(Click on images for a larger view)
Go ahead. Ogle all you want.
Words often fail me. They fail me the most when it comes to mountains. Grandeur. Majesty. Magnificence. Please: those words are chumps when you are beneath the Jungfrau (above two images), a hulking mountain that towers over the Lauterbrunnen Valley like a glacier clad bully. It’s name (roughly translated as Young Girl in German) is hardly worth dissecting. It makes little sense. This peak is a beast.
It’s neighboring two peaks — the Mönch and the Eiger — fit into a little folktale. The Young Girl protected by the Monk from the frightening Ogre. How quaint. Our first full day in the area — in mid-June mind you — was spent underneath the Eiger’s legendary North Face watching mini-avalanches, snow plumes and chunks of ice fall off its sheer walls. The Eiger is less like Shrek, more like an assassin.
And then there is the Matterhorn, the world’s most recognizable mountain. On the approach to Zermatt via the train from Visp, not a seat is used by the passengers. They are all standing, dangling out the windows hoping for that first glimpse of its iconic, snowclad summit peaking over the shoulder of the hills.
So magnetic is the mountain’s pull, people travel across the world to its remote little corner of the Alps, drop $350 CHF a night at a Zermatt hotel, eat $40 CHF pizza, and simply stare at its broken-nose summit. Slipping under the radar are its equally grand neighbors, like the cut-glass peak of the Weisshorn (above left) or the hulking, glacier-clad eminence of Monte Rosa, the tallest peak in Switzerland. “Meh,” the tourists seem to say with the direction of their turned heads. “Just look at the Matterhorn!”
I’m an English major from The Colorado College, and I remember one particularly frustrating lecture that was devoted entirely to “the gaze.” The implications of a character gazing at another. What does it mean to gaze? To pine? To possess with the eyes? Yawn. Maybe it was because we were reading Wordsworth’s poetry, but I thought it was a rather dumb topic.
But if the lecture was on mountains, then I would have gotten it.
Yes, sitting by a lake and staring at a towering, rippled, snow-covered peak is a noteworthy action. You are possessing something with your eyes. The strength, the unflappability of a mountain that has stood there for eons. An undaunted thing that rules over its subjects. An unmoved mover.
What man doesn’t have some stupid, innate, overinflated sense of self worth that he wants to possess the character of a hulking mountain? I don’t know one.