Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

A Return To Hohtürli

ON THE SECOND day of June, 1993, I fell down a mountain. It nearly killed me.

On the twentieth day of August, 1994, I went back. Happily, this second visit went better. There were no finger nails lost, you’ll be glad to know. No cartwheeling down glaciers. But there were tears, and not only from me…

cloud sea sunset from the hohturli pass switzerland alps 01 june 1993
Sunset, Hohtürli Pass, June 1st, 1993. It was almost the last sunset I ever saw.

The purpose of this blog is to tell the story of my return to the Hohtürli Pass – the 2,778- metre (9,114-foot) pass in the Swiss Alps that I almost died on. This return was something I felt I had to do, like unfinished business. I felt called to try again where previously I’d failed, to prove to myself that I could safely cross the pass. I wanted to confront a traumatic event that had completely altered my life’s trajectory. I wanted to overcome a fear that still lurked like a shadow whenever I found myself on steep ground. And I wanted to say thank you to the Swiss man who had shown immense kindness after the accident.

Writing about this return also feels like unfinished business. I’ve been meaning to get it down for years. Finally, I am.

Appropriately, I’m writing this in the mountains. I’m in camp, high in the Colorado Rockies at 11,600-feet, and it’s old-school writing that I’m doing: scribbling by hand in a notebook to re-type later once I’m back home. Even more appropriately, I’m writing this on the second day of June, 2024 – the thirty-first anniversary of my accident. I can’t help but think about what that means. Thirty-one years I might never have seen. All the events I might have missed. Marriage to Joan. Two children who might never have existed. Every single backlit leaf I’ve ever seen glowing in early morning sunlight! What a tragedy it would have been, to have cut life short at the age of twenty-three. It’s why, ever since, I’ve always been mindful with my choices. My choices and actions, like everyone’s, don’t only impact me. They ripple outwards, spreading wide, washing shores unknown.

writing in camp guanella pass 02 june 2024
In camp, writing, June 2nd, 2024, on the thirty-first anniversary of falling from Hohtürli.

I still consider this second day of June my second birthday. It’s the date when ‘fate’ gave me a second chance, when I saw with a flash of clarity that life is a rare gift not to be wasted, a fragile treasure that can be lost in the blink of an eye. One never knows what lies ahead. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Just consider that for a moment: tomorrow is not guaranteed! Before Hohtürli I took my existence for granted. Afterwards, I most definitely did not. I still don’t.

I’m alive… ALIVE! I thought in amazement when I came to halt after my fall. Alive, when I could so easily have been otherwise. What a realisation that was! On June’s second day, 1993, my scream of appreciation echoed about the snowbound Alps.

sunrise over the bernese oberland from the hohturli pass
The last photo I took before my Hohtürli accident. Almost the last photo I ever took. June 2nd, 1993.

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog by chance and haven’t read my description of falling from Hohtürli now would be a good time to read it. Or, if you read it a while ago, it might be worth reading again to fully appreciate this blog. The fall is featured in the prologue of my book: The Earth Beneath My Feet. It describes who I then was, why I went to Hohtürli, and how it changed my life. But you don’t have to buy the book to read it (although I hope you will!) You can also find the prologue HERE.

moonlight over the glaciers of Blüemlisalp switzerland alps
Moonlight over the glaciers of Blüemlisalp, Hohtürli Pass, June 1st, 1993.

Okay – read it? Then let’s push on…

On August 17th, 1994 (one year, two months, and fifteen days after Hohtürli) I was back in the Alps. I was roughly halfway through the journey the accident had inspired: a six-month end-to-end traverse of the entire range. Ninety-two days and 1,200 (or so) miles had passed since I’d walked away from Vienna to begin my journey, and a similar amount of time and distance lay ahead before I’d reach the Mediterranean Sea. Goodness, I’d experienced some marvels during the three months I’d been underway! Above all, I’d found a purpose to life and a level of fulfillment I’d never imagined possible. ‘How lucky am I?’ I penned in my journal. ‘To be able to live a dream.

Bernese Oberland cloud sea August 16 1994
Morning light striking the Bernese Oberland. August 16th, 1994. The peaks from left to right are Wetterhorn, Shreckhorn, Finsteraarhorn, Gross Fiescherhorn, Eiger, and Jungfrau.

My meandering ‘see-it-all’ route had taken me through Austria, into Italy, back into Austria, on into Switzerland, and now back to the Bernese Oberland – the location of the Hohtürli Pass. There the mighty Oberland mountains were once again, rising before me: a great wall of snow, rock and ice, a sight that really was startling. The mountains I’d missed seeing the year before – the Wetterhorn, Finsteraarhorn, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – didn’t disappoint. But the reality I now faced was finally sinking in. Hohtürli lay only two days ahead. Returning to my nemeses pass was no longer an abstract idea, a distant possibility. Coming back had seemed like a good idea when I was far away, but now? My stomach announced the first stirrings of great anxiety.

monch bernese oberland
The Bernese Oberland, a startling wall of rock snow and ice. August 18th, 1994.

The 17th was a Wednesday, and a wet one. Storms rumbled across the Oberland from dawn til dusk. Thunder and lightning at seven-thirty, before ten, again at noon, just after three, at five, and again after nightfall. Rain lashed. Storm clouds swirled. The previous days had been long with many miles and so I took a hint from the heavens and enjoyed a rest day, reading mostly, but often peeking from my tent at the extraordinary Lauterbrunnen Valley – a chasm-trench hemmed between half-mile high walls of rock.

lauterbrunnen valley 17 august 1994
The Lauterbrunnen valley during a temporary break in the storms, August 17th, 1994.

I did manage one outing: an eight-mile out-and-back dash to Lauterbrunnen village. I had a mission: to find a picture frame for the eight-by-ten photograph I carried. The picture was going to be a gift for the kind man who’d taken care of me after my Hohtürli fall. He’d reassured me, tended my wounds, driven me out of the mountains to hospital. Kind Markus Engel! (Not his real name.) Would he still be there, at Bundalp beneath Hohtürli? I hoped so. Looking back, I wasn’t sure I’d said ‘thank you’ properly. I’d been in quite a state, after all! But now, a year later, I wanted to make up for it. I hoped the gift might help.

I found a frame, although it was expensive – equal to almost a week’s food. It was also a heavy and fragile item to backpack with! But I carried it back to camp with delight. With a bit of luck, I’d get it to Markus in one piece. Provided I didn’t fall down any more passes along the way.

Before reaching Hohtürli I had to cross another high pass – the Sefinenfurgga, at 2,612-metres (8,570 feet). Crossing it should have taken a day, but it took me two. I woke on the first, Thursday August 18th, to glowering clouds and steady rain and felt profoundly intimidated by conditions, cowed by the memory of Wednesday’s all day storms. I didn’t fancy getting caught high in another. But the rain eased mid morning, so I struck camp, then climbed through dripping pine woods – soon bejeweled woods when the sun made a dazzling appearance. As I climbed higher, cold autumn-like winds began tearing the clouds apart, and what a day it became – the scenic drama a siren call to my camera but an impediment to progress. Glacial giants appeared and disappeared. Clouds shifted, broke, reformed. Views of plunging drops and great walls and glaciers and high peaks came and went.

lauterbrunnen valley clearing storm 18 august 1994
Clearing storm clouds during the climb from the Lauterbrunnen Valley, August 18th, 1994.
lauterbrunnen valley clearing storm clouds 18 august 1994
The Alps appear, the highest peaks freshly whitened by snow, August 18th, 1994.
Jungfrau 18 august 2024
The mighty Jungfrau, August 18th, 1994.

I camped early, unwilling to continue into dark clouds that looked as though they might erupt into violence at any moment, and unwilling, too, to commit to the Sefinenfurgga. On the map it looked steep. Hohtürli-like, almost. The memory of falling kept sweeping over me in unsettling waves. I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing, I thought, as I considered the pass ahead, and my nemesis pass beyond it. It was the exact same thought I’d had the evening before falling from Hohtürli. I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. And look what had happened!

mountains at the head of the lauterbrunnen valley 18 august 1994
Conditions improved shortly before sunset. But the blue skies didn’t last.

The following morning, Friday August 19th, dawned with rain once again, along with fog and a chilling wind; intimidating weather for an intimidating pass. I wavered in camp, unsettled. But a hint of brightness finally got me moving by nine-thirty. I set out beneath my heavy pack, picture frame and all, to be delivered, all being well, that very evening.

Once I joined the main path I discovered that a fair few walkers were about, despite the blustery squalls and dark skies. A babble of French, German, Italian and Dutch indicated that it was an international crowd. Most of them, I soon discovered, were heading for the Rockstock Hütte, a refuge below the Sefinenfurgga, not for the pass itself. I fell in step with an older couple. I guessed they were in their mid-fifties, an unimaginably ancient age to me at twenty-four. They were fellow Brits, I soon learnt, and they were going all the way – aiming to cross the pass as an adventurous day trip, a grand finale to their two-week walking holiday.

“Bill and Pat from the Wrexham Walking Club,” they proudly announced. When we reached the Rockstock they kindly bought me a cup of tea. Afterward, we continued together. I was overjoyed by the company. The couple admitted to nerves at the pass ahead and, unexpectedly, their anxiety helped me keep a lid on mine.

Sefinenfurgga pass 19 aug 1994
Steep ground beneath the Sefinenfurgga, August 19th, 1994.

The Sefinenfurgga was a small notch in a sharp ridge; a wild high place made even wilder by rough weather. The approach and descent turned out to be every bit as precipitous as I’d feared. There was a narrow, switch-backing path of loose, slate-like rock that my boots skittered on, and a cable-handrail to cling to, a lifeline while negotiating the treacherously-angled, heavily-eroded path. (There are wooden steps there, now.) There were long stretches where a minor slip would have had dire consequences, and I couldn’t chase away the picture of myself making just such a slip. I felt unsteady on my feet, unbalanced. Unhelpfully, the memory of falling kept returning: an almost physical ‘memory’ of bouncing, spinning, cartwheeling down-down-down, the world around me a high-speed blur. Hohtürli had left me with a dread of steep ground that I couldn’t shake. Fortunately, Bill and Pat kept me rooted to the mountain, although not intentionally. They were struggling from the exposure, too, and my attempts to help them manage their fears distracted me from dwelling on my own.

Together, we made it over the pass and down the far side without excessive drama. We parted when we reached easier ground. Pat and Bill wished me good luck for Hohtürli and I pushed on swiftly toward the valley far below, slowing only when Hohtürli itself came into view. Well, not slowing, exactly. Instead, the appearance of Hohtürli stopped me dead.

hohturli pass from across the valley 20 august 1994
View toward the Hohtürli Pass, August 19th, 1994. The pass is the lowest saddle along the ridge (there’s a peak poking up just behind it) with the Swiss Alpine Club refuge – the Blüemlisalphütte – visible on the skyline above and to its left.

I stared across the valley and upward at the pass. It was a profoundly unsettling sight. Free of snow, Hohtürli loomed dark and threatening, a towering, desolate, Mordor-like wall of grey rock and dirty ice. Seen face on it looked impossibly steep, barely climbable, let alone walkable, especially the upper section. I traced the line of my fall, reliving it again, shuddering at the memory. Surveying the scene now it was hard to believe I’d survived. I had to admit it: I didn’t want to go back up there. I really didn’t. But also, I had to. If I didn’t, the shadow of Hohtürli would always loom over me when I reached steep ground, no matter where I was. I wanted to feel at home everywhere in the mountains, not intimidated and restricted whenever I reached somewhere steep. Recrossing Hohtürli would banish the shadow… I hoped.

hohturli pass accident detail
The upper section of the Hohtürli Pass. The black line marks the trail. The red line shows my best guess at where I fell. ‘1’ marks the Blüemlisalphütte where I spent the night of June 1st, 1993, before the accident. ‘2’ marks where the fall began. ‘3’ very roughly marks where I came to a halt. ‘4’ marks the start of even steeper terrain that I’m glad I didn’t continue over. Had I been knocked unconscious during my fall I might well have kept on going.

After staring a long while I shook my head, looked away. Hohtürli was tomorrow’s goal. First came today’s: only a couple of miles ahead now, the refuge and small collection of buildings at Bundalp – the home of Markus Engel. After reaching the valley’s base I began climbing once again on wearying legs, through woods and a shower of rain, up to the bumpy road I’d been driven down a year earlier. Markus had driven me to hospital with immense care, wincing at each jarring bump, concern for my injuries and my comfort clear on his face. For my part I’d averted my eyes from the road’s unguarded edge and the drop beyond it, thinking: I survived the fall. Will I survive the drive to hospital?

But how grateful I’d been! How grateful I still was. As I walked back up the road I planned what I’d say. I could picture Markus’ face. Tanned. Lined. Short white hair. Far-seeing eyes. A zen-like aura of mountain peacefulness, wisdom, and rugged capability. And suddenly, there his face was behind the windshield of a familiar white truck as it jolted down the road toward me… and as it passed by.

Oh no! I thought. Markus! And then he was gone.

bundalp hohturli 20 aug 1994
Bundalp beneath the Hohtürli Pass. Photo taken on the morning of August 20th, 1994.

The refuge, when I reached it, was extraordinarily well remembered. It was as though I’d been there only the day before. I stepped inside and a woman working in the restaurant told me that Markus would be right back. “Twenty minutes.” I sat at a table, imaging how I must have looked when I’d stumbled up to the front door the year before, blooded hands held high. “It’s only me, no one else involved,” I’d gabbled urgently, not wanting any kind of rescue to be set into motion, not wanting to be responsible for putting anyone else at risk.

In due course Markus’ truck appeared outside. Feeling suddenly nervous, I stood as he entered. I approached him. At first, he didn’t recognise me or understand my words. My German was too limited to explain. A translator was soon found.

“Um, ask him if he remembers June last year…” I said. He did, but his face remained blank.

“Ask him if he remembers driving an Englishman to hospital…” and at the translation of that Markus’ expression altered instantly. His eyes opened wide. His mouth fell open, too. With great animation he pointed at me then up in the rough direction of the pass. He acted out a falling, tumbling motion with his arms. Then he reached forward for my right hand to shake it and then, remembering, grabbed both my hands, and turned them from side to side, inspecting my fingers, long-since healed. His wife appeared beside him. She reached to examine my fingers, too.

“You have healed! You have come back!” he exclaimed via our translator. “We wondered. We thought of you often.” His face softened with kindness. “And now, here you are!”

“I have a small present for you,” I explained. “It’s not much. But I hope it shows how much gratitude I feel.” I handed over the picture and frame. “I took the photo up at the pass the evening before I fell.”

cloud sea sunset hohturli pass switzerland alps 01 june 1993
The photo I gave Markus. I wonder if it’s still on the wall in Bundalp twenty years later? It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

Markus stared at the image long and hard. He seemed transfixed. But then he nodded as though recognising the view and broke into a broad smile. He looked at me, his old eyes alight. I could tell I’d done the right thing.

Questions followed as he shepherded us to a table; questions about the accident, about all that had followed, about the long walk I was currently on. I asked questions, too, about his recollection of events.

“I saw you through binoculars, coming down the mountain.” He explained. “I was surprised – there hadn’t been anyone over the pass in many days. There was a lot of snow. I watched for a while. You were moving very slowly, but just being careful, I thought. But, I did wonder. Then you arrived and I understood. You were in a bad way! Your hands looked terrible.”

We talked for a long stretch – the minutes not noticed – until, eventually, he excused himself and stepped outside, picture in hand. A few minutes later he reappeared, walked over to a wall of photos, and hung my photo upon it. He looked over at me, radiating warmth and gratitude.

A memorable evening followed; a typical communal mountain refuge evening for some people, perhaps, but notably different from my usual solitary mountain camps. I was served a massive meal, then a boisterous Alpine sing-along began: two guitars, and numerous voices in German joined together. Later, one of the staff members pulled me aside. She might have been a granddaughter of Markus’. Her face bore a resemblance.

“You came back. It means so much to him,” she said. “I saw him when he went outside. He stared at the picture. His eyes were moist. Tears, I think! Thank you for coming back!”

Sleep that night was hard to find. I was too high from how well the reunion had gone. And too anxious about Hohtürli. Tomorrow! Oh God, what am I doing! I felt my stomach leaping about as though it were an English backpacker tumbling out-of-control down a steep mountain.

looking east from the hohturli pass bernese oberland switzerland alps
Alpine scenery up at the Hohturli Pass – the photo taken the afternoon before the accident, June 1st, 1993.

In the morning, when I attempted to pay for dinner, my dorm room bunk, and the massive breakfast feast I was served, my payment was waved away. “Nein,” said Markus’ wife. I insisted, but she wouldn’t have it. “You are our guest.”

Rucksack packed, it was time to leave. Markus gave a firm mountaineer’s hand shake, then an unexpected hug. He stared at me intensely, eye to eye. “Go carefully,” he commanded. Then, away I walked. Without warning, emotions overcame me. For long minutes, I sobbed as I walked. Loneliness, happiness, gratitude, fear? I couldn’t tell. On long solo walks emotions can build up and occasionally burst forth.


I turned uphill, toward Hohtürli. In my right hand I held my long ice axe-walking stick: Excalibur. I gripped it firmly. Swung it vigorously, partly in frustration at myself. Was I really doing this?

Every stretch of path brought back a memory. It was all shockingly familiar, as though a year earlier I’d been hyper-alert, soaking in every tiny detail. It began with the track to the first farm buildings I’d reached during my long descent – a welcome return to the human world, I’d thought at the time. A meadow followed – the first flat ground after the descent. I’d left the snowpack behind when reaching it and had thought, ridiculously: maybe I can camp here for a night or two? Let my wounds heal before I carry on with my trip? Given how the pain later grew, and how my limbs stiffened overnight, it was just as well I hadn’t stopped.

hohturli pass 20 aug 1994
Looking down toward Bundalp. August 20th, 1994.

After the meadow came steepening ground. The beginning of the climb. It looked different without snow, although the contours were unmistakable. My 1994 journal describes the next stretch: The path zig-zagged upwards for hundreds of metres on a black spur – not too hard, a little exposure, but okay. Then came the section that had seemed so dangerous last time, so horribly, horribly steep – the section that had been frozen solid, that I’d kicked steps into, that I’d left a trail of blood upon, that I’d pushed my pack down ahead of me only to watch it bounce away and burst open. The section was black now, not white, and the path was narrow, sloping downwards, distressingly loose, like marbles under my boots. The path crossed the mountainside above an ever-increasing drop – and there I was on it with my big rucksack and even bigger memory. Damn my rucksack. Damn my memory! My legs: soon trembling. My thoughts: darting about madly, not doing my bidding. My breath: I barely had any! I tried to focus on each step. But couldn’t. How I’d descended this before, coming down hard-frozen snow without my lost axe, I have no idea…

andrew swiss alps august 1994
A photo from a week and a half later, taken above the Mattertal on September 3rd, 1994. I’ve included it to show the size of the rucksack I then carried. It was an unbalancing load – clearly part of the problem I can now see!

I continued upward, moving deliberately, trying to stop the rising tide of vertigo from sweeping me off my feet. ‘Not a trail for anyone with a fear of heights’ online route descriptions now explain, accurately. As I climbed on I thought to myself: this is all in my head. Tens of thousands of walkers have come through here without falling. Surely I can, too? It’s all in my head…

But, of course, some fears can’t be overcome by will alone – only by action. And sometimes not at all. But, I continued with action…

The long exposed section ended where the path crossed a ridge and descended a short distance into a lifeless amphitheatre – the location of my fall. I gaped when I saw it, gasped, too – shocked at what I’d fallen down. How had I survived?

The slope was far steeper than I’d remembered: in places over sixty degrees. It was a chute of dark scree, shattered rock, and dirty ice, topped by a contorted crag. Once again, the memory of falling swamped me. It set me swaying. I had to stare at my feet, grip my trusty Excalibur with full strength, and squeeze my eyes shut before I could go on. What a naïve, over-ambitious, and arguably foolhardy youth I’d been, to have attempted this wearing a huge rucksack with the route buried beneath snow! And yet, I was glad I’d attempted it. For the outcome. Without the fall, would I have found the insight to take control of my life? Would I have been walking for six months across the Alps?

upper section hohturli pass august 20 1994
Looking up the final stretch of the route to the pass – a desolate, Mordor-like amphitheatre of grey rock and dirty ice. It clearly shows the terrain I fell through and perhaps explains why I picked up such incredible speed while falling. Thirty-one years later I still shudder at what I fell down. 

I moved again. Upward. The rising path stuck to the base of the ridge, now a crumbling rock wall rising on my right. There were wooden steps, ladders almost, and iron chains to pull on. The exposure increased but, strangely, I now felt more in control. The end was nearing. I was sweating buckets, true, and feeling weak and trembly, and I was breathless from anxiety, and my heart was pounding hard, and I was wishing I were anywhere else but here, but at the same time I was also now fully aware that I could do this – and conscious, in fact, that I was doing it. Evidence proved it. I AM doing it! This simple fact made all the difference in the world. If I can take one step I can take one more. And keep on taking them…

Life lessons, hidden in plain sight during moments of extreme stress.

hohturli pass looking down close up of trail
A close up of the path, taken from above. August 20th, 1994.

I continued, ever higher, and the urge to rush and have the climb done with grew into a crescendo. But I kept it in check. “Go carefully,” Stefan had sagely advised, and so carefully I went. Time seemed to slow, if not stop, just as it had when falling. My focus narrowed – tunnel-vision, taking over. But I kept on moving, one foot then the next. I  reached the final ladder, clambered slowly up it, passed beneath the rotten crag down which stones had clattered a year earlier, and then, gloriously, the path’s angle eased, flattened… and there I finally was, atop the Hohtürli Pass. Finger nails intact.

And just like that a colossal weight vanished. Sunlight suddenly appeared. I swear it did!

I began smiling. Smiling and smiling and smiling! I felt… released.

There haven’t been many moments in my life like it.

An experienced American hiker from Seattle stood at the pass, peering speculatively down. He’d come up from the other side, from Kandersteg. We talked. “Normally,” he observed, “when you start bouncing, that’s it.”

hohturli looking down 20 august 1994
Looking down from the pass. The X marks where I stopped, roughly. When I fell it was covered by deep frozen snow, with only a few sharp rocks sticking out.




A stopped for a cuppa at the refuge above the pass, the Blüemlisalphütte, inspected the winter room I’d slept on that fateful night on June first, 1993, gazed in gratitude across the Alps – at the glaciers and pristine snow peaks – then began the descent. It was so much easier dry than it had been the year before under feet of sloppy wet snow. I cruised, singing, feeling alive and exhilarated, feather-light, energised. I reached the first signs of vegetation, then the lush grassy bowl where I’d once camped, descended past spectacular Oeschinensee, and finally returned to the valley, the land of the living, a fairy world so vibrantly green it seemed impossible.

I had a thousand-plus miles still to walk. Three months of freedom waiting ahead. A whole life, in fact, waiting ahead. I was alive! And Hohtürli no longer owned me.




Blüemlisalp glacier hohturli pass 20 august 2024
Looking back toward Hohtürli from the descent, back in the land of the living, August 20th, 1994.
oeschinensee kandersteg switzerland august 20 1994
The spectacular Oeschinensee in a landscape so vibrantly green it seemed impossible after the desolation above.
end of alpine walk 12 november 1994
Three months later. Big smiles for the final stretch of my Alpine traverse: the descent to the Mediterranean Sea at Menton on November 12th, 1994. My first big walk was over. But it wouldn’t be the last. I’d found a way of life that suited!



My two books, The Earth Beneath My Feet and On Sacred Ground can be found on Amazon in the US HERE and in the UK HERE. These books describe a continuous 7,000-mile walk across Europe from Calabria at the southernmost point of mainland Italy to the North Cape at the top of Norway. They tell an honest story about how my views of nature changed through deep immersion into it. If you’ve found meaning in nature during a short hike… imagine what spending 18 months in nature can do!

Thank you for visiting my blog!


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