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Anno dazumal Part 1 | Skiing on the Blindenhorn

Historical trip report presented by "Alpenwort"

by Bettina Larl • 12/12/2016
A trip report from 1904 marks the start of a new series on PowderGuide: this season, the Austrian Alpine Club and the "Alpenwort" project at the University of Innsbruck are making some selected historical texts available to PowderGuide readers. The "Skifahrt auf das Blindenhorn" by Henry Hoek comes from the Alpine Club Yearbook of 1904. Henry Hoek is considered a ski pioneer and is one of the most influential alpine writers of his time. He also published the world's first ski guide in 1908: Skifahrten im SĂĽdlichen Schwarzwald (Skiing in the Southern Black Forest).

Skiing on the Blindenhorn.

by Henry Hoek

"Life is fullness, not time." Schnitzler.

In cozy hours of soft evening twilight, memory likes to creep into the room on collected soles. It whispers of many a beautiful winter trip, of many a happy ski tour in high mountain splendor. Only then do some observations and experiences really come into their own; the excitement of the moment fades and reason can criticize more coolly.
I can look back on a whole series of alpine ski tours. They were certainly the tours that I count among my most impressive and enjoyable. But if I look at them from a sporting point of view - I have to admit that those who seek the sport of skiing will find more enjoyment in the low mountain ranges and in the foothills of the Alps. In the high mountains, skiing was almost always just a means to an end for me. And, almost without exception, it will probably only remain a means for the high mountain tourist to discover the winter beauty of the mountains - as a piece of sports equipment, it can hardly ever be the focus of interest.
That was the case on all alpine ski trips, however many I can remember. It was the same on the tour to the ice-covered cliffs of the Grands Mulets, a terrain that could hardly be more unsuitable for snowshoes, and it was the same on the crossing of the Bernese Oberland, the vaunted and praised "High Road.

Only one exception remains in my pleasant memory as the most ideal combination of a magnificent high mountain hike, combined with the unadulterated pleasure of sporty, beautiful skiing in an area specially created for snowshoes. That was our trip from Airolo to the Blindenhorn in the first few days of April 1903, about which I would like to tell you what I can remember of my experiences and feelings. "Experiences and feelings? Resentments? Thank you." Oh yes, I know! There has been a lot of mockery, a lot of derision about the feelings and emotions that are "constructed" at the desk. Partly rightly, partly wrongly, methinks. You can't lump everything together. Unfortunately, I too know enough tour reports full of impossible, because untrue, emotional outpourings. But does that mean that everything that touches on the realm of the later - of the imitated - is reprehensible? Certainly - that which, clothed in beautiful words, sets out into the world, did not come to consciousness at the moment, could not become conscious in the midst of physical exertion, in the midst of pressing impressions, assaulting images, will never be able to become conscious.
But if it is really so inadmissible to conjure up the image of one's comrade later in the quiet of the night at one's desk, to contemplate it, to revive one's feelings about it and then to analyze it - if this is really an aesthetic crime, then everything that goes beyond Xenophonti's dry chronicler's style is illicit and reprehensible; but then your wandering, your writing is in vain, is a dead letter, at best a jumble for reference.

If the world I saw gave me no poetic, no philosophical enrichment of my feelings, then my efforts were in vain. And what I carried home - I never realized it outside at the reception. That only comes home in the quietest hour - often years later.
A comparison is tempting - with the photographic plate. Outside, there the image was received, imprinted on the plate, under the threshold of the visible it sleeps latently - and yet in all its splendor. It takes a lot of secretive work by a skilled hand before it becomes visible, before it is a picture. But are you now calling it untrue because it was only made visible afterwards? Is it untrue because a sensitive hand traced here and there with a soft pencil, added a delicate stroke of retouching? At first, a good star did not shine over this mountain. Back in April 1902, Dr. O. Schuster and I wanted to pay him a visit. But after a long walk in the gloomy gray fog, we finally gave up on the Passo Valdaesch as not enjoyable enough. A fortnight later we were back in Airolo. It was dog weather - and we preferred to turn our attention to the Lugano mountains.

This time my companions were Dr. F. Reichert and Dr. W. Schiller. Reichert had already turned back three months earlier on this mountain - the advanced time of day forced him to retreat on the short December day. He climbed at least Piz Basodino over the next few days. In Airolo, Schiller and I were to meet up with our third man. We were not in high spirits. Because it was still snowing in Göschenen. South of the Gotthard, however, things looked a little better. In changeable weather, sometimes in snow, sometimes in sunshine, we left Airolo at around 3 o'clock in the afternoon and hiked up the Bedretto valley. After just one hour of moderate climbing, we were able to strap on our skis behind Fontana and made rapid progress. The contrast between the north and south-facing slopes was striking. On our right-hand side, it was green and gray everywhere, right up to the Gotthard mountains, while we ourselves were grinding uphill on the right-hand side of the valley in quite reasonable and plentiful, cohesive snow. The frequent climbing over the many avalanche cones that lay at the foot of almost every gully at that time remained an unpleasant memory for me from the last time. This year we didn't see a single remnant of an avalanche in this classic avalanche valley. We left Villa, Bedretto and Ronco to the right. Only the sight of Villa captivated us for a short time. Like a bold robber's nest, it lies on a steep-sided valley terrace, atmospherically framed by the wild silhouette of the Rotondo ridge. After Ronco, we went to the (orographic) left side of the valley and followed the tracks of young Forni, who, having been informed in good time by Reichert, had made the pilgrimage up from Villa to prepare a place to sleep for us in his rented hospice. Unfortunately, he had thought we would bring provisions with us. We had hoped he would. The logical consequence was a few sly faces and Schmalhans as the chef.

From Ronco you hike another three quarters of an hour to All' Acqua, probably the most beautiful part of the trail. Climbing through a sparse larch forest in a deep valley, there are surprising views every now and then. At dusk, just as the evening star was beginning to shine in the section of sky above the Passo Valdaesch, we reached the white chapel and the two farm buildings of the hospice (1605 m). The weather was getting better and better. The clouds faded away, the wind fell asleep like a tired child, silence and night descended upon our valley. Star after star rose silently. They flickered quietly on the horizon, as if they were afraid of the earth's proximity.

The next morning, the weather was fine. Only a whisper overhead heralded the storm in the higher regions. In the east, everything was slightly shrouded in cloud. It was moderately cold (4°). We quickly put on our skis at 5 o'clock and headed up the valley. No brilliant sunrise lit our path. The young day rose brightly and inconspicuously. But we rejoiced at its coming. In whatever form - the light is life. I am never more joyfully ready for the affirmation of life than in the early hours of the morning, when I head towards the towering summit in the hope of the full potion of pleasure which, when tasted in the evening, so readily brings us into that melancholy, sentimental mood which often runs parallel to the feelings of the day. After an hour, we reach the "Gruina" huts and begin the steeper ascent to Passo Valdaesch, between the Nufenenstock and Grieshorn. The next two hours are not particularly interesting - and the view of the Gotthard mountains is not particularly attractive either. The snow conditions were excellent, which we were all the more pleased to note as this route could well be dangerous in terms of avalanches. Schuster and I had climbed as far as the Passo Valdaesch a year earlier. It was different then. Fog around us, fog above us, everything the eye could see was yellow and white. An almost infamous illumination! It's hard to imagine how it works. Imagine a winter's night, moonless, the sky covered in clouds, so that you can't see a hand in front of your eyes. It is exactly the same with thick fog on a continuous snow surface. Except that instead of black, you are surrounded by a white-yellow, blinding darkness that hurts your eyes. The same testing feel of your feet, the same helplessly uncertain feeling. On the descent, you only notice the speed of your journey by the breeze.

At 8:20 a.m. we reached the flat pass (approx. 2520 m) and could now see our entire, endless route over the Gries Glacier ahead of us, all the way to the distant snowy double peak of the Blindenhorn. A few minutes of a beautiful descent brought us to the end of the Gries Glacier about 200 m below. We climbed the first wave of the glacier, then stopped for breakfast with a magnificent view of the eerily jagged Schreckhorn (9 o'clock).

We soon moved on. On our left, we always had the beautiful figures of the Siedelrothorn and Bettelmatthorn in front of or beside us. We climbed wave after wave of the glacier. Soon we see our destination - soon it disappears from our view. We slowly approach the summit. The ridge to the left protects us from the cool west wind. The sun is burning. The snow begins to stick. Our progress is getting harder and the trail ahead is of little use. The pace becomes increasingly mechanical. Our thoughts are spinning far away. A little snow dust blows away behind the ski. It sings a fairytale song in a soft, elfin voice. Thoughts wander far away in the distant land of fantasy. Only a fleeting memory touches the life that surrounded you yesterday, that will carry you again tomorrow. Yesterday ? - Impossible. It's so far away. From a weary distance, from the longing blue coast that you left weeks ago, years ago, almost your life's song rings in your ear in torn tones. A steeper wave of the glacier. A ski gliding backwards - you almost fell. But it wakes you from your dreams. A few crevasses become visible on our way, they look very harmless. Will we put on the rope? It would probably be more correct. But convenience wins out - it was justifiable. Finally we reach the height between Siedelrothorn and Blindenhorn. The view opens up to the south. Hohsandgipfel and Ofenhorn appear, above them the east face of Monte Rosa, seen en profil.
The snow gets harder, but without showing the unpopular wind holes. This is going to be a descent!

The summit of the Blindenhorn looks imposing from the south-east. Five minutes below the summit, we leave our snowshoes on the rough stone blocks of the south-west ridge and set up our cooking equipment full of snow. A little later we are at the top. (3384 m, 2 o'clock). An overwhelming view. But you can't go into ecstasy on the summit today. These are "summit feelings" and people scoff at them. And despite all that, they may have some justification. Hour after hour, you strived upwards, restlessly, yearning forward. Up, excelsior! And finally you are at the top, you can't go any higher for the time being. Your pressing found rest, now your better feeling comes to its right - and you to aesthetic pleasure. Is it any wonder that descriptive memory is strongest where the source of your joy bubbled up loudest?

But I will refrain from attempting to describe. If a poet - one of the greats - were to speak, it could be in the calm stream of his words, flowing majestically and sweetly at the same time, the beauty all around would be reflected in delicate clarity, perhaps lifted up. But only a distorted image is created when someone who is not called makes the attempt and lets the wild stream of rapturous words flow. One could still recognize details in the restlessly trembling picture, I can give you names, but the fragrance, the consecration of peace, the grandeur is gone. But I can point out the characteristic feature of the panorama. And that is the view of the Bernese Oberland. Everything else is conventional, including the view of the Valais peaks. They are too far away to impress, even if you can clearly recognize the east face of Monte Rosa with a kind of longing shudder. But the battle line of the Bernese mountains is unique and overwhelmingly magnificent.
By 3 o'clock we were ready to leave. The frost had already smoothed the surface of the snow again. But the skis were still breaking in a little and we had perfect guidance. In 20 minutes we covered the hours of the glacier ascent and by 3:20 we were back at the foot of the Gries Glacier.

It had been a quiet, undisturbed ride, at times of tremendous speed. No technical skiing difficulties, not a single turn, no telemark turns, nothing disturbing. A fast, continuous glide. And yet there is a charm to it, a very peculiar pleasure. The joy of speed and movement alone, this purely animalistic joy, which I experience to a lesser extent but in a very similar way on a bike on an inclined road, for example, far outweighs that other joy, the joy of overcoming the difficulty, which often takes hold of us on descents on rough terrain, icy snow or steep slopes.

We climbed slowly back up to the Passo Valdaesch, often crossing our downhill track. The farewell view of the summit was beautiful. The sun was already quite low, just above the mountain. The frost had covered the steep slopes to our left and right with a glassy crust and they were dazzlingly reflective. The Blindenhorn appeared for the last time, bathed in pleasant shade. Then we, too, dived into the shadows. We reached the huts of the Gruina in ten minutes, pleasantly remembering two hours of ascent.
An icy cold drink, a short story from friend Reichert about his winter bivouac in this hole, then we went on. The crust on the snow thickened. The snowshoes no longer broke through. So we had a brisk ride on the last, flatter part of our route.
We reached the hospice towards evening. We had nothing to eat because Forni had not yet returned. But in the cellar we found the corner where the Asti was. The sparkling muscatel never tasted better. We sat by the flame of the stove for a long time in the evening and watched the last sparks burn out. We talked quietly about past experiences and future hopes.
But the two of us always listened with renewed pleasure to Reichert's lively account of his last winter stay in these hospitable walls.

He had tried the Blindenhorn in vain with a friend and his sister. The night and the icy snow forced them to bivouac in the Guina hut. The next day, the two men reached the summit of Piz Basodino via the Giacomo Pass and had to leave their companion roped up on the summit ridge. And once again the night took them by surprise, a second December free camp awaited the tireless climbers. When they finally reached the hospice, they were met half an hour before the house by most of the male inhabitants of the village of Ronco, who wanted to search for the "casualties" with shovels and bottles of schnapps. A merry Christmas party lasting two days bonded the rescuers and the rescued into a close friendship. The next morning, we strolled leisurely out of the valley. Reichert was able to greet some acquaintances, and as we enjoyed a few more liters of Asti at the old Forni in Villa, one participant after another of the memorable rescue expedition soon arrived.
We reached Airolo in the rain, where our old friend the Gotthard Railway welcomed us motherly into her soft armchairs. From Göschenen onwards, we stared out into the gloomy gray fog.
Once again, glorious days full of winter beauty lie behind me. Gone - burned out - memory. Another short while, then your spark of life also fades, your memory also dies.
Do you understand man's defiant desire for immortality? And whoever does not believe in it ten times must admit: there is a solemn nobility in the theosophical thought that our return is all the more brilliant the richer in heart and brain we have passed over. Therefore, as long as human beings feel, the battle between knowledge and feeling rages in every breast. But enough! What is the use of fruitlessly tugging at the veils of the future?

Just one comparison at the end. On a lonely ship, on a stormy sea, under tongues of flame amidst richest booty, memorable souvenirs of hard battles, high pleasures - this is how the Viking princes went down in flames. So shall we - we men of the spirit - fight and live and gather memories and one day receive our pale death surrounded by glorious images of strong joy, high, noble pleasure.

This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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