Monday, August 16, 2010

The Mountains are Melting

Do I like danger? No, not really. But do I like rocky trails with 200-meter drop-offs? Yeah, I kind of do. I also like trails that take me straight up a mountain at a 50-degree angle for four hours. Those are good for the heart, but the rocky ridges are better for my fear of heights. Fifteen years ago, I would never have thought of hiking along cliffs and crevasses.

The trail up to Seefeldsee near Meranzen in South Tyrol wanders up the mountain harmlessly at first on a broad tourist-friendly path. A sign near the bottom promises that the walk will take two hours and forty minutes. An hour later, when we leave the beaten path for a narrower, steeper and rockier one, another sign tells us the walk will now be three hours and twenty minutes. Obviously I’m not the only one on this planet who can’t count.

We wanted to reach that lake (and four hours is, like, only twenty minutes longer than two hours and forty minutes, right? Right?), so we set off—or up, I suppose.

Almost immediately I took out my new camera and started taking shots of flowers. For the moment I could still manage the path while looking through a lens. Then, suddenly we found ourselves on a rocky ledge with nothing but a metal cable to hold onto (sorry, no picture of this. Look, Mom, no hands. Hahahaha. Uh, no). The mountain cabins in the valley—straight down beneath our hiking boots—were dollhouses; the people were just moving dots of red and black.

“I hope the lake is as impressive as this drop,” I said.

Peter the wild goose spanker kept saying “Careful, careful.”

“Like I’m going to break into the macarena dangling from this cable,” I kept saying. It was funny the first time.

Three hours later we reached the spit-on-the-side-of-the-road lake. A pond. A thistle- and tourist-ringed pond. The tourists had obviously come up the mountain from the other side of the mountain, where the path meandered in a lazy zigzag. There were mothers with prams.

“I did the macarena on a wobbly ledge for this?” I said and kept walking. After taking two token shots, I ignored the lake. We were back down in the valley in an hour.

As we were breaking out our Reward (white wine in a thermos), we heard a helicopter making its way up to the path we had taken to the lake. In seconds every person in the valley had their binoculars trained on the spot where a rescue team was lowering itself from the helicopter. (You probably need binoculars to see the helicopter in this photo.) People began hypothesizing: a mountain biker had taken a trail too steep for bikes, an inexperienced tourist had twisted her ankle, someone had been trying to pick Edelweiss illegally.

The real story was in the paper the next day. A rock climber had been on a ledge just a few meters above the path we took. Due to the effects global warming has had on the permafrost in the Dolomites, the rock that he was holding onto came loose and he fell. Like seven other hikers this year in South Tyrol, this young man died.

I’m home safely in Munich today, but this evening I’m off again on a twelve-day hiking trip with my father through Scotland and Ireland, where I doubt we’ll be dancing on ledges. Just great fun with my dad.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to E is for Egypt.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type