Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Alpine vignettes

Project HaMo (translation): three mountain sketches by Hans Morgenthaler

Winning through to the Finsteraarhorn's summit
(Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure)
Summit joys

Did you ever win through to the summit of a cold snowy peak that glows in the early light of a high-altitude morning, before the sun even starts to purge the night fogs from the deep valleys? After those hard hours of climbing, your iron-shod steps suddenly found their way so easily. Effortlessly, you promenaded atop the bare crest of your hard-won summit.

Now you could hold your head high, as proud as a commander’s after some victorious battle? Didn’t that set your heart racing, near fit to burst with this surge of summit joy? And then you had to retrace your steps, down the hard-frozen snow slope. Reluctantly and a touch bitter at heart, you let yourself take one last look upwards into that deep blue sky, infinitely far overhead, before you took leave of your liberating summit, and its brief joys.

(For the mountaineers who served in the Great War.)


Original illustration
from Ihr Berge (1916)
In the valley, burdened with an irrepressible longing, my hapless soul quivers for the high mountains, cheers on the day that brings me back to them, and builds up the resistless force that will snap the fetters which keep me from them, yearning just to wander abroad for ever.

Yet, after a hard struggle with the mountains, after weeks of body-bruising encounters, tussling with the rocks and ice in good earnest, my fervent wish is once again for the valley, a bed, sweet milk and freshly-fragrant bread.

Struck to the heart

Have you ever seen how the mountains can capture a tyro climber?

It’s half past five on a May morning. We stand in bright sunlight, four thousand metres up on a peak in the Bernese Oberland, the first "big mountain" that my friend from southern Italy has ever climbed. And I myself have never seen a day dawn quite so clearly in the mountains. Crisply and cleanly the vanquished giants rise up around us. Today, from Mont Blanc’s summit, you could probably pick out each individual top in the far-off Bernina range.

All of a sudden, my swarthy Sardinian friend looks and talks quite differently. Shaken to his core, as if astonished, and gazing all around him, he seems to have woken from some deep slumber: "Is such beauty even possible!" his black eyes twinkle, "and all the time I’ve been frittering away my priceless time at cards and dances." He shakes my hand.


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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