Friday, September 13, 2019

Hapless mountains

Project HaMo (translation): a very short story from the Swiss Alps 

In front of the hotel, the old man sits in a cane chair, his left leg slung over his right. This gentleman’s hair is snow-white. He has his gold watch and a telescope out on the table in front of him. “It’s still too early,” you can hear him murmuring to himself.

On the traverse from Morgenhorn to Wyssi Frau
Photo courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

Several hundred metres above, a little white path comes vaulting out of a side valley on a slope – there, by the black rock next to the pluming waterfall. The path and the torrent hurry down to the valley, now alongside each other, now crossing over, until they suddenly part ways, one zigging left, the other right.

“Still too early!” says the old man. His telescope follows the path. “Yes that was a long and tough one, that route, we got back pretty late.”

“But, hello, there they are. They’ve done it, by Jove!” Still lithe, despite his years, he jumps to his feet, beaming his warmth towards them. He loves his boys.

“The icefall! The icefall! Did you get through all right? Bravo! That couldn’t have been easy. It took us more than three hours to get through to the edge of the rocks on the other side.”

“Good evening, Papa! No, that was easy enough. We found somebody’s footprints, hardly a day old, still quite fresh.”

“So how was the rock-step from the ice onto the ridge? My, that was hard. And difficult to find too! I won’t ever forget how rotten and slippery those rocks were. Just that place took us more than an hour.”

“Hmm, it wasn’t anything special, father. Almost a footpath. Steps in the rock and some solid iron stanchions.”

“Was there a lot of ice, on top of the ridge?”

“All ice, from bottom to top.”

“Really, and you’re back already? That’s really something!”

“No, father, everything was already chopped out for us, a staircase right up to the rocks.”

“The summit rocks aren’t half bad, are they? When we made the first guideless climb – this was with my friend W. – we almost had to back off there. We struggled for hours. That was a fight; we didn’t know whether it would go until we finally made it!”

“Well, the rocks were pretty steep. They took us twenty minutes. There’s a fixed rope there now.”

“That’s shameful, damn it. But you soaked in that great summit view, didn’t you? I took a look in my old climbing diary: we sat on top for two full hours.”

“Father, you know, it was unspeakable up there. A whole bunch of people came up the normal route. One of them – the guides kept calling him ‘Mr President’ – went droning on about mountain sport and the opening of the Alps – so we just went on our way. But this evening, if you don’t mind, do tell us how the mountains were in the old days!”


This is an excerpt from a centennial translation of Ihr Berge (1916), a mountain memoir by Hans "Hamo" Morgenthaler (1890-1928). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.

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