Tales from the peaks and pub legends

From the rugged summit to the cosy pub, the most spectacular experiences and best moments of a retired mountain rescuer.

I invited Armin to tell me about the experiences that moved, challenged, and impressed him the most during his time as a mountain rescuer and when he experienced his own limits.

The experienced mountain rescuer Armin Lingg, an Allgäu original, at home in the mountains around Oberstaufen Steibis, will celebrate his 75th birthday in February 2024.

More than five decades in the service of the mountain rescue service testify to his great dedication and passion for people and the mountains.

Armin poses next to an old tree stump in the snow during a snowshoe hike in Damüls.
An old tree stump sits enthroned in the middle of the silence, a welcome resting place for Armin.
Armin poses next to an old tree stump in the snow during a snowshoe hike in Damüls.
An old tree stump sits enthroned in the middle of the silence, a welcome resting place for Armin.

In his well-deserved retirement, he now shares with me the fascinating beauty of snowshoeing. Our tours together, be it the atmospheric ascent to the Imberg in Oberstaufen-Steibis or the energetic tour to the Portlahorn in Damüls in the Bregenzerwald, are more than just hiking – I learn from his experiences.

A tragedy on St. Nicholas Day

A realization about the pitfalls of winter sports

Elmar: You have experienced a lot in your long time with the mountain rescue service. Is there a particular event that was particularly close to your heart and that we can still learn from today?

Armin: I remember that day, December 6, very well. It was the day that Santa Claus came to visit my children, a day when the joy at home and the gravity of what I had experienced on the field were in painful contrast. I remember a young doctor from Munich who was on vacation in the Allgäu with his wife and baby. He went skiing on the Imberg.

Armin and Dirk snowshoeing on the Imberg with a view of the Nagelfluhkette with Eineguntkopf and Hohenfluhalpkopf in the background.
Adventure calls: Armin and Dirk on a snowshoe tour to the Imberg, against the imposing backdrop of the Nagelfluh mountain range.
Armin and Dirk snowshoeing on the Imberg with a view of the Nagelfluhkette with Eineguntkopf and Hohenfluhalpkopf in the background.
Adventure calls: Armin and Dirk on a snowshoe tour to the Imberg, against the imposing backdrop of the Nagelfluh mountain range.

Armin: It was around 4 p.m. when he decided to ski down the slope from the Fluhexpress to the Hochbühl mountain inn. It was a perfect day for winter sports enthusiasts – fresh powder snow covered the landscape like icing sugar, a dream for anyone seeking the freedom of deep snow. This man was on his snowboard, ready to hurtle down the slope.

Deadly trap in winter paradise

Armin: Without knowing the exact terrain, he passed the Hochbühl mountain inn and continued downhill. As he did so, he entered a hollow filled with heavy snow. Suddenly he found himself chest-deep in snow, unable to free himself and return to the mountain inn. The snowboard proved impractical for traveling in deep snow.

The seeming serenity of the Nagelfluhkette on the Imberg, yet a place of hidden alpine wildness.
The photo captures the peaceful atmosphere of the Imberg, but beware - it can be deceiving.

Armin: Hoping to find a way down into the valley, he descended further, but only reached an even more inhospitable area, a rocky creek bed. After a presumed fall in this impassable terrain, he struggled on until his strength gave out and he died of exhaustion.

His wife called the mountain rescue service when he did not return from skiing, and he was found dead at 7:00 pm.

Beyond avalanches

A wide range of winter risks.

Armin: There are many dangers lurking in winter that go beyond the risk of avalanches. Falling and exhaustion are also serious threats. Without skis or snowshoes, you won’t get far in deep snow.

Important safety instructions can be derived from this tragic incident:

1) Stay where you are: The rescuers would have found him alive, and the risk of falling in the rocky terrain would have been lower.

2) Be realistic about your strength: The doctor also overestimated his strength and ended up paying with his life.

3) Do not venture into unfamiliar terrain: especially in alpine areas, including around the Imberg.

Stay where you are

How mobile phone tracking saves lives.

Armin: Nowadays, with the possibility of mobile phone tracking, it is especially important that you stay in the place where you made the emergency call. This allows the emergency services to locate you more quickly and accurately. Any movement away from the original location can complicate the rescue operation and cost valuable time. After calling 911 (112 in Europe), it is important to remain calm and wait for help, which can arrive faster than ever with today’s technology.

Learning from Experience

Debriefing and Psychological Support.

Armin: Comprehensive aftercare is an important step forward in the care of our mountain rescuers. In addition to psychological support, which helps rescuers come to terms with their experiences, regular debriefing sessions allow for continuous improvement of operational procedures. Details of the mission are analyzed, strategies are discussed, and possible improvements are suggested. This approach not only promotes the well-being of responders, but also increases the efficiency and safety of future rescues. By treating every operation as a learning opportunity, a climate of continuous learning and adaptation is created, ultimately helping to save more lives.

Between duty and recklessness.

From Hochhäderich to Seelekopf

Elmar: What moments or experiences have moved you the most during your time with the Mountain Rescue Service?

View of Hochäderich, the western part of the Nagelfluhkette, from the opposite range with Leckner Valley in between.
The Hochäderich rises majestically in the Nagelfluh range. It is seen here from the opposite mountain range.
View of Hochäderich, the western part of the Nagelfluhkette, from the opposite range with Leckner Valley in between.
The Hochäderich rises majestically in the Nagelfluh range. It is seen here from the opposite mountain range.

Armin: Two things particularly annoyed me: the strict border controls during the Corona pandemic and the recklessness of some freeriders.

A remarkable incident occurred during the Corona closure. Two young people in their early 20s had agreed to meet at the Hochhäderichhütte, as the usual routes were closed for a date. The national border, usually just a line on a map, suddenly became an insurmountable barrier, monitored by infrared cameras from the air – a scenario I had never imagined.

Border tragedy

An emergency in the shadow of the coronavirus response.

Armin: The situation escalated when the young man did not show up at the meeting point. His ski pole was found on the ridge at the border on a summer trail, triggering an intensive search. He was finally found just 100 meters behind the border. But the absurd reality of the border closure made a rescue impossible: the German mountain rescuers were not allowed to cross the border to retrieve him. The helicopter pilot would also have risked losing his license if he had flown to the scene to rescue the young man, who was already dead.

Roadblock with warning signs at the German-Austrian border during the Corona measures 2020.
The border fence in Sulzberg-Oberreute, symbolizing the closed borders between Germany and Austria in 2020 and the challenges of the pandemic.
Roadblock with warning signs at the German-Austrian border during the Corona measures 2020.
The border fence in Sulzberg-Oberreute, symbolizing the closed borders between Germany and Austria in 2020 and the challenges of the pandemic.

Armin: These strict border closures during the Corona period have caused me deep frustration and anger.

Recklessness

Freeriders ignore the highest avalanche danger.

Armin: “You can stay here,” I shouted (in Allgäu dialect, of course) to the pilot. There was a high avalanche warning and two helicopters were in action to rescue the injured.

Armin: And then, despite all the warnings, pure madness: a group of freeriders decided to enter the basin below the Seelekopf. Not only did they ignore the warnings, they also filmed their daring endeavor with a helmet camera. But that’s not all: in the evening, they uploaded the video to YouTube, proud to have survived the dangers. They thought they were heroes – “nothing happened”

Armin: Such recklessness upsets me deeply. It is not only a disregard for your own safety, but also a burden on the emergency services and the community as a whole. It shows a lack of respect for nature, the dangers it poses, and the people who risk their lives to help others.

Danger in the dark

An unforgettable mountain rescue operation

Armin: One of the most memorable moments of my time as a mountain rescuer was when we had to evacuate a large number of people from a mountain lodge. They had suddenly fallen ill in the evening, were life-threateningly dehydrated, and had unknowingly infected other guests.

I still remember the headlines. The manager of the hut was innocent. The hikers had drank water from a spring along the way and filled their drinking bottles without realizing that they were bringing dangerous bacteria into the hut. Despite his innocence, the hut warden was the victim of unjustified negative propaganda.

Armin: Rescue by vehicle was not possible in this remote area. The only solution was to evacuate everyone by helicopter. But the rescue took until dark, which posed a major problem: The aircraft, a Bell U helicopter, was not equipped for night landings, which are common today.

Teamwork in the dark

Life-saving landing.

Armin: In this precarious situation, we had to improvise. A colleague and I lay down on the ground to the right and left of the intended landing site and shone our flashlights into the sky. The pilot, a master of his craft, flew into the center of the two sources of light and landed the plane safely in the pitch dark.

Bell UH1 helicopter flying over the Hochgrat at night. Two light signals guide it to the landing site in the dark.
Guided by torches on the ground, a Bell UH1 helicopter lands in the dark.
Bell UH1 helicopter flying over the Hochgrat at night. Two light signals guide it to the landing site in the dark.
Guided by torches on the ground, a Bell UH1 helicopter lands in the dark.

Armin: That night, when we saved lives with the simplest of means, was undoubtedly one of the most exciting of my career. The precision and skill of the pilot, the teamwork on the ground – it all made a deep impression on me and showed me the importance of teamwork and quick thinking in extreme situations.

Armin mit Schneeschuhen beim Aufstieg zum Portlahorn über einen steilen, verschneiten Hang.
Armin bewältigt mit Schneeschuhen den steilen Aufstieg zum Portlahorn.

At the Limit

Adventures and Anecdotes.

Elmar: On our trip to Portlahorn, we also pushed ourselves to the limit and climbed a steep slope. Have you ever pushed yourself to the limit?

Armin’s face brightens and a mischievous smile spreads as he begins the next story.

💬 Your opinion is wanted! I look forward to your feedback, thoughts and stories:

Have you ever pushed yourself to the limit? When was the last time you tested your limits? And what did you learn about yourself?

Armin: Our instructor was a man of strong words and principles. “I don’t want to see any of you skiing down the Farnach in a mountain resuce jumper,” he said over and over again. He knew exactly how tempting and dangerous the descents could be, especially those from the Hochgrat.

The black line shows the legendary Farnach route on the Hochgrat, where Waldi made his legendary ski descent.
The Farnach on the Hochgrat, marked here with a black line, is a dangerous ski route.
The black line shows the legendary Farnach route on the Hochgrat, where Waldi made his legendary ski descent.
The Farnach on the Hochgrat, marked here with a black line, is a dangerous ski route.

Armin: The picture shows the descent from the Hochgrat. This stretch is particularly treacherous, very steep and requires the utmost attention, even from experienced skiers. However, Waldi carefully weighed up the risks and did not act unprepared, but prepared intensively for this moment. He waited for perfect snow conditions, watched the weather closely and chose the ideal time: Spring, firn snow, exactly 11 o’clock in the morning.

He laughs heartily as he continues.

Armin: And then, in a bit of rebellion and with a wink at our strict instructor, Waldi decided to try the descent shirtless. We took a picture of it and sent it to our instructor – technically, he didn’t ski the Farnach in a rescue suit!

After a snowshoe tour, Armin, Dirk and Elmar sit smiling at the regulars' table in the Gasthaus Imberghaus.
Armin next to Dirk and Elmar chatting at the regulars' table in the Imberghaus after a snowshoe tour
After a snowshoe tour, Armin, Dirk and Elmar sit smiling at the regulars' table in the Gasthaus Imberghaus.
Armin next to Dirk and Elmar chatting at the regulars' table in the Imberghaus after a snowshoe tour

Armin: This anecdote shows not only the camaraderie and humor necessary in such demanding professions, but also the respect and solidarity that members of the Mountain Rescue Team have for each other and their mentors.

From the mountain to the local heritage

Armin’s eventful days after mountain rescue.

Armin: The photo shows the view from my ranch to the Hochgrat – my personal hideaway in my garden. This is where I enjoy the peace and beauty of nature. But I don’t just sit and look at the mountains.

Snow-covered trees overlooking the Hochgrat in the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park.
The view of the Hochgrat from Armin's ranch is captured in the tranquil splendour of winter - a peaceful place to reflect and pause for a moment.
Snow-covered trees overlooking the Hochgrat in the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park.
The view of the Hochgrat from Armin's ranch is captured in the tranquil splendour of winter - a peaceful place to reflect and pause for a moment.

Armin: Together with Anita, I run three vacation homes that I rent out to vacationers. But that’s not all. I’m the local heritage officer for the community of Oberreute. It’s a labor-intensive job, but I’m passionate about preserving our culture and traditions. It keeps me busy and connected to the roots of our community.

Elmar: I would like to draw your attention to a report on Bavarian television from Sunday 04.02.2024: From minute 28:55 you can see Armin in an interview.