Wednesday, February 5, 2020


Project HaMo (translation): time to turn in, but first ...

Just as night falls, ahead of you there’s the fiery spectacle of the sun sinking, a blood-red ball into the haze of distant mountains. And, behind you, the earth’s ghostly shadow creeps upwards – while you sit in that sheltered spot outside the hut, peaceful, appreciative – and two minutes later you’re safe inside again, next to the toasty oven.

Sunset in the Bernese Oberland
(Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure)

You’ve drained this day to the dregs; now, overexcited, almost in a fever, you need your sleep to recover. Drained by the sunglare, you’re glad to turn in; onto that wondrously soft pallet of straw. Now listen, outside, how the mountain wind icily heralds the dark night’s chill.

Which moves you most – that spectacle of the sinking sun, ever renewed, or that stealthy shadow, unbelievably fast-growing, with all its eerie accoutrements – when you see them at sunset from a high peak’s godlike seat?

The mightier your mountain, the higher and steeper it is, the more magically the light fades, and so much the greater too the grim looming of night’s onset. But you need strong nerves if you hanker after some yet higher vantage point, so as not to miss the twin spectacles of the radiant fire and the spectre of shadow. For most of us worry ourselves sick, tremble with fear even, just to think about the descent – be that as it may, you need to get a move on.

Before the night goes pitch-black on you, while some light lingers, you need to get down as far as you can, get down the ridge, tackle the steepest bits, the water-slimed rocks, get across the snow cone or the glacier’s crevasses cutting this way and that.

Already you seem to be clueless how, before dawn today, you worked your way through the night and, with your lantern’s help, found your way through a chaos of rubble by a feeble light’s gleam. But, all of a sudden, you don’t trust yourself any more – so much sun have you had through the blazing day that you’re fainting for sleep and a rest. So, down as fast as you can, and you’ll get away without a bivvy.


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.


Project HaMo (translation): the darkest hours are before dawn ...

By lantern-light in the Mischabel
(Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure)

Fully awake at last, all five senses alert!

By lantern-light, fleeting and unsteady, after barely a nibble at the sleep you needed, you were striding and stumbling about, for hours before dawn. Nailed boots screeched as they sought out traces of a path amid the piles of loose rubble, and too often they missed. Again and again, you slipped. A patch of ice, a slatey slab, and you missed your step in this feeble, flickering gleam.

All at odds in these graveyard hours, you ground and sweated your way upwards. The weather was nagging at you too; what if all this toil was for nothing? You longed for daylight to sort it all out. And at last, at last, the light starts to grow – and the sun rises. Now anything is possible.

Those moraines of despond, these tedious spoil-tips, all are set magnificently aglow in the new-born morning. Unquenchable now, your mountain motivation. You’ve rifted yourself out of the valley, you want nothing more to do with down-below. Lissom are your limbs, your senses clear – up and away is today’s order. And now, with more than twelve hours till night falls, it’s broad daylight again.


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.