yet at that moment it dawned on me I could still be killed and the concern for my things was trivial. I dropped my pack and was able to climb down safely. Dmitry began the four hour round trip to go and get a ranger.

Attempting to shelter from the wind and rain I sat waiting for help. As the adrenaline faded the pain of my injuries grew. I was exceptionally lucky not to break any bones. Hours passed as I waited but in a trance like state I barely noticed. All I could do was re-play the events in my mind, over and over again.

The following day Dmitry and I took a boat out of Torres Del Paine. As we swilled pisco sours Dmitry told me “when I saw you fall, you had to be dead”. We drank to life and I marveled at my luck. I was mesmerized by a close up view of the Grey Glacier – the worlds third largest mass of ice. It dwarfed the boat rising twenty meters out of the water and stands an impressive 28km in length. It was frosted white but down wide crevices it was a deep majestic blue.

This is the closest I have come to death and it made me very happy simply to be alive. I believe it is better to live 50 great years filled with the things we love than 100 dull ones. I would rather die doing something I love than never take any risks. For me, the biggest risk of all is not to take any. After all if you dont want to take any risks why bother leaving the house?

3 Responses to “Life After Death”

  1. Emily says:

    Yikes, its sounds really scary. I totally agree though – sometimes its good to get a little reminder of how fragile but amazing life is and that we must just live it – no regrets, no what-ifs. I felt exactly the same after I smashed all my ribs climbing last summer :)

    • Matt says:

      Was a little crazy Em but more so looking back. Always good to get that perspective, so easy to forget. I didnt know you did that last year? All better now and back climbing I hope :)

  2. […] After falling in a landslide whilst trekking in Torres Del Paine I needed almost three weeks to recover. Alone and with too much time to think I began to miss home for the first time on my journey. So I was pleased when Dr Daniel Chen asked to cycle with me through the rest of Patagonia. We met in Torres Del Paine after he treated my injuries and he was great company over the next few weeks. […]

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