Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A relationship

Project HaMo (translation): falling in with a favourite mountain

What a wondrous bond a mountaineer can sometimes weave with his favourite mountain. Whether he made the first ascent, or climbed a new route or did some other great feat, their names are linked forever. The Matterhorn and Whymper – what a noble pairing is that.

Approach to Piz Urlaun c. 2001
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

One day, I’d like my name to be linked to the Cima Aeterna. But, really, this is too absurd. To think of linking one’s name to a famous mountain is sheer ambition – a mountaineer’s arrogance.

Especially when you’re well aware that you can quietly carry on the most pleasant relationship with much smaller mountains, like … and without a soul knowing about it.

Now I must confess: I was besotted with Piz Urlaun for years. I guess you’ve heard the name. And you’ll ask how on earth one can fall for such a minor neighbour of the mighty Tödi. Well, I have no idea. Could it be, perhaps, because he almost presided over an icy grave for me? That would certainly be a curious reason.

Well, I have climbed him by five different routes, again and again. Twice, we put up new lines, and once I climbed him alone – that was best of all.

A pleasant fellow is Piz Urlaun. Quite lowly, at just under 3,400 metres, yet he belongs to a noble lineage and leads a quiet, secluded life. To be up on his snowcap is enchanting, and in autumn you should see how every evening the sun glitters and glances off his steep ice spine, way over towards the Bifertenstock.

We struck up a fine friendship from the first time we met. “You, Urlaun, look over there at the lame old Tödi, who’ll put up with anything,” I said. “No, I wouldn’t stand for it myself,” came the answer from Piz Urlaun as he threw down a minatory rain of ice-blocks.

This convoy of eighty people, this human snake, that feeble Tödi lets roam over his head. Can any of them actually understand him?

Our friendship is quite different, though – isn’t that right, Urlaun? Just the two of us visit you, and quietly enjoy your favours. Not that we haven’t ever fallen out. Even the best of friends can’t get by without the occasional squabble. Just when I thought we’d be together for ever, he twice roughed me up to the point of tears. Once, to give me the brush-off, he resisted my advances with flashes of lightning that came blazing over his back. The other time, right at mid-summer, he pulled on an overcoat of snow so thick that it scared me just to look at.

Yet, quickly and stealthily, I finally made my approach. How amazed he was! Quite alone, I ran up his south flank, before it was even daylight, before he had time to open up his schrunds and crevasses in self-defence. The Biferten Glacier was still in shadow when I stepped onto his head and let out a cheer.

When he saw I was alone, he recovered from his shock and invited me to a sunny rest. From that moment, when we first conversed, stems our deep respect for each other.

Urlaun, you have granted me many rich hours. Though I’ll probably not visit you again so soon, we will often greet each other from afar. Never will I fail to send you silent thanks. And then, Urlaun, will you not cheerfully recall how much you once meant to one small human being?


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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