Balandrau, Frozen Hell

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A story about the fragility of life

As the year 2000 was coming to a close, ten people lost their lives in the most tragic meteorological event ever recorded in the Pyrenees mountain range. And the survivors only made it after a savage fight against a freak snap blizzard that no meteorologist had foreseen, a monster of cold, snow and wind that turned the mountain into a deathtrap for 16 hours.

"Balandrau: Frozen Hell" is the story of one of those survivors. Josep Maria Vilà was a 27-year-old molecular biologist leading a calm and orderly life, on the cusp of finishing his thesis and only months away from marrying his girlfriend, Mònica. That Saturday morning, he took an easy route up a mountain in the eastern Pyrenees with Mònica and some friends, unaware that this hike would change the path of his life forever.

Until midday, all goes well on their trek. But by 1:30 p.m., black clouds are approaching in the distance and the going gets too tough near the peak as the cold has hardened the snow. The friends strap on their skis so they can quickly backtrack down Balandrau Mountain.

Ten minutes later, a gale-force wind knocks them to the ground. The gusting winds kick up so much snow that everything turns white. In a matter of seconds, they can't see more than a couple feet. The temperature drops to 30 below zero. And what began as an outing to celebrate the end of the year with friends turns into a living hell. 

During a harrowingly long night buried in the snow, Josep Maria realizes that Mònica is not going to make it. He focuses on letting her die in peace, forcing himself to disconnect from his emotions. Then, he concentrates on survival.

The next morning, the only one left alive is Josep Maria. He keeps descending. He clings to the rocks, slides down the frozen torrent and gazes into the horrifying void of the precipice next to him. But then, he becomes trapped between rocks. One minute, he was convinced he would make it, the next he is staring down a slow death. Days pass. And just when he thinks he is about to die, the rescue teams find him.

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