Dani Arnold climbs in the depths of a glacier

Usually he stands on peaks. Even for Dani Arnold, it was a new alpine experience to go into the dark depths first. In the following film, follow Dani Arnold on his adventure to the bottom of the Plaine Morte Glacier and back to daylight with an ice ax.

A glacier is not a compact mass of ice. Known and dreaded are the cracks: traversing one over a snow bridge, the darkness suggests that it could continue here. But as soon as you pass the gaps, you have already forgotten the mysterious underworld. So far, that has also been true for Dani Arnold. The ice is his world - and where else is there an environment made entirely of ice?

Speleologists aroused the interest of professional alpinists

After the cave explorers Fred Bétrisey and Hervé Krummenacher completed their ice cave exploration on the Plaine Morte for the Tages-Anzeiger and thus made it accessible to the public, the interest of Dani Arnold was aroused. The largest plateau glacier in the Alps practically does not flow and has no crevices except on its northern tongue. On the one hand, this makes the Plaine Morte an unspectacular glacier without crevasse zones. On the other hand, it also means that there is less tension in the ice than in a strongly flowing glacier - so there is less risk of collapse. This allows a relatively safe descent through glacier mills, where millions of liters of melt water tumble down in summer.

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There was no human soul here

When we set off in mid-December, we are still skeptical - because a lot of snow has already fallen. Many of the entrance holes are blocked. Only at one point does it look as if the snow has not yet closed completely. Dani carefully ventures towards the half-snowed hole. A dark shaft opens up in front of him. This glacier mill is accessible for the first time, say Fred and Hervé, who know the Plaine Morte like hardly anyone else. We rope about 50 meters vertically into the depth - to a place where not a soul has been. Below the corridors continue horizontally: we crawl in narrow shafts on the paths that the meltwater creates here in summer - when we suddenly hit rock. It is surprising that we find the bedrock at a relatively shallow depth of around 60 meters. “If you consider that the glaciers are losing their thickness by the meter every year, it won't be long before you walk there in sneakers,” says Dani.

Dani Arnold climbs out of the darkness of the glacier
Dani Arnold climbs out of the darkness of the glacier (picture Severin Karrer)

Glacier mills lead down to 100 meters

The Plaine Morte is up to 200 meters thick, how fast you hit the rock bottom, also depends on the topography under the ice. Elsewhere you can follow the path through the glacier mills 100 below the surface, which was previously done by Fred and Hervé. And there is not the final destination, so the rock bottom is even deeper. But the locomotion can then mean that you swim in diving suits through water-filled aisles.

In eighty years, the glacier has disappeared

But the way to the surface is waiting for us: steep ice climbing in pimple-hard glacier ice. An ice climbing tour that looks different every year - and above all gets shorter. Because the Plaine Morte is one of the fastest melting Swiss glaciers. As the largest plateau glacier in the Alps, it has no nutrient zone and the winter snow no longer lasts through summer. By 2100, so calculated glaciologists from the University of Friborg, the eternal ice should have disappeared.

Dani Arnold: Climbing in the depths of a glacier

You must see this ascent of Dani Arnold

Dani Arnold climbs one of the toughest ice climbing routes Free Solo Speed

Credits: text Dominik Osswald, Photos Severin Karrer

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