Death on the Mountain – Don’t Let It Be Yours

Trail runners, this is a warning – if you are headed out of civilization and might encounter severe conditions, be […]

By on July 15, 2008 | Comments

Trail runners, this is a warning – if you are headed out of civilization and might encounter severe conditions, be prepared, not complacent. If you don’t, your decision could kill you. Seriously! Just this weekend, two runners died when cold and wet conditions descended on the Zugspitz Extrem-Berglauf, a trail race up Germany’s tallest mountain. Read on for details.

My TransRockies Run teammate, Martin Gaffuri, was at the race and let me know what went down. He reported that is was about 60 F and raining when the race started. By about 4k to go in this roughly 16 kilometer race (nearly 7,000′ of total climb) the runners entered a snow storm. Fortunately, Martin was prepared with a rain jacket, arm warmers, and gore-tex hat, but many other runners many only in running shorts and tee shirts and did not bring additional layers. The folly of some was surely compounded by the race’s difficult finished. Despite finishing 12 out of 183 finishers, it took Martin 26 minutes to cover the final 1000 meters during which runners climb 400 meters (!) to nearly 10,000′.

In end the weather or rather folks lack of preparation for the weather left 2 dead and landed another 6 or 7 runners in the hospital. (a German article)

While I previuosly believed it unnecessary for TransRockies to require all participants to carry a slew of clothing (gloves, hat, rain jacket and pants, fleece) during each stage, the tragedy of this weekend reminds us that the mountains and their weather can take out runners quickly. The folks that died were in an orgainzed race, but help still could not come in time. Perhaps as Martin wisely suggested to me, the race should have made a rain jacket mandatory gear – I’m glad that TransRockies has.

Zugspitz… on a nicer day

The warning these dead runners provide should be even more closely heeded by those trekking into the wilderness alone or in small groups where help is many hours away. Having personally been on a run in the mountains where my runner partner was immobilized, we had only minimal clothing some of which was used as a bandage, and a cold rain storm hit, I should know better. I should have learned this lesson. (My report on the above noted run in the Tetons)

Sometimes we are fortunate in that we are given the chance to relearn the lessons we should already have learned, but next time we might not have that chance. So PLEASE be prepared when you trail run, especially when in the high country. The extra weight of a hat, jacket, or even a garage bag will not ruin your run. Now go out there run to the sky….safely!


  • Have any of your been in a situation where you were put in seriuos jepardy by bad mountain weather? Were you adequately prepared?
  • For those of you who often venture out in to the high mountains for runs, what extra gear do you bring with you?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.