Friday, October 4, 2019

Famous mountains, forgotten mountains

Project HaMo (translation): a first ascent in the Bernese Oberland

Every year, hundreds of mountaineers pass the Finsteraarrothorn by, on their way to climb the Finsteraarhorn. How many of them would take the chance to climb the forgotten peak instead of the famous one?

Finsteraarrothorn and Finsteraarhorn from the Vordergalmlücke
Photo by courtesy from Alpine Light & Structure
When she saw just the two of us coming, the Rothorn must have been amazed. Baffled, she watched us approach. Her hopes had been dashed too often. So she could hardly have expected that, from the Gemslücke col, we’d veer off the usual track towards her– merely in passing, as it were.

Did she not swoon when she suddenly realised we thought her worth spending a whole day on, just to try her untrodden ridges for size?

And did she not shrug off her clouds and fogs, just to show us that she was worthy of a visit? And what we might experience with her? Could her illustrious neighbour ever have offered such a welcome?

Summit mists 
Three hours we’ve been at this. Thick, grey fog. My ice-axe hacks small notches into the ice, just enough to take half a boot-sole. Steeply upwards, from step to step, on ten metres of tight rope. Not too far left, not too far right. Yesterday, though my scope, I saw a massively overhanging cornice there. Under our boots, three hundred metres of glittering ice sweeps away. Everything is horribly deceptive in this treacherous fog. I can’t see more than a few steps ahead, but it’s brighter than ever in the valley. Flickering vaguely, off to the left, the cliff-edge dances under my eyes; surely it had to be further away. But suddenly I’m right there with my axe; my fear is that I’ve been lured onto that brittle-creaking cornice. Then I go too far over on the other side, so that my left boot can hardly clear the steep ice to land on the next hold.

The mountain’s knife-edge fades steeply into the formless grey, raking summitwards through the dense-knit vapour. But where is the top, and will we ever find it?

We could be at this for hours, fighting our way up. Or, in just a minute, the clouds could part and a ridge of fine-spun silver might usher us to a summit soaring up out of the clouds.

Then these gloomy shrouds could keep their lethal cornices and icewalls back in the depths, while the sun brightens above us and we feel ourselves shiver with anticipation.

Original illustration from Ihr Berge

Now we know you, Finsteraarrothorn. But may we sing your praises? Are you really worthy to be compared with your mighty neighbour? For us two, you meant more to us almost than him. We experienced you to the full, as nobody had before and nobody will ever again. When we stole up on you, you were a shy country maiden, sweeter than the great monarch beside you. Maidenhood was your charm – and we have robbed you of it.


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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