One afternoon last week, a 19-year-old Finn walked to the 2,713-meter-high Watzmann, surrounded by a foehn storm, wearing sneakers, a sweater and sweatpants – a high alpine tour for which you should be equipped with warm clothing, crampons and an ice ax and mountain and mountain equipment Climbing experience is required. At 8 p.m. his friends reported him missing, the mountain rescue service sent a helicopter, which located him an hour and a half later with a thermal imaging camera and rescued him with the help of a winch. Just three days later, three hikers from Rhineland-Palatinate slipped on a snowfield while descending the Watzmann. Two are still able to hold on, the third falls down a steep wall to his death. Nothing is known about their equipment – but did they also overestimate themselves?

I am a native of Bavaria and consider myself to be somewhat experienced in mountaineering. I like to laugh at all the tourists from Japan, Spain or the USA who go on mountain tours scantily dressed. I lost my desire to mock when I suddenly found myself in a threatening situation five weeks ago. On what I thought would be a short walk. The lessons I learned from this: I will never again underestimate the mountains, and I will never again “quickly” cross a slope without the necessary equipment, even if I think I know it well.

In this case, the slope was on the way from the mountain station of the cable car of Munich’s popular Herzogstand mountain to the summit. In the summer it’s a maximum of one hour walk. A few years ago I led my mother, well over 80 years old, along there on her arm. The mountain slopes down quite steeply, but the path is wide enough for safe footing. But when I was there with my wife and a friend, it was covered in snow. Enter at your own risk. The snow had drifted along the path, and occasionally you needed your hands to hold on to a root or branch. That was enough for the two women I was traveling with who had no mountain experience – they had new hiking boots. But mine are, I can’t remember exactly, ten or fifteen years old. Your profile still looked pretty good since I hadn’t hiked much in the past few years. But: I hardly found any support.

It was a strange situation because there were quite a few recreational hikers drawn to the summit on that sunny March day, and I didn’t see anyone with such obvious problems as I did. Everyone else was in walk mode, but my heart was racing as I looked into the depths. If I lost my footing, I could easily slide several hundred meters down the slope and then perhaps crash into a tree.

Was my fear exaggerated? Normally I would have gone back, but my two companions were already out of shouting distance, and so I struggled forward, meter by meter, repeatedly on all fours. The supposed harmlessness of the situation, my pride, the temptation of the nearby summit, all of that probably played together.

The story of an acquaintance from Ireland, Joe, who hiked up the Zugspitze with three friends a few years ago came to mind. It was early October, the sun was shining, the four climbed up, scantily dressed and without gloves. They also found themselves in dangerous, snowy terrain; three of the four wanted to turn back and one wanted to go further up. Joe said, “Ok, but you don’t go alone, I’ll accompany you.” Some time later, the two returnees were already sunning themselves at the Zugspitze mountain station when they saw one of the two glide over the snow and fall down a steep face. They immediately informed the mountain rescue service. It was Joe’s ambitious friend. He suffered polytrauma with a spinal injury and came within a whisker of becoming paraplegic. Joe paid for his solidarity with dangerous frostbite on his fingers – it was initially not clear whether he would have to undergo an amputation.

Have such accidents increased in recent years? Are more and more people drawn to the mountains without the appropriate experience or equipment? Klaus Burger, head of operations at the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service, gives a nuanced answer. Overall, the number of rescue missions is not increasing, and he also doubts that the equipment used by recreational hikers is worse than before – with exceptions. There are fewer and fewer accidents, but at the same time the number of “blocked people” is increasing – people who massively overestimate their abilities, can no longer find the route markings and get lost, can no longer turn around or are overwhelmed on climbing routes – and who then call emergency services communicate. “These are mainly young mountaineers who come from areas further away from the Alps,” says Burger. In the past, mountaineering was learned with uncles, in the Alpine club, in groups of friends, with your father. “People have slowly approached the dangers. Nowadays, many people jump from a climbing gym directly into steep walls, and there is still a lack of experience and healthy self-assessment.”

I have now sorted out my problem with the grip of my hiking boots. “After seven to ten years, the vulcanized rubber from which the profiles are made has hardened so much that they should be replaced,” says the manufacturer of my shoe, Lukas Meindl, whom I spoke to personally as part of this research. One solution would be to roughen them up again with a wire brush. Since the shoes are probably already very old, I’d rather be on the safe side and have them resoled, which will cost me a mere 125 euros – but including a complete renovation, which also includes the footbed and even the laces.

But even with newly soled shoes, I will never go into the mountains again in March without snow chains for shoes, also known as “Grödeln”. And hiking poles are a good idea too. I own both – but on that sunny March day they were in the trunk of the car down in the Herzogstand parking lot.